(ORDO NEWS) — In Valencia at the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15th centuries, the city authorities did not punish a woman who worked in a brothel or was a concubine, but only if she did not try to combine one with the other. True, the bans did not work very well.
Susan McDonough and Michelle Armstrong-Partida, historians at the University of Maryland and Emory University (both in the United States), studied court records from Valencia from 1367 to 1402.
They were interested in the fines that the city authorities awarded to men and women who lived together, but were not married in a church.
It turned out that in medieval Valencia, the cohabitation of a man and a woman not connected by a church marriage was generally condemned, but there was no punishment for it – provided that the neighbors did not complain about them for some additional reason.
Moreover, such unions were found among the most diverse segments of the population. The situation was approximately the same in other medieval cities – Barcelona, Marseille, Palermo.
In the same place, prostitution was a regulated activity: the city authorities created brothels and set rules on who could work in them and who could go there.
In addition, they introduced various taxes and fines, which brought income to the city. Also, ladies who worked in brothels had to dress in a certain way.
And these two worlds – people living in an unregistered marriage, and priestesses of love – should not have intersected.
Sex workers were forbidden to enter into a long (but unmarried) relationship with one man, that is, in the terminology of the Middle Ages, to become a concubine. In turn, men were not allowed to create even a temporary alliance with prostitutes.
But all these prohibitions were regularly violated. From 1367 to 1402, 400 women and 280 men were fined by the city of Valencia for this violation, which constituted the majority of all offenses recorded in connection with prostitution.
For example, in 1387, Bartomeu Crespi and the “wicked woman” Johanna were both fined 22 sous for being regular lovers, but the lady was also a registered brothel worker.
Why did the city authorities in Valencia and elsewhere object to this situation? The authors of the study believe that for these authorities, a prostitute in a licensed brothel could not be related to just one man.
“She was by definition a woman whose body was accessible to many men, in contrast to the concubine, who limited access to her body to only one man,” the scientists noted.
However, despite fines and a later law requiring men convicted of such relationships to wear yellow-marked hoods, many couples were willing to live together.
Often such relationships were short-term (for example, between a prostitute and a sailor who stayed in the port for several months), but at least one couple lived together for at least five years – and all these years they were fined.
The authors of the work offer their explanations of the situation.
Men and women could have many reasons for such a relationship: affection, friendship, economic co-dependence (the records often note that these were sometimes very poor people who did not even have enough money to pay fines).
But there may be, according to the researchers, gender-specific reasons. Here is what they write about women in such couples:
“We assume that when a prostitute became a concubine, she claimed a certain degree of power in her relationship with her lover.
By choosing concubinage relationships, even unhappy ones, prostitutes learned what life could be like as part of a married couple.”
At the same time, scientists believe, it was a way for men to demonstrate masculinity – to show other people and themselves that they are good and successful enough to have a woman meant exclusively for them.
For the city authorities, this was unacceptable, because they wanted to deprive the poorest members of society of the opportunity for such self-affirmation, the paper says.
This conclusion of scientists causes surprise and questions.
The fact is that men from the poorest strata of medieval society (the authors include sailors, vagabonds, migrants) every day demonstrated to themselves and others their masculinity – just to survive.
And the representatives of the authorities contemporary to them could hardly deprive them of this – contrary to what the researchers claim.
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