Leeds Update # 2 – the one with the swyving

Note: I’m  back in Sydney, where it is still technically winter, but often warmer than English summer anyway. I have a whole wardrobe of clothes at my disposal, many many books, a kitchen to play in (and a housemate to bother me into eating when jetlagged <3), a class to teach and a thesis to write. Back to normal, in short. The next week or so of posts is already in the scheduled posts pipeline; we’ll see how long I can keep this regular-blogging thing up after that.

During the dance at Leeds, a lovely person asked me if I was coming to her paper the next day, and promised me that there would be dick jokes. As everyone knows by now, I am all about the dick jokes.1 So instead of going to hear ADM talk seriously about Carolingian women (which I did want to hear, but one has one’s priorities…) I went to hear Carissa Harris talk about dick jokes.

Sex in the Middle Ages: Satisfaction Guaranteed!As it turns out, this paper was far more than just amusing medieval comments about penis size, although there was plenty of that. It was entitled ‘”Mi lordis tente serveth me not thus!”: Obscene scribal innovation in 15th-century Manuscripts of the Canturbury Tales’. Carissa’s work here was so good, so thoroughly researched and clearly laid out, that I would be doing it a disservice to rehash it entirely. You will all just have to take my word that you should read anything she writes.

But a brief summary of things I learned from her paper:

Fact: Chaucer restricts his female characters to euphemistic terms: swyve is rarely used, but never used by women. Men on the other hand have access to both euphemism and direct crudities.

Fact: Scribes altered the text of the tales in two key ways: one is to reduce Chaucer’s existing obscenities, swapping swyve out for more fuzzy terms; another is to add in more swyving, often by putting swyve in t he mouths of female characters.

Stop, Revive, Scribe: Campaign  Against Scribal ErrorAnalysis: Carissa gave examples from several manuscripts, but particularly a group of three manuscripts which all contain the same group (although not all contain the totality of this group) of scribal additions. These additions added in quite a bit more description to the sex scenes in The Merchant’s Tale. Most notably, May gets some first-person speech, in which she describes her preference for her lover’s cock over that of her husband; she gets to use the word swyve; and her pleasure becomes a focus in the scene.

Carissa posits that since scribal emendations often function to ‘normalise’ texts felt to be aberrant, whichever scribe or series of scribes is responsible for this series of additions felt that a sex scene which *didn’t* give any heed to the woman’s enjoyment wasn’t really sufficiently normal.

IN SHORT: This was a truly fantastic paper, with detailed manuscript readings, good critical background, and excellent delivery. Plus, it had dick jokes in it. I will very much look forward to reading a published version of this material one day.

~

1. Even my students know this. I like to think my inner twelve-year old is amusing, at least…

Advertisements

Adventures in French

Have I mentioned that my French is kinda shit? I mean, functional, for my purposes, but much shittier than my BA transcript would tell you. Speaking is right out. Listening is extremely dubious. Composition extends to three-sentence Joie du livrethank-you letters to second-hand booksellers whom I found via abebooks and who were so kind as to send me emails notifying me that they’d shipped the volumes of dense 1970s historical stuff which I will then proceed to spend several months, possibly the rest of my degree, avoiding as much as I can.

Reading, though, reading is OK. I can read the French-language parallel translations of my OF texts, for starters. Mostly this results in me realising that the translator is wrong and has made shit up, although, on one notable occasion I ran in circles for weeks trying to translate something which looked nothing like either the French-language translation or the English-language translation, only to have my supervisor point out that the French translation had been spot on, which I would’ve known if I’d not forgotten large numbers of French idioms.

That aside, though, I have discovered a pretty simple pattern when it comes to me and academic French. Well, two, actually. The first thing is that I can comfortably read articles and/or books which are younger than me; anything older than I am gets progressively more difficult, until you get far enough back to hit Old French.

The other is: if it’s about sex, I can understand it.

