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LHMP #199 Brantôme 1740 Vies des Dames Galantes

Full citation: 

Brantôme (Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme). 1740. Vies des Dames Galantes. Garnier Frères, Libraires-Éditeurs, Paris.

Publication summary: 

An excerpt from a more extensive memoir about women of the 16th century French court.

* * *

Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme (commonly referred to as “Brantôme”) was a French writer of the 16th century. He was a soldier and courier and wrote several volumes of memoirs and biography, but the most well-known (or at least, notorious) section is known as Vies des Dames Galantes (The Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies) which, contrary to the rather positive title, is a scurrilous gossip-rag focusing on women’s sexual escapades and especially on the topic of women cuckolding their husbands. Because, of course, this being a male writer working within the patriarchy, sex outside of marriage is all the fault of the woman and only women’s sexual escapades are worthy of condemnation. Though Brantôme couches his condemnation as back-handed praise at many points.

Within this text, there is an entire section exploring the question of whether women having sex with women can result in such cuckoldry. And although the discussion is framed with mockery and the assumption that sex between women could not possibly be as satisfying as sex involving a penis, Brantôme’s forthright and--let us go so far as to say pornographic--discussion of the subject provides evidence of beliefs about, and attitudes toward, women’s same-sex relations that would be hard to retrieve from other types of texts.

Brantôme’s memoirs were written toward the end of the 16th century he directed his heir to have them printed after his death. After various delays, this happened 1665-6. The French text below is taken from Project Gutenberg’s transcription linked here, which is based on an edition published in 1740. Project Gutenberg is an invaluable resource of crowd-sourced transcription and proofreading of public domain material, and I strongly encourage people to donate to support its efforts.

Because my French is not in the slightest up to producing my own translation of the work, I’ve used as my base text an English translation produced by A.R. Allinson (published in 1922, in public domain, and made available through the Internet Archive which, alas, does not involve the same high quality of proofreading as Project Gutenberg, but I’ve cleaned up the major issues in this version). For links see: volume 1 and volume 2. Allinson’s edition offers the following apologia regarding his translation choices:

“This very fine and accurate translation of The Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies was made by Mr. A. R. Allinson and because of its merit must be considered one of the great English translations, equalling in every quality those of the 16th and 17th centuries. The text of Brantome's great work is given practically complete in these volumes and the only modifications are based upon good taste and not on any fearful prudery. A few of Brantome's examples that illustrate his points belong more in a treatise on abnormal pathology than in a book of literary or historical interest and value, so nothing of any value is lost by omitting them. The rare charm, shrewd wisdom, amusing anecdote, literary merit and historical and social information will be appreciated by intelligent readers.”

One may triangulate on Mr. Allinson’s distinction between “good taste” and “fearful prudery” based on the sections he has left in the original French or omitted entirely and which I have supplied from other sources as noted. In addition to omitting or leaving in French the passages that contain explicit descriptions of sexual techniques, he regularly bowdlerizes or omits certain words, such as fricarelle (which can either generally refer to any sex act between two women, or to the specific act of rubbing the genitals together), instead making vague references to “doing this” or the like.

To make the relationship of the various texts clear, I’ve interleaved them at natural stopping places, in general based on the paragraph breaks in the Project Gutenberg edition. Each interleaved section will be separated by a line of asterisks. Within each section, I’ve used typeface to distinguish the sources as follows:

The 16th century French text (from Project Gutenberg) will be given in plain type (but including italics where the source has them). The English translation by Allinson (from will be given in bold type (but including italics where the source has them). The section(s) where Allinson has left the text in French or Latin, or where his translation is lacking, will be followed by a translation taken from some other source. These supplementary translations will be set off with {curly braces}, will also be in bold type, and will cite the specific source of the translation. The most common source for these additions will be Merrick & Ragan 2001 (Merrick, Jeffrey & Bryant T. Ragan, Jr. 2001. Homosexuality in Early Modern France: A Documentary Collection. Oxford University Press, New York. ISBN 0-19-510257-6), which will be abbreviated “M&R”. Trivial translations of my own will be cited as “HRJ”. Other than these minor glosses, my own commentary will always be in a separate paragraph, will be in [square brackets], will be labeled with “HRJ comments”, and will always be in italics.

Confused yet? Here we go.

* * *

Si feray-je encore cette question, et puis plus, qui possible n'a point esté recherchée de tout le monde, ny possible songée: à sçavoir mon, si deux dames amoureuses l'une de l'autre, comme il s'est veu et se voit souvent aujourd'huy, couchées ensemble, et faisant ce qu'on dit, donna con donna, en imitant la docte Sapho lesbienne, peuvent commettre adultere, et entre elles faire leurs maris cocus. Certainement, si l'on veut croire Martial en son Ier livre, épigram. CXIX, elles commettent adultere; où il introduit et parle à une femme nommée Bassa, tribade, luy faisant fort la guerre de ce qu'on ne voyoit jamais entrer d'hommes chez elle, de sorte qu'on la tenoit pour une seconde Lucrèce: mais elle vint à estre descouverte, en ce que l'on y voyoit aborder ordinairement force belles femmes et filles; et fut trouvé qu'elle-mesme leur servoit et contrefaisoit d'homme et d'adultere, et se conjoignoit avec elles, et use de ces mots: geminos committere cunnos. Et puis s'escriant, il dit et donne à songer et deviner cette énigme par ce vers latin:

Hic ubi vir non est, ut sit adulterium.

Voilà un grand cas, dit-il, que, là où il n'y a point d'homme, il y ait de l'adultere.

NOW will I further ask this one question only, and never another, one which mayhap hath never yet been enquired into of any, or possibly even thought of, to wit, whether two ladies that be in love one with the other, as hath been seen aforetime, and is often seen nowadays, sleeping together in one bed, and doing what is called donna con donna {HRJ: woman with woman}, imitating in fact that learned poetess Sappho, of Lesbos, whether these can commit adultery, and between them make their husbands cuckold. Of a surety do they commit this crime, if we are to believe Martial in Epigram CXIX of his First Book. Therein doth he introduce and speak of a woman by name Bassa, a tribad, reproaching the same greatly in that men were never seen to visit her, in such wise that folk deemed her a second Lucretia for chasteness. But presently she came to be discovered, for that she was observed to be constantly welcoming at her house beautiful women and girls; and 'twas found that she herself did serve these and counterfeit a man. And the poet, to describe this, doth use the words, geminos committere cunnos {HRJ: joining twin cunts}. And further on, protesting against the thing, he doth signify the riddle and give it out to be guessed and imagined, in this Latin line: Hie, ubi vir non est, ut sit adulterium, "a strange thing," that is, "that where no man is, yet is adultery done."

[HRJ: Here we get a full dose of historic context: Sappho, explicitly associated with sex between women, and the writings of classical Latin authors, as well as a slang phrase, evidently from Italian, for the act. This presents a clear image of a culture that is aware of same-sex possibilities and of a broader history for them. And Brantôme can be assumed to be referring to material that was in common knowledge among men of average learning, not only among serious scholars of the classics.]

* * *

J'ai cogneu une courtisanne à Rome, vieille et rusée s'il en fust oncques, qui s'appeloit Isabelle de Lune, Espagnolle, laquelle prit en telle amitié une courtisanne qui s'appeloit la Pandore, l'une des belles pour lors de tout Rome, laquelle vint à estre mariée avec un sommeiller de M. le cardinal d'Armaignac, sans pourtant se distraire de son premier mestier: mais cette Isabelle l'entretenoit, et couchoit ordinairement avec elle; et, comme desbordée et désordonnée en paroles qu'elle estoit, je luy ay souvent ouy dire qu'elle la rendoit plus putain, et lui faisoit faire des cornes à son mary plus que tous les ruffiants que jamais elle avoit eus. Je ne sçay comment elle entendoit cela, si ce n'est qu'elle se fondast sur cette épigramme de Martial.

