Grazida Lizier & Reservoir Tip on mutually joyful love-making

In an important book that Cambridge University Press published in 1984, a leading medieval man writer discerned the “lines of thought and integrity of thought” of Grazida Lizier.[1] His study of Grazida’s thought revealed themes of eroticism, skepticism, and myth-making. He treated these themes narrowly, tendentiously, and without sensitivity to men’s different social positions. Reading history from below shows that eroticism, skepticism, and myth-making are also central to ordinary men’s thinking about mutually joyful love-making.[2]

white knight imagines love

Grazida Lizier is a relatively neglected figure in medieval scholarship. She was born in 1297 in the small, southern French village of Montaillou. Grazida’s mother, who was born of an unwed mother, was separated from her husband and worked as a tavern-keeper. When Grazida was about fourteen and living in her mother’s house, she began a sexual relationship with the leading local church official, Pierre Clergue.[3] Pierre at that time was probably in his late thirties. Grazida explained:

Because it gave me joy and him also when we made love, I did not think that with him I was sinning.[4]

For the next six months or so, Grazida and Pierre frequently had sex in her mother’s house, with her mother’s approval, mostly in the daytime. Then Pierre Clergue arranged to have Grazida marry Pierre Lizier.

Grazida continued to have sex with her first Pierre while married to her second. She explained:

he still often lay with me, in the four years that my husband was alive; my husband knew about it, and did not put up resistance. When he asked me about our love-making, I said yes, it was true, and he told me to take care it should be with no other man. But Pierre and I never made love when he was at home, only when he was out. …

At the time we made love, both before I was married and after, as our love-making in all that time gave joy to us both, I did not think I sinned, nor does it seem so to me now.

The husband’s concern to limit his wife to just the other Pierre suggests that he valued her more than as a live-in prostitute. He may have also believed that his wife having a child by a wealthy local church official wouldn’t significantly conflict with his over-all interests as a man and a potential father. Grazida showed some complex appreciation for her husband:

When I was married and made love with the priest Pierre, it did seem more proper to make love with my husband — all the same it seemed to me, and I still believe, it was as little sin with Pierre as with my husband. Did I have any qualms at the time, or think that such deeds might displease God? No I had none, and did not think my lying with Pierre should displease any living being, since it gave joy to us both.

If my husband had forbidden it? Supposing he had — even though he never did — I still would not have thought it a sin, because of the shared joy. … Does it displease God more when the partners are married than when they are not? I think it displeases him more when they are unmarried lovers.[5]

While capacity to rationalize increases with higher education, rationalization is an innate faculty of the human mind. Grazida adroitly distinguished between displeasing God and sinning. The latter was more clearly condemned within the letter of Church law. Her focus on that abstract, conceptual distinction obscured the question of whether she would cuckold her husband without his consent. The modern information economy for paternity knowledge works similarly.

The modern man writer sharply and moralistically distinguished between Grazida Lizier and Pierre Clergue in their mutually joyful love-making. Grazida is deeply feeling, unswerving idealistic, and without guile in her statements. Pierre is a coarse, shallow libertine, a hypocritical sensualist, and slippery like a serpent.[6] The man scholar, mounting a chivalrous knight’s horse without appreciation for its literary history, declared:

it is important not to blur the distinction between his promiscuous attitude and her unswervingly idealistic conviction. For Grazida it is uniquely the quality of shared joy between two lovers which frees love-making from all taint. The only possible external impediment to love that she can see is consanguinity (this is clearly a vestige, that she still acknowledges, of her orthodox upbringing). Such an outlook, and the assumptions underlying it, are so different from those of Pierre Clergue, that nothing in Grazida’s second avowal prevents us from fully accepting her statement in the first: “No one taught me these ideas except myself.” If at the beginning of their affair Pierre relaxed her traditional beliefs, he was too shallow ever to arrive at Grazida’s own.

He looks at love-making from the coarse standpoint of the conquering male who “pleasures” a woman (“no sin as long as it gives her pleasure”); she is concerned with tenderness, with the mutual giving of joy.[7]

The modern man writer recognized myth-making of only a primitive sort. Grazida, thinking deeply, declared:

I believe God made those things that are helpful to man, and useful too for the created world … But I don’t think God made wolves, flies, mosquitoes, and such things as are harmful to man

Tracing this line of thought, the scholar pondered the creation of wolves, flies, and mosquitoes, and asked, “Who then made these?” He missed the mythic answer obvious to him, “Those other, evil men made them.” That answer isn’t unparalleled. It’s common, in more or less explicit forms, throughout all times and places.

Men writers at the margins of public discourse have privileged, as did Grazida, mutually joyful love-making. In the plain language of men writing outside of authoritative structures, Reservoir Tip recently wrote:

Last night, I ended up in a little bit of a dilemma. I had two girls scheduled to come over at the same time, mainly because I was expecting one of them to flake. To my surprise, she didn’t.