Seriously. I can be picking my way through a discussion of narrative structure and more-or-less know what’s going on, but as soon as there’s sex, voilà, the paragraph will proceed to be entirely comprehensible. This applies to history, too: of the first chapter of Le Chevalier, la femme et le prêtre, the only part I’m really certain I understood was the part where Duby wonders about Phillip’s reasons for marrying Bertrada, and waxes lyrical about her hypothetical charms and the possibility that she seduced him.*

Given that my comprehension of French is largely dependant on care factor, this probably tells you a lot about me.** Rated R for Abstract SexBut given that I’m not actually in the habit of reading French books about sex, it’s also a pretty clear sign of the way linguistic registers in English work. The vocabulary for talking, in a SRS BIZNIZ way, about sex is almost exactly the same in English as in French. Observe:

Le texte ne révèle pas que la demoiselle abuse la situation pour assouvir son propre désir sexuel, mais il est difficile de ne pas remarquer l’image figuré d’une ejaculation ayant lieu sous l’effet des vigoureuses carresses.***

Firefox spellchecker is only underlining about half of the words in that sentence – and most of the ones it is underlining have English counterparts distanced by only a few letters. It’s true that on any topic, the higher-register English vocabulary is going to come a lot closer to the French; but it’s particularly true of anything to do with sex.

Moral of the story is: if you want an easy way to recover your French reading skills, start by reading about sex.

Next I have to test this “If it’s about sex, I can read it” theory by attacking Simone de Beauvoir… the principle may not hold where the sex hand at is of the sex-and-gender variety rather than fucking. We’ll see.

~

King Edmund is not impressed*The only part of the chapter I’m really certain I don’t understand is why the hell Duby thought this little hypothetical tangent was relevant at all. Also, woman kidnapped from her home, where she is the wife of another man, by King of France. SHE SEDUCED HIM is obviously the explanation we’re looking for. I very much agree with Magister that we need to think about men’s motivations in ways which move beyond political expediency and acknowledge that men, even politically powerful men, are humans; and if we could do so without making it a point-and-snigger situation, or all about the hotness and/or predatory sexual advances of ladies involved, I would be very much delighted.

**Other things which make sense to me include ecclesiastical terminology and, apparently, la taxonomie specifique. Discovered that one while listening to a Radio-Canada postcast which consisted of an announcer with an adorable Quebecois accent interviewing an arachnologist. Most of the arachnologist’s conversation about la biodiversite and whatnot went entirely over my head, but his impassioned spiel on the importance of la taxonomie specifique made sense! For that we can blame a good friend of mine who’s a palaeontologist and cares very deeply about the taxonomic classification of long-dead molluscs.

*** Thieved from J. R. Mc Guire, ‘L’onguent et l’initiative féminine dans <i>Yvain</i>’, Romania 112 pp. 62-82 (p. 73).

The objectification of Sir Lancelot

I cannot stand Lancelot. There, I said it. And, knowing my luck, my supervisor will stumble across this and it will put a terrible gulf between us (her devotion to Sir Lancelot rivals my adoration of Sir Gawain). But the fact remains: Lancelot is a moron! And Guinevere is a wet blanket and they deserve each other.

To make matters worse, I read my way through the whole of the Chevalier de la Charette and it had very little in it which is of any use to my thesis whatsoever. But I did notice something! And although it has nothing to do with my thesis and, for all I know, many eminent people may have noticed it before me, I am nevertheless going to blog about it.

Lancelot’s milkshake brings all the girls to the (court)yard. He knows it; and he’s completely OK with exploiting this to his own ends.

Which is to say, in serious terms, that Chrétien’s narrative systematically objectifies Lancelot, and that Lancelot manipulates his status as an object of desire to get what he wants. Including implicitly and explicitly bargaining sex for material aid. That’s – that’s fascinating, especially since the Charette is playing complicated games with sexual ethics already.

The two main aspects of sexual ethics, as discussed openly in the Charette‘s plotline (either by the characters or by narrator’s commentary) are: firstly, men’s power/right to sex and/or marriage by conquest; and secondly, sexual fidelity. It’s mostly Guinevere’s marital fidelity which is in question, and needs to be preserved both against rape-by-capture and potentially consensual adultery, although we are also given the  impression that maidens wishing to go on journeys seek strong knightly protectors in order to avoid the likelihood of capture and rape. (Funny, that.)

Interestingly, Lancelot’s fidelity also features. We establish very early on, when he does his level best to get out of sleeping with a woman who offered him hospitality (being a knight he has the power to do so; having defeated her protectors he has the right to do so; and she consents, which would appear to give him some moral justification for doing so) that he’s in love with Guinevere, and only Guinevere, and won’t have a bar of anyone else.