I knew once a courtesan of Rome, old and wily if ever there was one, that was named Isabella de Luna, a Spanish woman, which did take in this sort of friendship another courtesan named Pandora. This latter was eventually married to a butler in the Cardinal d'Armaignac's household, but without abandoning her first calling. Now this same Isabella did keep her, and extravagant and ill-ordered as she was in speech, I have oft times heard her say how that she did cause her to give her husbands more horns than all the wild fellows she had ever had. I know not in what sense she did intend this, unless she did follow the meaning of the Epigram of Martial just referred to.

[HRJ: Although Brantôme introduces his anecdotes variously with “I knew” or “some say” or “I was told by so-and-so”, I think we can err on the side of caution and consider that the stories, while common gossip, need not always be taken for literal fact. Still, with this one anecdote, we see a snapshot of the sort of international culture he was dealing with. A Spanish courtesan living in Rome had a female lover who then married a servant of a French Cardinal (though perhaps also living in Rome at the time). Keeping this in mind, we need not assume that Brantôme’s observations apply only to French women.]

* * *

On dit que Sapho de Lesbos a esté une fort bonne maistresse en ce mestier, voire, dit-on, qu'elle l'a inventé, et que depuis les dames lesbiennes l'ont imitée en cela et continué jusques aujourd'huy, ainsi que dit Lucian, que telles femmes sont les femmes de Lesbos, qui ne veulent pas souffrir les hommes, mais s'approchent des autres femmes, ainsi que les hommes mesmes; et telles femmes qui aiment cet exercice ne veulent souffrir les hommes, mais s'adonnent à d'autres femmes, ainsi que les hommes mesmes, s'appellent tribades, mot grec dérivé, ainsi que j'ai appris des Grecs, de τρἱβω, τρἱβειν, qui est autant à dire que fricare, frayer, ou friquer, ou s'entrefrotter; et tribades se disent fricatrices, en françois fricatrices, ou qui font la friquarelle en mestier de donne con donne, comme l'on l'a trouvé ainsi aujourd'huy.

Tis said how that Sappho the Lesbian was a very high mistress in this art, and that in after times the Lesbian dames have copied her therein, and continued the practice to the present day. So Lucian saith: such is the character of the Lesbian women, which will not suffer men at all. Now such women as love this practice will not suffer men, but devote themselves to other women and are called tribads, a Greek word derived, as I have learned of the Greeks, from τριβο, τριβειν, {tribo, tribein} that is to say fricare. These tribads are called in Latin fricatrices, and in French the same, that is women who do the way of donne con donne, as it is still found at the present day. {HRJ: The translation has omitted a phrase and the whole should read, “...called fricatrices, in French fricatrices, or those who do the ‘fricarelle’ in the art of donne con donne...}

[HRJ: I’ll comment at various points about category labels and how they’re handled, since translations may be misleading about when and how certain vocabulary was in use. For example, here the original text has “Sappho of Lesbos” while Allinson translates it as “Sappho the Lesbian” which then becomes ambiguous regarding how “Lesbian” is intended to be understood.]

* * *

Juvenal parle aussi de ces femmes quand il dit: frictum Grissantis adorat, parlant d'une pareille tribade qui adoroit et aimoit la fricarelle d'une Grissante.

Le bon compagnon Lucian en fait un chapitre, et dit ainsi que les femmes viennent mutuellement à conjoindre comme les hommes, conjoignants des instruments lascifs, obscurs et monstrueux, faits d'une forme stérile, et ce nom, qui rarement s'entend dire de ces fricarelles, vacque librement partout, et qu'il faille que le sexe féminin soit Filenes, qui faisoit l'action de certaines amours hommasses. Toutesfois il adjouste qu'il est bien meilleur qu'une femme soit adonnée à une libidineuse affection de faire le masle, que n'est à l'homme de s'efféminer; tant il se monstre peu courageux et noble. La femme donc, selon cela, qui contrefait ainsi l'homme, peut avoir réputation d'estre plus valeureuse et courageuse qu'une autre, ainsi que j'en ay cogneu aucunes, tant pour leurs corps que pour l'ame.

Juvenal again speaks of these women, when he saith: ...frictum Grissantis adorat {HRJ: she loves the rubbing of Grissas} talking of such a tribad, who adored and loved the embraces of one Grissas. The excellent and diverting Lucian hath a chapter on this subject, and saith therein how that women do come mutually together. {HRJ: The translation omits “...come together like men, coupling with lascivious, secret, monstrous instruments made in a sterile form...} Moreover this name of tribad, which doth elsewhere occur but rarely as applied to these women, is freely employed by him throughout, and he saith that the female sex must needs be like the notorious Philaenis, who was used to parody the actions of manly love. At the same time he doth add, 'tis better far for a woman to be given up to a lustful affection for playing the male, than it is for a man to be womanish; so utterly lacking in all courage and nobility of character doth such an one show himself. Thus the woman, according to this, which doth counterfeit the man, may well be reputed to be more valorous and courageous than another, as in truth I have known some such to be, as well in body as in spirit.

[HRJ: In the translation “...loved the embraces of one Grissas...” the original, clearly sexual, word “fricarelle” has been rendered with the more tame “embraces”. We continue to be given a tour of the opinions and anecdotes of classical writers on the subject.]

* * *

En un autre endroit, Lucian introduit deux dames devisantes de cet amour; et une demande à l'autre si une telle avoit esté amoureuse d'elle, et si elle avoit couché avec elle, et ce qu'elle luy avoit fait. L'autre luy respondit librement. «Premièrement, elle me baisa ainsi que font les hommes, non pas seulement en joignant les levres, mais en ouvrant aussi la bouche, cela s'entend en pigeonne, la langue en bouche; et encore qu'elle n'eust point le membre viril, et qu'elle fust semblable à nous autres, si est-ce qu'elle disoit avoir le cœur, l'affection et tout le reste viril; et puis je l'embrassay comme un homme, et elle me le faisoit, me baisoit et allentoit (je n'entends point bien ce mot), et me sembloit qu'elle y prit plaisir outre mesure, et cohabita d'une certaine façon beaucoup plus agréable que d'un homme.» Voilà ce qu'en dit Lucian.

En un autre endroit, Lucien introduit deux dames devisantes de cet amour; et une demande a l'autre si une telle avait ete amoureuse d'elle, et si elle avait couche avec elle, et ce qu'elle lui avait fait. L'autre repondit librement: "Premierement, elle me baisa ainsi que font les hommes, non pas seulement en joignant les levres, mais en ouvrant aussi la bouche, cela s'entend en pigeonne, la langue en bouche; et, encore qu'elle n'eut point le membre viril et qu'elle flit semblable a nous autres, si est-ce qu'elle disait avoir de coeur, l'affection et tout le reste viril; et puis je 1'embrassai comme un homme, et elle me le faisait, me baisait et allentait (je n'entends point bien ce mot), et me semblait qu'elle y prit plaisir outre mesure, et cohabita d'une certain façon beaucoup plus agreable que d'un homme." Voila ce qu'en dit Lucien.

[HRJ: Here, the translator has declined to perform his work at all and retains the original French. In the translation below, the word “allantait”, that Brantôme says he doesn’t understand, is annotated by Merrick and Ragan as “panted”.]

