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Covering approximately the region of modern France in western Europe, or to topics relating to French-language culture in Europe.

LHMP entry

One of the most commonly-cited cases of medieval women openly dressing in male clothing is Joan of Arc, not only because of her prominent place in general history, but because both her practices and her reasoning are unusually well documented, not only by her contemporaries, but in her own words from the trial transcripts. She wore male clothing almost continually from the time of her first attempts to contact the Dauphin throughout most of her trial.

In the context of an increased interest in the cultural role of theatrical cross-dressing in the Renaissance through modern times, these authors extend the analysis backward to look at similar themes in medieval theater.

This article looks at an unusual 12th century text: Etienne de Fougères’ Livre des Manières, a catalog-in-verse of different classes of people. The inclusion of women who have sexual relations with other women is unusual for touching on the subject at all and valuable for the reflection of the author's attitude. The concept of classifying and ordering the parts of society has a long tradition, whether the older Dumézilian division into priests, warriors, and farmers, or the medieval division into various "estates".

As a a methodology article, Murray begins with the usual discussion of the problems of data on this topic, in particular the double-whammy by which women's history sidelines homosexuality, and the history of homosexuality sidelines women. Having gotten past the problems of definitions and theory, the article presents a survey of types of historic data on women's affectional, erotic, and sexual relations with each other. The material contrasts with Bennett's survey article (Bennett 2000) in that it focuses more broadly on literature and legal theory rather than specific individuals.

The article begins with a survey of the discussion of, and attitudes toward distinguishing biological sex and gender behaviour in professional literature. Especially in distinguishing transvestism, transexualism, gender non-conformity, and more situational uses of cross-gender behavior. This article focuses more on those situational uses rather than cross-dressing as a feature of gender or sexual identity.

Early modern Europe had quite a fondness for encyclopedic works that defined and classified the entire known world (and much that was imaginary). Theodor Zwinger (1533-1588) wrote Theatrum vitae humane (Theater of Human Life) in something of a biographical dictionary form, in groupings according to the characteristic that provided their fame. Under the section “Tribades” he notes “Here we say nothing which has not been said before, and collect only a few items.

This chapter covers various textual and visual works that can reasonably be interpreted as deliberately portraying same-sex activity for the purposes of titillation. One item of particular interest is Jeanne Mignon’s work “Women Bathing” (after Luca Penni, ca. 1540) which depicts a large group of naked women bathing together, some engaging in mutual stimulation. (The work matches in content very well with the picture mentioned by Brantôme as having been arousing to women who viewed it.)

Renaissance philosophy tackled the question of friendship: who is an appropriate friend, what behavior should a friend exhibit, what is the relationship between the love of friends and sexual desire? Given the times, the majority of texts addressing this topic were concerned with friendships between men, though a nod was often given to Sappho as a proponent of female friendships, or to the possibility of “Platonic love” between women, which is given explicit license in the Symposium as well as by Renaissance writers commenting on it, as Agnolo Firenzuola did.

Medical references to sex between women include several on the “rediscovery of the clitoris” theme as well as pseudo-medical explanations for same-sex desire, plus some titillating orientalism. Several of the texts cited here are classical but formed part of the corpus of standard medical literature in the Renaissance.

The introduction notes the extreme variation in how female same-sex relationships were treated, in terms of penalties, liability, and the means and extent of enforcement, including differing legal theories of whether the term “sodomy” could apply. As a generalization, consensual same-sex behavior was least prosecuted in England, while Florence may have regularly prosecuted relations between men but the penalties were relatively light, while in Spain penalties were regularly quite severe including execution, and similarly severe were those recorded in Geneva.


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