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court case


This tag identifies court records of legal cases involving either the suspicion or reality of lesbian sex.

LHMP entry

The chapter begins with a survey of the types of published materials that led Lanser to identify the late 16th century as a shifting point in the discourse around sapphic topics. In 1566 a Swiss writer provides an account of a French woman who disguised herself as a man, worked as a stable groom and then a wine grower, married another woman, was eventually unmasked, and was executed. He notes “how our century can boast that beyond all the evils of the preceding ones” and explicitly disclaims any connection between events such as this and the “tribades in ancient times”.

An extensive legal/religious discussion/debate on the question of whether grinding [sex between women] is forbidden. The debate is largely framed as a discussion by “the father of Mohamad”.

He reviews various positions on whether female homosexuality is forbidden or permitted. Is it fornication? Is it worse than fornication? Is it not fornication at all? The conclusion is that it isn’t fornication because fornication is specifically define as unlawful penis-in-vagina sex.

This work is a compilation of two lectures and a collection of primary texts in translation. The first chapter is a lecture sponsored by Aswat a Palestinian lesbian organization. It discusses issues of identity and especially issues around coming out in modern Islamic society.

Cressy looks at the social context of both “acceptable” and unacceptable forms of cross-dressing by both men and women in his study period. While the contexts for the two groups were very different, both raised similar concerns about the violation of appropriate gender roles and the use of cross-dressing as an excuse (or context) for other social transgressions.

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.

One of the most commonly-cited cases of medieval women openly dressing in male clothing is Joan of Arc, not only because of her prominent place in general history, but because both her practices and her reasoning are unusually well documented, not only by her contemporaries, but in her own words from the trial transcripts. She wore male clothing almost continually from the time of her first attempts to contact the Dauphin throughout most of her trial.

Sexual Norms

Payer, Pierre J. – “Confession and the Study of Sex in the Middle Ages” - Reviews the usefulness of penitential manuals for the study of sexual activity and attitudes thereto. This article talks about issues and problems of this genre as a source but does not go into detail on content. (Content relating to female same-sex activity has been discussed in other LHMP entries.) There is an extensive bibliography of both primary and secondary sources on penitentials

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.

Renaissance philosophy tackled the question of friendship: who is an appropriate friend, what behavior should a friend exhibit, what is the relationship between the love of friends and sexual desire? Given the times, the majority of texts addressing this topic were concerned with friendships between men, though a nod was often given to Sappho as a proponent of female friendships, or to the possibility of “Platonic love” between women, which is given explicit license in the Symposium as well as by Renaissance writers commenting on it, as Agnolo Firenzuola did.

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.


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