{M&R: In another place Lucian presents two ladies chatting about this love, and one asks the other if so-nd-so had been in love with her and if she had slept with her and what she had done to her. The other answered her freely, “First, she kissed me as men do, not only in joining her lips, but also in opening her mouth (this means like a female pigeon, with the tongue in the mouth), and although she had no virile member and was like the rest of us, even so she said that she had a manly heart, love, and everything else. And then I embraced her like a man, and she did the same to me, kissed me, and allantait (I don’t understand this word well), and it seemed to me that she got pleasure beyond measure out of it. And she coupled in a certain way that was much more pleasant than with a man.” That is what Lucian says.}

[HRJ: The quotations from Lucian come from his Dialogues of the Courtesans, #5, the one about Leana being hired for a threesome with Demonassa and Megilla/Megillus. Note that Lucian’s text describes the kiss as “not simply bringing their lips to mine, but opening their mouths a little” and it’s Brantôme who glosses this as “like a female pigeon, with the tongue in the mouth”. From this we may interpret that “kissing like a pigeon” (here, “en pigeonne”, and in a later passage, “s'entrebaiser en forme de colombe”) is 16th century French slang for tongue-kissing, as opposed to being taken from the Greek source. It’s interesting to notice that when the lovers are described as “kissing/embracing someone like a man” it doesn’t necessarily mean overt gender role-play, since both are doing it in turn. We may possibly instead understand “like a man” to mean “to take an active role and initiate the kiss/embrace”, though this is my speculation.]

* * *

Or, à ce que j'ay ouy dire, il y a en plusieurs endroits et régions force telles dames lesbiennes, en France, en Italie et en Espagne, Turquie, Grèce et autres lieux; et où les femmes sont recluses et n'ont leur entière liberté, cet exercice s'y continue fort; car telles femmes bruslantes dans le corps, il faut bien, disent-elles, qu'elles s'aydent de ce remède, pour se rafraischir un peu ou du tout qu'elles bruslent. Les Turques vont aux bains plus pour cette paillardise que pour autre chose, et s'y adonnent fort: mesme les courtisannes qui ont les hommes à commandement et à toute heure, encore usent-elles de ces friquarelles, s'entre-cherchent et s'entr'aiment les unes les autres, comme je l'ay ouy dire à aucunes en Italie et en Espagne.

Well, by what I have heard say, there be in many regions and lands plenty of such dames and Lesbian devotees, in France, in Italy, in Spain, Turkey, Greece and other places. And wherever the women are kept secluded, and have not their entire liberty, this practice doth greatly prevail. {M&R: + For such women, burning in their bodies, surely must, as they say, make use of this remedy to cool off a bit or else they burn all over.} The Turkish women go to the baths more for this than for any other reason, and are greatly devoted thereto. Even the courtesans, which have men at their wish and at all times, still do employ this habit, seeking out the one the other, as I have heard of sundry doing in Italy and in Spain. {M&R are more explicit: “Even courtesans, who have men at their disposal at all hours, yet have recourse to these fricarelles, seek each other out and love each other, as I have heard...”}

[HRJ: Increasing contact with the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the 16th century stimulated an Orientalist fascination with both the concept of female seclusion and with communal--but gender-segregated--bath houses. Europe had a tradition of semi-public bath houses since the middle ages, in some cases with group baths that were gender-segregated, but also involving “hot tubs for two”, which were popularly associated with prostitution. So regardless of the actual sexual activity in Turkish baths, westerners were primed to associate group bathing with sex. Note the use of “Lesbian” in the first sentence. The original French has “dames lesbiennes” which Allinson turns into “dames and Lesbian devotees”. In either case, “Lesbian” here is clearly separate from an ambiguous reference to Sappho and the women of the isle of Lesbos. And in both the original and translation, it appears to be used as an adjective. This may seem a trivial point to emphasize, but the question of identifying a woman as having the quality of being lesbian versus having the substance of being a lesbian is relevant to concepts of “acts versus identity” that play out in theories of sexuality. I think there’s far more evidence in texts like this for understandings that include “identity” than many social constructionist theories allow for.]

* * *

En nostre France, telles femmes sont assez communes; et si dit-on pourtant qu'il n'y a pas long-temps qu'elles s'en sont meslées, mesme que la façon en a esté portée d'Italie par une dame de qualité que je ne nommeray point.

In my native France women of the sort are common enough; yet it is said to be no long time since they first began to meddle therewith, in fact that the fashion was imported from Italy by a certain lady of quality, whom I will not name.

[HRJ: Brantôme may decline to name her, but the reference is generally understood to be to Queen Catherine de Medici, who married Henri II of France in 1547 and so became queen of France. All manner of “foreign” practices were atrributed to her influence, though many were viewed positively, such as her importation of Italian high cuisine.]

* * *

J'ay ouy conter à feu M. de Clermont-Tallard le jeune, qui mourut à La Rochelle, qu'estant petit garçon, et ayant l'honneur d'accompagner M. d'Anjou, depuis nostre roy Henry troisiesme, en son estude, et estudier avec lui ordinairement, duquel M. de Gournay estoit précepteur, un jour, estant à Thoulouse, estudiant avec son dit maistre dans son cabinet, et estant assis dans un coin à part, il vid, par une petite fente (d'autant que les cabinets et chambres estoient de bois, et avoient esté faits à l'improviste et à la haste, par la curiosité de M. le cardinal d'Armaignac, archevesque de là, pour mieux recevoir et accommoder le Roy et toute sa cour), dans un autre cabinet, deux fort grandes dames, toutes retroussées et leurs caleçons bas, se coucher l'une sur l'autre, s'entrebaiser en forme de colombe, se frotter, s'entrefriquer, bref, se remuer fort, paillarder, et imiter les hommes; et dura leur esbattement près d'une bonne heure, s'estant si très-fort eschauffées et lassées, qu'elles en demeurèrent si rouges et si en eau, bien qu'il fist grand froid, qu'elles n'en peurent plus et furent contraintes de se reposer autant; et disoit qu'il veid joüer ce jeu quelques autres jours, tant que la Cour fut là, de mesme façon; et oncques plus n'eut-il la commodité de voir cet esbattement, d'autant que ce lieu le favorisoit en cela, et aux autres il ne put. Il m'en contoit encore plus que je n'en ose escrire, et me nommoit les dames. Je ne sçay s'il est vray; mais il me l'a juré et affirmé cent fois par bons serments; et, de fait, cela est bien vray-semblable; car telles deux dames ont bien eu tousjours cette réputation de faire et continuer l'amour de cette façon et de passer ainsi leur temps.

[HRJ: Allinson has omitted this section entirely. The translation is supplied from Merrick and Ragan.]

