1393 | France

Ignorance Is Bliss

A husband forgives his wife’s indiscretions.

Husbands ought to hide and conceal the follies of their wives and lovingly protect them from future mistakes, as did an honorable man of Venice.

In that city there was a married couple with three children. As the wife lay on her deathbed, she confessed, among other things, that one of the children was not her husband’s. The confessor at length told her that he would seek advice about how to counsel her and return. This confessor went to the doctor who was looking after her and asked the nature of her illness. The doctor said that she would not be able to recover from it. Then the confessor went to her and told her that he didn’t see how God would give her salvation unless she begged her husband for forgiveness for the wrong she had done him. She summoned her husband, had everyone removed from the room except her mother and her confessor, who placed her, and held her, on her knees on the bed; and before her husband, with folded hands, humbly begged pardon for having sinned in the law of his marriage and having had one of her children with another man. She would have said more, but her husband cried out, “Stop! Stop! Stop! Don’t say anything else.” Then he kissed her and pardoned her, saying, “Say no more. Don’t tell me or anyone else which of your children it is, for I want to love each as much as the other—so equally that you will not be blamed during your lifetime or after your death. For through your blame, I will be dishonored, and because of it, your children, and others through them—that is, our relations—will receive vile and everlasting reproach. Therefore, don’t say anything. I don’t want to know any more. So that no one can ever say that I do wrong by the other two, whichever it is, I will give him in my lifetime what would come to him under our laws of succession.”

About This Text

From a domestic instruction manual. The original manuscript, now lost, was written by an elderly Parisian man after marrying a fifteen-year-old girl, describing the basic tenets of a good wife’s duties—religious, societal, domestic, moral. Among the advice he offers is, “If you want to keep roses in winter, take from the rosebush little buds that are not in full bloom”; “In summer take care that there are no fleas in your room or in your bed”; and more generally, “You must keep yourself continent and live chastely.”