do not hide your face from me: Parius’s bad-breath conspiracy

Listerine stops bad breath

Even though love bears all things, bad breath can sour a close personal relationship. If you notice a friend or intimate hiding his face from you, consider three possibilities:

  1. You have bad breath.
  2. He has bad breath.
  3. He no longer loves you and no longer cares for you.

Many persons tend to assume the worst, meaning the third possibility. That’s a mistake. As awkward as it might be, you need to speak openly in your personal relationships. Simply say, “Do I have bad breath?” If the answer is yes, try to figure out why you have bad breath. Is it from something you have done, or have failed to do? Love is patient. Have hope that your bad breath will be cured and have faith that your friend or intimate will again turn his face to you.

In twelfth-century Latin literature, the story of Parius and Lausus instructs about the dangers of not speaking openly about bad breath in close personal relationships. Parius and Lausus were personal assistants to the Babylonian king Ninus. They were also close friends. Parius, however, began to envy Lausus. Parius’s envy grew so malicious that he plotted to murder Lausus. Driven by jealousy, Heracles’s wife had accidentally poisoned him with an envenomed robe of Nessus. Parius murdered Lausus by inducing him to wrap himself in sheets containing the poison of Nessus. Lausus died without perceiving his friend Parius breathing evil toward him.

King Ninus, who suspected nothing, then put Parius in charge of training Lausus’s son. The boy subsequently became the king’s favorite. That development infuriated Parius. He plotted to ruin the boy through a claim of bad breath.

Parius told the boy that he had bad breath. Parius explained that the king, not wishing to humiliate the boy, didn’t tell him about his putrid breath. Parius instructed the boy to take care to turn his face from the king when near him. The boy, mortified to learn of the stench he was bearing, subsequently changed his behavior drastically:

the boy never presumed to approach his lord if not summoned, carried out his service with bowed head, and did all his offices about the king with averted face. [1]

The king interpreted the boy’s strange new conduct to be a lingering effect of illness:

He bore with him long, and made no charge of malice or deceit, kindly putting the best interpretation on his conduct.

Parius scolded the boy whenever he came near the king. The boy became tearful and withdrawn. Parius positioned himself as the sole acceptable servant for the king.

The king was mystified by his favored boy’s new distance and personal diversion. The king questioned the boy about the matter. The boy, in shame, said nothing. The king privately confronted Parius and demanded to be told the truth. Parius pleaded:

Have pity on me, most merciful of kings, do not make me the accuser and cause of death to this boy whom I have brought up and loved with singular affection, as I loved his father. This matter I have kept from you, I confess, through my excessive love for him. If by some exercise of mercy his fault may meet with pardon, I have by my silence invited death, led astray partly by kindness to the boy, partly by my own simplicity. What my lord now compels me — weeping and reluctant as I am — to confess, I barely wrung from him through extreme insistence, and — though I know well he lied — he swore to me, against my certain knowledge, that in tending the king’s head and face he suffered great discomfort and he compared your breath (which undoubtedly in its excellent savour excels the fruits of summer or fresh balsam) to bilgewater. I die and deserve death as I speak the words. This is why he avoids my lord so despicably, why he turns away his face, bows his head, puts his hand before his mouth, and shuns speech with you.

Such are the intrigues of courtiers. The king believed Parius. Enraged, the king arranged to have the boy killed.

The death of the boy was to be a sensational public event. The king planned to have the boy killed as he rode forward to be honored with primacy over Babylon for one year. Parius, however, convinced the boy to transfer that honor to him. As Parius rode forward for the honor, an assassin stepped out and thrust a sword into his heart and killed him. The boy, horrified, threw himself on his dead foster-father’s body and wept.

