We’re delighted to welcome Alice Raw to Placecloud as a new expert. Alice is a historian of medieval gender and sexuality, with a focus on sex acts, consent, and pleasure. She is a College and Departmental Lecturer in History at St John’s College, Oxford, and has held research fellowships at the University of Oxford and The Huntington Library, California. She has published on queenly authority, women’s political participation, and sexuality.
Alice’s viewpoints explore the oppressive forces that shaped sexuality, while centring experiences of joy, playfulness, and queerness. Expect break-up ballads, wandering genitals, public sex, and some very strange euphemisms.
Find Alice on Twitter @AliceBRRaw
St Clement’s, York
Joan of Leeds: a classic tale of boy meets girl, girl fakes death to escape nunnery.
Joan was forced to enter a nunnery by her parents. In 1318, she faked her own death and ran away to live a life of ‘carnal lust’ in Beverley. We’ve all been there.
Fleet Street, London
A medieval messy break-up song: on catching your man cheating, then going to the club.
In an obscure early printed song book that survives only by chance, a woman sings about seeing her lover out with a ‘mistress bastard’. Her reaction? She calls him a fuckboy and goes dancing.
Richard’s Castle, Ludlow
Three dames and a dildo
In c.1340, a professional scribe of Shropshire copied down a fun fireside tale. Three women are off on a pilgrimage. On the road, one of them finds ‘a great huge penis, draped about with just its muzzle peeking out’ from behind a hawthorn bush. This episode considers a variety of stories of wandering genitalia, and the problems with picking up a disembodied penis off the road.
Soper Lane, London
Eleanor Rykener: on reading a trans life in medieval England, and the long view of queer public sex.
In 1394, a sex worker and a Yorkshireman are arrested in a stable for public sex, and specifically for ‘committing that detestable unmentionable and ignominious vice’, sodomy. The ensuing deposition reveals that Eleanor has been known as John at various times in their life, and has had sex with both men and women. This episode places Eleanor in conversation with other cases of queer public sex, in particular that of Simeon Solomon in 1873.
Sexperts of Medieval England: in medieval impotence trials, a panel of experts is required.
Impotence was sufficient grounds for annulment, but how to prove that a man had erectile disfunction? In 1433, one court asked ‘seven honest women’ to ascertain whether or not the defendant was capable of an erection with that timeless method, a lapdance.
WAP, but make it medieval and Welsh: Medieval Welsh poet Gwerful Mechain explains why pussy is the best.
Little is known about the medieval Welsh poet Gwerful Mechain, but she wrote some absolute bangers, including ‘Cywydd y cedor’, or, to non-Welsh speakers, ‘Poem to the vagina’. In the opening, she says that men have written some great praise poetry about women, but they are incomplete, because they don’t include detailed praise of genitalia. She then gives us a further thirty lines dedicated to WAP.
Friday Street, London
Agnes Wellis: When you kiss someone one time and they think you’re getting married.
If you were sure you had married someone but they didn’t agree, the London consistory court was the place to be. Here, ecclesiastical judges heard contested marriage cases. Disgruntled non-couple couples brought all kinds of evidence: gifts, exchanges of vows, sexual relationships. But for one woman, denying marriage was as simple as admitting that they had made out a couple of times but she had never intended to marry him.
The original Cards of Humanity: Card games for the thirsty medieval woman.
It’s a rainy Suffolk evening, and you and your friends are bored of sewing. What next? Why, a round of ‘Have Your Desire’, of course! In this quick fire bawdy card game, you play an apparently innocent card. It’s your neighbour’s job to play a combination to make it as dirty as they can.
St Mary Woolchurch, London
‘Then I chucked bread at her head’: Women slut-shaming women in medieval London.
In 1497, Joan Rokker called Joan Sebar a whore on her front doorstep then threw bread at her. This episode thinks about how, where, and why women publicly sexually defamed other women.
Foreplay advice in a medieval medical compendium.
Elizabeth de Clare (1295-1360) married three times, lived in three countries, and had three children. She was also a prolific book owner. Among her collection was a popular medical compendium by John of Gaddesden, which includes a section on foreplay. In this episode, we explore medical theories about the utility of foreplay, practical suggestions for exciting desire in women, and what this might have meant to women who had access to this kind of text.