In chapter VII of Thomas Deloney's novel Jack of Newbury an Italian merchant named Benedicke tries to woo Jone. After some time, Jone gets tired of this and tries to trick him into sleeping with a sow, making him believe he will actually be in bed with her. After putting a sow with a nightcap into a bed in a perfectly dark room, Benedicke is sent into that room (italics from the original, bold by me):

    By this time master Benedicke was unready, and slipt into bed, where the Sowe lay swathed in a sheete, and her head bound in a great linnen cloth: As soone as he was laid, he began to embrace his new bedfellow, and laying his lips to her snout, hee felt her draw her breath very short.
    Why how now love (quoth he) be you sick, be Got mistris Jone your breat be very strong: have you no cacke a bed?
    The Sow feeling her selfe disturbed, began to grunt and keep a great stirre: whereat master Benedick (like a mad man) ran out of the bed, crying de devil de devil.

I'm not entirely sure what the intended meaning is here, especially in the context of having "strong breath".


Because of the smell, he wonders if she has soiled the bed.

Even today, "cack" is still used as a word for faeces. By searching the web for "cack a bed" (with the superfluous "e" removed), I found several results from 18th-century dictionaries between English and other languages such as French (1768), German (1788), and Dutch (1789). I didn't find any reference in an English-to-English dictionary (could it be due to some censorship of vulgar words in England at that time?), but since I speak some French, I then searched for the French translation "chic en lit" and found this French dictionary (1839) which gives the meaning of the related term "cago oou lièch" as:

Petit enfant qui fait ses nécessités au lit sans demander le pot. Il est bas et fam.

Small child who does their business in bed without asking for a potty. [The phrase] is low [vulgar?] and informal.

This fits with the context of your quote. Benedicke gets into bed with (as he thinks) Jone, and when he notices a smell like a farmyard, he wonders if there is manure in the bed.

The grammar seems a bit off, but this might be accounted for by the imperfect English of the Italian merchant Benedicke. The meaning, however, seems clear.

  • That seems to confirm my suspicions, since I know the word from Dutch and German. Still, I found the word "no" in Benedick's question confusing. – Tsundoku Jul 6 '19 at 20:09
  • @ChristopheStrobbe Maybe it's a negation as in "surely you haven't cacked the bed?" I don't know exactly how negation was used in 16th-century English speech ... – Rand al'Thor Jul 6 '19 at 20:11
  • Perhaps. I suspect it may have more to do with the Italian merchant's broken English. – Tsundoku Jul 6 '19 at 20:14

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