Bonny and buxom? The answer to yesterday’s trivia


Yesterday I asked what the possible meaning of the marital contract promise, “to be bonny and buxom in bed and at board.” This was a phrase found in a 1085 marriage contract overseen by the bishop of Salisbury, per the report of David Instone-Brewer in Divorce & Remarriage in the Church.

As I said yesterday, I would have gone with an interpretation similar to Jess’ offering. But here is his interpretation:

Bonny: french for good. Buxom: German for obedient or compliant. “In bed and at board” means in the evening and in meals. Board apparently refers to sideboard where food would be kept. So, he suggests it is a promise to be good all day long and to feed the husband well.

Actually, buxom could be flexible…maybe there was another connotation after all.

Seriously, this ought to remind us that when we read the Scriptures (and this is Instone-Brewer’s point) if we are unaware of the common meanings of words at that time, we’re likely to mis-interpret their meaning.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Bonny and buxom? The answer to yesterday’s trivia

  1. Scott Knapp, MS

    The modern mind definitely would have assumed a stronger link between “buxom” and “bed.”

  2. Jess

    Ah, yes. I suppose a thousand years changes a language a bit!

  3. Scott Knapp, MS

    But certainly not the impetus behind the sentiments! :)

  4. Scott Knapp, MS

    Which kind of reminds me of the complaint that used to be commonly heard from beleaguered wives: “He wants me to be Madonna in the bedroom, and Martha Stewart in the kitchen!”

  5. jenny

    I think a modern take on the phrase is open – “good and obedient in bed and at the (side) board”.
    Ah, plus ca change…

  6. Diana

    Very interesting at how attitudes have changed towards Women these centuries, I am glad to live in the 21st century! I wonder, did men make a similar promise to wives?

  7. Jeremy

    Hi Diana – I think I found the vows these refer to, and no men don’t take a vow of obedience, but interestingly women don’t have to promise anything about if their mate turns foul, or cherishing their mate, or even – oddly – loving them:
    I, [Name], take thee [name] to my wedded [wife|husband], to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, [man: for fairer or fouler, woman: nothing], in sickness and in health, [woman: bonny and buxom – etc. man: to love and to cherish], till death us depart, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth.

  8. AEH

    This phrase appears verbatim in A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness which brought me to your page. Thanks for explaining. :)

  9. Madcom

    Beware the translation not the text!

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