Anticipating Audience in The Book of the Knight of the Tower

  • Elizabeth Allen
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The later Middle Ages saw a proliferation of lay conduct books, including domestic handbooks for women, written in vernacular French and English.1 This occurred amid broader changes in the uses of books and writing, principally the increase in vernacular writing and the rise of print. While the Latin advisory text of Cat’s Distichs was widely used in the grammar curriculum, vernacular conduct books circulated in noble households and became part of the education of both boys and girls.2 Increasingly, they circulated among the households of prosperous bourgeois classes.3 As merchants gained increasing access to wealth and status, conduct books reflected social aspirations, becoming part of the material trappings of gentility.4 Such books, explicitly directed to inexperienced readers, claim to be instruments of social education. Their social advice—how to create a domestic sanctuary for one’s husband, how to conduct oneself at table—almost inevitably has moral import. The fourteenth-century Menagier de Paris advises his young wife about how to rid the house of fleas and flies in order to win her husband’s approval and attention, which at first seems a largely pragmatic aim. But the Menagier then goes on to compare the husband’s longing for his ideal wife to the longing of the penitent for Christ, and the domineering wife’s failure to submit to her husband to the overweening pride of Lucifer (Section 1, Article 7). To a great extent, such texts “seek to convert the dynamic and flexible activities of human behavior into more or less systematized sets of rules and advice.”5


Moral Truth Eternal Truth Inexperienced Reader Male Audience Public Scandal 
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© Elizabeth Allen 2005

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  • Elizabeth Allen

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