{M&R: I heard it told by the late Monsieur de Clermont-Tallart the younger, who died at La Rochelle, who as a young boy, having the honor to be the companion of Monsieur d’Anjou, later our king Henry III, in his study and studying with him customarily, whose tutor was Monsieur de Gournay, that one day, being in Toulouse, studying with his master in his cabinet and being seated in a corner by himself, he saw, through a little crack (in as much as the cabinets and rooms were made of wood and had been built quickly and in haste thanks to the cardinal d’Armagnac, archbishop of the place, to receive and accommodate the king and all his court better) in another cabinet, two very tall women, with their clothes all tucked up and their drawers down, lie one on top of the other, kiss each other in the manner of pigeons, rub themselves, caress each other, in a word, move their hips vigorously, copulate, and imitate men. And their sport lasted almost a full hour. They were so overheated and tired that they were worn out and were obliged to rest for as long. And he said that he saw this game played on several other days, in the same way, as long as the court was there. And he never again had the convenience of seeing this sport, in as much as the room facilitated it on this occasion and on the other occasions he could not see. He told me even more about it than I dare to write about it and named the ladies. I do not know if it is true, but he swore it to me and vouched for it a hundred times with sincere oaths. And, in fact, this is quite probable, for these two ladies have in fact always had the reputation of making and prolonging love in this way and spending their time so.}

[HRJ: It may not jump to the attention of the average reader, but I immediately spotted the reference to the women wearing “drawers” (caleçons bas). The wearing of drawers as underwear by women was a fairly recent innovation in the 16th century. It seems plausible that the description of the sexual encounter given here could well be an accurate eye-witness account, if only for lacking any outrageous features.]

* * *

J'en ay cogneu plusieurs autres qui ont traité de mesmes amours, entre lesquelles j'en ay ouy conter d'une de par le monde, qui a esté fort superlative en cela, et qui aimoit aucunes dames, les honoroit et les servoit plus que les hommes, et leur faisoit l'amour comme un homme à sa maistresse; et si les prenoit avec elle, les entretenoit à pot et à feu, et leur donnoit ce qu'elles vouloient. Son mary en estoit très-aise et fort content; ainsi que beaucoup d'autres martyrs que j'ay eus, qui estoient fort aises que leurs femmes menassent ces amours plutost que celles des hommes (n'en pensant leurs femmes si folles ny putains).

Several others have I known which have given account of the same manner of loves, amongst whom I have heard tell of a noble lady of the great world, who was superlatively given this way, and who did love many ladies, courting the same and serving them as men are wont. {M&R have this as “serving them more than men do”, and made love to them as a man does to his mistress.”} So would she take them and keep them at bed and board, and give them whatever they would. Her husband was right glad and well content thereat, as were many other husbands I have known, all of whom were right glad their wives did follow after this sort of affection rather than that of men, deeming them to be thus less wild.

[HRJ: This is a regular theme throughout this discussion--that men were tolerant of their wives’ same-sex adventures because they found then less threatening to their dignity than if their wives had taken male lovers.]

* * *

Mais je croy qu'ils sont bien trompez, car ce petit exercice, à ce que j'ay ouy dire, n'est qu'un apprentissage pour venir à celuy grand des hommes; car après qu'elles se son eschauffées et mises bien en rut les unes les autres, leur chaleur ne se diminuant pour cela, faut qu'elles se baignent par une eau vive et courante, qui raffraischist bien mieux qu'une eau dormante, ainsi que je tiens de bons chirurgiens, et veu que, qui veut bien panser et guérir une playe, il ne faut qu'il s'amuse à la médicamenter et nettoyer alentour ou sur le bord, mais il la faut sonder jusques au fond, et y mettre une sonde et une tente bien avant.

But indeed I think they were much deceived; for by what I have heard said, this is but an apprenticeship, to come later to the greater one with men. {M&R: + For, after they have warmed up and sent each other into heat, their warmth not decreasing on account of this, they must bathe in cool running water, which refreshes much better than still water. Thus I have it from reliable surgeons, and considering that, if anyone wants to dress and cure a wound well, he must not waste time medicating and cleaning around it or along he edge but must probe it to the bottom and apply a syringe and bandage to it well before that.}

[HRJ: Allinson has omitted the rather metaphoric description that forms the larger part of the previous section. Brantôme has a number of very colorful metaphors for sexual excitement and satisfaction, though “cleaning a wound” isn’t among the more attractive.]

* * *

Que j'en ay veu de ces Lesbiennes, qui, pour toutes leurs fricarelles et entre-frottements, n'en laissent d'aller aux hommes! mesme Sapho, qui en a esté la maistresse, ne se mit-elle pas à aymer son grand amy Phaon, après lequel elle mouroit? Car, enfin, comme j'ay ouy raconter à plusieurs dames, il n'y a que les hommes; et que de tout ce qu'elles prennent avec les autres femmes, ce ne sont que des tiroüers pour s'aller paistre de gorges-chaudes avec les hommes: et ces fricarelles ne leur servent qu'à faute des hommes; que si elles les trouvent à propos et sans escandale, elles lairroient bien leurs compagnes pour aller à eux et leur sauter au collet.

How many of these Lesbian dames have I seen who, for all their customs and habits {HRJ: Allinson’s “customs and habits” is translated more closely and literally by M&R as “fricarelles and rubbings together”}, yet fail not at the last to go after men! Even Sappho herself, the mistress of them all, did she not end by loving her fond, favourite Phaon, for whose sake she died? For after all, as I have heard many fair ladies declare, there is nothing like men. All these other things do but serve them but in the lack of men. And if they but find a chance and opportunity free from scandal, they will straight quit their comrades and go throw their arms round some good man's neck.

[HRJ: The question of the chronology of terms for women who love women can often hang on the details of translation. Brantôme’s “Lesbiennes” which, in this passage, is used clearly as a noun, is translated by Allinson as “Lesbian dames” turning it into an adjective, and by M&R as “women of Lesbos”, implying reference to ancient Greeks rather than the clearly implied reference to Brantôme’s contemporaries in France. This is a great example of why it’s important to return to examine original source texts. Neither of the translations clearly supports “lesbian” as a nominal category for women in 16th century France, while the original text clearly does. This passage also illustrates another of Brantôme’s regular themes: that women will inevitably find lesbian sex to be unsatisfying and will eventually turn to men. He holds on to this thought even in the face of several of his anecdotes indicating the contrary.]

* * *

J'ay cogneu de mon temps deux belles et honnestes damoiselles de bonnes maisons, toutes deux cousines, lesquelles ayant couché ensemble dans un mesme lit l'espace de trois ans, s'accoustumèrent si fort à cette fricarelle, qu'après s'estre imaginées que le plaisir estoit assez maigre et imparfait au prix de celuy des hommes, se mirent à le taster avec eux, et en devinrent très bonnes putains, et confessèrent après à leurs amoureux que rien ne les avoit tant desbauchées et esbranlées à cela que cette fricarelle, la détestant pour en avoir esté la seule cause de leur desbauche: et, nonobstant, quand elles se rencontroyent, ou avec d'autres, elles prenoient tousjours quelque repas de cette fricarelle, pour y prendre tousjours plus grand appetit de l'autre avec les hommes. Et c'est ce que dit une fois une honneste damoiselle que j'ay cogneue, à laquelle son serviteur demandoit un jour si elle ne faisoit point cette fricarelle avec sa compagne, avec qui elle couchoit ordinairement. «Ah! non, dit-elle en riant, j'ayme trop les hommes;» mais pourtant elle faisoit l'un et l'autre.