I thought about bringing them both in and trying for the threesome, but decided against it. As girl one walks into my place, girl two texts me saying she’s arrived. I text girl two back and tell her that “the shit hit the fan” and that I can’t join her tonight. She’s pissed, and rightly so, really. What I pulled was pretty low, and definitely rude.[8]

Just as the orthodox condemnation of incest retained hold on Grazida, Reservoir’s orthodox upbringing apparently prompted him to reject trying for a threesome. While he expected one of the women, without respect for his position, to change her mind about meeting (“flake”), he understood similar actions on his part to be “pretty low, and definitely rude.” Reservoir’s desire for mutually joyful love-making caused him to end his meeting with the first woman:

I’m sitting around with girl one, doing a simple movie at my place, but she ends up being kind of a bitch, and we split after about an hour and a make out.

Reservoir’s subsequent actions shows the depth of his concern for mutually joyful love-making:

I text girl two back, “hey come over now.”
She comes right over and i boink her.

Notice the adverbial use of “right.” That diction subtly acknowledges and validates women’s strong desire for mutually joyful love-making. The word “boink” for sexual intercourse is somewhat unusual. More typical words for sexual intercourse in this genre of writing tend to emphasize the explosive physical vigor of the activity (“fuck”, “bang”). The choice of “boink” is playful, with a sense of childish innocence. Like a traditional fable, Reservoir’s story ends with an epimythium:

If your value is high enough, and the girl is horny enough, she’ll do anything, apparently.

A high priest of seduction, writing on behalf of free souls, ironically appended five “asshole dicktums” to Reservoir’s story.[9] Structures of authoritative morality always exist in human society. Within that reality, Reservoir’s story is a moving expression of mutually seeking sexual joy.

Against seemingly impossible odds, the spirit of such men has not been crushed. However savagely scholastic authorities try to suppress them, their beliefs live on irresistibly — Reservoir Tip’s, indeed, only through a site likely to attract censors, if not prosecutors. Today such testimonies remain as a wonder and a question of expiration.[10]

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Read more:


[1] Dronke (1984) p. 203.

[2] Robert Darnton, Lucien Febvre, Carlos Ginzberg, and E.P. Thompson have been leading proponents of history from below and expansive interpretations of marginal texts. Somewhat under-appreciated has been the extraordinarily sensitive and insightful reading of Ellen Hootton, a ten-year-old factory worker in Wigan in 1833. See Galbi (1996).

[3] Pierre Clergue was rector of the church in Montauillou. The Clergue family was the leading family in Montaillou. Le Roy Ladurie (1978) Ch. III.

[4] Testimony of Grazida, widow of Pierre Lizier of Montaillou, to Jacques Fournier, the Bishop of Pamiers, on August 19, 1320, from Latin trans. Dronke (1984) p. 204. All subsequent quotations from Grazida’s testimony are from id. pp. 204-5. Id. pp. 265-9 provides the Latin source. Dronke’s translation is free. He noted:

The translations {of Grazida’s testimony and that of others from Montaillou} … are in a sense “free”: in order to evoke as accurately as possible the Provençal words that the women themselves will have used in their testimonies, it is necessary not only to turn the Latin into direct speech but also to infer, from legalistic and condemnatory expressions in the official record, the “unloaded” expressions that might lie behind these.

Dronke (1984) p. 316, n. 8. For analysis of such a translating strategy, Arnold (2001). Here’s a much more literal English translation of Grazida’s testimony.

[5] The logical structure of the question, “Does it displease God more when the partners are married than when they are not?” is contra-normative. That structure suggests light sarcasm toward Grazida’s claims.

[6] All these descriptive words, except for the simile, are from Dronke (1984) pp. 204-6. The phrase “like a serpent” is my interpretation of the medieval-biblical allegory implicit in “slippery.” After being imprisoned for about seven weeks, Grazida testified, “I once {aliquando} told him that I’d learnt that my mother Fabrisse was his cousin by blood.” That statement directly contradicts her earlier statement. Moreover, aliquando could also be translated as “sometimes.” Grazida claimed that Pierre Clergue “taught me these errors about sexual sin.” That statement also directly contradicts her earlier statement. The judicial officials recorded her hearsay claim:

She also said she was afraid that if I told the truth about the rector and his brothers, they would kill me or otherwise maltreat me.