The introductory parts of the adventure objectify Lancelot in two ways: they establish him as one hot piece of knight-flesh – apparently so hot that random ladies he meets on the road are willing to construct elaborate deceptions so that they get to sleep with him. But moreover, they establish him as an object of humour, both for his fellow characters (who get to point and laugh at him for riding in the cart) and for the audience, who are privy to hilarious scenes like “In Which Lancelot Nearly Falls Out Of A Window Trying To Catch A Glimpse of Guinevere” and “In Which Our Manly Manly Knight Does His Best To Avoid This Girl Who’s Throwing Herself At Him”. Lancelot is a moron, and it’s quite possibly meant to be ridiculous, the way everyone he meets falls all over him.

And so on we go, until Guinevere is found, slept with, rescued, and sent home to Camelot. At this point, Lancelot is locked up in a manor somewhere, and things start to get really weird. We, like Guinevere, are really curious to find out what Lancelot won’t do for the sake of his ladyfriend. The first thing we knew about him is that he’d give up the chance to sleep with other women (which might be shameful – compare to the Chevalier a l’épee, where Gauvain is terribly worried about what it’d do to his reputation if he’s known to have slept in a woman’s company and not shagged her; or it might earn Lancelot brownie points in the consent-over-capture value system Chrétien’s promoting); then we find out that he’ll embarrass himself in combat if Guinevere wants him to. What lengths will he go to to get out of prison (twice)?

Well, apparently, what he’s willing to do to get out of prison (twice) is to promise his affections and his body to whatever woman’s in a position to get him out. First the lady of the manor in which he’s being held captive – and she’s not silly, she knows his love is already taken, but she makes him promise it to her anyway (whether she ever claims it, we do not find out, but the implication, since Lancelot’s emotional love is all taken up with Guinevere, is surely that he’s promised her a good roll between the sheets instead). Then he promises his love and, explicitly, his body, to the pickaxe-wielding princess who gets him out of the tower.*

Do we have a problem with this? Are we going to get any kind of commentary on the fact that our hero, who was heroically faithful a couple of thousand lines ago, is now willing to seduce and bargain his way out of prison? That he is, in fact, doing exactly what Guinevere was accused of doing: selling his body to anyone who asks?

No, apparently we’re not. Instead we find out more about how awesome Lancelot is, how all the women at the tournament want him and all the men want to be him – until, at Guinevere’s bidding, he decides to play the incompetent for a while and ruin his reputation, at which point all the women still want him and all the men want to laugh at him. Meanwhile, Melagaunt wants Lancelot in order to prove his own manliness, but is quite willing to take Gauvain as a substitute.

The whole situation is ridiculous (and Lancelot, as I said, is a moron). But the upshot of the whole anonymity device, coupled with Lancelot’s apparently thoughtless abandonment of his fidelity, is that his character is undermined. The desire which defined his character for the first half of the story (his desire to find, and ultimately shag, Guinevere) is achieved, and instead, he becomes a sort of placeholder. An object, something everybody wants for one reason or another – the cause of much fuss and no substance.

~

* Incidentally, The Princess With The Pickaxe is my new favourite character. Running around demanding the severed heads of people who piss her off, and rescuing knights from towers with her trusty pickaxe. HOW OFTEN IS IT YOU MEET A PRINCESS RESCUING KNIGHTS FROM TOWERS, I ask you?

Chastity Belts! Prof. Classen’s Sydney lecture available online

Just a quick heads-up: Albrecht Classen’s lecture ‘The Myth of the Medieval Chastity Belt’ is now available as a podcast from the University of Sydney’s website, via this newsfeed article. It may have the pictures with it- I know it took ages to be uploaded because the media people were trying to synchronise the powerpoint slides with the podcast, not sure if they actually succeeded.

In other news, my Inter-Library Loan of Prof. Classen’s Erotic Tales of Medieval Germany arrived yesterday, and I’m having a rollicking good time reading it. ‘Tis most hilarious. I heartily recommend it!

Ed: To all those still googling, the podcast is now here, in the 2008 index. Look for ‘The Myth of the Medieval Chastity Belt’.

Chastity Belts: An “Academically Approved” Forum for Talking About Sex

So says Proffessor Albrecht Classen of the University of Arizona, author of “The Medieval Chastity Belt: A Myth-Making Process”. The estimable Prof. Classen gave a paper for the Centre for Medieval Studies here, by the same title as his book. Many new and interesting things were learnt by all, I’m sure. For example, did you know:

* That before Classen, only five major studies of the medieval chastity belt had been written? The earliest was published in the 1880s, and the last in the 1990s. They all rely more-or-less on each other, are very difficult to get hold of due to the shady associations of the topic, and one of them was self-published and only two copies survive. It is also Classen’s opinion that none of them did very thorough artefact research- as well as not considering the possibility that the items in castles and museums might not be as old as their owners claim, apparently none of these five authors felt obliged to give useful details like item numbers and locations to back up their studies.

