Cony-Catching - A Pleasant Tale Of A Man That Was Married To Sixteen Wives, And How Courteously His Last Wife Entreated Him.

A Pleasant Tale Of A Man That Was Married To Sixteen Wives, And How Courteously His Last Wife Entreated Him.

            But now to be a little pleasant with you, let me have your opinion what you deem of those amorosos here in England & about London that (because the old proverb saith change of pasture makes fat calves) will have in every shire in England a sundry wife, as for an instance your countryman R.B. Are not they right cony-catchers? enter into the nature of them, and see whether your pen had been better employed in discovering their villainies, than a simple legerdemain at cards. For suppose a man hath but one daughter, and hath no other dowry but her beauty and honesty, what a spoil is it for her to light in the hands of such an adulterous and incestuous rascal? had not her father been better to have lost forty shillings at cards than to have his daughter so cony-catched and spoiled forever after? These youths are proper fellows, never without good apparel and store of crowns, well horsed, and of so quaint & fine behaviour, & so eloquent, that they are able to induce a young girl to folly, especially since they shadow their villainy with the honest pretence of marriage, for their custom is this.

            When they come into the city or other place of credit, or sometime in a country village, as the fortune of their villainy leads them, they make inquiry what good marriages are abroad, & on the Sunday make survey what fair and beautiful maids or widows are in the parish; then as their licentious lust leads them, whether the eye for favour or the ear for riches, so they set down their rest, & sojourn either there or thereabouts, having money at will, and their companions to soothe up whatsoever damnably they shall protest, courting the maid or widow with such fair words & sweet promises that she is often so set on fire that neither the report of others nor the admonition of their friends can draw them from the love of the Poligamoi or belswaggers of the country. And when the wretches have by the space of a month or two satisfied their lust, they wax weary, & either feign some great journey for awhile to be absent, & so go & visit some other of his wives, or else if he mean to give her the bag, he selleth whatsoever he can, and so leaves her spoiled both of her wealth and honesty, than which there is nothing more precious to an honest woman. And because you shall see an instance, I will tell you a pleasant tale performed by our villains in Wiltshire not long since; I will conceal the parties' names, because I think the woman is yet alive.

