Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Friday, May 29, 2009

Guest Blogger - Francesca Hawley on Medieval Sexuality

Today on History Undressed, I am exited to host Francesca Hawley who'll delight us with some titillating knowledge on medieval sexuality. Today is also the release day for her newest book, Seeking Truth, which I can't wait to get my hands on!

Take it away Francesca...
When I began to write Seeking Truth, a medieval paranormal erotic romance which releases today from Ellora’s Cave, I knew one thing for certain about my hero, Baron Eaduin Kempe. I knew he was a sexually dominant and sexually experienced man. Eaduin liked to bind his lovers and pleasure them almost beyond their ability to endure before finally giving them release and taking his own. Controlling their arousal gave him pleasure. This was certain. What I did not know was how his desires fit into the rules – both religious and secular – of life in England in 1146. But to write the book, I needed to know.

Being a landed Baron, there were few who could tell Eaduin “no” and live to tell the tale. Barons held great power in England during this time. It was baronial support – or lack of it – which plunged England into nineteen years of Civil War during the reign of King Stephen and his battle with Empress Maud. Years later, it was the barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215 to codify the rights of the nobles and barons. However, a man like Eaduin who can do what he wants with impunity is more likely to be a villain than a hero. Since I’d already had this fight with Eaduin and lost, I knew he was hero material. Even though he could, he never took unwilling lovers and rape was repugnant to him. Check. Got it.

So I figured I’d ask my opinionated hero what he did and what he liked so I could research what society’s view would be. Eaduin shared that he expected to go to hell, but if he was fortunate he’d spend eternity in purgatory for his lusts. He told me that while he revered God, believed in Christ as his savior, and obeyed the Church, he wished the institution would keep its nose out of his bedroom. This told me he held a more secular view of medieval life.

At this point, I went searching for books to find out about sexuality in medieval times. I didn’t expect to find much. After all, documenting what went on in a noble’s bed between a husband and wife would be a fairly private thing, except when the entire castle bedded down in the great hall together, but that’s another issue altogether. I was pleasantly surprised to find sexuality and marriage to be topics visited by scholars. Prior to marrying my heroine, Vérité, Eaduin had taken a number of lovers from the lower classes and his foster mother had been his father’s mistress.

I requested many books through interlibrary loan at my local library. Those that I found particularly useful, I purchased for my own library. The following books fall in the latter category.

To find out more about medieval common women, I discovered an excellent book by Ruth Mazo Karras called Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England. Although this book covers the mid 1300s through the 1400s, I found it useful to discover what attitudes were towards women who were kept or paid for their sexual services. I found Karras’ assertions that popular views of prostitutes were heavily influenced by the church’s overall hostility to sexuality and widespread misogyny to be very credible. Medieval people were intensely influenced by the church as an institution and their local clergy. Chapters cover how prostitutes were viewed by law, how brothel businesses were run, why a woman might become a prostitute, and more. I highly recommend this book for research.

Ruth Mazo Karras is the author of the second book I looked at, as well. Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others, was an excellent read and a goldmine of research. I happened to watch the series “The History of Sex” on the History Channel. As I watched the episode about the Middle Ages, I recognized a name. Ruth Mazo Karras was one of the scholars they interviewed. She was funny and insightful, so I knew her book was going to be excellent. Since this book covered 500-1500, my time period was discussed and I was thrilled. While the book is very definitely an academic one, it is readable and interesting. The book discusses the sexuality of chastity – including the lives of priests, monks, and nuns. Karras’ research covers how sex within marriage is viewed and how both men and women outside of marriage viewed sex. She also discusses attitudes with regards to same-sex relationships. This book was incredibly helpful.

Though a much drier and more academic read, Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe by James A. Brundage, was an exception resource. This book discusses law and sex from ancient times through the late 1500s. What I found most helpful, was the way Brundage delves into Canon law with regard to marriage, sexuality and sin. The thing that made me buy this book was that there were almost two hundred pages worth of material which covered the 1100s. It was amazing to me what was considered sinful. I was also astonished that someone (members of the clergy) spent so much time contemplating all the possible permutations of sexuality so they could mete out what they deemed to be appropriate punishment. Just wow.