* There are no manuscript or literary examples of chastity belts before 1405? The aforementioned five books all cite various literary examples, which Classen carefully went through and demonstrated to be gross misinterpretations of a trope which associated belts with either a) prowess and heroics or b) love and romance, and sometimes both. See, for example, our dear friend Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (Apparently Gawain’s girdle is cited by all these five books as an example of a chastity belt! Excuse me while I die of hilarity now.)

* Belts, chaste or otherwise, didn’t come into fashion until around 1170? Before that, you had no idea where your top ended and your bottom began!

* The first known image of a chastity belt was drawn by a siege weapons designer? It appears, in 1405, in a manuscript called the Bellifortis, written by Kyeser von Eichstadt, accompanied by a rhyme about the dirty habits of Florentines, who supposedly invented the things. This is interesting, because everywhere else, although later, blames the Paduans. At any rate, this first example seems to have been a joke, a way of picking on the Florentines by mocking their sexual practices. As anyone who’s spent any time on a school bus knows, insults directed at by group A regarding the sexual practices of group B can be very inventive, often refer to anatomically impossible practices, and almost certainly do not give hard evidence of what group B get up to of a weekend.

The Bellifortis manuscript image

* Oh, and it would be actually impossible to survive more than a few days in one of these things? The hygeine issues alone would’ve been a disaster. This one below seems to provide more ample exit holes than some of the ones Classen showed us- making up for with spikiness for its lack of coverage. (Interestingly, only two of the examples Classen showed, this one and one from a German museum, thought to put spikes on the back door, so to speak. Regardless of spikes, they were all invariably far too small to use without serious waste disposal problems.)

Copyright- The Medieval Torture Museum, San Gimignano, Italy

* Chastity belts in art and literature really took off in the late 15th and 16th centuries? Everyone seemed to find them enormously fascinating, except for the English and the Spanish. There are, apparently, no references to chastity belts at all in England or Spain during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Classen then moved into talking about the 19th century, when fascination with chastity belts was quite the thing. He showed us a few pictures of belts actually used on young boys, and talked about the appeal in the 19th century of chastity belts as a popular and “approved” way to talk about sex and sexuality in an academic environment. If, as Classen seems to have found, chastity belts weren’t actually used in the middle ages, when what becomes very interesting is the way that the early modern and modern periods have constructed and reconstructed the past to create this image of the barbaric, torturous middle ages, this ultimate symbol of the violent medieval patriarchy, out of a few very late medieval references which are probably facetious.

Speaking of modern reconstructions of the past, this brings us to our final ‘did you know’ for the night:

Did you know that…

A room full of medievalists can sit there very solemnly nodding away and not sniggering even once, while being shown slides of images from online S&M catalogues? Because apparently we can. I’m not sure if that’s evidence of the superior maturity of SRS ACADEMICS, or just evidence that they’ve learnt not to snigger at people’s papers by now.

All in the name of investigating modern responses to and reconstructions of the past, of course…

~

Oh, and Prof.  Classen told us a fabulous story about Dietrick von Something, an incompetent knight, and his cross-dressing wife. I’ve put in an inter-library loan for his book ‘Erotic Tales of Medieval Germany’, and when I get it, I promise a rousing retelling. It has love! Marriage! Adventures! Adultery! Seducation! Homoerotics! Cross-dressing! Magic Belts! Everything you want in a story, really.

Banging Shield and Shield Together: Lesbians in Medieval French Literature

That got your attention, didn’t it?

Instead of writing up my Gawain paper, and instead of doing any real blogging; and in between learning how to be an efficient receptionist, and giving my patent Twitface Look to first the incoming Principal of Women’s College and then to our soon-to-be Head of State, The Governor-General Designate, I’ve been perusing one of the gems of Awesome’s bookshelf, the Handbook of Medieval Sexuality, ed. Bullough and Brundage. I particularly enjoyed Jaqueline Murray’s article ‘Twice Marginal and Twice Invisible: Lesbians in the Middle Ages’. I give her the highest praise I can give to a theory-dense article: she works through the historiography and the Theory background systematically, making it clear at every step just how the Theory relates to historical study, and she gives you big clear pointers for further reading. And, as if that wasn’t enough, as the article goes on, she demonstrates a good range of primary source work (although I guess I’d have to go and look at the primary sources in question and particular scholarship on them in order to evaluate her use of them properly).

