All ye lovers take heed of me, for I was once as lusty as ye
November 17, 2020 12:18 PM   Subscribe

The Distinguished Medieval Penis Investigators In fourteenth-century England, one of the only ways a woman could get a divorce was if her husband was impotent. But first, she had to prove it in court.
posted by Gilgongo (35 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite


 
I want this to be a new Law & Order spinoff. ‘Dick Wolf’, donk-donk and all
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:29 PM on November 17 [19 favorites]


Sounds more like a racy Wes Anderson flick.
posted by AndrewInDC at 12:39 PM on November 17 [3 favorites]


It puts a whole new spin on performance anxiety.
posted by carter at 12:40 PM on November 17 [2 favorites]


not to kinkshame, but "ineffective manual penis stimulation from his own brother" seems like something of a tautology
posted by inire at 12:49 PM on November 17 [28 favorites]


Awkward, what?
posted by Omnomnom at 12:50 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]


The one case where examination by his male friends yielded hard proof, as it were, but none of the women got a response...I mean, maybe the life of the "confirmed bachelor" would have made the fellow happier and caused less distress all the way round?
posted by maxwelton at 1:03 PM on November 17 [33 favorites]


not to kinkshame, but "ineffective manual penis stimulation from his own brother" seems like something of a tautology
Have.. you been to PornHub?
posted by Horkus at 1:12 PM on November 17 [9 favorites]


So to summarize: John Saundirson not only tried (and failed) to have early-morning barn-sex with his wife before an audience of two men but also received ineffective manual penis stimulation from his own brother.

I can see this not being the ideal sexy-times situation. I probably wouldn't be in the mood either, in a barn, in front of a couple of other men, after having a bad handie from a family member.

Guy de Chauliac, an influential physician and noted medical authority of the time, recommended that impotence be treated with spices, concoctions of spiced and sweetened wine, hot oils, and vigorous penile rubbing in front of a fire made of woodchips.

Getting drunk, burning your dick, and vigorously jacking it in front of a campfire might not be the best course of action.
posted by mrgoat at 1:12 PM on November 17 [9 favorites]


Getting drunk, burning your dick, and vigorously jacking it in front of a campfire might not be the best course of action.

Might not be, but you'll never know for sure until you try it.
posted by aubilenon at 1:33 PM on November 17 [11 favorites]


Getting drunk, burning your dick, and vigorously jacking it in front of a campfire might not be the best course of action.

Marquis de Sade has entered the chat.
posted by deadaluspark at 1:36 PM on November 17 [20 favorites]


Getting drunk, burning your dick, and vigorously jacking it in front of a campfire might not be the best course of action.

It might leave you with a burning sensation, in fact.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:57 PM on November 17 [2 favorites]


Getting drunk, burning your dick, and vigorously jacking it in front of a campfire might not be the best course of action.

Might be counter productive...

Dead Kennedys-Too Drunk To Fuck
posted by zengargoyle at 2:01 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]


In the medieval Icelandic Njáls saga, there is an annulment between Hrútur and Unnur because the former grew too large to consummate the marriage. Cursed by his former lover the witch queen of Norway, you see.
posted by Kattullus at 2:23 PM on November 17 [8 favorites]


— after all, women were thought to be inherently less trustworthy and more prone to lying than men —
posted by medusa at 2:24 PM on November 17


Didn't they do an episode about this on Columbo?
posted by Saxon Kane at 2:46 PM on November 17 [2 favorites]


I can't believe I made it in before "You can put it in the hand of your attorneys, but it'll never stand up in court!"
posted by BrashTech at 3:25 PM on November 17 [42 favorites]


who called them penis investigators and not private dicks
posted by Mikey-San at 4:02 PM on November 17 [26 favorites]


OF COURSE this is Carissa Harris! The most fun medievalist in the game, not that I really know any others. Here she is on bro culture in the 15th century and how "Teen Mom" and "Sixteen and Pregnant" are just rehashed medieval folk songs.
posted by babelfish at 5:16 PM on November 17 [10 favorites]


Jokes aside, this is the interesting conclusion of the article for me: "these cases demonstrate that medieval people spoke frankly and openly about their sex lives, in a way that we may not have imagined". Our modern prudery in America has a long history, but it wasn't always thus in European societies. Even English.