The king realized that the wrong person had been killed. He summoned the boy for a private audience:

The boy, instructed by the dead Parius, knelt before him with bowed head, his hand on his mouth. The king’s anger rose afresh. Already inwardly designing another death for him, he said “Why do you put hour hand to your nose? How is it that to you alone I have become loathsome? Is the stench of my mouth so strong that you can come no nearer?” The boy said: “No, rather that of mine, lord, and I seek to save you from perceiving it.” The king: “Who told you of it?” The boy: “Parius told me, whom he loved as none else, that which all had kept from me, that the stench of my mouth was so evil that my presence was offensive to you. Therefore my hope of waiting upon you near at hand was cut off. Therefore is my hand always held before my breathing, that my foulness may not trouble you, or the calm purity of your serene countenance be tainted by my defect. And as a recompense for this warning and for all the other faithful care he had bestowed on me, he begged of me that honour which you had conferred on me, and he obtained it.

The king recognized that Parius had deceived and manipulated the boy. Parius with poetic justice had put himself before the sword. The king restored the boy to favor. He ordered that Parius’s corpse be hung on a gibbet for all to see and revile.

If someone is turning his face from you, speak up. Seek to understand the problem and correct it.

Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress.

Answer me quickly, O Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me,
or I shall be like those who go down into the Pit. [2]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] De contrarietate Parii et Lausi (Of the variance between Parius and Lausus), in Walter Map, De nugis curialium, Dist. 3, c. 3, from Latin trans. James (1983) p. 255. Subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from this story, id. pp. 255-61. I’ve made some minor changes in the translation for readability.

Stories of misunderstanding about bad breath exist in historical literature from more than 2300 years ago. This specific bad-breath story occurs in the Anglo-Norman Gesta Romanorum as well as in other medieval story collections. See story 101 in Bright (2019). For references to other medieval story collections containing it, id. p. 661, source note to 101. For a more general review of instances of the motif, Lee (1909) pp. 232-5. The specific motif of bad breath doesn’t occur in the Decameron.

[2] From Psalms 27:9, 102:2, 143:7. See also, e.g. Psalm 13:1. The relevant Vulgate phrase ne abscondas faciem tuam a me doesn’t occur in the story of Parius and Lausus. The over-all structure of the story reflects the motif of Psalms 7:14-6, 10:2, 9:16, etc.

[image] Listerine Advertisement, from Redbook magazine, June 1956, Vol. 107, No. 2. Thanks to Classic Film on flickr.


Bright, Philippa, ed. and trans. 2019. The Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum: from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce MS 310. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

James, M. R. trans., C. N. L. Brooke, and R. A. B. Mynors, eds. 1983. Walter Map. De nugis curialium {Courtiers’ trifles}. Oxford, Oxfordshire: Clarendon Press.

Lee, A. Collingwood. 1909. The Decameron: its sources and analogues. London: David Nutt.

men’s concern for birth control from Peisistratus to the present

Herodotus, whose Histories recorded story of Peisistratus

In Athens about 2550 years ago, Peisistratus sought to have sex without producing children. Peisistratus had married Megacles’s daughter in order to gain his support for Peisistratus’s bid to become ruler of Athens. Peisistratus already had children from a previous marriage. Moreover, Megacles’s family was under a curse. To avoid having additional children, Peisistratus had sex with his wife (Megacles’s daughter) but “not after the customary manner {ἐμίσγετό οἱ οὐ κατα νόμον}.” That birth-control practice didn’t work out well:

His wife at first kept this a secret, but then, perhaps under questioning, perhaps not, she told her mother. Her mother told Megacles. He was exceedingly angry about the dishonor Peisistratus had done to him. Megacles made up his quarrel with his political adversaries. When Peisistratus learned of the moves being made against him, he immediately fled the city.

