Purported a collection of short stories narrated by various persons at the court of Philippe le Bon, and collected together by Antoine de la Sale, the nouvelles are, according to the authority on French Literature—Professor George Saintsbury “undoubtedly the first work of literary prose in French … The short prose tale of a comic character is the one French literary product the pre-eminence and perfection of which it is impossible to dispute, and the prose tale first appears to advantage in the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles.”
The stories give a curious glimpses of life in the 15th century, providing a genuine view of the social condition of the nobility and the middle classes. M. Lenient, a French critic, says: “Generally the incidents and personages belong to the bourgeoisée; there is nothing chivalric, nothing wonderful; no dreamy lovers, romantic dames, fairies, or enchanters. Noble dames, bourgeois, nuns, knights, merchants, monks, and peasants mutually dupe each other. The lord deceives the miller’s wife by imposing on her simplicity, and the miller retaliates in much the same manner. The shepherd marries the knight’s sister, and the nobleman is not over scandalized. The vices of the monks are depicted in half a score tales, and the seducers are punished with a severity not always in proportion to the offence.”
For four centuries 10 of the stories were credited to Louis XI. Modern scholars have since ascribed them to either Philippe le Bel or Comte de Charolais. In all, some thirty-two noblemen or squires contributed the stories, with some 14 or 15 taken from Giovanni Boccaccio, and as many more from Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini or other Italian writers, or French fabliaux, but about 70 of them appear to be original.
STORY THE FOURTH — THE ARMED CUCKOLD. The fourth tale is of a Scotch archer who was in love with a fair and gentle dame, the wife of a mercer, who, by her husband’s orders appointed a day for the said Scot to visit her, who came and treated her as he wished, the said mercer being hid by the side of the bed, where he could see and hear all.
STORY THE SEVENTH — THE WAGGONER IN THE BEAR. Of a goldsmith of Paris who made a waggoner sleep with him and his wife, and how the waggoner dallied with her from behind, which the goldsmith perceived and discovered, and of the words which he spake to the waggoner.
STORY THE THIRTEENTH — THE CASTRATED CLERK. How a lawyer’s clerk in England deceived his master making him believe that he had no testicles, by which reason he had charge over his mistress both in the country and in the town, and enjoyed his pleasure.
STORY THE TWENTY-FIFTH — FORCED WILLINGLY. Of a girl who complained of being forced by a young man, whereas she herself had helped him to find that which he sought;—and of the judgment which was given thereon.
STORY THE THIRTY-NINTH — BOTH WELL SERVED. Of a knight who, whilst he was waiting for his mistress amused himself three times with her maid, who had been sent to keep him company that he might not be dull; and afterwards amused himself three times with the lady, and how the husband learned it all from the maid, as you will hear.
STORY THE FORTY-FIFTH — THE SCOTSMAN TURNED WASHERWOMAN Of a young Scotsman who was disguised as a woman for the space of fourteen years, and by that means slept with many girls and married women, but was punished in the end, as you will hear.
STORY THE FIFTIETH — TIT FOR TAT. Of a father who tried to kill his son because the young man wanted to lie with his grandmother, and the reply made by the said son.
STORY THE FIFTY-SIXTH — THE WOMAN, PRIEST, SERVANT, AND WOLF. Of a gentleman who caught, in a trap that he laid, his wife, the priest, her maid, and a wolf; and burned them all alive, because his wife committed adultery with the priest.
STORY THE SIXTY-FIFTH — INDISCRETION REPROVED, BUT NOT PUNISHED. Of a woman who heard her husband say that an innkeeper at Mont St. Michel was excellent at copulating, so went there, hoping to try for herself, but her husband took means to prevent it, at which she was much displeased, as you will hear shortly.
STORY THE EIGHTIETH — GOOD MEASURE! Of a young German girl, aged fifteen or sixteen or thereabouts who was married to a gentle gallant, and who complained that her husband had too small an organ for her liking, because she had seen a young ass of only six months old which had a bigger instrument than her husband, who was 24 or 26 years old.
STORY THE EIGHTY-SECOND — BEYOND THE MARK. Of a shepherd who made an agreement with a shepherdess that he should mount upon her “in order that he might see farther,” but was not to penetrate beyond a mark which she herself made with her hand upon the instrument of the said shepherd—as will more plainly appear hereafter.
STORY THE HUNDREDTH AND LAST — THE CHASTE LOVER. Of a rich merchant of the city of Genoa, who married a fair damsel, who owing to the absence of her husband, sent for a wise clerk—a young, fit, and proper man—to help her to that of which she had need; and of the fast that he caused her to make—as you will find more plainly below.