Christine de Pisan and The Goodman of Paris

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Christine de Pisan and The Goodman of Paris

Excerpt from The Treasure of the City of Ladies

Published in 1985

Excerpt from The Goodman of Paris

Published in 1928

"And besides encouraging the others, the wife herself should be involved in the work to the extent that she knows all about it, so that she may know how to oversee his workers if her husband is absent, and to reprove them if they do not do well."

From The Treasure of the City of Ladies

"I have often wondered how I might find a simple general introduction to teach you…. [M]e-seems that … it can be accomplished in this way, namely in a general instruction that I will write for you."

From The Goodman of Paris

I n the 1300s and 1400s, as Europe passed from the Middle Ages into the beginnings of the Renaissance (RIN-uh-sahnts), trade was increasing, cities were growing, and a new middle and working class appeared. Both groups, an essential part of a growing economy, fell between the rich and the poor: the middle class were typically owners of small businesses, and the working class were less educated (and usually less wealthy) people who worked with their hands.

As contact between various classes increased, so did awareness of social rank and the need for rules governing such contact. This was particularly important with regard to relationships between men and women. Here class barriers were not so important as were traditional male and female roles, though it appears that the author of The Goodman of Paris had married a woman of a higher class. This, along with the fact that she was a teenager and he was clearly a man much older, indicates that he may have felt a need to keep her under control, as the excerpt from his instructions to her suggests. (The term "goodman" was a medieval word meaning "master of the house"; as for the author of The

Goodman of Paris, he was an anonymous Paris merchant of the 1390s.)

Christine de Pisan (pee-ZAHN; sometimes spelled Pizan; 1364–c. 1430), perhaps the most well known female author of medieval times, offered a different view of marital relations in a passage called "Of the Wives of Artisans and How They Ought to Conduct Themselves," from The Treasure of the City of Ladies. She depicted a situation in which neither age nor class separated a husband and wife, and she took for granted the fact that the power in the home resided in the hands of the woman. Perhaps this was the secret view of the Goodman, which would further explain his need to control his young wife.

Christine de Pisan

The trials of single motherhood, making a living in a male-dominated world, trying to raise a family on the income of a working mom—these all sound like problems specific to many modern women, but in fact they characterized the career of Christine de Pisan.

Born in the Italian city of Venice, Christine was raised in the court of France's King Charles V (ruled 1364–80), for whom her father worked as court astrologer. When she was fifteen, she married the king's secretary, Étienne du Castel (ay-tee-AN). By the time Christine was twenty-five years old, however, she had lost not only her husband, but her father and her king. Not only that, but she had three children to raise.

Christine continued to serve in the French court, which was her "day job," but she also began to write poems and other works for patrons, or wealthy supporters. She went on to become perhaps the bestknown female writer of the Middle Ages, and in her work she defended the status of women against many outspoken male critics. Among her notable writings were The Book of the Three Virtues, also known as The Treasure of the City of Ladies; an autobiography called The Vision of Christine; and a poem celebrating another notable woman of fifteenth-century France, Joan of Arc.

Things to remember while reading the excerpts from The Treasure of the City of Ladies and The Goodman of Paris

  • Both passages illustrate a high awareness of social class or rank. The author of The Goodman of Paris, for instance, takes note of the fact that his young wife came from a higher class than he; no doubt her family had fallen on hard times, and she was forced to marry him for financial support. Similarly, Christine de Pisan specifically addresses the wives of artisans, skilled workers who might be part of either the middle or the working class.
  • These two writings appeared within a few years of one another, around the end of the 1300s and the beginning of the 1400s. Both suggest the changing economic climate of the times, as Western Europe began to prosper and new classes—primarily the middle class and the working class—began to divide the very rich from the very poor. The Goodman of Paris appears to have been a moderately wealthy merchant, and though the artisans' wives addressed by Christine de Pisan were certainly not rich, the fact that their husbands employed other workers implies that they were not poor either.
  • The Goodman's reference to his young bride as "sister" is simply a term of affection. As for her marriage at age fifteen to a man who was clearly many years older than she, this was nothing unusual during the Middle Ages.


Artisans: Skilled workers who produce items according to their specialty.


Painstaking: Careful.