{ Πεισίστρατος κατὰ τὴν ὁμολογίην τὴν πρὸς Μεγακλέα γενομένην γαμέει τοῦ Μεγακλέος τὴν θυγατέρα. οἷα δὲ παίδων τέ οἱ ὑπαρχόντων νεηνιέων καὶ λεγομένων ἐναγέων εἶναι τῶν Ἀλκμεωνιδέων, οὐ βουλόμενός οἱ γενέσθαι ἐκ τῆς νεογάμου γυναικὸς τέκνα ἐμίσγετό οἱ οὐ κατὰ νόμον. τὰ μέν νυν πρῶτα ἔκρυπτε ταῦτα ἡ γυνή, μετὰ δὲ εἴτε ἱστορεύσῃ εἴτε καὶ οὒ φράζει τῇ ἑωυτῆς μητρί, ἣ δὲ τῷ ἀνδρί. ὀργῇ δὲ ὡς εἶχε καταλλάσσετο τὴν ἔχθρην τοῖσι στασιώτῃσι. μαθὼν δὲ ὁ Πεισίστρατος τὰ ποιεύμενα ἐπ᾽ ἑωυτῷ ἀπαλλάσσετο ἐκ τῆς χώρης τὸ παράπαν }[1]

If some male equivalent to female birth control pills had been available to Peisistratus, he could have avoided this major political setback and dangerous situation.

The medieval Latin poem Amor habet superos plausibly presents a man like Peisistratus having heterosexual intercourse while taking care to avoid an unintended pregnancy. The man, probably a cleric, may have been “hot with flaming desire for an outstanding maiden.”[2] The refrain of the poem sings:

In love’s consolation,
I play the virgin with a virgin;
I plow without sowing,
I sin without committing a crime.

{ Amoris solamine,
virgino cum virgine;
aro non in semine,
pecco sine crimine. }

The poem has been interpreted as praising “qualified continence” with restraint from sexual intercourse. The poem has also been interpreted as reducing “purity to a fetish,” with the refrain providing a “leering undertone.”[3] These over-all interpretations efface inconsistencies across the stanzas and the refrain. In the two manuscripts in which the poem survives, the refrain is missing in one, the stanzas are variously ordered, and an additional stanza occurs in one of the instances. Moreover, within medieval Christian belief, lust for a particular maiden is morally equivalent to having sex with her.[4] The surface assertions of other stanzas in the canonical construction of the poem don’t foreclose more specific meaning for this refrain.

The refrain’s distinction between sinning and committing a crime is best understood to distinguish between having sex and creating an illicit pregnancy. Worldly authorities cannot punish sexual sins known only to the couple and God. An illicit pregnancy brings sexual sin to the attention of worldly authorities for criminal punishment.[5] Men burning with desire thus seek to “plow without sowing,” i.e. have sex without producing children. In enjoying “love’s consolations,” the linguistic game of defining what having sex means allows lovers to “play the virgin with a virgin” while engaging in genital intercourse.[6]

Men in colonial America used birth-control techniques to avoid the burdens imposed on them from having children. Men choosing to control their reproductive capacity was controversial:

in 1710, for instance, Abigail Emery of Newbury accused her husband of Onan’s “abominable” sin, which he practiced, she claimed, because “he feared the charge of children.” Russell Knight stopped sleeping with his wife Mary because of her ill treatment, and told her that he would not risk producing “a Parcel of young Children more to make him a Slave as long as he lived when she {Mary} would not do anything to help him.” [7]

Some men in colonial America regularly practiced withdrawal before ejaculation. In Britain between the 1920s and 1950s, husbands had primary responsibility for birth control within married couples. Withdrawal before ejaculation, along with abstinence from sexual intercourse of reproductive type, were common practices of birth control among married couples.[8]

Forces of oppression, ignorance, and superstition today propagate the myth that men don’t care about birth control. That is ludicrous. Under current U.S. “child support” laws, men have good reason to be acutely concerned about birth control. A man who contributes sperm to a pregnancy that he didn’t intend may for no additional reason be legally deprived of about 30% of his income for the next eighteen years of his life or longer. That financial imposition occurs through required “child support” payments under state-imposed forced financial fatherhood.[9] While men now are more effectively and comprehensively denied reproductive freedom than ever before, men throughout history have been concerned about birth control and unintended pregnancies. New birth control technologies for men are likely to have a huge market if they can overcome sexual-political interests opposing reproductive choice for men.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Herodotus, Histories 1.61, translation from ancient Greek text adapted from Grene (1987) pp. 59-60 and Holland (2014) p. 29. Given its context in Histories and Greek sexual practices, the reference to sex “not after the customary manner {ἐμίσγετό οἱ οὐ κατα νόμον}” probably refers to anal sex. The Greek term nomos (“customary manner”) refers to a law, custom, or social norm. In the Life of Aesop, Aesop apparently anally penetrates Xanthus’s wife and ejaculates intercrurally on her.