The phrase “kill me or otherwise maltreat me” is sensationally pointed. Grazida in earlier testimony indicated only her joy in having sex with the rector (Pierre Clergue). Pre-trial detention is common in criminal justice systems today and doesn’t excuse perjury.  Cf. id. p. 205. In just courts, hearsay testimony isn’t presumed to be true. All testimony in just courts is subject to doubt and questioning. Dronke sternly reprimanded Duvernoy for suggesting that Grazida was behaving shrewdly:

It is disappointing that Duvernoy in his translation of Le register (1 303), says in a footnote to Grazida’s testimony: “elle est consciemment insolente, bien que le procèsverbal ait l’apparence de la naïeté.” This judgement, by the scholar who through his detailed work should have been in the best position to comprehend Grazida’s thoughts, is inappropriately hostile and condescending.

Dronke (1984), pp. 316-7, n. 15. U.S. universities today conduct rape inquisitions with less procedural protections and more hostility to the accused than did medieval heresy inquisitions. Vigorously criticizing those proceedings would show better moral judgement.

On March 8, 1321, the Inquisition sentenced Grazida Lizier to life imprisonment. About four months later her sentence was commuted and she was set free. She was required to wear the Cathar yellow cross on her clothes to signal others to beware of her.

[7] The idea that sex is unobjectionable if both parties enjoy it surely has been a common view in practice among ordinary persons. Pierre Vidal, who lived in the nearby village of Ax-Les-Thermes in Grazida’s time, testified to the Inquisition that the sexual act was innocent if it pleased both parties and the man paid the women for sex. Le Roy Ladurie (1978) pp. 150-1. The latter condition reflects  devaluation of men’s sexuality prevalent in practice throughout history.  Pierre Clergue was the “womanizer per excellence of the Clergue family.” Apparently drawing inspiration from the great teacher of love Ovid, Pierre declared that he wanted all women. Id. p. 154. Testimony to the Inquisition indicated that he had sex with at least twelve women living in Montaillou or nearby Ax-Les-Thermes. Much documentary evidence indicates sex with Pierre was mutually joyful. Pierre, although short of stature, was highly confident, socially adroit, and verbally skillful. Id. Ch. IX, passim. Le Roy Ladurie attributed Pierre’s engaging in mutually joyful love-making with a large number of women to his “power and wealth.”  Id. p. 156. That view, like Dronke’s view, is superficial and condescending. It reflects anti-men animosity and ignorance of the modern applied science of seduction.

[8] Reservoir Tip wrote his story on January 18, 2015. The amount of critical attention it will attract from literary scholars remains to be seen. Grazida Lizier’s testimony has been anthologized in leading works such as Davis et al. (1992). It has also been the basis for a national best-seller, Charmaine Craig’s The Good Men: A Novel of Heresy (2002). Craig studied medieval literature as an undergraduate at Harvard. Here’s a review of her book in the Harvard Crimson. Craig’s success underscores the value of exposing students to a wide range of writing, even writing powerful authorities might find repugnant.

[9] The Latinate ending of “dicktum” suggests the plural form “dickti.” But the final syllable -tum is better interpreted as a popular, contracted variant of “them.”

[10] Cf. Dronke (1984) p. 228.

[image] Modern knight on white charger imagines receiving women’s love. Photo thanks to PublicDomainPictures on pixabay.


Arnold, John. 2001. Inquisition and power: catharism and the confessing subject in medieval Languedoc. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Davis, Natalie Zemon, Georges Duby, Arlette Farge, G. Mouillaud-Fraisse, Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Michelle Perrot, Pauline Schmitt Pantel, and Françoise Thébaud. 1992. A history of women in the West. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1984. Women writers of the Middle Ages: a critical study of texts from Perpetua († 203) to Marguerite Porete († 1310). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Galbi, Douglas A. 1996. “Through Eyes in the Storm: Aspects of the Personal History of Women Workers in the Industrial Revolution.” Social History. 21 (2): 142-159.

Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel, from French trans. Barbara Bray. 1978. Montaillou: the promised land of error {Montaillou, village occitan de 1294 à 1324 (1975)}. New York: G. Braziller.

2 thoughts on “Grazida Lizier & Reservoir Tip on mutually joyful love-making”

    1. The now widely endorsed ethical rule that “sex is not a sin if it is mutually pleasurable,” is highly empowering, especially when used with little thought.

      But if you think about it, an important question is the time horizon for evaluating “mutually pleasurable.” Suppose a person is considering having sex, and she thinks about how she at some future date will feel about the sex that she is now considering having. That could make the sex more pleasurable or less pleasurable, depending on the circumstances. I’d guess that many old, happily married couples look back with great pleasure on their wedding night, maybe even if or perhaps particularly if their relations were a bit awkward and unpracticed.

      Consider different circumstances. Rebecca, age 16, and Michael, age 18, had sex in 1995. They weren’t married and drifted apart in a few years. Eight years later, Michael almost surely greatly regretted having sex with Rebecca. I guess Rebecca, who went on to marry someone else and give up her child to her mother, probably also regretted having sex with Michael. Similarly, Mark retrospectively probably didn’t view with pleasure having had sex with Shondel.

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