Adultery: Men Prosecuted More in Some Medieval Courts

Thanks to Jenny Torres Sanchez, an excellent blogger/YA author, for tipping me off to some interesting research on adultery:

If you were a man living in Late-Medieval Northern France, you might have had an extra incentive to keep your undertunic on. Historian Sara McDougall has found that contrary to common beliefs, men were prosecuted far more often than women for their infidelities.

McDougall, an assistant professor of history at The City University of New York, is also the author of Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late Medieval Champagne (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012). In an email she described to me her most recent findings:

“Scholars generally assume—and until very recently I was one of them—that medieval courts and societies handled adultery quite unfairly depending on the gender of the alleged offender,” McDougall writes. After all, Medieval Europe is “rather infamous” for its sexual double standard. The common idea has been that women typically bore the brunt of adultery prosecutions, while men were freer to frolic.

“According to this line of reasoning, if they actually ever punished men for adultery, it would almost always have been only as the lover of a married woman,” McDougall adds. “That is to say, the prosecution of these men had nothing to do with their own marital status, and everything to do with the fact that they were sleeping with other men’s wives.”

But in her search of court records, McDougall found the opposite to be true: In addition to being prosecuted more, men were most often punished for their trysts with unmarried women. Continue reading

& Urine Wheels: Color Me Medieval

From Almanach, tabula festorum, mobilium ab anno 1364 usque annum domini 1462: manuscript [Physician’s belt book]. York, England, 1364. The Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia, MS 1004/29

A few relatives with more blogging experience than myself have gently suggested that I might want to reconsider my alphabetical approach to research coverage. After all, what am I going to do when I come across a compelling Z item and I’m up to my eyeballs in the letter B? That would be pretty frustrating, wouldn’t it?

I hear this advice, and it sounds very sensible. But I also am thinking: Don’t you take my alphabet away from me.

Then, while working on some A’s (and feeling absorbed in Arsenic and Attoseconds), I happened to come across the above picture of a medieval urine wheel. It’s beautiful. Sigh. Can’t I have my alphabet and eat it, too?

I can and I will, I’ve decided. I’ll simply use &, the ampersand symbol, for those nuggets of research that grab my attention and pull me out of my place in the alphabet. I’ll come right back. Promise.

Now on to that urine wheel with its colorful flasks and Latin descriptions. This particular image comes from a 14th-century almanac and medical reference book that’s in the collection of the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. As the museum’s website explains, the book would have been attached by a cord to the physician’s belt. Pretty handy.

I knew just the person to contact for a little more commentary: Dr. Steven Peitzman. He helped me with an article I recently wrote on Dr. Benjamin Rush’s 200-year-old mental health treatise, Diseases of the Mind, for The Pennsylvania Gazette. In addition to traveling around the country to give talks about the history of medicine, Peitzman is a nephrologist who teaches at Drexel University. Continue reading