The Story of Griselda
The Complete Tale of Griselda
The Story of Griselda was extremely popular in the middle ages. Everyone knew it, just as modern people know the story of Cinderella or Snow White. I include it here because it not only illustrates the virtues that were most highly regarded in medieval women, but also because many modern non-fiction books on the middle ages reference the story as well, but never bother to tell it, assuming that every student of the middle ages already knows it.
The Story of Griselda
The Marquis of Saluzzo was one day admonished by his highest nobles to take a wife, for he was too often in solitude and the people wanted to see him happy and to produce an heir. The Marquis consented to marry, but on the condition that his people accept whomever he chose, be she a princess or a serf. And his people were happy that he would marry to please them and they set about preparing for his wedding.
In a nearby village there was a poor man, old and in failing health, by the name of Janicula. And with him was his only daughter, Griselda. She was fair of face, but was even more fair in virtue, for she dwelt in poverty with her father without complaint, and tended him tenderly, and was pious and was never seen to do a bad deed, nor speak ill. And the people in her village and in the surrounding areas spoke very highly of the sweet girl.
The Marquis knew of Griselda because he sometimes passed through her village on his way to the hunt. And he oftentimes looked upon her fair face and saw her sweet character, and he was determined, when he would be wed, that he should wed none other than this virtuous young woman. And so he instructed his nobles to prepare for his wedding, for he had chosen his bride. But he did not tell them who he had chosen and there was great astonishment and wonder at who the maid might be.
And when the wedding day arrived, the Marquis set out as a bridegroom would do to retrieve his bride, with all his retinue and noble folk following behind him in wonderment. He went to Janicula's house, and there found Griselda carrying a water pot to the house. The Marquis asked to speak to her father and with great humbleness, she obeyed. When Janicula came from the house, the marquis took him aside and asked if he might marry Griselda. And Janicula was without words for a moment, before humbling saying that anything of his belonged to his lord. And the Marquis went into the house with Janicula and asked Griselda, if he would take her as his wife, would she obey him in everything, without argument or contradiction, not in word, sign, deed or thought? And she humbly replied that she was not so worthy to be his wife, but it that was his will, then she would obey him in all things.
And so the Marquis introduced her to his people as his intended wife and their new lady. And he had women of his court remove her clothing and other signs of poverty and bathe and dress her as a wealthy woman on her wedding day. And then they went to the church and were wed, then Griselda was mounted on a white palfrey and taken to the Marquis's palace and there feasted. And everyone marveled how such a regal and noble figure could have been the girl they knew from the shepherd's cottage? And everyone was happy with the Marquis's choice.
In the time that followed, Griselda's fame only grew. She kept herself busy with women's chores, but she also appeared in public for the sake of her husband. And when their nobles or those of another province quarreled over something, she would appear like and angel and speak gently and with such good sense that the argument was quickly forgotten and everyone was satisfied by her suggestion, to the point that many said she had been heaven-sent to lead them all to salvation.
After a time Griselda got with a child and further on, it was born a girl. And the people were happy and so was the Marquis (although he would have been a bit more happy if it had been a boy). And then, when the child was about two years old, the Marquis got into mind to test his wife to see if she was as good and loyal as everyone thought. And so he went to Griselda with a long face and when she asked him why he sighed so, he told her that he had heard that his people and the other noble lords in that area were speaking darkly against him for having a child with such a lowly woman. That they said that Janicula, the peasant shepherd would surely rule over them if the Marquis were to die without a male heir. And with that he went away from her.
Later, he sent a trusted male guard to her with the instruction to bring the baby to him. And Griselda knew then that the child would be killed. And she kissed it and hugged it and made a sign over it and then gave it to the guard, asking him, if it did not go against his orders, to please bury the child and not let its body be eaten by the wild beasts. And the guard wept to see and hear her say such things, but took the child to his master and told him all. And the Marquis was surprised that Griselda had obeyed him without a contrary word, but still he was not satisfied. And he had his guard take the child to his sister to be fostered by her in secret.
For several years the Marquis watched his wife, but Griselda never spoke of their child again, and never showed, by word or deed, any contempt or accusation of her husband. She remained cheerful and was a good woman. After a time she got with child again and this time had a son. And again the Marquis came to her after the child was weaned and told her that the people were not happy that a child of a low-born woman would be their new lord. And again he sent the guard after the child, and again Griselda kissed and hugged the child, made the sign of the cross over it, and gave it to the guard with the plea to not leave his body to be eaten by wild animals.
And again the Marquis was amazed. If he had not seen how Griselda had loved and doted on the children, he would have imagined her cold-hearted. But still she did as she was bade to do and did so without complaint. And the Marquis sent his son to his sister to also be raised.
After some more years, the Marquis wrote his sister and told her to bring his children to him. And he let it be put out that a young girl was being sent to him as a bride and that the Pope had given him dispensation to be divorced from Griselda. And he told Griselda that his people had grown too angry and that they did not support her and that he was going to have to wed another and produce a proper heir. And Griselda meekly said that she would go home to her father's house if that is what her lord wished. And he said yes, that it what he wished. Only that she must not take with her anything that she did not bring with her. And she reminded him that she had been stripped of her clothing in her father's house and brought from there in clothing provided by the Marquis. And if he said so, she would return naked to her father's house, but if he had pity, at least allow her a chemise as she had brought her virginity into that house and was returning without it, and to allow her to cover her womb that had born his children. And the Marquis allowed it and went away to weep that he had such a wife.
And the people of the court followed Griselda home, who walked barefoot with nothing on but her chemise. And they wept bitterly to see her in such a state, for they all truly loved her. And she told them not to say a word against their lord, her husband, because he did what he had done for the best purpose. And she went inside her father's home (who was not at all surprised that his son-in-law had done this thing).
And when the Marquis's sister drew near, he sent for Griselda. When she had come to him, he asked her if she would serve his new bride for a time because she was young and would not know so well as Griselda how he liked to have his house run, and to teach her. And she said that she would do this. And a great wedding was planned. Before the guests assembled for the wedding, the Marquis asked Griselda if his new wife would suit him and she said yes, she was a fine girl, of noble breeding. But, she said, because the girl is young and of gentle stock, it would be pitiful to try the girl with what she herself had borne, because such a gentle soul could not bear it.
And the Marquis could not bear it anymore and he announced to all that he had been testing Griselda, his wife, and that he had not had his children killed as they all assumed. For this girl was not his intended, but his daughter, and her brother his son. And Griselda fell into a swoon on the floor and wept and kissed her children until everyone else was moved to weep with pity for her. And the Marquis had her taken to her rooms and dressed in the finest clothing and jewels and brought to the feast. And Janicula was sent for as well. And everyone marveled at how obedient and patient Griselda had been, and how there must be none other like her. And Janicula lived in the palace all the rest of his days, and Griselda and the Marquis lived long lives and were well loved by their subjects.
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Thankfully, someone has reprinted The Goodman of Paris (which is where I was able to obtain a copy of this story). It was out of print for a long time (and very expensive).
The Goodman of Paris is a MUST for any student of medieval women's studies, domestic life in the middle ages, and those interested in life in the late 14th century.