Another book dealing with medieval Canon law is Power Over the Body, Equality in the Family by Charles J. Reid Jr. This book is more directly about the rights of men, women and children as specified in Canon law. I really found this helpful with plot details. I didn’t have a clandestine marriage, but I needed to know whether a father could contest a marriage if he wanted to or what even constituted a legal marriage. The answer to this was pretty simple – consent. It seems that a woman could refuse marriage, but parents and a potential husband could, and did, try to change her mind by fair means or foul. This book also made its way into my personal library because I found it so useful.

Finally, I’d like to recommend Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages by Frances and Joseph Gies. This book spans the early middle ages from 500 to the late middle ages to 1500. This book addresses itself to aristocrats and peasants alike. While the research here is obvious, it is an easier read than the two books regarding Canon law. This book is mostly an overview, but a definitely helpful one.

All About Francesca Hawley

I earned a Master of Arts in Library and Information Science in 2003 and work as a librarian in central Iowa. I'm a member of Romance Writers of America, including multiple special interest chapters. My first paranormal erotic novel was published by Ellora's Cave in January 2009. I have been writing seriously for about five years, but writing was always a part of my life. Even in my teens I wrote romances, spending my lunch hours with pen, paper, and characters. I love to weave new tales by embroidering and knitting intriguing narratives for the amusement of myself, my friends, and my readers.

Seeking Truth
Publisher: Ellora's Cave Publishing
ISBN: 9781419922190


Baron Eaduin Kempe, a man of intense passions, seeks a healer at a nearby abbey. When the abbess introduces convent-raised Lady Vérité de Sauigni, he knows he’s hellbound for desiring her. He wants to tie her to his bed until she sobs with the pleasure of his touch.

Eaduin offers Vérité marriage in exchange for easing the pain of his dying foster mother. Years ago, Vérité secretly watched Baron Eaduin arouse a lover and has dreamed of his touch ever since. She desires him enough to risk exchanging the imprisonment of convent life for that of marriage. On their wedding night, Eaduin craves dominance and Vérité submits with enthusiasm. Each heated encounter thereafter binds them closer together.

When Vérité’s father accuses her of witchcraft because she won’t use her psychic gift of seeing truth to aid him, she begs Eaduin to kill her so she doesn’t suffer. Instead, Eaduin challenges her father to trial by combat, determined to save the woman who owns both his passion and his heart.

Read an Excerpt!!!


Blythe Gifford said...

You've mentioned several of my favorite resources and helped me discover a few more. In particular, Karras' COMMON WOMEN gave me good insight that fed into my September release, IN THE MASTER'S BED. I love to peel back the veil and try to understand how a medieval man and woman really felt, faced with all the threats and constraints of the day. Most, I think, honored in the breach.

Francesca Hawley said...

Thanks for stopping by to comment. Your cover for In The Master's Bed is really hot and I'll be looking for a copy to buy soon. :-)

Tess said...

Interesting post Francesca...I did see the History channel special...very interesting also!

May you have many sales!! Happy release day!

Francesca Hawley said...

Thanks for stopping by. The History Channel special was really fascinating!

Eliza Knight said...

Fascinating! Thank you for blogging with us today!!! And I LOVE your cover :)

Nicole North said...

Awesome post, Francesca! Your book sounds wonderful!!

ashleyludwig said...

What a fascinating account. Thanks, Francesca - nice to meet you...

Though I write in a different genre, I appreciate your careful inspection of your hero's moral code in association to what was or was not acceptable at your exact time period. Your story is sure to be ripe with historic detail.

Congratulations on your new release, and many successes.



Francesca Hawley said...

Eliza, Nicole and Ashley,
Thanks so much for stopping by to comment.

Eliza - I was thrilled with my cover too. It was designed by the talented Syneca!

Nicole - I adore your cover for Kilted Lover. What a hottie! :-)

Ashley - thanks for stopping by on your release day for All or Nothing. Congratulations.

Amanda Elyot said...

Francesca, thank you for all this fascinating insight; you have serendipitously pointed me in the right direction for some information and overview that I need for one of my current wips, which is set in the lat 12th century.

Good luck with the release!

Sidhe said...

What a wonderful, interesting post today!

Francesca Hawley said...