I have known in my time two very fair and honourable damsels of a noble house, cousins of one another, which having been used to lie together in one bed for the space of three years, did grow so well accustomed to this {M&R have “this fricarelle”}, that at the last getting the idea the said pleasure was but a meagre and imperfect one compared with that to be had with men, they did determine to try the latter, and soon became downright harlots. {M&R: + They confessed afterward to their lovers that nothing had corrupted them so much and incited them to it but this fricarelle, detesting it for having been the only cause of their corruption. And for all that, when they ran into each other, or with others, they always made some snack of this fricarelle and thereby always increased their apptetite for the other with men.} And this was the answer a very honourable damsel I knew did once make to her lover, when he asked her if she did never follow this way {M&R: “this fricarelle”} with her lady friend {M&R: + with whom she usually slept}, "No, no!" she replied {M&R: + laughing}, "I like men too well." {M&R: + but she nevertheless did it with both.}

* * *

Je sçay un honneste gentilhomme, lequel, désirant un jour à la Cour pourchasser en mariage une fort honneste damoiselle, en demanda l'advis à une sienne parente. Elle luy dit franchement qu'il y perdroit son temps; «d'autant, me dit-elle, qu'une telle dame, qu'elle me nomma, et de qui j'en savois des nouvelles, ne permettra jamais qu'elle se marie.» J'en cogneus soudain l'encloüeure, parce que je sçavois bien qu'elle tenoit cette damoiselle en ses délices à pot et à feu, et la gardoit précieusement pour sa bouche. Le gentilhomme en remercia sa dite cousine de ce bon advis, non sans lui faire la guerre en riant, qu'elle parloit ainsi en cela pour elle comme pour l'autre; car elle en tiroit quelques petits coups en robbe quelquesfois: ce qu'elle me nia pourtant.

I have heard of an honourable gentleman who, desiring one day at Court to seek in marriage a certain very honourable damsel, did consult one of her kinswomen thereon. She told him frankly he would but be wasting his time; for, as she did herself tell me, such and such a lady, naming her, ('twas one I had already heard talk of) will never suffer her to marry. Instantly I did recognize the hang of it, for I was well aware how she did keep this damsel at bed and board {M&R: + for her pleasure}, and did guard her carefully {M&R: + like a treasure}. The gentleman did thank the said cousin for her good advice and warning, not without a merry gibe or two at herself the while, saying she did herein put in a word or two for herself as well as for the other, for that she did take her little pleasures now and again under the rose. But this she did stoutly deny to me.

[HRJ: This anecdote, of course, contradicts Brantôme’s position that women will always prefer sex with men to that with women, for even if he implies that the “very honorable damsel” is being constrained to avoid marriage by her lover, that doesn’t explain the lover’s obvious continued preference for women.]

* * *

Ce trait me fait ressouvenir d'aucuns qui ont ainsi des putains à eux qu'ils ayment tant, qu'ils n'en feroient part pour tous les biens du monde, fust à un prince, à un grand, fust à leur compagnon, ni à leur amy, tant ils en sont jaloux, comme un ladre de son barillet; encore le présente-t-il à boire à qui en veut. Mais cette dame vouloit garder cette damoiselle toute pour soy, sans en départir à d'autres: pourtant si la faisoit-elle cocue à la dérobade avec aucunes de ses compagnes.

This doth remind me of certain women which do thus {M&R: instead of “which do thus” they have “who have their own whores in this way”} and actually love these friends so dearly they would not share them for all the wealth in the world, neither with Prince nor great noble, with comrade or friend. They are as jealous of them as a beggarman of his drinking barrel; yet even he will offer this to any that would drink. But this lady was fain to keep the damsel all to herself, without giving one scrap to others. {M&R: + Nevertheless the gentlewoman cuckolded her on the sly with some of her companions.}

[HRJ: It isn’t clear to me whether the “gentlewoman” of the last sentence is the jealous and possessive women or her carefully guarded beloved.]

* * *

On dit que les belettes sont touchées de cet amour, et se plaisent de femelle à femelle à s'entreconjoindre et habiter ensemble; si que par lettres hiéroglyfiques les femmes s'entr'aimantes de cet amour estoient jadis représentées par des belettes. J'ay ouy parler d'une dame qui en nourrissoit tousjours, et qui se mesloit de cet amour, et prenoit plaisir de voir ainsi ses petites bestioles s'entre-habiter.

'Tis said how that weasels are touched with this sort of love, and delight female with female to unite and dwell together. And so in hieroglyphic signs, women loving one another with this kind of affection were represented of yore by weasels. I have heard tell of a lady {M&R: + who dabbled in this love} which was used always to keep some of these animals, for that she did take pleasure in watching her little pets together {M&R: instead of “together” have “couple in this way”}.

[HRJ: This very curious reference is even more fascinating when you dig a bit. Brantôme appears to be referencing the 5th century Greek author Horapollo in his Hieroglyphics, which has semi-incoherent explanations of the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs, including this passage: “When they wish to show a woman who has acted like a man (andròs érga), they draw a weasel. For the female of this animal has sexual organs like a little bone.” (Cited from Bettini, Maurizio. 2013. Women and Weasels: Mythologies of Birth in Ancient Greece and Rome. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.) The connection seems in part to come from a belief that weasels were hermaphroditic, but also from an association of the male weasel’s bacculum (a bone that stiffens the penis) with the use of a dildo for sex between women. But the reference to keeping a weasel as a pet--which is certainly plausible--also brings to mind several portraits of women posing with members of the weasel family, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine”, where the animal is likely to be symbolic, but also the “zibellino”, a Rennaissance fashion accessory typically in the for of a whole mustelid pelt with a jeweled head and sometimes paws (for more details see: Sherrill, Tawny. 2006. "Fleas, Furs, and Fashions: Zibellini as Luxury Accessories of the Renaissance", in Robin Netherton and Gale R. Owen-Crocker, editors, Medieval Clothing and Textiles, Volume 2. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge.). One wonders how many merely fashionable women were suspected of loving women on this basis!]

* * *

[HRJ comments: Here begins the larger of the sections that Allinson has declined to translate from the French, and which also has some text omitted. Compare the original from Gutenberg to Allinson’s quotation of the French to get a sense of the differences.]

Voici un autre poinct, c'est que ces amours féminines se traittent en deux façons, les unes par friquarelle, et par, comme dit ce poëte, geminos committere connos.

Cette façon n'apporte point de dommages, ce disent aucuns, comme quand on s'aide d'instruments façonnés de....., mais qu'on a voulu appeler des g.........

Voici un autre point, c'est que ces amours feminines se traitent en deux fa^ons, les unes par fricarelles, et par, comme dit ce poete, geminos committere connos. Cette faon n'apporte point de dommage, ce disent aucuns, comme quand on s'aide d'instruments façonnes de..., mais qu'on a voulu appeler des g....

{M&R: Here is another point: it is that these feminine loves are handled in two ways, some through fricarelle and, as this poet says, through uniting twin cunts. This way does not cause any harm, some say, unlike when one makes use of instruments made of [missing word], but which people have chosen to call dildos.}

[HRJ: Although the French text has only the first letter of the word being translated as “dildo”, the context makes it clear what object is intended. I don’t know whether the later French term “godemiché” is otherwise documented in use this early.]

* * *

J'ay ouy conter qu'un grand prince, se doutant de deux dames de sa cour qui s'en aydoient, leur fit faire le guet si bien qu'il les surprit, tellement que l'une se trouva saisie et accommodée d'un gros entre les jambes, gentiment attaché avec de petites bandelettes à l'entour du corps, qu'il sembloit un membre naturel. Elle en fut si surprise qu'elle n'eut loisir de l'oster; tellement que ce prince la contraignit de luy monstrer comment elles deux se le faisoient. On dit que plusieurs femmes en sont mortes, pour engendrer en leurs matrices des apostumes faites par mouvements et frottements point naturels. J'en sçay bien quelques-unes de ce nombre, dont ç'a esté grand dommage, car c'estoient de très-belles et honnestes dames et damoiselles, qu'il eust bien mieux vallu qu'elles eussent eu compagnie de quelques honnestes gentilshommes, qui pour cela ne les font mourir, mais vivre et ressusciter ainsi que j'espere le dire ailleurs; et mesmes, que, pour la guérison de tel mal, comme j'ay ouy conter à aucuns chirurgiens, qu'il n'y a rien plus propre que de les faire bien nettoyer là-dedans par ces membres naturels des hommes, qui sont meilleurs que des pesseres qu'usent les médecins et chirurgiens avec des eaux à ce composées; et toutesfois il y a plusieurs femmes, nonobstant les inconvénients qu'elles en voyent arriver souvent, si faut-il qu'elles en ayent de ces engins contrefaits.

