Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Sexuality in the Middle Ages

It was obvious that a conference on sexuality in the Middle Ages would draw the crowds so Red Baron went early to get a seat in the library of Freiburg's Alemannisches Institut in a position near the projector. Mind you, I did not feel like a voyeur but rather wanted to take readable photos of slides containing old German texts. In fact, the following pictures except for the colored one on the Church Council of Constance I took with my iPhone and later processed them. They are copyrighted Professor Gerhard Fritz of Schwäbisch-Gmünd. As predicted, when he started his scientific lecture the library was cramped full.

From the beginning Professor Fritz made it clear that he will limit his talk to examples from the Upper Rhine region while he circulated the table of contents of a book on the topic that he is presently finishing covering a wider range.

Sexuality of people in the Middle Ages was characterized by their relation with the Catholic Church. Although many a marriage was arranged is was essential that bride and bridegroom were not forced to marry but giving their mutual consent in front of a priest till death us do part. To avoid later claims that a marriage had not been consumed - being a valid ground for an anullment - often a third person had to tenir la chandelle, i.e., observe and witness the first sexual embrace.

A bishop holding a candle (French: tenir la chandelle) for a freshly married noble couple
 or is it an aspergillum?
Professor Fritz explained that the Middle Age society distinguished three classes. The nobility got away with many a sin profiting from its good contacts with the Church authorities, the majority, farmers and citizens, suffered from the Church commandments of chastity, and the lower class of vagabonds and beggars could not care less about sexual rules. There was even some sort of tension between clergymen and physicians when the latter claimed that both genders need regular sexual intercourse ... for health reasons.

And indeed, in spite of the strict Church chastity rules even for married couples bathhouses and brothels where men were looking for Kurzweil (amusement i.e., orgasms) were common in the Middle Ages. The best known example is the Council of Constance when offene Frauen (open women) satisfied the needs of domestic and foreign men in den hurenhüsern, also die, die selb hüser gemietet hattend und in den stälen lagen und was sy mochten. Seien gegen 700 da gewesen, ohne die haimlichen, die lass ich bleiben (in whore houses, i.e., those who had rented houses, lay in stables, or elsewhere. About 700 should have been present, without the clandestine women, I do not count those).

In houses and stables
In fact, it is said that when Constance housewives saw who easy it is to earn money they did this with pleasure and for a lower price. The whores who had come to Constance from all over Europe organized a protest march against unfair competition. Eventually a delegation of whores saw the German King Sigismund who gave them justice.

Wellness in Constance
Jan Hus wrote home to Prague: Ich habe die Schwaben öfters sagen hören, dass ihre Stadt Konstanz in dreißig Jahren die Sünden nicht los wird, die während des Konzils in ihren Mauern verübt wurden; viel haben ausgespuckt, weil sie gar zu schändliche Sachen gesehen (I often heard the Swabians say that their town Constance will not get rid of its sins in thirty years, sins that were committed within its walls; many people spit out for they saw too shameful things). Hus's remarks clearly reflect the stricter views of Protestantism on sexuality I shall come back to.

For "noble" men trying to get rid of their wives the Church nearly always kept an escape route open although in the Reformation there is the famous exception of King Henry VIII. A good argument for giving his wife the boot was the sudden discovery that a couple was related although at the time of marriage the only argument that counted had been the bride's dowry. Being related was a valid argument for the pope to annul a marriage.

Here is a story about a dowry with a different ending. The bankrupt Polish King Sigismund knew that Kaiser Maximilian had once consolidated his finances by marrying the rich Bianca Maria Sforza. Sigismund wanted to copy the emperor and proposed to Bianca's niece Bona Sforza. The marriage was arranged and Bona was sent on the long journey from Bari to Kraków. The days were long but the nights were even longer and so she amused herself with one or more? of the accompanying noble knights. When after three months she eventually arrived in Poland's capital the king soon noticed and then noted in Latin: Regina Bona attulit nobis tria dona: faciem pictam, dotem fictam et vulvam non strictam (Queen Bona bought us three gifts: a picture of her face, a fictitious dowry, and a vulva not being tight). This remark was not fair for in Wikipedia you may read: Bona's dowry was very large – 100,000 ducats and personal items worth 50,000 ducats in addition to Bari and Rossano that she would inherit after her mother's death.

Cuckold Sigismund of Poland and Bona Sforza's picture, her first gift.
Indeed no money is seen, and in particular the worn-out vulva is not shown.