Excerpt from The Treasure of the City of Ladies

Now it is time for us to speak of the station in life of women married toartisans who live in cities and fine towns, like Paris, and elsewhere…. All wives of artisans should be verypainstaking anddiligent if they wish to have the necessities of life. They should encourage their husbands or their workmen to get to work early in the morning and work until late, for mark our words, there is no trade so good that if you neglect your work you will not have difficulty putting bread on the table. And besides encouraging the others, the wife herself should be involved in the work to the extent that she knows all about it, so that she may know how to oversee his workersif her husband is absent, and toreprove them if they do not do well. She ought to oversee them to keep them from idleness, for through careless workers the master is sometimes ruined. And when customers come to her husband and try to drive a hard bargain, she ought to warn himsolicitously to take care that he does not make a bad deal. She should advise him to bechary ofgiving too much credit if he does not know precisely where and to whom it is going, for in this way many come to poverty, although sometimes the greed to earn more or to accept a tempting proposition makes them do it.

In addition, she ought to keep her husband's love as much as she can,to this end: that he will stay at home more willingly and that he may not have any reason to join the foolish crowds of other young men intaverns and indulge in unnecessary and extravagant expense, as many tradesmen do, especially in Paris. By treating him kindly she should protect him as well as she can from this. It is said that three things drive a man from his home: a quarrelsome wife, a smoking fireplace and a leaking roof. She too ought to stay at home gladly and not go every daytraipsing hither and yon gossiping with the neighbours and visiting her chums to find out what everyone is doing. This is done byslovenly housewives roaming about the town in groups. Nor should she go off on thesepilgrimages got up for no good reason and involving a lot of needless expense. Furthermore, she ought to remind her husband that they should live sofrugally that their expenditure does not exceed their income, so that at the end of the year they do not find themselves in debt.


Reprove: Rebuke or correct.


Solicitously: With great concern.


Chary: Cautious.

Giving too much credit

Giving too much credit: In other words, allowing too many customers to buy items on credit (i.e., with promises to pay later).

To this end

To this end: With this purpose in mind.


Taverns: Bars.


Traipsing: Walking.

Hither and yon

Hither and yon: Here and there.


Slovenly: Careless, untidy.


Pilgrimage: A journey to a sacred place or shrine; this was a popular practice in the Middle Ages.


Frugally: Inexpensively.


Indulgent: Forgiving, patient.

Small and ignorant service

Small and ignorant service: Limited experience.

With other wisdom than your own

With other wisdom than your own: In other words, on the basis of wisdom she had been taught, not simply things she already knew.


Beseeching: Begging.


Unseemly: Inappropriate or improper.


Chastise: Rebuke or correct.


Strive: Make an effort.


Amend: Change.


Unwisdom: Lack of wisdom.

Excerpt from The Goodman of Paris


You being the age of fifteen years and in the week that you and I were wed, did pray me to be indulgent to your youth and to your small and ignorant service, until you had seen and learned more; to this end you promised me to give all heed and to set all care and diligence to keep my peace and my love, as you spoke full wisely, and as I well believe, with other wisdom than your own, beseeching me humbly in our bed, as I remember, for the love of God not to correct you harshly before strangers nor before our own folk, but rather each night, or from day to day, in our chamber, to remind you of the unseemly or foolish things done in the day or days past, and chastise you, if it pleased me, and then you would strive to amend yourself according to my teaching and correction, and to serve my will in all things, as you said…. [Y]our youth excuses your unwisdom andwill still excuse you in all things as long as all you do is with good intent and not displeasing to me. And know that I am pleased rather than displeased that you tend rose-trees, and care for violets … and dance, and sing: nor would I have you cease to do so among our friends and equals, and it is but good and seemly so to pass the time of your youth, so long as you neither seek nor try to go to the feasts and dances of lords of too high rank, for that does not become you, nor does it sort with your estate nor mine…. For although I know wellthat you are of gentler birth than I, natheless that would not protect you, for by God, the women of your lineage be good enough to correct you harshly themselves, if I did not, and they learnt of your error from me or from another source; but in you I have no fear, I have confidence in your good intent…. And for your honour and love, andnot for my service (for to me belongs but the common service, or less), since I had pity and loving compassion on you who for long have had neither father nor mother, nor any of your kinswoman near you to whom you might turn for counsel in your private needs, save me alone, for whom you were brought from your kin and the country of your birth, I have often wondered how I might find a simple general introduction to teach you…. And lastly, me-seems that ifyour love is as it has appeared in your good words, it can be accomplished in this way, namely in a general instruction that I will write for you … in three sections containing nineteen principal articles….