A court case that came before the thirteenth-century Byzantine bishop and judge Demetrios Chomatenos who suffered physical abuse because she refused to allow her husband to sodomize her:

The jurist recognized that the law did not permit the dissolution of marriage for this reason but, as the woman was threatening to kill herself, he granted the divorce “so that the one evil {sodomy} would not be augmented by an even greater one {suicide}, and so that inexperienced judges, cleaving to the letter of the law, do not provoke a death rather than lead {the people involved} to salvation.”

Chomatenos, Decision 17, from medieval Greek trans. Messis & Kaldellis (2016) p. 25. Whether the husband sought to engage in sodomy in order to have sex without reproductive risk isn’t clear.

[2] Carmina Burana 88 (Love rules the gods {Amor habet superos}) 4.1-2, from Latin trans. Walsh (1993) p. 95. Here’s a full Latin text, with a slightly different construction of the stanzas than Walsh provides. For the translation of the refrain, I’ve adapted Walsh’s translation to reflect my sense of the Latin.

[3] Godman (1990) p. 166 (“qualified continence”, restraint); Wetherbee (2000) p. 106 (“has reduced purity to fetish”, “leering undertone”).

[4] In the Carmina Burana, Amor habet superos doesn’t have a refrain. Moreover, its text is conflated with the next poem and the order of stanzas is “hopelessly confused.” Walsh (1993) p. 96. The poem also survives in the manuscript Florenc Laur. Edili 197. That version includes a stanza that Walsh describes as “a clearly spurious supplement, defective in rhyme and irrelevant in context.” Walsh thus omits it. Id. On the conjunction of textual and literary criticism for the Carmina Burana, Dronke (1975).

The canonical construction of the poem has literary problems. St. 6 gives the maiden’s name for the first time (Cecilia) and refers to her in the third person. St. 9, however, is directly addressed to “dear maiden.” St. 4-5 suggest no interest in continence or restraint. St. 8, however, sets out the medieval convention of the five stages of love (quinqua lineae amoris). The first four are enumerated — “to gaze, talk face to face, to touch, and finally to kiss” — and of the fifth (intercourse), the poet declares “you must not suspect.” On Christian teaching on lust, see, e.g. Matthew 5:27-8.

[5] Carmina Burana 126 (Until now — how unlucky I am {Huc usque, me miseram}) expresses, from the viewpoint of a woman carrying an illicit pregnancy, the social stigma she feels. In the last three stanzas of the poem, the women acknowledges the greater punishment imposed on her lover and the pain that punishment causes her:

What compounds my grief
is that my boyfriend is in exile,
just because of this pecadillo.

Because my father dealt with him harshly,
he has retired in France
at its furthest borders.

The cause of my melancholy
is his absence,
which increases my pain.

{ Hoc dolorem cumulat,
quod amicus exulat
propter illud paululum.

Ob patris sevitiam
recessit in Franciam
a finibus ultimis.

Sum in tristitia
de eius absentia
in doloris cumulum. }

Latin translation (modified) from Walsh (1993) p. 158. Here’s the full Latin text. Huc usque, me miseram has survived only in the Carmina Burana. The canonical Latin text of the poem excludes an initial stanza and a refrain “Eya, / such / are love’s delights {Eya / qualia / sunt amoris gaudia}.” In the context of the poem, the refrain makes sense only ironically. For discussion of the textual issues, Parlett (1986) p. 224.