Not only Polish King Sigismund suffered from the so-called Nachtschaden (nightly damage). When a man from Erstein in Alsace went to see a capitular in Strasbourg to demand the divorce because the wife he had married was no virgin the high ranking dignitary simply told him: Auch mechtig könig und fürsten müssten solches erleiden (Even mighty kings and princes have to suffer from this).

Nightmare about a Nachtschaden
With the advent of Protestantism sexuality became greatly suppressed. Protestants introduced parish books to register marriages, births, and deaths meaning that many an illegitimate child was assigned a father. But there were other factors causing the decline of extramarital sex activities.

In 1494 syphilis broke out in Naples that apparently Columbus's men had contracted in the Americas. Soldiers of the French King Charles VIII brought the sexual scourge to France so that other nations later called it the French disease. Already in 1498 at the time of the Reichstag (Imperial Diet) in Freiburg the böse Blattern (named evil or great pox to distinguish the new plague from the common smallpox) had reached the city. The most prominent victim in Freiburg was Berthold von Henneberg, Archbishop of Mainz, elector, chancellor and in this capacity chairman of the Imperial Diet. When all the other participants of the Reichstag were leaving the city he had to stay behind and in bed. Berthold died in Mainz in 1504 of his protracted illness.

As a third reason for the oppression of sexuality Professor Fritz mentioned witch-hunting. In their witch mania decent people concluded that women who fornicate with men will whore with devils too. Whores became outlawed. Even today in many countries prostitution is illegal and where it is tolerated working girls have a bad reputation.

Witches in action

A divorce, possible with trickery for people belonging to the true Catholic Church, was an evil for early and fundamental Protestants. While Protestant princes had confiscated Catholic Church property with pleasure they now were bound to their wives in "unpleasure" till death do them part.

Schenk Philipp Albrecht von Limpurg
Schenk Philipp Albrecht von Limpurg (1648-1682) was known as a womanizer. Married to Dorothea Maria, born von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg, he was taken to court in 1676 about his relation with Sophia Dorothea von Limpurg-Speckfeld, born Wild- und Rheingräfin zu Daun. However, this was just a prelude or should I write foreplay to his situation in 1678 when, still being married to Dorothea Maria, he no longer just wanted to live but to legalize another relation this time with a commoner, Maria Barbara, geb. Gratianus. Philipp Abrecht asked the University of Strasburg for help in his divorce proceeding.

In 1679 the theological and the law faculties furnished expert opinions presenting facti species (facts of the case) of the marriage between Titus (Philipp Albrecht) and Xantippe (Dorothea Maria). To make a long story short, for getting his divorce there was no other way for Philipp Albrecht than to convert to Catholicism. While doing so others gained kingdoms (Henry IV of France and Augustus II the Strong of Saxony) Philipp Abrecht only got a new wife and many problems. Even his brother Schenk Wilhelm Heinrich von Limpurg complained at the Corpus Evangelicorum of the permanent Reichstag (Imperial Diet) and at the imperial Reichshofrat (Aulic Concil) about his brother's repudiation of wife Dorothea Maria following the change of confession and Philipp Abrecht's endeavor to raise his new wife Maria Barbara to the ranks of nobility. All efforts of the freshly married husband however had been a waste of time when he died in 1682.

Professor Fritz presented other colorful testimonies about sexuality in the Middle Ages that ranged from impotence to super virility.

A landgrave was impotent with respect to his wife. So her family complained to the emperor. When the Kaiser took the husband to task the landgrave blamed his dick: Derselbig welle den beren nit stechen, er thue im gleich, wie er welle (It does not want to prick the bear and he, the landgrave, is doing alike just following its will). The emperor's verdict was surprising: Nun, nun ich kan sein schwanz nit mandieren (Well, well I cannot command his prick).

Ironically the other extreme was a well-known monk, Thomas Murner, who in 1506 had studied and finished his thesis in theology at Freiburg's university. Opposed to the Reformation and Martin Luther he wrote, among other texts, a book titled: Von dem großen Lutherischen Narren (About the big Lutheran fool). Back to the subject. Monk Murner once saw a girl in Straßburg and was capable of helping her catching the fleas between her legs eighteen times within a few hours (ihr innerhalb wenig stunden achzehen mal die flech zwischen den bainen helfen fehen).

Another clergyman, a capitular from Mainz, verspürt ein solliche unruhe in der bruech, das im der wadel in etlichen wochen weder tag oder nacht nicht mocht gebogen oder geschwecht werden (feels such an unrest in his breeches that neither by day nor by night his willie would bend or be weakened). For me this citation has nothing to do with sexuality but rather is an early description of priapisme.

After the talk I wondered who many of the people present had already decided to buy Gerhard Fritz's outcoming book?

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