Amanda - I'm so glad I provided some help for your research. Thanks for stopping to share!

Sidhe - thanks for commenting. I appreciate the visit!

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

Looks like I'm off to Alibris and The Book Depository again--gotta round out that research!

I, too, saw the History Channel documentary--in bits and pieces, of course *sigh*--and found myself, at different times, appalled and astounded.

Great blog. Thanks for sharing your resources.

Minx Malone said...

What an insightful look at medieval life. I need to bookmark this post for the next time someone insinuates that erotic romances aren't "real" books!

Wonderful research Francesca and congrats on the release!


Colleen said...

Not many historicals are written during this time period so I am very intreagued by the setting for your book! Good luck with it!

Colleen M

Francesca Hawley said...

Gwynlyn - I love book shopping for research materials. Recently I added books to my collection about sexuality in Regency and Victorian England too!

Minx - thanks for stopping by! I think you need to be just as careful with research when writing erotic romance. Glaring errors drive editors to distraction regardless of the genre in which one writes. :-)

Colleen - thanks for visiting and if you get the chance to read the book, I hope you enjoy it. I'm really fascinated with this time period because it hasn't been widely explored yet. So many writers choose the time of Henry II and Eleanor that I consciously decided against writing something during that time period.

Kris Kennedy said...

Congrats on your release, Francesca!
Sexuality in the middle ages hasn't been a direct target of my own research, but your resources sound terrific. I love when a tidbit or small fact sets us on a 'whole book' journey.

I love writing about the Stephen/Mathilda era. So much potential for conflict, isn't there?

Off to EC . . . .

Francesca Hawley said...

Thanks so much for stopping by and I agree. The Stephen/Maud civil war offers writers a lot of potential for external conflict.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Very interesting post, Francesca. I think the techniques parents used to persuade their daughters to marry someone they chose might be interesting...

Karen E said...

I enjoyed both your post and the excerpt for your new book, Francesca. Your resources sounded quite interesting.
I have always thought that time period was a poor one for women since they had so few rights. I think that successful concubines and courtesans must have been strong women able to use their sexuality to manipulate men in order to improve their female lot in life.
Tough to realize that being curious or outspoken could land a woman in a lot of trouble with just about everyone.

I don't write in this time period but I enjoy historicals.

Skhye said...

Wonderful post! I love THE HISTORY OF SEX. ;) Thanks for sharing.

Savanna Kougar said...

Fascinating, Francesca. Thanks for the reading resources.
Congrats on your release!

Francesca Hawley said...

Paisley - Power over the body, Equality in the family has a fascinating chapter about Christina of Markyate. She wanted to enter holy orders but her family wanted her to marry. Reid dedicates the first chapter to the discussion of what attempts her family made to force her into marriage. It's fascinating reading!

Francesca Hawley said...

Karen - it would have been really challenging to be a woman back then. Essentially women were owned - first by their fathers, then by their husbands - and those were the secure ones. The women without a husband or father could find themselves in deep trouble very quickly.

We often forget that the "rule of thumb" was a rule which told husbands they couldn't beat their wives with a stick any larger around than their thumb. They could beat them - they just had to use a small stick. sigh.

Thanks for stopping by to comment.

Francesca Hawley said...

Skhye - Wasn't that series fantastic? I really need to buy it on DVD for my collection. It was educational, entertaining and titillating all at the same time! LOL

Savanna - thanks for stopping by to comment. I saw your post on Shapeshifter Seductions the other day about Black Cat Beauty. It looks great!

Francesca Hawley said...

The winner of the drawing for a copy of Seeking Truth is Minx Malone. Congratulations! Please contact me via my web site and I'll send you an e-copy of the book. Thanks for visiting to comment on the blog!

Pat said...

It would appear that medieval society had a corner on titillating sexuality that has to date been unmatched in modern society because of the erosion of sexual values, and it is difficult to classify today's seductions as anywhere near as entertaining as they were once. That loss to society is not necessarily a bad thing considering the rigidity and social restrictions that people of the Victorian age were confined to, but given the relatively brief period of its existence, modern educated humans have had a difficult time replacing it with anything nearly its equivalent as a substitute. Striking the right balance may be considered one of human society's greatest challenges in gender relations.