J'ai oui conter q'un grand prince, se doutant de deux dames de sa cour qui s'en aidaient, leur fit faire le guet si bien qu'il les surprit, tellement que l'une se trouva saisie et accommodee d'un gros entre les jambes, si gentiment attache avec de petites bandelettes a l'entour du corps qu'il semblait un membre naturel. Elle en f ut si surprise qu'elle n'eut loisir de l'oter; tellement que ce prince la contraignit de lui montrer comment elles deux se le faisaient. On dit que plusieurs femmes en sont mortes, pour engendrer en leurs matrices des apostumes f aites par mouvements et frottements point naturels. J'en sais bien quelques-unes de ce nombre, dont ç’a ete grand dommage, car c'etaient de tres belles et honnetes dames et demoiselles, qu'il cut bien mieux valu qu'elles eussent eu compagnie de quelques honnetes gentilhommes, qui pour cela ne les font mourir, mais vivre et ressusciter, ainsi que j'espere le dire ailleurs; et meme que pour la guerison de tel mal, comme j'ai oui' conter a aucuns chirurgiens, qu'il n'y a rien de plus propre que de les faire bien nettoyer ladedans par ces membres naturels des hommes, qui sont meilleurs que des pessaires qu'usent les medecins et chirurgiens, avec des eaux a ce composees; et toutef ois il y a plusieurs femmes, nonobstant les inconvenients qu'elles en voient arriver souvent, si f aut-il qu'elles en aient de ces engins contrefaits.

{M&R: I have heard it said that a great ruler, having suspicions about two ladies of his court who made use of them, had them watched so well that he surprised them, so that one was found possessed of and fitted with a large one between her legs, neatly fastened with little bands around her body, so that it seemed to be a natural member. She was so surprised that she did not have a chance to remove it, so that the ruler compelled her to show him how the two of them did it. They say that several women have died from it, from engendering abscesses in their wombs caused by unnatural motions and rubbing. I am well acquainted with some of this number, to whom serious harm was done, for they were very beautiful and respectable ladies and gentlewomen, for whom it would have been much better if they had kept company with some respectable gentlemen, who for all that would not make them die, but live and revive, as I hope to relate elsewhere. And furthermore, it is said that, for the cure of such illness, as I have heart it said by some surgeons, there is nothing more proper than to have them well cleaned inside there by men’s natural members, which are better than the suppositories that doctors and surgeons use, along with waters prepared for that purpose. And nevertheless there are some women, in spite of the misfortunes that they often see follow from them, for whom it is necessary that they have these imitated devices.}

[HRJ: It’s possible that the belief that dildos caused internal injury is mere hostility to an inanimate rival, but it’s not implausible that some of the materials used were a bit more abrasive than modern synthetics. The notion that such injuries were best treated by heterosexual intercourse is...doubtful.]

* * *

J'ay ouy faire un conte, moy estant lors à la cour, que la Reyne-mere ayant fait commandement de visiter un jour les chambres et coffres de tous ceux qui estoient logés dans le Louvre, sans épargner dames et filles, pour voir s'il n'y avoit point d'armes cachées et mesmes des pistolets, durant nos troubles, il y en eut une qui fut trouvée saisie dans son coffre par le capitaine des gardes, non point de pistolets, mais de quatre gros g........ gentiment façonnez, qui donnèrent bien de la risée au monde, et à elle bien de l'estonnement. Je cognois la damoiselle: je croy qu'elle vit encores: mais elle n'eut jamais bon visage. Tels instruments enfin sont très dangereux. Je feray encore ce conte de deux dames de la cour qui s'entr'aimoient si fort, et estoient si chaudes à leur mestier, qu'en quelque endroit qu'elles fussent ne s'en pouvoient garder ny abstenir que pour le moins ne fissent quelques signes d'amourettes ou de baiser, qui les escandalisoient si fort, et donnoient à penser beaucoup aux hommes. Il y en avoit une veufve, et l'autre mariée; et comme la mariée, un jour d'une grand magnificence, se fust fort bien parée et habillée d'une robe de toile d'argent, ainsi que leur maistresse estoit allée à vespres, elles entrèrent dans son cabinet, et sur sa chaise percée se mirent à faire leur fricarelle si rudement et si impétueusement, qu'elle en rompit sous elles, et la dame mariée qui faisoit le dessous tomba avec sa belle robe de toille d'argent à la renverse tout à plat sur l'ordure du bassin, si bien qu'elle se gasta et souilla si fort, qu'elle ne sçeut que faire que s'essuyer le mieux qu'elle peut, se trousser, et s'en aller à grande haste changer de robbe dans sa chambre, non sans pourtant avoir esté apperceue et bien sentie à la trace, tant elle puoit: dont il en fut ryt assez par aucuns qui en sceurent le conte; mesme leur maistresse le sceut, qui s'en aidoit comme elles, et en rist son saoul. Aussi il falloit bien que cette ardeur les maistrisast fort, que de n'attendre un lieu et un temps à propos, sans s'escandaliser.

J'ai oui faire un conte, moi etant lors a la Cour, que la reine mere ay ant fait commandement de visiter un jour les chambres et coffres de tous ceux qui etaient loges dans le Louvre, sans epargner dames et filles, pour voir s'il n'y avait point d'armes cachees et meme des pistolets, durant nos troubles, il y en cut une qui fut trouvee saisie dans son coffre par le capitaine des gardes, non point de pistolets, mais de quati'e gros g.... gentiment façonnes, qui donnerent bien de la risee au monde, et a elle bien de l'etonnement. Je connais la demoiselle: je crois qu'elle vit encore; mais elle n'eut jamais bon visage. Tels instruments enfin sont tres dangereux. Je ferai encore ce conte de deux dames de la cour qui s'entr'aimaient si fort et etaient si chaudes a leur metier, qu'en quelque endroit qu'elles fussent ne s'en pouvaient garder ni abstenir que pour le moins ne fissent quelques signes d'amourettes ou de baiser; qui les scandulisaient si fort et donnaient a penser beaucoup aux homines. II y en avait une veuve, et l'autre mariee; et comme la mariee, un jour d'une grande magnificence, se fut fort bien paree et habillee d'une robe de toile d'argent, ainsi que leur maitresse etait allee a vepres, elles entrerent dans son cabinet, et sur sa chaise percee se mirent a faire leur fricarelle si rudement et si impetueusement qu'elle en rompit sous elles, et la dame mariee qui faisait le dessous tomba avec sa belle robe de toile d'argent a la renverse tout a plat sur l'ordure du bassin, si bien qu'elle se gata et souilla si fort qu'elle ne sut que faire que s'essuyer le mieux qu'elle put, se trousser, et s'en aller en grande hate changer de robe dans sa chambre, non sans pourtant avoir ete aper^ue et bien sentie a la trace, tant elle puait: dont il en fut ri assez par aucuns qui en surent le conte; meme leur maitresse le sut, qui s'en aidait comme elle, et en rit son saoul. Aussi il fallait bien que cette ardeur les maitrisat fort, que de n'attendre un lieu et un temps a propos, sans se scandaliser.