I could give you a run-down of Murray’s theoretical approach, but I won’t. Instead, I’m going to give you a titilating segment from Etienne de Fougères’ Livre des manières, translated by Robert L.A. Clark and appended to Murray’s article.

These ladies have made up a game:
With
“trutennes” they make an “eu”,
they bang coffin against coffin,
without a poker to stir up their fire.

They don’t play at jousting,
but join shield to shield without a lance.
They don’t need a pointer in their scales,
nor a handle in their mould.

Out of water they fish for turbot
and they have no need for a rod.
They don’t bother with a pestle in their mortar
nor a fulcrum in their see-saw.

They do their jousting act in couples
and go at it full tilt;
at the game of thigh-fencing
they lewdly share their expenses.

They’re not all from the same mould:
one lies still and the other makes busy,
one plays the cock and the other the hen
and each one plays her role.

*p. 210 in Bullough & Brundage. Words in italics have not been successfully translated.

This passage follows a comparison of the ‘beautiful sin’ of heterosexual fornication with the ‘vile sin’ of homosexuality and instructions to kill homosexual men ‘like any cur’, so I doubt we’re meant to look favourably upon ‘these ladies’ either. However, some features Murray notes:

* de Fougères shares with canon and secular law a phallo-centric approach to sex: lesbian sex is defined by the absence of a penis.
* HOWEVER, unlike the canon and secular law, he doesn’t presume that lesbians must grow or manufacture penises as substitutes for manly apparatus. If you look at the stanzas above, he’s obviously pointing and laughing at the futility of ‘banging coffin upon coffin’, but he presents his Ladies as perfectly happy without a pestle in their mortar. He think’s they silly and unnatural for not desiring a penis in their sex act, but he does grasp the fact that they don’t want one.

and something I noticed myself, from the last stanza:

* de Fougères also shares with the legal examples Murray gives the assumption that sex involves an active and a passive partner. This meshes nicely with David L. Boyd’s side note, in ‘Sodomy, Misogyny and Displacement’, that medieval sexuality is defined by an active/passive binary, which, for men, meant that the recieving partner in homosexual penetrative sex was debased and shamed, for being made passive and therefore feminised. I wonder how this binary transfers over to lesbian sex? Murray may have addressed it, I’ll have to have a closer look at the article sometime…

In the meantime, happy innuendo, everyone!

The Humourous Later Life of St Aethelthryth

So, my attempt to make Arthurian fudge cookies isn’t going so well. When the recipe says ‘refrigerate for an hour’, but your fridge is full, covering the mixture and putting it outside for a while will only be a suitable substitute if you live somewhere where winter is actually COLD.

And on with the later life of St Aethelthryth! If you recall, we left her two weeks ago, newly proffessed as a nun at Coldingham. One week ago, we looked at her image in the Benedictional of St Aethelwold, in which she appears the right holy sourpuss.

After only a year as a nun, Aethelthryth was appointed abbess at Ely, which, if I recall correctly, was a new foundation at the time. Aelfric tells us she was a mother to many nuns- Mecthild Gretsch, in her book ‘Aelfric and the Cult of Saints’, writes as if everyone knew that Ely in Aethelthryth’s day was a double monastery, but how everyone comes by this information I’m not sure. (It could be Aelfric’s use of the term ‘mynstre’, but I don’t know what the word for convent would be if it were a distinct term…) I also read a theory once- and this was back before I had any idea how to spot a crackpot Anglo-Saxon theory when I saw it- that Ely before Aethelwold refounded it was never a ‘real’ monastery, but a house where Aethelthryth and her sisters and their women retired to live chastely (not unlike the ‘nunnan’, not nuns but consecrated widows, a distinction Sarah Foot makes in her several-volume work, ‘Veiled Women’).

Regardless of the formal arrangements at Ely, Aethelthryth continued to be on her best saintly behavior. She fasted, eating only one meal a day, except for feast days; she prayed alone; she wore woollen clothes. She took a bath only on high feast days, and then only after first bathing everyone else in the convent with her own hands.

