I just finished reading a book called Le Ménagier de Paris. I don’t speak French so I had to read the English translation The Goodman of Paris. It has been absolutely fascinating to read this primary source document and ponder on the social realities of medieval Europe.
Here’s the plot. It’s 1393 and a rich, older man of 60 decided to get married again. His bride is around 20. The modern woman in me is a bit shocked with the age difference. The historian in me understands it was common practice for men to be older than their wives. As a present, he writes a book for his new bride on how to be a good wife, take care of the house and live without him after he dies.
The first few chapters are all about religion and how to live a moral life. It paints a picture of the role of faith in medieval Europe. Christianity and religious festivals were their life. The next chapter discussed how his new wife can make him a happy man in the bedroom. I’ve read the Bible enough to understand exactly what the Goodman of Paris was talking about when he said his bride needed to “know him”.
This man had a lot of opinions on everything. The rest of the book explained how he thinks his manor should be organized. He explained how to to boil water, cook soup, skin a chicken, hire household staff, argue with temporary workers, do needlework, prepare medicinal herbs, keep the pots clean, get stains out of clothing, keep the gossips in town from ruining her reputation and a bunch of other things that were critical for life as a 1393 young woman. Some of the advice was actually pretty sound and still applies to modern-day life. For example, there was one section that said tradesman like to take advantage of female buyers. He recommended that his wife get two opinions before agreeing to any household repairs. I’ve had car mechanics try to cheat me before so this advice is still valid. Some of the advice was ridiculous. I rolled my eyes when I read the section on how to wear pious, black and white wife clothing in public. Really? Why can’t a 20-year-old wear purple? I love the color purple so I would have made a terrible medieval wife.
I got a little teary-eyed when I read the chapter on why the The Goodman of Paris wrote his book. He expected to die before his bride did. He wanted to make sure she could make it in a world ruled by men. He may have been a man of his time in many ways, but I got the impression that he did love his wife and desired her happiness.
Overall, I would recommend Le Ménagier de Paris. It was very informative. I got the added benefit of feeling like a scholar while reading it. I also learned a few useful skills that will come in handy in case of the Zombie Apocalypse. For example, I now know how to skin a chicken and hire a maid to do my laundry.
What’s in your book bag?