The Distaff Gospels
A First Modern English Edition of Les Évangiles des Quenouilles
  • Publication Date: January 1, 2006
  • ISBN: 9781551115603 / 1551115603
  • 325 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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The Distaff Gospels

A First Modern English Edition of Les Évangiles des Quenouilles

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2006
  • ISBN: 9781551115603 / 1551115603
  • 325 pages; 5½" x 8½"

The Distaff Gospels (Les Évangiles des Quenouilles), a fascinating fifteenth-century collection of more than 250 popular beliefs, constitutes a kind of encyclopedia of late medieval women’s wisdom. The women’s beliefs and experiences are recounted within the narrative frame of traditional gatherings where women meet with their spindles and distaffs to spin. They share advice on such important matters as how to control errant husbands, how to predict the gender of future offspring, how to cure common diseases, and ways to deal with evil spirits, providing a rare look into the intimate lives of medieval peasant women.

This edition includes a facing-page translation (the first in English since 1510) of the two Old French manuscripts of the text. The critical introduction discusses the literary context, textual history, and cultural significance of The Distaff Gospels, while the rich selection of appendices includes translations of the names of the women storytellers and excerpts from works by Giovanni Boccaccio, Jean de Meun, François Villon, and Christine de Pizan.


“This first English modern translation of The Distaff Gospels gracefully renders the somewhat recondite late medieval French of the original into elegant and faithful yet contemporary prose. The editors’ introduction frames well and cogently the issues germane to the production of this text, including transgendered expression, the culture of the ‘World Upside Down’ in which women may have their say, archeological information about practices of midwifery in the era, and the folkloric aspect and popular content of short narrative. The book is simultaneously inter-disciplinary, an inventive reconstruction, and a scholarly edition, and succeeds admirably at all three.” — Catharine Randall, Fordham University

A Note on the Text

The Distaff Gospels (Paris Manuscript: BnF 2151)
The Distaff Gospels (Chantilly Manuscript: Musée Condé)
The Distaff Gospels: Translations of the Spinsters’ Names

Appendix A: From Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron (ca. 1351)

Appendix B: From Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung, The Romance of the Rose (late 13th century)

Appendix C: From The Fifteen Joys of Marriage (anon., early 15th century)

Appendix D: From François Villon, Testament (mid 15th century)

Appendix E: From Christine de Pizan, Ballad 26 and The Book of the Three Virtues (early 15th century)

Appendix F: From Bartholomaeus Anglicus (Bartholomew the Englishman), On the Properties of Things (mid 13th century)

Select Bibliography


Madeleine Jeay and Kathleen Garay teach in the department of French and the Arts and Sciences Programme, respectively, at McMaster University. They are the translators and editors of The Life of Saint Douceline, a Beguine of Provence (D.S. Brewer, 2001).