Skip to content Skip to navigation

female husband


This tag is used for occasions when two female (or assigned-female) persons entered into marriage with one passing as male to the rest of society.

LHMP entry

(by Rose Fox)

This chapter opens with an overview of the Chevalière d'Eon: MAAB, legally declared female by Louis XVI, wore men's clothes. Fascinating person. Transvestism was called "eonism" for a couple hundred years thanks to the Chevalière. "For several years, d'Eon's gender was the subject of numerous bets and legal proceedings." "D'Eon's story teaches us that as long as we live and breathe, the culturally mediated body is an unreliable agent of truth."

“Travesty” comes literally from “cross-dress” with the theatrical term later picking up its sense of general transgression. Anyone familiar with theater and opera from Shakespeare onward is aware how popular it was to include gender disguise in its many forms and consequences. The two most common expressions both revolve around anxiety about female-female desire: a woman disguised as a man who attracts female romantic attention, or a man disguised as a woman to gain intimate access to a woman who then worries about the ensuing “wrong” erotic attraction.

Donoghue’s second conceptual cluster in this analysis is the “female husband” motif. That is, not simply women passing as men, but doing so in a context where they courted and/or married other women. The chapter begins with a general note on the prevalence of this type of event and the wide variety of superficial motivations for passing.

Chapter 1: Introduction

We start with a type-case (although unusual in the level of detail given in the court records). Maria van Antwerpen dressed in men's clothing, took a male name, and enlisted as a soldier in 1761. For eight years she lived undetected, including courting and marrying a woman. When discovered, she was tried and condemned for fraud and for "mocking laws concerning marriage." It was discovered that she she had been tried for the same offenses in 1751. She was neither exceptional nor unusual.

The recent history of debate over the question of same-sex marriage has tended to take as a given that the concept did not exist in pre-modern times, but a growing body of evidence suggests that this is not entirely the case. This article begins with the usual review of the problems in identifying what would constitute historic evidence for female homoeroticism before the modern period, though Emma Donoghue's work is cited as establishing early uses of terms like "lesbian" and "sapphist", which are relatively unambiguous.

This article concerns an individual who may more properly be interpreted as transgender, however as noted a number of times before, in a historic context where heteronormativity is so strong as to impede the ability to self-define as a woman-oriented woman, interpretation can be ambiguous.

I’ve been hoping to track down this article since it first came to my attention, and the historic individual documented here is even more intersectionally mind-blowing than I knew. If I had to sum up the story in click-bait style, it would be: “Sixteenth-century Spanish bi-racial ex-slave transman becomes classically trained surgeon and marries happily.” Alas, the ending isn’t quite as happy, though far from tragic.

Early modern Europe had quite a fondness for encyclopedic works that defined and classified the entire known world (and much that was imaginary). Theodor Zwinger (1533-1588) wrote Theatrum vitae humane (Theater of Human Life) in something of a biographical dictionary form, in groupings according to the characteristic that provided their fame. Under the section “Tribades” he notes “Here we say nothing which has not been said before, and collect only a few items.

The introduction notes the extreme variation in how female same-sex relationships were treated, in terms of penalties, liability, and the means and extent of enforcement, including differing legal theories of whether the term “sodomy” could apply. As a generalization, consensual same-sex behavior was least prosecuted in England, while Florence may have regularly prosecuted relations between men but the penalties were relatively light, while in Spain penalties were regularly quite severe including execution, and similarly severe were those recorded in Geneva.


Subscribe to female husband