[6] Ex ungue primo teneram, a Latin lyric from before 1210, presents a form of sexual restraint with respect to a girl mistakenly thought to be a virgin. The girl in that poem is only seven-years old. The poem’s narrator complains:

I remember ordering my weapon to stay outside, not to hurt a little girl by going in too deep —

But that impudent little creature thought she’d like far bigger spear-thrusts — though so small, she got all that a woman desires.

From Latin trans. Dronke (1965) v. 2, p. 379, with a minor adaptation for a more literal translation. A man actually having sex with a pre-pubescent girl would be regarded as viciously criminal in medieval Europe, as in most other societies throughout history. Men in medieval Europe were castrated merely for having consensual non-marital sex with a mature woman.

At a poetic level, Ex ungue primo teneram has none of the literary merit of Lolita. The penis is a vitally important, life-seeding part of a man’s body. Weapons are intended to do harm and kill. The poem’s figuring of penis as weapon sickeningly disparages men’s humanity and men’s sexuality. Other medieval Latin poetry protested women’s insistence on alternate use of a man’s penis. Overall, while indicating alternatives for genital intercourse, Ex ungue primo teneram is deeply misandristic.

[7] Cott (1976) p. 28, citing Abigail Emery v. John Emery (1710), Massachusetts Archive vol. 9, pp. 162-173; Suffolk Court Files 129745, deposition of Jonathan Knight, p. 72.

[8] Brodie (1994) p. 41; Fisher (2006) Ch. 5. With respect to British couples from the 1920s to 1950s:

The extent to which non-reproductive sexual acts, such as anal or oral sex, were employed is extremely difficult to ascertain. Oral history respondents rarely mentioned such practices.

Id. p. 106, n. 4.

[9] If the man ordered to make “child support” payments experiences a financial setback, such as unemployment, he can be incarcerated, without the benefit of counsel, for being unable to produce the mandated payments. Of course, opportunities for an incarcerated man to provide child support of any sort are greatly constrained. Moreover, mandated child-support financial obligations continue to accrue for incarcerated persons.

[image] Marble sculpture of Herodotus. 2nd-century Roman copy of a Greek bronze from the first half of the 4th century BGC. Now held at Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) Department of Greek and Roman Art, Gallery 162, accession no. 91.8. Detail of photo thanks to Marie-Lan Nguyen and Wikimedia Commons.


Brodie, Janet Farrell. 1994. Contraception and abortion in nineteenth-century America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Cott, Nancy F. 1976. “Eighteenth-Century Family and Social Life Revealed in Massachusetts Divorce Records.” Journal of Social History. 10 (1): 20-43.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the rise of European love-lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1975. “Poetic Meaning in the Carmina Burana.” Mittelateinisches Jahrbuch 10: 116-37.

Fisher, Kate. 2006. Birth control, sex and marriage in Britain, 1918-1960. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Godman, Peter. 1990. “Literary Classicism and Latin Erotic Poetry of the Twelfth Century and the Renaissance.” Pp. 149-82 in Peter Godman and Oswyn Murray, eds. Latin Poetry and the Classical Tradition. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Grene, David, trans. 1987. Herodotus. The history. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Holland, Tom, trans. 2014. Herodotus. The histories. New York: Viking.

Messis, Charis and Anthony Kaldellis. 2016. “Conjugal Violence and the Ideological Construction of Byzantine Marriage.” Limes: Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities. 2: 21-40.

Parlett, David, trans. 1986. Selections from the Carmina Burana: a verse translation. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.

Walsh, Patrick Gerard. 1993. Love lyrics from the Carmina Burana. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Wetherbee, Winthrop. 2000. “The Place of Secular Latin Lyric.” Ch. 3 (pp. 95-125) in Paden, William D., ed. Medieval lyric: genres in historical context. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Sueno, Eadwin & Loric help privileged virgin realize her choice

working man Roy Nelin

In twelfth-century England, a maiden of extraordinary beauty and sanctity sought to live as a virgin dedicated to Christ. She was from a wealthy, noble family. Her family expected her to pursue worldly affairs, acquire riches and honors, and have children. Her family furiously opposed her plans for a life of virginity and poverty. Sueno, Eadwin, and Loric, men much less privileged than she, helped her to realize her personal choice.[1] Sueno, Eadwin, and Loric, along with many other marginalized men throughout history, deserve to be recognized for their selfless service to women.

