By Danièle Cybulskie
Everyone wants to know the secret to being just a bit luckier in love – it’s the reason behind quite a few of the publications still flying off modern newsstands. The Distaff Gospels is a fifteenth-century collection of pseudo-serious advice given by fictional women, and it covers a wide range of the topics we can’t seem to get enough of, love and lust included. Since all’s fair in love and war, here are a few bits of medieval advice from The Distaff Gospels to help with your love life.
Find Out Your Future Husband’s Name
They say you can’t hurry love, but sometimes it’s so very hard to wait. People have always had little tricks to give them a tiny peek into the future, like peeling an apple in one piece to see what letter it resembles, or twisting an apple stem to see which letter of the alphabet it breaks off on. The Distaff Gospels gives this advice for women who want to know who they’ll marry:
A young woman who wishes to know the name of her future husband should stretch out the first thread which she has spun that day at her door and then find out the name of the first man to pass by – she can be certain that this will be the name of her husband.
In the Middle Ages, this might actually have been a fairly safe bet, given how many Williams and Henrys were wandering around! These days, we may have to switch out freshly spun thread for something we’re more likely to have at our workplace, like our first cup of coffee.
Keep Your Husband from Cheating
Naturally, if you wanted to keep your husband from straying, a good piece of medieval advice would be to pray on it. The women of The Distaff Gospels, though, advise that there’s a specific time and technique that will bring more success:
if a woman does not want her husband to go astray with other women, she must have a mass to Saint Avoie said for three Mondays.
How do they know this works? Because the Parisienne women do it all the time. You can always count on Paris to set the trends when it comes to l’amour.
Make Your Husband More Amorous
Unlike what people think of as the norm today – that men are lusty creatures, and women are much less interested sex – medieval people believed that women were barely able to keep their animal impulses under control, especially when it came to sex. Some of the advice the women in The Distaff Gospels give each other, then, is to help their men keep up with them in the bedroom. The secret? Catnip.
This is true [says one of the women] because I did that with my husband and I prepared a salad with it. But that love lasted only six weeks and this is why I think that it must be repeated often.
Buy the Perfect Present for Lasting Love
Jewellery. It’s a classic for a reason. For a medieval lady, the best present wouldn’t be a charm bracelet, though. If you really want to impress a woman, buy her something big, and flashy, but practical, so she can’t help but show it off wherever she goes:
if a man offers brooches with big heads to his lady, their love will become more passionate and more lasting.
The worst present, according to these ladies? A knife.
Passion for the Over-Achiever
If you want to go the extra medieval mile, there’s one last piece of advice to give you epic love. You’ll need to plan ahead, though, so this is only for the most organized and dedicated lovers:
if a woman wants her husband to love her passionately, she must put a walnut-tree leaf, picked just before nones on Midsummer’s night in his left shoe, and for sure, he will love her amazingly.
Hopefully, the return is as great as the effort involved in planning and executing this maneuver. Perhaps it’s best to stock up at Midsummer, just in case.
Whatever it is you hope to achieve in your love life, and whatever strange and wonderful methods you use to secretly find out about your future spouse, or spice up an existing relationship, one thing is certain: there will always be fun advice to help you along the way.
For more helpful tips from these wise and funny characters, check out The Distaff Gospels – the modern English edition is edited and translated by Madeleine Jeay and Kathleen Garay and published by Broadview Press.
You can follow Danièle Cybulskie on Twitter @5MinMedievalist
This article was first published in The Medieval Magazine – a monthly digital magazine that tells the story of the Middle Ages. Learn how to subscribe by visiting their website.