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Three Very Minor Brothers
_Of three women of Malines, who were acquainted with three cordeliers,
and had their heads shaved, and donned the gown that they might not be
recognised, and how it was made known._
Formerly there were in the town of Malines three damsels, the wives of
three burghers of the town,--rich, powerful, and of good position, who
were in love with three Minor Friars; and to more secretly and covertly
manage their amours under the cloak of religion, they rose every day an
hour or two before dawn, and when it appeared a fit time to go and see
their lovers, they told their husbands they were going to matins to the
Owing to the great pleasure that they took in these exercises and the
monks also, it often happened that it was broad daylight, and they
could not leave the convent without being perceived by the other monks.
Therefore, fearing the great perils and inconveniences which might
arise, they arranged between them that each should wear a monk's gown,
and have a tonsure made on her head, as though they belonged to the
convent. So finally one day that they were in the convent, and whilst
their husbands suspected nothing of it, a barber,--that is to say a
monk belonging to the convent--was sent for secretly to the cells of the
three brothers, and he cut a tonsure on the head of each.
And when the time came to leave, they put on the friars' gowns with
which they were provided, and in that state returned to their respective
homes, and undressed, and left their disguise with certain discreet
matrons, and then returned to their husbands; and this continued for a
long while, without any person being aware of it.
But since it would have been a great pity that such excessive devotion
should not be known, fortune so willed that as on a certain day one
of these ladies was on her road to the accustomed haunt, her trick was
discovered, and she was caught in her disguise by her husband, who had
followed her, and who said:
"Good brother, I am glad to have met you! I would beg of you to return
to my house, for I have many things to say to you," and with that he
took her back, at which she hardly felt joyful.
When they were in the house, the husband said, in a joking manner;
"My dear helpmate, can you swear on your honour that it is true piety,
which in the middle of winter, causes you to don the habit of St.
Francis, and have your head shaved like the good monks? Tell me the name
of your confessor, or by St. Francis you shall suffer for it,"--and he
pretended to draw his dagger.
The poor woman threw herself on her knees, and cried;
"Have mercy upon me, husband! for I have been led astray by bad
companions! I know that you could kill me if you liked, and that I have
not behaved as I should, but I am not the only one the monks have led
astray, and, if you promise that you will do nothing to me, I will tell
To this her husband agreed; and then she told him how she often went to
the monastery with two of her cronies who were in love with two of the
monks, and they often breakfasted together in the monks' cells. "A third
monk was in love with me," she continued, "and made such humble and
impassioned requests to me that I could not excuse myself, and by the
instigation and example of my companions, I did as they did, they all
saying that we should have a good time together, and no one would know
Then the husband demanded the names of her female friends, and she told
him. He was acquainted with their husbands, and they had often eaten and
drunk together. Finally, he asked who was the barber, and the names of
the three monks.
The good husband, after considering all things, and moved by the piteous
groans and sad regrets of his wife, said;
"Take care that you tell no one that you have spoken to me on this
matter, and I promise you that I will do you no harm."
She promised that she would do whatever he wished. With that he went
away at once, and invited to dinner the two husbands and their wives,
the three Cordeliers, and the barber, and they all promised to come.
The next day they all came, and sat at table, and enjoyed themselves
without expecting any bad news. After the table was removed, they had
many joyous jests and devices to discover who should pay scot for all,
and as they could not agree, the host said;
"Since we cannot agree as to who is to pay the reckoning, I will tell
you what we will do. The one who has the baldest crown to his head shall
pay--of course excluding these good monks, who pay nothing--at present."
To which they all agreed, and were content that it should be thus, and
that the barber should be the judge. And when all the men had shown
their heads, the host said that they ought to look at their wives'
It need not be asked if there were not some there present who felt their
hearts sink within them. Without an instant's delay, the host uncovered
his wife's head, and when he saw the tonsure he pretended to admire it
greatly, pretending that he knew nothing about it, and said,
"We must see if the others are the same."
Then their husbands made them remove their head-dresses, and they were
found to be tonsured like the first one, at which the men were not best
pleased, notwithstanding that they laughed loudly, and declared that the
question had been settled, and that it was for their wives to pay the
But they wished to know how these tonsures came there, and the host,
rejoicing to be able to divulge such a secret, related the whole affair,
on condition that they would pardon their wives this time, after they
had been witnesses of the penance the good monks were to undergo in
their presence,--and to this both husbands agreed.
Then the host caused four or five sturdy varlets to come out of a
chamber near by, and they, knowing what they had to do, seized the
worthy monks and gave them as many blows as they could find room for
on their shoulders, and then turned them out of the house. The others
remained for a certain space, and it is to be supposed that a good deal
of conversation passed between them, but as it would take too long to
recount, I pass it over here, for the sake of brevity.
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