Your estate

Your estate: In other words, "your place in life."


Natheless: Nevertheless.


Lineage: Ancestry.

Not for my service

Not for my service: In other words, "Not so that you can be a better wife for me."


Kinswoman: A female relative, including a mother, grandmother, or sister.


Kin: Relatives.


Me-seems: "It seems to me."

What happened next …

As the 1400s progressed, the economic and social changes mirrored in the writings of Christine de Pisan and the anonymous Goodman of Paris began to accelerate. Prior to the expansion of Europe's economy, which started after the Crusades began opening international trade in about 1100, there had been only two classes in European society: the very rich and the very poor. Now there was a growing array of classes, which presented new challenges for society as a whole.

Among these challenges was the fact that the status of women in the higher classes tended to improve much faster than that of women in the lower classes. For instance, a beggar in London or Paris might be considered the lowest of the low, yet if he had a wife, there was always someone even lower than he. By contrast, the wife of a wealthy merchant might be expected to submit to her husband, but she in turn had full power to command servants and other workers—male as well as female.

It is not surprising, then, that Christine de Pisan herself came from a high social class. One would be hard-pressed to come up with the name of a poor woman from the Middle Ages, except perhaps the peasant girl Joan of Arc—who was an exceptional person by any standard. Poor women were typically too busy just making a living, and that, combined with the fact that few poor people of either sex could read and write, meant that few ever gained distinction. Only in the late 1800s, as a rising tide of social consciousness turned more attention toward neglected groups, did society begin to lend an ear to its poor, and to women of all classes.

Courtesy Books

Courtesy books, which appeared in medieval Europe from the 1100s onward, may well have been the world's first self-help literature. These were manuals that taught people how to behave politely—a rare skill at a time when most Europeans were unclean and uncouth.

Some courtesy books taught pages, young boys in training for knighthood, how to behave like little men rather than boys; and others provided squires, teenagers who hoped to become knights, with instruction on manly virtues such as bravery. Knights also had their courtesy books, such as Book of the Order of Chivalry by Ramon Llull (LYOOL; c. 1235–1316) of Spain. In addition, there were courtesy books for women, and for various groups in society such as merchants or skilled workers.

Did you know …

  • The first sentence from The Goodman of Paris excerpt is a run-on, and consists of 166 words.
  • A man once complained to Christine de Pisan that because there were so few educated women, educated women were unappealing—implying that because he had far fewer chances of meeting one who was educated, he might as well concentrate on the ones who were not. Christine retorted that she found ignorant men even less appealing—precisely because there were so many of them.
  • The Goodman of Paris offers a wealth of insight concerning the medieval mind, providing information, for instance, on how to protect oneself against witchcraft. Its author also presented his wife with a dozen ways to get rid of flies.
  • A saying quoted by Christine de Pisan was apparently quite popular at the time: in a later passage from The Goodman of Paris, its author counsels his wife to "remember the rustic [old] proverb, which saith that there be three things which drive the goodman from home, to wit a leaking roof, a smoky chimney and a scolding woman."

For More Information


Ashby, Ruth and Deborah Gore Ohrn, editors. Herstory: Women Who Changed the World. Introduction by Gloria Steinem. New York: Viking, 1995.

Christine de Pisan. The Treasure of the City of Ladies. Translated by Sarah Lawson. New York: Penguin, 1985.

The Goodman of Paris. Translated by Eileen Power. London: Routledge, 1928.

McLeod, Enid. The Order of the Rose: The Life and Ideas of Christine de Pizan. London: Chatto & Windus, 1976.

Willard, Charity Cannon. Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. New York: Persea Books, 1984.

Web Sites

"Christine de Pizan." [Online] Available (last accessed July 28, 2000).

"Medieval Sourcebook: The Goodman of Paris 1392/4." Medieval Sourcebook. [Online] Available (last accessed July 28, 2000).

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Christine de Pisan and The Goodman of Paris