Curtasye and Pilgrimage

Rather than let this blog become completely dedicated to local history, I have decided that for now I will move away from the home-grown connections to medieval travel and give some time to my primary interest and research area – pilgrimage in literary works. The most famous literary depiction of medieval pilgrimage is of course Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales but its presence can be seen in many other Middle English works and across a variety of genres. During the course of my research I’ve come across numerous ways in which pilgrimage appears in texts and here is one I found when I just started on my  research last winter. While researching the link between didactic, instructional literature and pilgrimage, I came across a text entitled The Boke of Curstasye which offers directions relating to correct table manners and how to behave in church, among other things. I had examined other didactic texts, mostly parental advice to children, where pilgrimage only received a passing reference so I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Book of Curtasye gave detailed instructions on how a person (more specifically a man) should behave when on pilgrimage. It is an amusing piece which explains how a male pilgrim should handle a situation where he finds himself having to share a bed with another  pilgrim. For example, having picked a side of the bed, speaking is to be kept to a minimum once you have inquired his name and where he is from:

With felawe, maystur, or her degré,e curtasye
In bedde yf þou falle herberet to be,
Þou schalt enquere b
In what par[t] of þe bedde he wylle lye;
Be honest and lye þou fer hym fro,
Þou art not wyse but þou do so.
With woso men, boþe fer and negh,
The falle to go, loke þou be slegh
To aske his nome, and qweche he be,
Whidur he wille: kepe welle þes thre.
The correct way in which to behave when in the company of friars while on pilgrimage is also dictated as are strict guidelines on not displaying greediness at the table of a host. The most amusing instruction I came across in this piece, however, was that when looking for a place to stay when on pilgrimage you must never stay in the home of a red-haired person “For þose be folke þat ar to drede”. Looks like if I was to provide pilgrims with hospitality in the Middle Ages, my red hair would have scuppered those plans.
If you would like to read more from The Boke of Curtasye  please check out the online version of the text found in the “Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse” –;view=fulltext


Filed under Medieval, Middle English Literature, Pilgrimage

2 responses to “Curtasye and Pilgrimage

  1. There goes our Camino adventure…. you and me both, red heads !!!!!!!!! Or does that instruction definitely apply to red headed hostesses?
    Maybe, as part of your original research you could lead a pilgrimage of redheads….? What do you think?

    • I love it! I can see the headlines now: A pilgrimage comprising mainly of redhaired people run amok on the Camino in retaliation for being turned away from many of the pilgrim hostels.

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