Eight years on, she grew a ‘swelling’ under her jaw- variously accounted for as a tumour, swollen glands, and a leftover plague buboe. As you do, if you’re a saint, Aethelthryth thanked God for sending her an ‘affliction in her neck’, concluding that it was punishment for having worn necklaces adorning said neck in her youth. ‘And now’, she said, ‘me thinketh that God’s justice may cleanse my guilt, since I now whave this swelling, which shineth instead of gold, and this scorching heat instead of sparkling gems.’ (Trans. in Skeat, which is not, as it turns out, by Skeat, but by Skeat, Gunning and Wilkinson, the two latter ladies having done all the grunt work and Skeat the revision.)

A leech was called to ‘shoot’ the swelling, and shoot it he did, ‘and there came out matter’. In spite of this helpful leech, Aethelthryth ‘gloriously departed to God’ on the third day after his ministrations.

Strangely, dying of a tumour qualifies her for an entry in Bede’s Martyrology- the only Anglo-Saxon saint therein, in fact-, which interesting piece of information I found via Michelle of Heavenfield.

Having carked it, Aethethryth was buried in a wooden coffin and remained quiet for sixteen years. After sixteen years, her sister Sexburh, now abbess, decided Aethelthryth belonged inside the church itself, and ordered the brethren- (ah, that’s where the double monastery thing comes in)- off into the fens to look for a nice big stone to make a sargophagus out of. Off they went, rowing their way to Grantchesteter, where they found a coffin-ready made, standing against a wall, made out of white marble. The brethren nicked off with the coffin, declaring it a miracle. This explanation seems to have been acceptable, and no one asked who the coffin might have belonged to in the first place.

Next stop: the graveyard. They pitched a tent over Aethelthryth’s grave and dug her up, singing hymns all the while. Lo and behold, she lay there as if asleep. The leech who had tended her was there, and gave assurance that she looked exactly as she did the day they buried her, save that the wound he had made was healed, and all her clothes were freshly pressed and laundered. Despite this last fact, Sexburh took out the body, had it bathed and dressed in new clothes, and interred in the church, where, conveniently, the new marble coffin was found to fit her body exactly and to have a hollow in the pillow just the right size for her head. Aethelthryth’s shrine, her first shroud and her first coffin all went on to be mighty potent in the way of healing miracles, and it was generally agreed that between the incorrupt body and the miracles, we had definite proof she had been a lifelong virgin.

Ely Cathedral- which did not exist in Aethelthryth’s day but is neverthless very pretty.

Aelfric doesn’t go into any great detail about Aethelthryth’s posthumous miracles, as he did with St Edmund. Instead, he goes on to a little appendix, beginning ‘In like manner have laymen also, as books tell us, preserved often their chastity in the marriage-state, for the love of Christ’, and proceeding with a short story adapted from the Vita Patrum, about an upstanding citizen who lived with his wife in ‘claenysse’ (chastity, purity, continence- the same word Aelfric uses for the virgin Aethelthryth, but not limited to absolute abstinence), had three kids and then abstained, lived a virtuous life and finally entered a monastery. There have been all kinds of speculations about this appendix- a good summary of which you can find in Peter Jackson (not the director)’s article in Anglo-Saxon England for the year 2000, entitled ‘Aelfric and the purpose of Christian marriage’. Suffice it to say, Aelfric seems to have had nearly as much trouble with Aethelthryth’s obstinate abstinence has he did with Judith, who used her sexual attractiveness to manipulate men. (Aelfric wrote a homily/letter on Judith, which can be found in an eddition by Assman or in an online edition by Lee.) In the case of Judith, he carefully wrote out all hints of sex from the narrative, but it’s not really possible to rewrite Aethelthryth as a good wife and queen, when her whole sanctity rests on her virginity. Instead, throughout the Life Aelfric refers back to Bede and his judgement of Aethelthryth; he also shifts power off Aethelthryth and onto God, as he does with Judith; and finally he appends this example of marital ‘claennysse’ appropriate to the layity. In my humble opinion, it’s the word eac (also) which is crucial here. Laymen also have often preserved their chastity, Aelfric announces, implicitly setting Aethelthryth appart from the laity even though she lived most of her life as a laywoman. Aelfric certainly didn’t like sex much, or want anyone to enjoy it, but he did understand that the laity had to marry and reproduce; if anyone, male of female, was going to neglect their conjugal duties in imitation of Aethelthryth, he, Aelfric, wasn’t going to be responsible for it.

So that’s St Aethelthryth for you. Next week… who knows? Maybe something really odd, like the Seven Sleepers.