Historical Inaccuracy: No Homosexuality in Medieval Europe

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the realm of  Fantasy Fandom is bound to come up against a most foul lot who would crusade for marginalisations and non-representation in fictional worlds based on myths of Medieval Europe. “HISTORICAL ACCURACY!” is what they would bellow shrilly, believing that they have triumphed with their superior yet concise reasoning. Yet they fail to perceive history’s lack of frail folk whose ears are tipped and who often are caricature of the supposed supremacy of the supposed white race. Nor do they question the existence of terrible winged and scaled worms who vomit the element of fire: creatures which have not been proven to have lived in the Middle Ages.

The Concept of Fantasy is, however, not powerful enough to destroy this wretched enemy. It must be wielded with its twin, the Uncovering of Historical Lies, in order to strike the Dudebro Inquisition at its very foundation. For you see, the great irony is that their Historical Accuracy is inaccurate.

Now is where I drop the gimmick and say that this shall be the first post in an irregular series which tries to debunk myths about history. Specifically, history which is drawn upon by works in the fantasy genre. This one, as the title says, will be about homosexual attitudes and behaviour in Medieval Europe.

If there were no homosexuality back then, why would the Church have rules against it? Did they throw charges of sodomy at everyone they did not like without knowing what the word meant? Of course not. Homosexuality was heavily suppressed during the Middle Ages, but there’s a difference between that and total non-existence. It is possible to create a culture where a people who once normalises or glorifies homosexual acts would come to lose the ability of same-gender attraction. But to completely eradicate these impulses which are so natural that they are observed in about 1500 animal species? Impossible.

During the Medieval period, the specific concept of homosexuality did not exist. Rather, it was viewed as a way sodomy –sex which is not a penis penetrating a vagina– can take place. While sodomy has been condemned for a long time in the period, it is not exactly clear when it went from a religious matter to a secular one. But even before that, there were members of the Church known to have had male lovers or affairs with other men.

So how do we now have the idea that homosexuality is unnatural in addition to being a sin? We probably have to direct our middle fingers to the 13th century theologian, Thomas Aquinas, who came up with the idea of sodomy being sinful precisely because it violates natural law. I won’t get into precisely what Tommy here spoke of the concept of natural law, but suffice to say it had a great influence on Christianity. It amuses me that the chap somehow managed to not have found a ram ramming its cock up another ram’s ass. Or a female cat rubbing its pussy against another female cat.

Terrible jokes aside, it should be obvious by now that it took time for anti-homosexual attitudes to establish itself in every strata of European Christian societies. But where did it begin? Well, the dawn of animal life, but that’s too far away so we’ll just backtrack to the Roman Empire.

Pre-Christian Roman sexuality operated between a dominant and a submissive participant It was illegal for a freeborn male Roman citizen to be made submissive, which means they are to never be penetrated. Marriages, or marriage-like unions, also happened amongst men. The emperor Nero is known to have had at least two such marriages. And of sex and love between the women? We have very little sources but it was likely seen as less favourable. Graffiti and art found in Pompeii, however, implies that such relations were not exactly secret. In that city, at least.

When the Empire became Christian following the conversion of Emperor Constantine I, the male marriages were not immediately banned. That happened with his sons after he died and they became emperors.

“So um, what’s the point of the history lesson?” Asks the Dudebro. “Homosexuality was punished even before the Medieval period and so my Medieval fantasy shall be the same! Even though I won’t even give the issue a mention!”

Yeah, notice that Christianity has a lot to do with that? Your made-up world does not have Christianity. What’s stopping you from having a made-up world where it’s a normal part of life?

“I’m an unimaginative fuckwad, that’s what’s stopping me.”

Well, you can look to history itself. There is a curious case of two men who were married in Galicia, Spain by a priest in a small chapel. There’s even a Galician monastery with the record, dating the marriage at 16 April 1061. We even have the names of the men. The story behind that is something I would really like to hear, but unfortunately no one knows it.

But okay, we’re talking fantasy here. You want to have kings and knights to be inspired by, don’t you? When the Knights Templar were tried by the Church, sodomy was one of the charges levelled against them.

Alright, maybe that’s just the Church being the Church and flinging sodomy charges at their enemies regardless of truthfulness.

William Rufus succeeded his father, William the Conqueror, as King of England. Though effective militarily, his chroniclers characterised him as effeminate. And yes, they wrote of him as exclusively indulging in male flesh. As the chronicles were clerics and William Rufus had long antagonised the Church, it is possible that their account is deliberately slanderous. However, flinging sodomy charges was not in vogue yet. And in his nearly two decades of reign, William never married and had no heirs.

He is not the only European monarch thought to have had relationships with male lovers. While it is difficult to prove conclusively, it’s not difficult at all to consider the possibility. All of this information is not hard to find either, and you can find more in-depth articles with Google searches. Just remember to check the sources and cross-reference.

So really, historical accuracy is a terrible reason to not have any homosexuality in fakey fake fake-tasy worlds, since history is not as straightforward (pun unintended) as propaganda machines tell it. If you really want a historical basis for a character who isn’t all heterosexual, inspiration material is easy to get if you have Internet access. The true reason why one wouldn’t want any homosexuality in fantasy is that one is a heterosexist bigot who should become goblin poop.

Up next: Female pirates!

6 thoughts on “Historical Inaccuracy: No Homosexuality in Medieval Europe

  1. We all fell out of the sky in 1960! It is known, apparently.
    I hate that homophobia is treated as an essential part of reality – not something that has arisen out of our cultural context and religious bigotry. So even if you change the world, change the religions, add dragons, elves, magic,plots that make no sense, homophobia simply has to remain; that cannot be changed. To change that would be “unrealistic”.

    And I loathe using the idea of the closet as an excuse to further erase us – because heterosexist erasure and homophobic oppression causing the closet justifies more heterosexist erasure!. It’s almost as bigoted as people holding up the closet as an advantage “because we can hide” (ugh die in a thousand suns)

  2. One wonders how that line of thinking is supposed to apply to creatures that didn’t exist anyway. I daresay few writers are going to exclude homosexual humans for reasons of accuracy, but include homosexual dragons, say.

  3. According to everything I’ve read on the subject or anything that’s ever come up in my study of history, everything in this blog post is quite right. And there are plenty of things here I didn’t know yet. Very interesting.

    Also, fun literary fact: back in the 50s we already had historical novels with homosexual protagonists, even if they’d never use the word for the reasons outlined above. 90% of the books of Mary Renault for example, though those are mostly set in Ancient Greece and nobody’s ever tried (well, actually, some people have, but few believe them) to deny ancient Greek culture had plenty of love between men. But even Alfred Duggan featured some in his medieval-setting novels, albeit more stereotypically depicted. (I don’t think many remember him nowadays, but he was plenty popular back then. And famed for his very thorough research.) And that’s just the ones I happen to remember from the top of my head. Kinda makes the historical accuracy defence fall flat, doesn’t it?

    • I never doubted historical novels from the 50s having homosexual protagonist but I never knew any names so, thanks for that!

      Yeah, the historical accuracy defence being utterly groundless is the reason why I want to try this series of articles out. It’s just so funny that the defence is always so ironically inaccurate. Also very sad because it demonstrates erasure.

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