dealing with cuckoldry in thirteenth century england

if you discovered your friend’s wife in bed with another man in thirteenth century england, you’d tell your friend, right? [edit: and/or conclude that one or more of you must be a time lord(s)!] how to tell him though? hmmmm. email? text? nooooo. send him a letter! yeah, send him a letter.

it would’ve been an awkward sorta letter to write, though, but you know what? there was a form letter for the occasion! i know! who knew that they even had form letters in the 1200s?! but they did! and they were kept in collections called formularies, some of which are still hanging around in archives like at the british museum.

here from Lost Letters of Medieval Life: English Society, 1200-1250 [pg. 222 – link added by me]:

“A Man Warns His Friend that He Has Seen the Latter’s Wife Naked in Bed with Another Man, and Sends Her Girdle [no, not one of these, one of these – h.chick] as Evidence

“F. tells G. that he has seen another man in bed with G.’s wife

“To his beloved friend A., B. sends greetings. Except that I believed it would offend you, I would reveal something that I lately saw. But because it is wicked to conceal wickedness, I prefer to disclose [it] rather than to have the odium of the heavenly realm. For I saw your wife in R.’s bed, the two of them alone and naked together. And so that she cannot deny it, I took her girdle [i.e., belt] as a token, which I send to you, and the sight of it should serve you as evidence of this misdeed. You should see to it that she is punished, together with him. Farewell.”

so there you go.

the editors of Lost Letters reckon that this form letter was composed a bit tongue-in-cheek, but still with a serious lesson in mind [links added by me]:

“At first sight, this would seem to be an odd candidate for inclusion in a collection of model letters, since the compiler is unlikely to have assumed that there was a need for a form letter in which one friend notified another of the adultery of the latter’s wife. It seems likely that this letter was included in the collection for somewhat different reasons. First, it may have been intended, at least in part, for the amusement of the business students and other male readers for whom the formulary was primarily designed. In a similar fashion John of Garlande included some smutty material in his ‘Dictionarius’, a contemporary treatise designed to teach Latin vocabulary but written primarily in the form of a walking tour of Paris. Second, and more seriously, this letter may have been included to remind readers that, if they ever made a serious accusation against another person in writing, they had better have solid evidence — such as the wife’s girdle, in this case — to support their allegation.”

in anglo-saxon england/the early medieval period, you could just kill a guy if you caught him sleeping with your wife, and everyone would be very understanding. by the 1200s, however, this course of action was no longer permitted [pg. 226 – link added by me]:

“Around 1215, Thomas of Chobham, a canon laywer and subdean of Salisbury, summarized the legal recourse available to an outraged husband, as he understood it: ‘It is worth noting that secular law once allowed a man to kill an adulterer found with his wife. This is no longer permitted, but only for him to cut off the man’s genitals so that he will never spawn another who will follow him in his vileness.‘”

so there was that possibility!

you had to keep your wife under control, though. if you didn’t, you couldn’t accuse her of adultery in the ecclesiastical courts or castrate anybody:

“[S]ince women were considered to be sexually voracious, and certain occupations, such as that of barmaid, exposed them to dangerous temptations, a husband who allowed his wife to work in a drinking-house was not permitted to press charges of adultery against her if she succumbed.



“Canon lawyers also ruled that a wife who had been raped could not be charged with adultery….”

fair enough.

(note: comments do not require an email. master john of garlande!)


linkfest – 06/10/12

Consanguinity and Corruption“Computing simple, unweighted averages for each country for which studies and surveys have been conducted and subsequently recorded on and then comparing them to Transparency International’s 2011 Corruptions Perception Index yields a correlation of .44 (p = 0).” – from the awesome epigone! see also steve sailer.

Does cooperation require both reciprocity and alike neighbours? – the answer is yes: “The researchers conclude that human societies can best achieve high levels of cooperative behaviour if their individuals interact repeatedly, and if populations exhibit at least a minor degree of structure.” – in other words, if the members of a society are related to some degree.

Re-Examining the “Out of Africa” Theory and the Origin of Europeoids (Caucasoids) in Light of DNA Genealogyopen access [pdf].

An Asian Origin for Human Ancestors?“Researchers agree that our immediate ancestors, the upright walking apes, arose in Africa. But the discovery of a new primate that lived about 37 million years ago in the ancient swamplands of Myanmar bolsters the idea that the deep primate family tree that gave rise to humans is rooted in Asia. If true, the discovery suggests that the ancestors of all monkeys, apes, and humans—known as the anthropoids—arose in Asia and made the arduous journey to the island continent of Africa almost 40 million years ago.”

Exercise benefits black girls less than whites, study shows“Physical activity seems a nearly sure way to prevent obesity in white adolescent girls, but does not have the same effect on African American girls, researchers say…. The study … falls in line with research that finds black women oxidize fat more slowly in response to exercise, and that their resting metabolic rates are lower than those of white women.”

[White] Americans’ heads have been growing, scientists say“Over the last 150 years or so, it appears that skulls got narrower from side to side by about 5 to 7 millimeters, and higher from top to bottom by an average of nearly 10 millimeters, Jantz said. And the overall size of the head has, on average, increased by an amount equivalent to the size of a tennis ball, he said.”

Menstrual huts protect Dogon men from cuckoldry“Women who practise the traditional Dogon religion, unlike those who are Muslim or Christian, spend five days a month around the time of menstruation in a highly visible ‘menstrual hut’. Strassmann tested paternity in 1700 Dogon father and son pairs and found that those who practised the traditional religion were four times less likely to be raising someone else’s son than those who practised Christianity.”

Lady Liaisons: Does Cheating Give Females an Evolutionary Advantage?“‘This is one of the most careful and most robust studies to explore whether polyandry is adaptive in females,’ says Tommaso Pizzari, a University of Oxford biologist who was not involved in the research. ‘The answer is: not really.'” – at least not in canadian song sparrows.

bonus: Plants may be able to ‘hear’ others

bonus bonus: Parasitic plants ‘steal’ genes from their hosts

bonus bonus bonus: Skeletons treated for vampirism found in Bulgaria – vampires!

(note: comments do not require an email. awwww!)