Bigorne and Chichevache were two medieval monsters who, very much like Jack Sprat and his wife, lived on contrasting diets. Bigorne was said to subsist on a diet of faithful men, whilst Chichevache ate only faithful women. Naturally with an abundance of faithful men to feed upon Bigorne grew very fat, whilst Chichevache grew very thin on the meagre pickings that were available to her. The two monsters appear to be of French origin; Bigorne, or Bicorne as he is sometimes known, is French for 'two-horned', the traditional symbol of the cuckold, and indeed some accounts relate that the monster is said to have fed on cuckolded husbands, which were also regarded as being in plentiful supply; whilst although chichevache is French for 'thin cow', this is in fact a corruption of chichefache or chicheface which means 'thin face', reflecting the starved appearance of the poor creature condemned to perpetual hunger.
The exact origin of this pair of misogynistic monsters is unclear but their names first appear in some French poetry of the fourteenth century, and certainly be the following century appear to have become established in the popular consciousness. There was a fifteenth century treasurer of France named Jean Bourré who built the Château du Plessis-Bourré, where the Salle des Gardes features a depiction of 'Chicheface' as an hungry wolf that only eats faithful women, the victim in this case supposedly being Jean Bourré's own wife. Similarly the Château du Villeneuve-Lambron famously features murals commissioned by Rigaud d'Aureilhe, which feature various allegoric scenes including depictions entitled the 'Dit de la Chiche-Face' and the 'Dit de la Bigorne'.
From France the monsters made their way across the Channel; Geoffrey Chaucer cites Chichevache in The Clerk's tale, whilst the early fifteenth century poet John Lydgate is believed to be the author of the satiric poem 'Bycorne and Chychevache'. Commissioned by a "werthy citeseyn" of London as "the devise of a peynted or desteyned clothe for an halle a parlour or a chaumbre", the work features a Chychevache who is "but skyn and boon" as she "will not ete on see nor lande, But paycent wyves", contrasted with "hir husbande" Bycorne who is "full fatte and rounde".
At Carlisle Cathedral there is a misercord showing the two monsters with Bigorne depicted in the act of devouring a faithful husband and similar representations are to be found at the cathedrals of St David's, Gloucester, Southwark and at the Church of St Agnes at Cawston in Norfolk. One can only surmise that the deeds of Bigorne and Chichevache were a favourite topic for medieval sermonising.
- Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson The Lore of the Land (Penguin Books, 2005)
- Claire Sponslor, John Lydgate. The Literary Encyclopedia. 20 Sep. 2002. The Literary Dictionary Company. 17 January 2006. http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=2827
- Château du Plessis-Bourré
- Municipality, Puy-de-Dôme, France