I'm also a bit confused about the divorce cases. Were these adversarial cases? Or was the husband also willing to get a divorce and conceded his impotence? The cases described in the article sound like they could be some of each.
posted by Nelson at 5:17 PM on November 17 [2 favorites]


I actually learned about this when I took a class on Geoffrey's Chaucer's Canterbuy Tales, and I had to learn about the period when I wrote a paper on the Wife of Bath. It was English class, not history. So it wasn't like I had access to primary sources, but I did definitely find some secondary sources with accounts of how you'd get the local widow to go to one of these annulment courts and flash her breasts to test whether hubby's wedding tackle was in working order.
posted by jonp72 at 5:39 PM on November 17 [2 favorites]


OF COURSE this is Carissa Harris! The most fun medievalist in the game, not that I really know any others.

Here's another for you. RSS Feed, as well.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 5:58 PM on November 17 [3 favorites]


Were these adversarial cases? My understanding was that was the only case of sanctioned divorce: no-fault divorce was not a thing.

I imagine it would be rare for a man to mutually feel estranged from his wife and also totally be okay with the Church announcing him impotent. It wouldn’t exactly be conductive to finding a next wife. It seems like something a woman would pursue because it is true and she clearly has a certain party to an affair in mind or many potential better suitors available.

If one were mutually estranged from their partner it would probably often be easiest to just no longer be intimate and leave it there rather than face the stigma.
posted by floam at 6:29 PM on November 17


The easiest out would probably be pretending one of the two were already promised to another. If it were a mutual matter the adversary could go along with the lie and face would be saved, at least compared to a public penis trial.
posted by floam at 6:36 PM on November 17


The one case where examination by his male friends yielded hard proof, as it were, but none of the women got a response...

Meanwhile, "there is no clue as to what these two women in bed together are doing".
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:04 AM on November 18 [3 favorites]


Multiple poems from the time feature women gathering in groups over copious amounts of alcohol and complaining about their impotent husbands, comparing their flaccid penises to maggots, snails and bumblebees.

so, nothing has changed,eh?
posted by infini at 3:37 AM on November 18 [3 favorites]


In France, starting in the middle of 16th century, the examination of genitalia, if inconclusive, was followed by the congrès, i.e. the couple was required to have sex in front of doctors, priests, judges, midwives and other witnesses (this was also done in Spain and Italy). A highly publicized case was that of the Marquis de Langey (28) who was accused by his wife de Saint Simon (17) of being impotent. As the case was turning into a media circus humiliating for both parties, the Marquis requested a congrès and here is how it went (biaised source):

The marquis had taken all his precautions not to fail in this decisive test; he had had the smallest circumstances of the ceremony settled by the Tribunal; he had requested that his wife be bathed before, to destroy the effect of the restringents, and that her hair be disheveled, so that she could not hide any talisman, any amulet, in her hair. The judges had agreed to everything, as Langey suspected his wife was using magic against him and using spells. Things thus proceeded very methodically, and the respondent was at first ruthless with regard to the forms which had to be observed; he was, moreover, proud and arrogant. Let us listen to Tallemant, who was informed, from a good source, of the respondent's deeds and gestures: "As he went to bed, he said:" Bring me two fresh eggs, that I make her a boy right away in my first attempt! But he didn't have the slightest emotion where it needed to be; However, he sweated and had to change his shirt twice: the drugs he had taken made him hot. In anger, he began to pray, "You are not here for this! She said to him, and she reproached him for the harshness he had felt for her, he who knew very well that he was not capable of marriage. Now there was an old Madame Pezé, eighty years old, appointed by office, among the matrons, who did a hundred follies; from time to time she went to see what condition he was in, and returned to say to the experts: "It is a great pity; he does not nature. Finally, when the time expired, he was taken out of bed. "I am broke ! He cried, standing up. His people dared not look up, and most of them left. "

De Saint-Simon obtained a divorce and both parties went to marry other people. Several years later, after Langey had had 6 children with his new wife, he tried to use this to prove that he was not impotent, but the court did not reverse its judgement. However, it did show the practice of congrès was not reliable, and it was officially abandoned in 1677 after a vote by the Parliament.

There is more information about the practice in this research article (in French) which quotes historian Angus McLaren: In the mid-1660s, the upper class shared the common view that impotence was inherently funny ; by the mid-1700s, the elite seized on the notion that it had to be regarded as inherently tragic (Impotence : A Cultural History, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2007, p. 78).
posted by elgilito at 6:15 AM on November 18 [10 favorites]


In anger, he began to pray, "You are not here for this!["]

Seeing the wording of the Internet Modern "I am here for this" inverted in an old text is...something.

