Jousting with Distaffs and Other Women Tilting in the Margins

Yesterday my husband showed me a post that included an image of a woman jousting with a distaff, but the manuscript from which the image came was not identified, so of course I needed to find it. The image comes from Beinecke MS 229, on 329r. It is a French Arthurian romance from 1275-1300.

Beinecke MS 229 329r, a French Arthurian romance from 1275-1300 There is a similar image in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 95, 226r. It is also a French Arthurian romance, from 1201-1300.

BnF 95, Arthurian romance, French 1201-1300

Another example from about 200 years later is an engraving by Master ES of a wild man and wild woman. This German print from 1450-1467 is in the British Museum (1842,0806.38).

British Museum 1842,0806.38, engraving, Print made by: Master ES, German, 1450-1467

There is also a monk and a nun jousting (not using a distaff) on Beinecke MS 229 100v. I think there is one other image of jousting with a distaff in this manuscript but I didn’t notice it. [Update: I think the other image is the one above from BnF 95.]

Beinecke MS 229 100v, a French Arthurian romance from 1275-1300

This manuscript has loads of other great images, such as this one, on 253r of a woman spinning. The interface is a bit annoying, but it is great Yale has made it available with high quality scans.

Beinecke MS 229 253r, a French Arthurian romance from 1275-1300 I’m sure there are plenty more images of jousting with a distaff, but these were all I could easily find. If I run across more I’ll add them to this post.


There is another example of jousting with distaffs in Bibliotheque Arsenal, Li queste del S. Graal [La quête du Saint-Graal], MS 5218, 10r, a French manuscript from 1381

Bibliotheque Arsenal MS 8, Li queste del S. Graal, French, 1351, 10rOne more example of a woman jousting (but without a distaff) is in the British Museum, Yates Thompson MS 8, The Breviary of Marguerite de Bar, on f224 (French, between 1302 and 1303). It doesn’t look like this has been digitized yet, but there is a black and white reproduction in The Role of Woman in Middle Ages, edited by Rosmarie Thee Morewedge on page 176.


The Queen Mary Psalter (Royal 2 B VII) has an image on f.197v. This manuscript is from England (London/Westminster or East Anglia?) between 1310 and 1320.

Royal 2 B VII   f. 197v   Women jousting

Princeton University Art Museum’s MS 44-18, f20 has a picture of a knight and a woman tilting. I have not been able to find any reproduction of this image. MS 44-18 is an hours  from Maastricht, 13th-14th centuries.

Update 3:

Thanks to a comment on this post, I learned of another occurrence. The 15th century Chroniques by Jean Froissart, MS Français 2644 in the Bibliothèque nationale, has two monkeys jousting, one with a distaff, on  f85r.

Chroniques sire JEHAN FROISSART, Français 2644, f85r

Decretals of Gregory IX

Yesterday I saw a picture on Twitter which I did not recall seeing previously. It is from the Decretals of Gregory IX, Royal MS 10 E IV, c 1300-c 1340. The tweet said it was a woman carding (which came from text the tweeter read about the image). However, it looks like wool combing to me. I wanted to find the picture and so looked through the British Library site to find the image. British Library Royal MS 10 E IV 138r

It is part of a sequence of a marginal scenes of the type miscellaneous tales and connected scenes, “A housewife sets tasks for her husband or lover; possibly a variant of the Wright’s Chaste Wife (ff. 137r-148r)”. The Wright’s Chaste Wife includes fiber preparation and spinning but of flax, not of wool. There are two wool combining images; the other images in this sequence are of carding and spinning wool. The British Library site says “The manuscript’s decoration was executed in two phases.  Phase 2 includes … more than 600 bas-de-page narrative scenes in colours added in London, probably on the request of John Batayle, a canon of St Bartholomew’s at Smithfield.” The first four images (137r-138v) seem less connected to the Wright’s Chaste Wife because it seems like two women are in the pictures.

British Library Royal MS 10 E IV 138vThese two images precede the above images. These show a great/walking/wool wheel and carding wool.British Library Royal MS 10 E IV 137r British Library Royal MS 10 E IV 137vI  have previously seen several of these images, which come after the two combing pictures. I didn’t notice any drop spindles, which is what would have been used for the combed wool.

British Library Royal MS 10 E IV 139r

British Library Royal MS 10 E IV 139vBritish Library Royal MS 10 E IV 140v British Library Royal MS 10 E IV 141v British Library Royal MS 10 E IV 142r British Library Royal MS 10 E IV 142v British Library Royal MS 10 E IV 143r British Library Royal MS 10 E IV 146r British Library Royal MS 10 E IV 147r British Library Royal MS 10 E IV 147v

The Wright’s Chaste Wife can be read in various places online, including the University of Rochester’s Middle English Text Series and Project Gutenberg (both editions include notes to help clarify the text). Some of the fiber related sections follow, from the Middle English Text Series

Line 214-231, swingling or scutching to prepare the flax for spinning (by the Lord so he can get his dinner)

For I have both hempe and lyne,
And a betyngstocke fulle fyne,
And a swyngylle good and grete;
If thou wylt worke, tell me sone.”
“Dame, bryng yt forthe, yt schalle be done,
Fulle gladly would I ete.”
Sche toke the stocke in her honde,
And into the pytt sche yt schlang
Wyth a grete hete:
Sche brought the lyne and hempe on her backe,
“Syr lord,” sche seyd, “have thou that,
And lerne for to swete.”
Ther sche toke hym a bonde
For to occupy hys honde,
And bade hym fast on to bete.
He leyd yt downe on the stone,
And leyd on strockes welle good wone,
And sparyd nott on to leyne.

Line 374-396, more swingling, by the steward

Butt thou wylt helpe to dyght this lyne,
Much hungyr yt schalle be thyne
Though thou make much mone.”
Up he rose, and went therto,
“Better ys me thus to doo
Whyle yt must nedys be do.”
The stuard began fast to knocke,
The wyfe threw hym a syngelyng stocke,
Hys mete therwyth to wyn;
Sche brought a swyngylle at the last,
“Good syres,” sche seyd, “swyngylle on fast;
For nothing that ye blynne.”
Sche gave hym a stocke to sytt uppon,
And seyd, “Syres, this werke must nedys be done,
Alle that that ys here yn.”
The stuard toke up a stycke to saye,
“Sey, seye, swyngylle better yf ye may,
Hytt wylle be the better to spynne.”

Lines 504-521, spinning stricks of line flax, by proctor

The good wyfe rawte hym a rocke,
For therto hadde sche nede.
Sche seyd, “Whan I was mayde att home,
Other werke dowde I do none
My lyf therwyth to lede.”
Sche gave hym in hande a rocke hynde,
And bade hem fast for to wynde
Or ellys to lett be hys dede.
“Yes, dame,” he seyd, “so have I hele,
I schalle yt worke both feyre and welle
As ye have taute me.”
He wavyd up a strycke of lyne,
And he span wele and fyne
Byfore the swyngelle tre.
The lord seyd, “Thou spynnest to grete,
Therfore thou schalt have no mete,
That thou schalt well see.”
Thus they satt and wrought fast
Tylle the weke dayes were past.

Lines 522-531, when the husband returns home, the three men sent to tempt his wife are processing linen for her:

Then the wryght, home came he,
And as he cam by hus hows syde
He herd noyse that was not ryde
Of persons two or thre;
One of hem knockyd lyne,
Anothyr swyngelyd good and fyne
Byfore the swyngylle tre,
The thyrde did rele and spynne,
Mete and drynke therwyth to wynne,
Gret nede therof hadde he.