Some Galled Goose of Winchester

The concluding lines of Pandar’s epilogue from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida:

As many as be here of panders’ hall,
Your eyes, half out, weep out at Pandar’s fall;
Or if you cannot weep, yet give some groans,
Though not for me, yet for your aching bones.
Brethren and sisters of the hold-door trade,
Some two months hence my will shall here be made:
It should be now, but that my fear is this,
Some galled goose of Winchester would hiss:
Till then I’ll sweat and seek about for eases,
And at that time bequeathe you my diseases.

The jokes all aim for the audience, either their venereal diseases and accompanying pains (“eyes, half out”, “aching bones”, “galled” as OED’s “affected with galls or painful swelling”) or their status as pimps and prostitutes (“brethren and sisters of the hold-door trade”, “galled goose of Winchester”).

This latter phrase is the only one not generally clear from the context alone, but it turns out the term ‘Winchester goose’ has its own OED entry with eight examples dating from 1598-1751.  One of these, Stephen Whatley’s 1751 England Gazetteer records the origin in its entry for Southwark:

“In the times of popery, here were no less than 18 houses on the Bankside, licensed by the Bps. of Winchester…to keep whores, who were, therefore, commonly called Winchester Geese.”

Although prostitution was not legal in the city proper, Southwark wasn’t brought under London jurisdiction until much later and instead fell to the charge of the Bishops of Winchester who owned much of the area’s land.  The bishops licensed the prostitutes of the area, who then became playfully known as his geese.  Unfortunately, I can’t quickly find anything on the rationale behind the choice of ‘geese’ – it seems too convenient for it to be a sort of pun on the bishop’s flock (which is usually referring to sheep anyway).

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