{M&R: I have heard a story told, being then at court, that the Queen Mother having ordered an inspection one day of the rooms and chests of all those who were housed in the Louvre, without excepting ladies and girls, to see if there were any hidden weapons, and especially pistols, during our troubles [civil wars], there was one who was found by the captain of the guards in possession in her chest not of pistols but of four large, neatly made dildos, which gave everyone a good laugh and caused her a good deal of astonishment. I knew the gentlewoman. I believe she is still alive, but she never looked well. Such instruments, in the end, are very dangerous. I will tell yet this story about two ladies of the court who loved each other so much and were so ardent about their business that wherever they were, they could not keep or refrain from at least making some sign of toying or kissing, which discredited them very much and gave men much to think about. One of them was a widow, and the other was married. And when the married one, on a day of great sumptuousness, was very well adorned and dressed in a gown of silver linen, since their mistress had gone to vespers, they went into her cabinet and began to perform their fricarelle so roughly and so violently on her close stool [toilet chair] that it broke under them. And the married lady, who was the one underneath, fell backward in her lovely silver linen gown, flat down in the filth from the chamber pot, so that she spoiled and soiled herself so much that she did not know what to do but wipe herself off, as best she could, tuck up her skirt, and go with great haste to change her gown in her room, not however, without having been noticed and indeed smelled along the way, so much did she stink, about which some who knew the story laughed a lot. Even their mistress, who relieved herself as they did, knew that they did not wait for a suitable place and time wihtout discrediting themselves.

[HRJ: If Brantôme can’t convince the reader that women will inevitably turn to men, he pulls out the mockery and ridicule. But reading between the lines, keep in mind that there is no indication that women’s same-sex relations were prosecuted through the courts or considered any more hazardous to one’s future and reputation than other sexual adventures might be. In fact, in the sections of this work that cover women’s adultery with men, there is an acceptance that a jealous husband might punish his wife by killing her, but this is not raised as a possibility regarding a female lover. Though, no doubt, this was because a woman was not considered a serious rival.]

* * *

Encore excuse-t-on les filles et femmes veufves pour aimer ces plaisirs frivoles et vains, aimans bien mieux s'y adonner et en passer leurs chaleurs, que d'aller aux hommes et de se faire engroisser et se deshonorer, ou de faire perdre leur fruict, comme plusieurs ont fait et font; et ont opinion qu'elles n'en offensent pas tant Dieu, et n'en sont pas tant putains comme avec les hommes: aussi y a-t-il bien de la différence de jeter de l'eau dans un vase, ou de l'arrouser seulement alentour et au bord. Je m'en rapporte à elles. Je ne suis pas leur censeur ny leur mary, s'ils le trouvent mauvais, encore que je n'en ay point veu qui ne fussent très-aises que leurs femmes s'amourachassent de leurs compagnes, et qu'ils voudroient qu'elles ne fussent jamais plus adultères qu'en cette façon; comme de vray telle cohabitation est bien différente de celle d'avec les hommes, et, quoy que die Martial, ils n'on sont pas cocus pour cela. Ce n'est pas texte d'Évangile, que celuy d'un poëte fol. Donc, comme dit Lucian, il est bien plus beau qu'une femme soit virile ou vraye amazone, ou soit ainsi lubrique, que non pas un homme soit féminin, comme un Sardanapale et Héliogabale, ou autres force leurs pareils; car d'autant plus qu'elle tient de l'homme, d'autant plus elle est courageuse: et de tout cecy je m'en rapporte à la décision du procès.

Still excuse may be made for maids and widows for loving these frivolous and empty pleasures, preferring to devote themselves to these {M&R: + and relieving their passions in this way} than to go with men {M&R: + and getting pregnant} and come to dishonour, or else to lose their pains altogether {M&R render “lose their pains altogether” as “aborting their offspring” though this seems to be more explicit than the original text}, as some have done and do every day. Moreover they deem they do not so much offend God, and are not such great harlots, as if they had to do with the men, maintaining there is a great difference betwixt throwing water in a vessel and merely watering about it and round the rim. However I refer me to them; I am neither their judge nor their husband. These last may find it ill, but generally I have never seen any but were right glad their wives should be companionable with their lady friends {M&R: + and who wished that they would never commit adultery except in this manner}. And in very deed this is a very different thing from that with men, and, let Martial say what he please, this alone will make no man cuckold. 'Tis no Gospel text, this word of a foolish poet. In this at any rate he {M&R: for “he: have “Lucian”} saith true, that 'tis much better for a woman to be masculine and a very Amazon and lewd after this fashion, than for a man to be feminine, like Sardanapalus or Heliogabalus, and many another their fellows in sin. For the more manlike she is, the braver is she. But concerning all this, I must refer me to the decision of wiser heads.

* * *

M. du Gua et moy lisions une foi un petit livre italien, qui s'intitule de la Beauté, fait en dialogue par le seigneur Angello Fiorenzolle, Florentin, et tombasmes sur un passage où il dit qu'aucunes femelles qui furent faites par Jupiter au commencement, furent créées de cette nature, qu'aucunes se mirent à aymer les hommes, et les autres la beauté de l'une et de l'autre; mais aucunes purement et saintement, comme de ce genre s'est trouvée de notre temps, comme dit l'auteur, la très-illustre Marguerite d'Austriche, qui ayma la belle Laodamie, forte en guerre; les autres lascivement et paillardement, comme Sapho Lesbienne, et de nostre temps à Rome la grande courtisanne Cécile vénétienne; et icelles de nature haissent à se marier, et fuyent la conversation des hommes tant qu'elles peuvent. Là-dessus M. du Gua, reprit l'auteur, disant que cela estoit faux que cette belle Marguerite aimast cette belle dame de pur et saint amour; car puis qu'elle l'avoit mise plustost sur elle que sur d'autres qui pouvoient estre aussi belles et vertueuses qu'elle, il estoit à présumer que c'estoit pour s'en servir en délices, ne plus ne moins comme d'autres; et pour en couvrir sa lasciveté, elle disoit et publioit qu'elle l'aimoit saintement, ainsi que nous en voyons plusieurs ses semblables, qui ombragent leurs amours par pareils mots. Voilà ce qu'en disoit M. du Gua; et qui en voudra outre plus en discourir là-dessus, faire se peut. Cette belle Marguerite fust la plus belle princesse qui fust de son temps en la chrestienté. Ainsi, beautez et beautez s'entr-aiment de quelque amour que ce soit, mais du lascif plus que de l'autre. Elle fut remariée en tierces nopces, ayant en premieres espousé le roi Charles huitiesme, en secondes Jean, fils du roi d'Arragon, et le troisiesme avec le duc de Savoye qu'on appeloit le Beau; si que, de son temps, on les disoit le plus beau pair et le plus beau couple du monde; mais la princesse n'en joüit guierre de cette copulation, car il mourut fort jeune, et en sa plus grande beauté, dont elle en porta les regrets très-extrêmes, et pour ce ne se remaria jamais. Elle fit faire bastir cette belle église qui est vers Bourg en Bresse, l'un des plus beaux et plus susperbes bastiments de la chrestienté. Elle estoit tante de l'empereur Charles-Quint, et assista bien à son nepveu; car elle vouloit tout appaiser, ainsi qu'elle et madame la régente au traité de Cambray firent, où toutes à deux se virent et s'assemblèrent là, où j'ay ouy dire aux anciens et anciennes qu'il faisoit beau voir ces deux grandes princesses.

