Jan. 12th, 2013

transemacabre: (Rose Red)
Okay, for those not in the know, the debate has raged for some years within the history geek/academia circles as to how gay, if at all, Richard I of England was. Yes, that Richard, he of Lion-heart fame, from the Robin Hood stories. After a few years of quite a few people thinking he might've been gay/bisexual, the pendulum has swung the other way and now people are loudly insisting that there is no good evidence that he was queer in any way, shape, or form.

Here's the thing. Unless we find some incredibly authentic letters in his own hand talking about how much he loved cock, or invent a time machine or something, we will never know for sure if Richard was gay or not. We have theories, we have debates, we have wishful thinking, but we will probably never know for sure. That being said, the next big question is: does it matter? Maybe its not crucial for the big picture, but obviously people find it interesting, and fuck it, that makes it worth researching. In all honesty, you'd probably find more folks interested in Richard's sexuality than in his fiscal policies, and plenty of people write long-winded research papers on fiscal policies and no one questions that.

Another big question is, is there any evidence one way or another? Well, there's contemporary writings that suggest there was something going on, but no one ever comes out and says that Richard liked mansex. He was accused of things that we would probably consider sexual sadism today, and I find it bizarre and in a sick way almost amusing that people are so quick to "defend" Richard from charges of homosexuality, when I personally think the charges that he committed and/or abetted rape and coerced sex of womenfolk are a lot more damning. Anyway, right here is usually when people tell me something along the lines of, 'If Richard had been gay it would've been a major slander; the chroniclers wouldn't have been quiet about it, his enemies would've used it against him. It wouldn't have been hinted at.'

Here's where I think our own experiences color our expectations. In the world I grew up in, the world most of you probably live in or have living memory of, being called a homosexual is one of the worst things someone can be called. There are people who kill themselves not because they ARE gay, but because they're straight but CALLED gay. So we assume it was the same for medieval people, that Richard being gay would've been even worse back then and that of course everyone would talk about it and he would be infamous.

But here's the thing. In the medieval time period, people didn't have the same concept of sexuality that we do today. To put it very basically, homosexuality was an act, not a state of being. While some people surely knew they were different, if they committed a homosexual act they could repent and do penance. If you did it again, repent and do more penance. Moreover, I found a couple other examples from the medieval time period of prominent individuals being accused of homosexual acts in an almost off-hand manner, and while it wasn't hardly meant to be complimentary, nor does it come across like the accuser thinks this is some unparalleled obscenity.

1) The notorious emperor Heinrich IV was accused of homosexual acts, blatantly by his contemporary Manegold of Lautenbach who says Heinrich took part in "the uncleanness of sodomitical filth" (sodomitica colluvionis immuniditia). Isidore of Seville says as much as well. But that charge ranks in their books right alongside Heinrich's other vices of banging concubines, fathering illegitimate children, and committing "incest" -- this last one probably referring to the charge that Heinrich's son Konrad made that his father had offered to share his second wife (Konrad's stepmother) with him. If even half the charges about Heinrich IV were true, he was without a doubt one of medieval Europe's kinkiest monarchs.
2) The relationship between the Byzantine emperor Michael III and his companion and successor (and murderer) Basil I is well-attested by, among others Luitprand of Cremona, Genesios, and Theophanes Continuatus, none of whom actually explicitly say they were humping. You'd have to be really determined to believe otherwise, or really naive or something, to think they were just hetero dudebros. Maybe the part where Luitprand describes how Michael first saw Basil after a wrestling contest, all sweaty and glistening and muscular, and was like, I need some of that in my life! will clue you in. Luitprand in particular makes it as obvious as possible as to what he's talking about; you can almost feel him elbowing you in the side while going "Eh! eh!". It wasn't politic at the time to just say it, as Basil's dynasty lasted for a couple more generations and it generally isn't a great idea to immortalize the emperor's grandpa in print as a male hooker.

So my point is we do have evidence that other medieval monarchs either committed homosexual acts or were at least accused of them, but the charges seem to have ranked alongside other types of adultery. It wasn't thought of as the atom bomb of sins. Whatever Richard was up to, if some kind of queerness or homosexuality was involved, it doesn't surprise me so much if it was considered part and parcel with his other 'vices'.


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