Meanwhile, "there is no clue as to what these two women in bed together are doing".

Curse you for making me enjoy a twitter thread! The comments are hilarious.
posted by medusa at 8:04 AM on November 18 [1 favorite]


That congres is just hideous by modern standards. In order to press her legal claim for a divorce the woman had to agree to be raped in front of the whole town?
posted by Nelson at 8:29 AM on November 18


"there is no clue as to what these two women in bed together are doing".

But that caption was satirical, right? It's lifted from a book chapter on lesbian history?
posted by gaspode at 8:36 AM on November 18 [3 favorites]


And now a few words from Maddy Prior and June Tabor dba Silly Sisters:

"My Husband's Got No Courage in Him"
posted by the sobsister at 11:54 AM on November 18 [3 favorites]


they might expose their breasts and genitals to the allegedly impotent man, give him ale and tasty snacks, kiss him, and rub his penis in a warm room to see whether he became aroused.

Those must have been some truly tasty snacks.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:28 PM on November 18 [3 favorites]


That congres is just hideous by modern standards. In order to press her legal claim for a divorce the woman had to agree to be raped in front of the whole town?

Applying modern standards to history always results in hideous things. It is more valuable to try to understand how people thought. 1. At that time, women were believed to be sexually voracious, insatiable creatures. If a woman was married to an impotent man, it was commonly thought that she would become painfully sick, or she would try to find solace elsewhere. This was seen as a Bad Thing. 2. In the upper classes, marriages were primarily business agreements between families about money, lands, and titles. The bride and groom were breeding chattel. From this point of view, a man or a woman who couldn't produce children was damaged goods.

Considering 1) and 2), an impotency trial was a good way for the woman's family to get rid of a useless husband. In the case of Langey/Saint Simon, it was her aunt (and her grandfather) who urged her to file for divorce and drove the whole thing. Unfortunately, the first round did not go well for Saint Simon. Both husband and wife had their genitalia meticulously examined for hours, and while his were found to be normal in appearance, she was found to be no longer a virgin. So public opinion turned against her, because it meant that she had either lied or cheated on her husband. But then some people started insinuating that "he had found use for his ten fingers" and Saint Simon claimed that the loss of her maidenhood had been caused by the libertine acts of the impotent Langey. This pissed him off, and for the next two years he pestered the court by requesting a congrès, which was eventually granted to him.

Now this was a stupid move. It didn't help that Langey had behaved during all this time as an arrogant and cocksure prick. As previous cases showed, the congrès almost never ended up in favour of the husband. In the previous century, royal treasurer Etienne de Bray had tried three times to prove that his manhood was functional, with the following results:

Ejus erectionem esse fugacem, nec sufficientem ad coitum, nullam antem introductionem, ejaculationem vero esse substantiœ serosæ et aqnosœ et quœ nomen seminis non meretur.

When his wife Marie de Corbie granted him a fourth attempt, he declined the offer (though he never conceded and kept suing her, some things never change).

There was one known successful case, where the wife of a cabinet maker had told him, during their public carnal act, "If only you could have done this at home, we would never have been forced to do it here!", but usually the man had trouble performing in public and divorce was granted to the woman. Despite a last-minute pep talk by the Marquise de Sévigné herself ("you have your trial in your pants!"), Langey lost, and the opinion turned overnight against him. While people flocked to congratulate the heroic Saint Simon (who remarried immediately and had three kids) and her aunt, crude songs were written about the husband. The court refused to believe him when he mumbled something about witchcraft. He was forced to reimburse the dowry and was denied the right to remarry. Now a subject of mockery and scorn, he went into hiding for a while. He only resurfaced after he had inherited money, managed to marry again, and had kids (people said they're weren't his). But while his case was used to prove the uselessness and the "immorality" of the congrès, Langey's name was forever sullied.
posted by elgilito at 2:38 PM on November 18 [11 favorites]


Law & Order: DMPI
posted by crosley at 3:17 PM on November 18


The marquis had taken all his precautions not to fail in this decisive test; he had had the smallest circumstances of the ceremony settled by the Tribunal;

Did I just discover an ancien regime dick joke?
posted by jonp72 at 6:41 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]




« Older The Earth is Our Canoe   |   Laundry requires so little, and I despise it so... Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.