Category Archives: Medieval History

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On “the way of carnal lust”, Joan of Leeds, and the difficulty of clerical celibacy


Loves, you may have had the pleasure of being alerted, in the Guardian (which is a SWERF and TERF-ridden rag of a paper, but hey-ho), to the important findings of Professor Sarah Rees Jones and her team at the University of York’s extremely important discovery of the story of Sister Joan of Leeds.

Joan of Leeds, in an OG proof of the fact that you cannot defeat a bad bitch (you just cannot do that), in that in the year of our Lord 1318 got Archbishop William Melton of York’s attention to the point that our boy had to write out a note…

To warn Joan of Leeds, lately nun of the house of St Clement by York, that she should return to her house…

See, your man was straight up MAD that Joan had…

…impudently cast aside the propriety of religion and the modesty of her sex … [and] … out of a malicious mind simulating a bodily illness, she pretended to be dead, not dreading for the health of her soul, and with the help of numerous of her accomplices, evildoers, with malice aforethought, crafted a dummy in the likeness of her body in order to mislead the devoted faithful and she had no shame in procuring its burial in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place…

The Archbishop of York’s register, where Joan’s case is recorded.

Why? Well, because she…

…turned her back on decency and the good of religion, seduced by indecency, she involved herself irreverently and perverted her path of life arrogantly to the way of carnal lust and away from poverty and obedience, and, having broken her vows and discarded the religious habit, she now wanders at large to the notorious peril to her soul and to the scandal of all of her order.

In other words, Joan was out to catch some D and she didn’t care if she had to fake her own death and make a dummy to replace her during burial so she could sneak out of her nunnery in order to do that.

Now, this story is notable in that Joan here was crafty AF. Making an actual model corpse in order to leave a nunnery? We stan. Having said, that, the heart of the story – a nun who wanted to get it and fled her nunnery in order to do so –  is not in and of itself that exceptional. In fact, the idea that medieval nuns were extremely horny was enough of a trope that it inspired what I am assuming is probably your fav medieval image – the penis tree loving nuns of Bibliothèque nationale de France manuscript MS Fr. 25526.

nuns penis tree
You know whomst the fuck it is.

Why were horny nuns such a stereotype of the medieval period? Well, firstly as everyone in the medieval period agreed, and as we’ve discussed before, women were by nature Very Horny. (Yes, that is a technical term.) That is why they were always running about, making dildos, cuckolding their husbands, and in general being sexually ungovernable.

Nuns, being women, were no exception to this rule. Their vow of chastity was meant to keep them off of the D and indoors where they couldn’t act like complete dick pigs, but so were women’s vows of fidelity during marriage and, well, you know how that tended to turn out.

Read the rest here.. 

On Sex Toys and Penance


Last week on twitter I had a little chat about the presence of dildos in the penitential of Burchard of Worms, which raised some questions.

For those who have managed to escape the morass that is the twitter hellscape, a brief recap before we get on to making a historical point<imgsrc=”” alt=”™” class=”wp-smiley” style=”height: 1em; max-height: 1em;”>. Burchard of Worms was the Bishop of Worms, which was an extremely influential Holy Roman Imperial city, and which we generally think of now in relation to the Diet of Worms, where Martin Luther (who is just a second-rate Jan Hus, but whatever), was tried. Burchard, however, was working five blissful centuries before Luther came on the scene, i.e. at the end of the tenth and beginning of the eleventh centuries, and he was massively influential in making canon, or Church, law. He is also very well known for making his own penitential.</imgsrc=””>

For those who were not raised Catholic, a penitential is – more or less – a book that gives guidance to priests who are giving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which was known as the Sacrament of Penance in the medieval period. This is where Catholics (aka any non-Orthodox Christians in the medieval period) go into a little booth and tell a priest what sins they have committed. The priest then tells them what penance they have to do in order to be forgiven of the sins and reconciled with God.

Now, most people may have trouble telling a priest exactly what very sinful things they have done, and when hearing the sins of their flock, priests might struggle to come up with an appropriate penance to forgive them. Penitentials help with this because they provide priests with a series of questions they can ask repentant sinners to draw out the sins they have committed, and they also suggest appropriate penances for said sins.

As exciting as all of this is, there is a boring history point to be made here, which is that penitentials are a super tricky source. We don’t know, for example, if the sins that are included in penitentials are defo rife throughout a particular parish, or if they are something that come from a lot of individual reflections on the part of priests. In other words, when we think about weird sex stuff in penitentials does that mean that lots of medieval people were doing weird sex stuff all over the place, OR does it mean that a celibate priest with a lot of time on his hands to think about sex and how VERY NAUGHTY it is came up with some strange answers? It’s hard to say, and medieval historians love to argue about that.

One way or another, however, Burchard defo wanted priests to ask any women in confession the following:

Have you done what certain women are accustomed to do, that is, to make some sort of device or implement in the shape of the male member, of the size to match your desire, and you have fastened it to the area of your genitals or those of another with some form of fastenings and you have fornicated with other women or others have done with a similar instrument or another sort with you? If you have done this you shall do penance for five years on legitimate holy days.[1]

AKA, did you make a dildo? Did you then strap it on to someone else and get your fuck on? That is naughty and there is gonna have to be some penance.

This isn’t so surprising to most of us, given that we are talking about sex to Catholics and of course it’s all very naughty. Of course you ought not be doing it and a priest is going to tell you to repent and all that.

What is surprising about this is that your boy also talks a bit about weird sex magic elsewhere, to whit:

Have you done what some women are wont to do? They take a live fish and put it in their vagina, keeping it there for a while until it is dead. Then they cook or roast it and give it to their husbands to eat, doing this in order to make the men be more ardent in their love for them. If you have, you should do two years of penance on the appointed fast days.[2]


Now this raised some questions among my lovely followers, namely, why is the penance for having sex with a dildo worse than doing weird vagina fish magic on your husband?

The answer is sodomy.

nuns penis tree

Now we tend to think of sodomy as just butt stuff, but it’s not. Technically sodomy is any kind of sex that means you can’t get someone pregnant. So butt stuff defo is sodomy, but so it manual sex, oral sex, and sex with strap ons, of course. If you are out here making dildos and having sex with people with them you are doing a big old sodomy and it is Extremely Bad. You’ll notice that Burchard here is particularly worried about women doing this to each other here, but he also acknowledges that “others” could be getting down on this. It doesn’t really matter then if the people doing this are doing a Gay Sex or not. Anyone doing it is bad because no. It is sodomy. He rebukes it.

Find more HERE