The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

KATHRYN SALDANHA


26. The Thewis of Gudwomen: Middle Scots
Moral Advice with European Connections?

Denton Fox has observed of Medieval poems of moral advice that

people seem to have regarded them, fairly enough, as miscellaneous collections
of good advice rather than poetic masterpieces, and writers seem to have felt
completely free to make additions, deletions and changes as they saw fit.1

Support for Fox’s view is provided by the Middle Scots moral advice poem known as The Thewis of Gudwomen which is found in three different MS versions. The textual instability of the Thewis extends to the poem’s title. Only the version found in Cambridge University Library, MS. Kk.1.5. has the title The Thewis of Gudwomen. The version found in Cambridge, St. John’s College, MS. G.23 is introduced with the words Incipiunt documenta matris ad filiam.2 I am indebted to Sally Mapstone of St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, for bringing to my attention the existence of a third version of The Thewis which is contained within the British Museum, Additional MS. 40732, and The Scottish Register House, Edinburgh, MS. GD 112/7/9. This third version of The Thewis is untitled since it is not found as a separate poem, but inserted within the work known as The Book of King Alexander The Conquerour3 As this third version of The Thewis is not treated as an independent work, but is instead adapted to form part of a much longer poem, I propose to discuss it separately at the close of my paper.

In this paper I will attempt to consider the place of The Thewis within the European tradition of didactic vernacular literature. In an article entitled ‘The Fourth Lateran Council and Manuals of Popular Theology’,4 Leonard Boyle

1 Denton Fox, ‘DOST and evidence for authorship: some poems connected with Ratis Raving’, in The Nuttis Schell; essays on the Scots language presented to A.J. Aitken, ed. by Caroline Macafee and Iseabail Macleod (Aberdeen, 1987), pp. 96–105, p. 101.

2 The two Cambridge versions of The Thewis are edited alongside each other by Ritchie Girvan in Ratis Raving and Other Early Scots Poems on Morals, STS, 3rd Series, 11 (London, 1939), pp. 80–100, and by Tauno F. Mustanoja in The Good Wife Taught her Daughter; The Good Wyfe Wold a Pylgremage; The Thewis of Gud Women, Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae, BLXI,2 (Helsinki, 1948), pp. 176–96. References are to Girvan’s edition, and, unless otherwise stated, to the Kk.1.5. version of The Thewis. I silently normalise thorn and yogh.

3 The Buik of King Alexander the Conquerour, ed. by John Cartwright, STS, 4th Series, 13, (Edinburgh, 1986), 16 (Aberdeen, 1990). Lines from The Thewis are found in Vol. 1, pp. 215–18, 11. 8477596.

4 Leornard E. Boyle, ‘The Fourth Lateran Council and Manuals of Popular Theology’, in The Popular Literature of Medieval England, ed. by Thomas J. Heffernan, Tennessee Studies in Literature, 28 (Tennessee, 1985), pp. 30–43.

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The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993
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