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.

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sex and “the other”

“the other” is a shapeless concept in anthropology/the social sciences which i never quite understood — prolly ’cause the anthropologists/social scientists don’t understand it themselves. it’s got something to do with how we react to people who are unlike ourselves somehow or in some way … different headdresses or tattoos or taste in music … or something like that. it might’ve been a useful concept if they’d looked at it from the p.o.v. of genetics, but they mostly didn’t so … never mind….


in light of the scandals in rotherham, i thought i’d take some time out from the regularly scheduled program to present a couple of very vague ideas i have related to sex and genetic relatedness between individuals/groups. i haven’t really thought through these ideas, so they’re very vague. don’t say i didn’t warn you. (also, could be that actual scientists have already thought through/done lots of research on all of these already and i’m not aware of it. if so, just ignore me.)

vague thought number one:

if the prime directive is to reproduce your genes (or at least those that would have an effect in this case) as much as possible, one tactic in achieving that goal might be to reduce how much your competitors — those individuals unrelated to you who don’t share your genes — manage to reproduce their genes. you could do that by a) killing them, and/or b) preventing them from reproducing in some other way.

one way to prevent “the other” guys from reproducing (so much) would be to mate as much as possible with, if you imagine two neighboring tribes, their usual mates. then, not only do you reduce the actual reproduction of “the other” guys’ genes, you also increase your own and spread your genes even that much further than you would’ve if you just stuck to the members of your own tribe. so it’s possible — possible — then that a special drive for mating with “the other” could’ve been something that was selected for ’cause it might’ve paid off.

however, you would think this would be a better strategy for men than for women since reproduction for human females is such a long, drawn-out, costly affair, whereas men can just spread their seed hither and thither without a care in the world. a drive for sex with “the other” might, then, be stronger in men than in women, and might even result in a certain amount of sexual coercion (to put it nicely) since the women don’t really want to engage in this sex with “the other” so much. and this coercion might be applied more often to unrelated/unlike females than to related/like females a la ghengis khan and his band of literal brothers sweeping across eurasia raping and pillaging wherever they went (that’d be one of the more extreme examples — extreme in terms of behaviors exhibited and in terms of success).

vague thought number two:

in my world of inbred populations, familial altruism rules the day because it pays more — inclusive fitness-wise — to be altruistic towards your family members, since you share an inordinate number of genes with them compared to non-family members. perhaps, too, in an inbred society it would also pay more to mate with “the other” (as described above) if and when you could since, in an inbred society, the different extended families/clans are less related to one another than families in an outbred society. by mating with your unrelated neighbor’s sister, you’re (heh) screwing him genetically more than a guy in an outbred society would do to his neighbor. in other words, perhaps a stronger drive to mate with “the other” could be selected for in inbred societies because the effect of “vague thought number one” would be amplified. (perhaps this is why peoples in the arab world/middle east cover their women up in burkas — for their own protection just like they often say!)

vague thought number three:

glenn daniel wilson has suggested that rape is/was a reproductive strategy of — i guess the gameboyz would call them beta males — guys who didn’t have access to females ’cause some alpha males had all or most of the access. maybe, then, the drive to rape is a response to polygamy. maybe. if so, that would certainly seem to fit the arab world and might explain why they are overly protective of their women (burkas, purdah). might even explain what happened in rotherham. i have to admit, i’m not 100% convinced by this one. i think it might be part of the explanation, but not the sole one.

vague thought number four:

i’ve been meaning to do a post on this, but just haven’t gotten around to it, so i’ll just tack it on here. sex drives and the hajnal line — something which jayman mentioned in the comments here.

you’ve probably all seen henry harpending and greg cochran’s recent (very cool!) discussions about fathers’ ages and mutation rates (most recent example here). my question, wrt the late marriage trend in western europe for both men and women, is: has there been any selection for behaviors related to these late marriages?

if — if — over the last few hundred years, those nw europeans who married (i.e. mated) at a later age were more successful at leaving their genes behind than those who married young, were certain behavioral traits related to this selected for? greater ability to delay gratification, for instance (in this case sexual gratification!)? relatively lower libido (“no sex, please, we’re british!” — see also monty python)? other traits i haven’t thought of?

like jayman said in his comment, in most of the world even today — and in many more parts up until very recently — a 14, 15, 16 year-old girl is/was considered very marriable/matable. maybe nw europeans feel that relatively less so. dunno.

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the viagra war?

this is pretty bizarre if (IF) it’s true:

Gaddafi ‘supplies troops with Viagra to encourage mass rape’, claims diplomat

“US ambassador Susan Rice has also said, without offering evidence, that Iran was helping Syria to suppress dissent

“One of America’s most senior diplomats claimed at the United Nations security council that Muammar Gaddafi is supplying his troops with Viagra to encourage mass rape, according to diplomats.

“Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN made the claim while accusing Gaddafi of numerous human rights abuses. Earlier in the week Rice also claimed, without offering any evidence, that Iran is helping Syria suppress internal dissent.

“Foreign affairs specialists expressed scepticism about both claims.

“The Viagra claim surfaced in an al-Jazeera report last month from Libya-based doctors who said they had found Viagra in the pockets of pro-Gaddafi soldiers. But it is a jump from that to suggesting Gaddafi is supplying troops with it to encourage mass rape….”

people talk about rape during war as a weapon (pretty right) used to terrorize populations. eh. yeah, i guess hoardes of men entering your town and raping and pillaging everyone|thing in sight would be terrorizing, but i think (of course) the real reason for rape during wartime is more fundamental than even that.

what’s war all about? eliminating your competitors, i.e. competitors for resources. how do you eliminate them? well, killing them for one. you can also try to replace their genes by impregnating the women of whatever population you’re fighting. then you reduce the mating opportunities for the guys in that other group (’cause all their women are now pregnant) AND you increase your own reproduction rate. it’s a win-win situation!

also, i would think some really strong reproductive urges kick in when you’re at war. your genes are prolly “thinking”: sh*t. we could be dead any second now! better mate!

rape during human wars is kinda like my favorite example of male lions taking over a pride: they kill (or try to kill) the current males in the pride, kill all the young uns, and then mate with all the females. reproductive success! it’s all that matters.

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