Sueno helped the maiden, who became known as Christina of Markyate, from the time she was a small girl. Sueno was an elderly canon from the Monastery of the Blessed Mother of God Ever Virgin. He was known for his influential teaching. He was also known for his lustfulness. After Christina decided to preserve her virginity for God, Sueno explained to her the glory of virginity and the difficulty of keeping it. Another listener responded cynically:

This man is still so inflamed by lustful desires that unless he were prevented by the greater power of God he would shamelessly sleep with any deformed and crippled leper. [2]

Christina supported Sueno:

Christina listened to this {disparaging comments about Sueno’s sexuality} with weary contempt and indignantly interrupted, saying, “If you have anything good to say, speak, and I will listen; if not, I am going.”

Christina’s support of Sueno strengthened his pursuit of holiness. She in turn benefited from his teaching and encouragement of her.

Sueno deeply regretted temporarily repudiating his friendship with Christina. Soon after Christina consented to marriage, Sueno heard the news. He was barred from visiting her or sending her messages to understand why she had consented to marriage. Without further information, he assumed that she had rapidly adapted to new circumstances. In the Middle Ages, women’s superior dynamism had already been recognized for more than a millennium.[3] However, Christina had consented to marriage only under intense familial and community pressure. That truth eventually became known to Sueno:

Reflecting on the constancy of the blessed maiden, and recalling at the same time his own lack of loyalty, the miserable fellow broke out into laments, and beating his breast with his fists, he became the harsh and unmerciful avenger of his own mistake.

Sueno urgently sought forgiveness:

When he found the opportunity he sent secretly once, twice, and a third time begging her for the love of Christ not to spurn conversation with a miserable old man from whom she might with good reason turn away because of his lack of trust … Raising his hand and putting it to his face, and weeping so copiously that a river of tears washed over his hand, he called God as his witness that he repented of this deed more than any other. Thereby he obtained pardon for his error and renewed his former friendship with Christina.

Like many other men in the Life of Christina of Markyate, Sueno was shown to be morally inferior to Christina. Both were happy to renew this unequal friendship.

Sueno then sought for Christina to be released from her marriage. He spoke to her husband. He convinced him to consent to renouncing their marriage. Christina’s parents responded by bribing a bishop to insist that the marriage remain in force. After Christina envisioned the Virgin Mary supporting what Christina wanted, Sueno appealed to his Prior with the story of her vision. Sueno also “importuned Christ night and day for the afflicted maiden’s deliverance.” Sueno’s prayers and tears for Christina had an effect. One day during his celebration of the Mass, at the altar Sueno heard a voice:

Fear not, Sueno, I will set free the woman for whom you have prayed. And when she is free you will see her with your own eyes and speak to her with your own lips and your heart will rejoice.

Men like nothing more than to serve women. Sueno would rejoice in Christina being free from her marriage and realizing her choice.

The devout hermit Eadwin also sought to serve Christina. Christina secretly informed him of her predicament. He offered to help her escape. Eadwin contacted his relative Roger of Markyate. Roger was an elderly, devout monk who lived in his own hermitage. Eadwin approached Roger about hiding Christina in his hermitage. After learning that Christina was married, Roger refused to have her. He angrily chided Eadwin:

“Have you come here to give me a lesson in how to dissolve marriages? Get out of here as fast as you can, and think yourself lucky if you get away unscathed; you deserve a whipping.” And he threw him out of his cell.

Eadwin didn’t give up his efforts to help Christina. He journeyed to Canterbury to appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury. After Eadwin persuasively presented Christina’s case to him, the Archbishop absolved Christina in absentia of her marriage. The Archbishop instructed Eadwin to “sustain the precious dove of God with as much help and advice as you can.”