            In Wiltshire there dwelt a farmer of indifferent wealth that had but only one child, and that was a daughter, a maid of excellent beauty and good behaviour, and so honest in her conversation, that the good report of her virtues was well spoken of in all the country, so that what for her good qualities, & sufficient dowry that was like to fall to her she had many suitors, men's sons of good wealth and honest conversation. But whether this maid had no mind to wed, or she liked none that made love to her, or she was afraid to match in haste lest she might repent at leisure, I know not, but she refused all, & kept her still a virgin. But as we see oftentimes the coyest maids happen on the coldest marriages, playing like the beetle that makes scorn all day of the daintiest flowers and at night takes up his lodging in a cowshard, so this maid, whom we will call Marian, refused many honest and wealthy farmers' sons and at last lighted on a match that forever after marred her market: for it fell out thus. One of these notable rogues, by occupation a tailor, and a fine workman, a reprobate given over to the spoil of honest maids & to the deflowering of virgins, hearing as he travelled abroad of this Marian, did mean to have a fling at her, and therefore came into the town where her father dwelt, and asked work. A very honest man of that trade, seeing him a passing proper man and of a very good and honest countenance, and not simply apparelled, said he would make trial of him for a garment or two, and so took him into service: as soon as he saw him use his needle he wondered not only at his workmanship but at the swiftness of his hand. At last the fellow (whom we will name William) desired his master that he might use his shears but once for the cutting out of a doublet, which his master granted, and he used so excellently well that although his master was counted the best tailor in Wiltshire yet he found himself a botcher in respect of his new entertained journeyman, so that from that time forward he was made foreman of the shop, & so pleased the gentlemen of that shire, that who but William was talked on for a good tailor in that shire. Well, as young men and maids meet on Sundays & holy-days, so this tailor was passing brave, & began to frolic it amongst the maids, & to be very liberal, being full of silver and gold, & for his personage a properer man than any was in all the parish, and made afar off a kind of love to this Marian: who seeing this William to be a very handsome man began somewhat to affect him, so that in short time she thought well of his favours, & there grew some love between them, insomuch that it came to her father's ears, who began to school his daughter for such foolish affection towards one she knew not what he was nor whither he would: but in vain, Marian could not but think well of him, so that her father one day sent for his master, and began to question of the disposition of his man. The master told the farmer friendly that what he was he knew not, as being a mere stranger unto him: but for his workmanship, he was one of the most excellent both for needle and shears in England; for his behaviour since he came into his house, he had behaved himself very honestly and courteously: well apparelled he was, and well moneyed, & might for his good qualities seem to be a good woman's fellow. Although this somewhat satisfied the father, yet he was loath a tailor should carry away his daughter & that she should be driven to live of a bare occupation whereas she might have landed men to her husbands, so that he and her friends called her aside and persuaded her from him, but she flatly told them she never loved any but him, and sith it was her first love she would not now be turned from it, whatsoever hap did afterward befall unto her. Her father, that loved her dearly, seeing no persuasions could draw her from the tailor, left her to her own liberty, and so she and William agreed together, that in short time they were married, and had a good portion, and set up shop, and lived together by the space of a quarter of a year very orderly. At last satisfied with the lust of his new wife, he thought it good to visit some other of his wives (for at that instant he had sixteen alive), and made a scuse to his wife and his wife's father to go into Yorkshire (which was his native country) and visit his friends and crave somewhat of his father towards household. Although his wife was loath to part from her sweet Wil., yet she must be content, and so, well horsed and provided, away he rides for a month or two, that was his furthest day, and down goes he into some other country to solace himself with some other of his wives. In this meanwhile, one of his wives that he married in or about Taunton in Somersetshire had learned of his villainy, and how many wives he had, and by long travail had got a note of their names and dwelling, and the hands and seals of every parish where he was married, and now by fortune she heard that he had married a wife in Wiltshire, not far from Marlborough: thither hies she with warrants from the bishop and divers justices to apprehend him, and coming to the town where he dwelt, very subtly inquired at her host of his estate, who told her that he had married a rich farmer's daughter, but now was gone down to his friends in Yorkshire, and would be at home again within a week, for he had been eight weeks already from home. The woman inquired no further for that time, but the next morning went home to the farmer's house, and desired him to send for his daughter, for she would speak with her from her husband. The man straight did so, and she hearing she should have news from her William, came very hastily. Then the woman said, she was sorry for her, in that their misfortunes were alike in being married to such a runagate as this tailor, for (quoth she) it is not yet a year and a half since he was married to me in Somersetshire. As this went cold to the old man's heart, so struck it deadly into the mind of Marian, who desiring her to tell the truth, she out with her testimony, and showed them how he had at that instant sixteen wives alive. When they read the certificate, and saw the hands and seals of every parish, the old man fell a-weeping, but such was the grief of Marian, that her sorrow stopped her tears, and she sat as a woman in a trance till at last fetching a great sigh she called God to witness she would be revenged on him for all his wives, and would make him a general example of all such graceless runagates. So she concealed the matter, and placed this her fellow in misfortune in a kinswoman's house of hers, so secretly as might be, attending the coming of her treacherous husband, who returned within a fortnight, having in the space he was absent visited three or four of his wives, and now meant to make a short cut of the matter, & sell all that his new wife had, and to travel into some other shire, for he had heard how his Somersetshire wife had made inquiry after him in divers places. Being come home he was wonderfully welcome to Marian, who entertained him with such courtesies as a kind wife could any ways afford him, only the use of her body she denied, saying her natural disease was upon her. Well, to be brief, a great supper was made, and all her friends was bidden, & he every way so welcome as if it had been the day of his bridal, yea all things was smoothed up so cunningly, that he suspected nothing less than the revenge intended against him. As soon as supper was ended, & all had taken their leave, our tailor would to bed, and his wife with her own hands helped to undress him very lovingly, and being laid down she kissed him & said she would go to her father's & come again straight, bidding him fall asleep the whilst: He, that was drowsy with travel & drinking at supper, had no need of great entreaty, for he straight fell into a sound slumber; the whilst she had sent for his other wife, & other her neighbours disguised, and coming softly into the parlour where he lay, she turned up his clothes at his feet & tied his legs fast together with a rope, then waking him, she asked him what reason he had to sleep so soundly. He, new waked out of his sleep, began to stretch himself, and galled his legs with the cord, whereat he wondering said; How now, wife, what's that hurts my legs; what, are my feet bound together? Marian, looking on him with looks full of death, made him this answer: Aye, villain, thy legs are bound, but hadst thou thy just desert, thy neck had long since been stretched at the gallows, but before thou and I part I will make thee a just spectacle unto the world for thy abominable treachery: and with that she clapped her hand fast on the hair of his head and held him down to the pillow. William, driven into a wondrous amaze at these  words, said trembling: Sweet wife, what sudden alteration is this? what mean these words wife? Traitor (quoth she) I am none of thy wife, neither is this thy wife: & with that she brought her forth that he was married in Somersetshire, although thou art married to her as well as to me, and hast like a villain sought the spoil of fifteen women beside myself, & that thou shalt hear by just certificate: & with that there was read the bead-roll of his wives, where he married them, and where they dwelt. At this he lay mute as in a trance, & only for answer help up his hands and desired them both to be merciful unto him, for he confessed all was truth, that he had been a heinous offender, and deserved death. Tush, saith Marian, but how canst thou make any one of us amends? If a man kill the father, he may satisfy the blood in the son: if a man steal, he may make restitution: but he that robs a woman of her honesty & virginity can never make any satisfaction: and therefore for all the rest I will be revenged. With that his other wife and the women clapped hold on him, & held him fast while Marian with a sharp razor cut off his stones and made him a gelding. I think she had little respect where the sign was, or observed little art for the string, but off they went, & then she cast them in his face & said: Now lustful whoremaster, go & deceive other women as thou hast done us, if thou canst: so they sent in a surgeon to him that they had provided, and away they went. The man lying in great pain of body & agony of mind, the surgeon looking to his wound had much ado to stanch the blood, & always he laughed heartily when he thought on the revenge, and bade a vengeance on such sow-gelders as made such large slits: but at last he laid a blood-plaster to him, & stopped his bleeding, and to be brief, in time healed him, but with much pain. As soon as he was whole, and might go abroad without danger, he was committed to the gaol, and after some other punishment, banished out of Wiltshire and Somersetshire forever after. Thus was this lusty cock of the game made a capon, and as I heard, had little lust to marry any more wives to his dying day.

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