Monsieur du Gua {M&R: have “du Guast”} and I were reading one day in a little Italian book, called the Book of Beauty, writ in the form of a dialogue by the Signor Angelo Firenzuola, a Florentine, and fell upon a passage wherein he saith that women were originally made by Jupiter and created of such nature that some are set to love men, but others the beauty of one another. But of these last, some purely and holily, and as an example of this the author doth cite the very illustrious Marguerite of Austria, which did love the fair Laodamia Fortenguerre, but others again wantonly and lasciviously, like Sappho the Lesbian, and in our own time at Rome the famous courtesan Cecilia of Venice. Now this sort do of their nature hate to marry, and fly the conversation of men all ever they can. Hereupon did Monsieur du Gua criticise the author, saying 'twas a falsehood that the said fair lady, Marguerite of Austria, did love the other fair dame of a pure and holy love. For seeing she had taken up her rather than others which might well be equally fair and virtuous as she, 'twas to be supposed it was to use her for her pleasures, neither more nor less than other women that do the like. Only to cover up her naughtiness, she did say and publish abroad how that her love for her was a pure and holy love, as we see many of her fellows do, which do dissemble their lewdness with suchlike words. This was what Monsieur du Gua did remark thereanent; and if any man doth wish to discuss the matter farther, well! he is at liberty to do so. This same fair Marguerite was the fairest Princess was ever in all Christendom in her day. Now beauty and beauty will ever feel mutual love of one sort or another, but wanton love more often than the other. She was married three times, having at her first wedlock espoused King Charles VIII. of France, secondly John, son of the King of Aragon, and thirdly the Duke of Savoy, surnamed the Handsome. And men spake of them as the handsomest pair and fairest couple of the time in all the world. However the Princess did have little profit of this union, for that he died very young, and at the height of his beauty, for the which she had very deep sorrow and regret, and for that cause would never marry again. She it was had that fair church built which lyeth near Bourg en Bresse, one of the most beautiful and noble edifices in Christendom. She was aunt to the Emperor Charles, and did greatly help her nephew; for she was ever eager to allay all differences, as she and the Queen Regent did at the treaty of Cambrai, whereunto both of them did assemble and met together there. And I have heard tell from old folk, men and women, how it was a beauteous sight there to see these two great Princesses together.

[HRJ: Brantôme is accurately quoting Firenzuola’s book, but he has entirely mistaken the “Marguerite of Austria” who is mentioned in it. Based on the list of marriages, he is thinking of Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy (1480-1530). That Margaret was the aunt of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, whose illegitimate daughter was the Margaret of Austria who loved Laudomia Forteguerri. The correct Margaret was married (briefly) to Alessandro de Medici, Duke of Florence, and thus sister-in-law to the previously mentioned Queen Catherine de Medici. Rennaissance royal family relationships were complicated.]

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Corneille Agrippa a fait un petit traité de la vertu des femmes, et tout en la loüange de cette Marguerite. Le livre en est très-beau, qui ne peut estre autre pour le beau sujet, et pour l'auteur, qui a esté un très-grand personnage.

Cornelius Agrippa hath writ a brief Treatise on the virtue of women, and all in panegyric of this same Marguerite. The book is a right good one, as it could not but be on so fair a subject, and considering its author, who was a very notable personage.

[HRJ: To continue the historical clarification, Agrippa’s treatise was dedicated to the elder Margaret of Austria.]

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J'ay ouy parler d'une grande dame princesse, laquelle, parmi les filles de sa suite, elle en aimoit une par-dessus toutes et plus que les autres: en quoy on s'estonnoit, car il y en avoit d'autres qui la surpassoient en tout; mais enfin il fut trouvé et descouvert qu'elle estoit hermaphrodite, qui lui donnoit du passe-temps sans aucun inconvénient ni escandale. C'estoit bien autre chose qu'à ses tribades: le plaisir pénétroit un peu mieux. J'ay ouy nommer une grande qui est aussi hermaphrodite, et qui a ainsi un membre viril, mais fort petit, tenant pourtant plus de la femme, car je l'ay veu très-belle. J'ay entendu d'aucuns grands medecins qui en ont veu assez de telles, et surtout très-lascives.

I have heard a tale of a certain great lady, a Princess, which among all her maids of honour did love one above all and more than the rest. At first were folk greatly surprised at this, for there were plenty of others did surpass her in all respects. But eventually 'twas discovered she was a hermaphrodite. I have heard a certain great lady also named as being hermaphrodite {M&R: + who gave the princess recreation without any inconvenience or scandal It was something else indeed than among those tribades: the pleasure penetrated a bit better. I have heard a great lady named who is also a hermaphrodite and} She hath a virile member, but very tiny; yet hath she more of the woman's complexion, and I know, by having seen her, she is very fair. I have heard sundry famous doctors say they have seen plenty such {M&R: + and especially very lewd ones}.

[HRJ: And now Brantôme brings in the last of the popular Rennaissance myths about sex between women--that women who engage in it have an enlarged clitoris and thus can succeed in penetrative sex to at least a small degree.]

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Voilà enfin ce que je diray du sujet de ce chapitre, lequel j'eusse pu allonger mille fois plus que je n'ay fait, ayant eu matière si ample et si longue, que si tous les cocus et leurs femmes qui les font se tenoient tous par la main, et qu'il s'en peust faire un cercle, je crois qu'il seroit assez bastant pour entourer et circuir la moitié de la terre.

Well, this is all I shall say on the subject of this Chapter, one I could have made a thousand times longer than I have done, having matter so ample and lengthy, that if all the cuckold husbands and their wives that do make them so, were to hold hands, and form a ring, I verily believe this would be great enough to surround and encircle a good half of the globe.

[HRJ comments: Brantôme’s reference to “the subject of this chapter” refers to the topic of cuckoldry in general, not the specific topic of same-sex relations.]

Time period: 


When Brantôme says "She hath a virile member, but very tiny", is he saying the woman is short or that her genitals is? And would he be speaking of Margaret of Parma? Thank you.

Hi, since you also asked this through the contact form, I already answered it by email. But since you also asked here, I'll repeat the answer in case anyone else is interested.

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In context, I think it’s clear that the description of “very tiny” is referring to the genitals. There was a common motif at the time that women with an enlarged clitoris were given to desiring sex with women. I.e., rather than viewing desire as separate from gender, this theory considered that anatomy determined desire, and therefore that desire for women was inherently “masculine”, often manifesting as a masculinized anatomy. In addition to this philosophical basis, it’s likely that the motif derives from an unfamiliarity with the natural variation in female anatomy, possibly combined with occasionally encountering intersex persons with ambiguous genitals.

This passage is not referring to Margaret of Parma, who is discussed in a previous paragraph in Brantôme’s work. His source of information on Margaret of Parma is Firenzuola’s book, while the supposed “hermaphrodite princess” is cited simply as “I have heard a tale…”

If you’re looking for background research on Margaret of Parma, I was impressed by Charlie R. Steen’s biography Margaret of Parma: A Life. There are also several publications specifically addressing the relationship between Margaret of Parma and Laudomia Forteguerri, including:

Eisenbichler, Konrad. “Laudomia Forteguerri Loves Margaret of Austria” in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages (ed. By Francesca Canadé Sautman & Pamela Sheingorn), Palgrave, New York, 2001.

Eisenbichler, Konrad. 2012. The Sword and the Pen: Women, Politics, and Poetry in Sixteenth-Century Siena.University of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 978-0268027766

I’m trying to guess what information you might be looking for, so let me know if I’ve guessed wrong and you have different questions.

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