Eadwin arranged for Christina to escape from her home and hide with an anchoress. Because Eadwin was prevented from speaking with Christina, his youthful servant Loric spoke with her. Loric longingly whispered to her: “Would that I might have you outside the city.”[4] Christina blushed and was embarrassed. She then took control of the situation. She ordered Loric:

“Go and tell your master to prepare two horses, one for me and one for you, at a precise time,” and she fixed the day of the week. “As soon as Aurora appears, wait for me with the horses in that field over there,” and she pointed to the spot with her finger. “I will come to you there. Don’t make a mistake and run up to someone else instead of me. When my horse is ready, you will recognize me by this sign. I will place my right hand to my forehead with only the finger raised. When you see this, rein in the horses immediately. But if I am delayed, take it that I am waiting for the right moment. [5]

The servant Loric might have responded, “Hey princess, tell someone else what to do to help you. I’m out of here.” Instead, he listened carefully, strove to remember all her instructions, and dutifully reported back Eadwin, who was formally his master.

The day for escape that Christina set finally arrived. Christina carried out her plan:

After her parents had gone to the hermitage, Christina went out toward the river, carefully scanning the meadow to see if her companion were there. As he was nowhere to be seen, she put it down to his laziness and off she went to church

At church she prayed that Loric would come soon and that her escape would be successful. Perhaps out of annoyance with the laziness that she attributed to Loric, she didn’t pray that he would escape punishment for helping her. After exiting the church and again longingly scanning the meadow for Loric, Christina returned home. She was sad and disappointed. But “suddenly something inside her, like a small bird full of life and joy” generated words in her throat:

Theodora {Christina}, arise! Why are you so slow? Look, Loric is here!

Christina jumped up, put on male garments as a disguise, and set out for her rendezvous with Loric. She had forgotten to leave her father’s keys to his chest for silver, gold, and other precious items. He had entrusted those keys to her. But by happenstance an opportunity arose for her to return the keys via her sister. Absorbed in her concern for herself, Christina made her way to the rendezvous spot. There she made the secret signal. The humble, obedient Loric had the horses ready for her:

She seized one of them, but then hesitated, overcome with embarrassment. Why delay, oh fugitive? Why respect your femininity? Put on manly courage and mount the horse like a man. So she put aside her fears, and jumped on the horse as if she were a man, set spurs to its flanks, and said to the servant, “Follow me at a distance, for I fear that if you ride with me and we are caught, they will kill you.”

Christina, more than capable of shedding her femininity when doing that was advantageous for her, recognized a reality that many today don’t: men are punished much more severely than women, and men are killed much more frequently. So it was in the Life of Christina of Markyate.

After a six-hour journey, Christina and Loric arrived at Christina’s place of safety. As soon as her escape was discovered, search parties were sent along all roads to find them. The searchers, proceeding “in a great fury,” had been ordered:

to pursue her swiftly, to catch her, to bring her home disgraced, and to kill anyone whom they might find in her company.

Christina remained safely hidden, but Loric was captured. Through a vision Christina learned:

the youth had been released from the chains of the flesh in a happy death, according to the manner of the faithful.

In romance as in life, violence against men matters little, especially in stories about women.

After Christina had escaped with the help of Eadwin and Loric, Sueno cursed her mother. He blamed her mother, who had physically assaulted Christina, for driving her out of their home.[6] Sueno declared to her mother:

“You should know,” he said, “that many dreadful things lie in story for your house, in particular a terrible fire.” All subsequently happened as the man of God had said it would.

Christina’s mother lost in the fire many material things. But she didn’t lose her life.[7]

Sueno, Eadwin, and Loric are marginal figure in the Life of Christina of Markyate. Christina, the center of the story, was a rich, elite maiden who decided that she wanted a life of poverty and virginity. At considerable risk to themselves, Sueno, Eadwin and Loric helped Christina to realize her personal choice.[8] In the gynocentric society that prevails to this day, women have a broader range of life choices than men do. Women and men together should strive to value more highly men’s lives, lessen men’s responsibilities, and expand men’s life choices.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] The hermit’s name Eadwin is variously spelled as Eadwine and Edwin. The Latin text has Eadwynus. Eadwin’s youthful servant Loric (Loricus in the Latin) is named only when the inspired voice tells Christina that Loric has come to help her escape from her home and marriage.

[2] Life of Christina of Markyate 3, from Latin trans. Talbot, Fanous & Leyser (2008) p. 5. I reference the text with the Latin section numbers and the page in the English translation of id. Subsequent quotes are from id. 3 p. 5 (Christina listened…); 14 pp. 15-6 (Reflecting on the constancy…; When he found…); 27 p. 27 (importuned Christ…; Fear not…); 29 p. 29 (Have you come here…); 30 p. 30 (sustain the precious…); 31 pp. 31-2 (Go and tell…); 32 p. 32 (After her parents…); 33 p. 33 (suddenly something…; Theodora…); 34 p. 34 (She seized…); 34 p. 35 (to pursue her swiftly…); 36 p. 37 (the youth…; You should know…).

[3] Virgil, Aeneid 4.569: varium et mutabile semper femina (woman is always varying and circumstantially responsive).

[4] Jaeger (2005) p. 103 more precisely translates these words. He comments, “they sound like the prelude to a love confession and the invitation to a tryst.” Id.

[5] This translation draws on Jaeger’s translation, id. Jaeger notes:

Talbot translates, ‘When the dawn is breaking’. The writer’s Apparente aurora (Life, p. 86) is poetic language, however. The biographer wants allure in his formulations, at least in this episode. Prima luce would have been the more literal formulation.

Id. p. 113, n. 19. The episode more generally draws upon romantic conventions. Id. pp. 103-4.

[6] Her mother’s domestic violence against her was emotional as well as physical:

there was one time, when, on an impulse she {Christina’s mother} took her away from a banquet and, out of sight, seized her by the hair and beat her till she grew tired of it. She then brought her back, lacerated as she was, into the presence of the revellers to mock her. The scars on her back never faded as long as she lived.

Life of Christina of Markyate 23, p. 25. Medieval scholarship, like current domestic violence policies, has failed to recognize that about as many women commit domestic violence as do men.

[7] After her parents’ home was destroyed by the fire, Christina provided refuge for them in her hermitage at Markyate.

[8] While Christina of Markyate was never officially recognized as a saint, the earliest surviving manuscript of the Life of Christina Markyate, from the 1360s, is headed De S.Theodora, virgine, quae et Christina dicitur (“Of Saint Theodora, A virgin, who is also called Christina”). Bugyis (2015) p. 34 observes:

Much of the scholarship on Christina’s Life has concentrated on the various rhetorical strategies employed by its writer to fashion and champion Christina as a saint.

Id. explores why the Life seems to figure Christina in a “distinctly episcopal cast.” Id. abstract & p. 35. Nonetheless, according to the dominant conventions of current medieval scholarship, men championing Christina as a saint and episcopal figure is part of the masculine agenda that constrains women:

one of the key observations emerging from current scholarship is that medieval women of spirit were often complicit in the matrix of masculine agenda that constrained and channelled them, even at the same time that they challenged or disrupted these regulative discourses.

Royle (2011) p. 231. Men such as Sueno, Eadwin, and Loric are scarcely recognized servants and tools for wealthy elites in gynocentric society and gynocentric scholarship.

[image] Photograph (detail, touched up slightly) of Roy Nelin, a box packer in the roundhouse in Proviso yard, Melrose Park (near Chicago), Illinois, December 1942. From Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Collection 12002-1 (DLC) 93845501 at the U.S. Library of Congress. Call number LC-USW36-580. No known restrictions on publication. Thanks to the Library of Congress and flickr Commons.


Bugyis, Katie. 2015. “Envisioning Episcopal Exemption: The Life of Christina of Markyate.” Church History. 84 (01): 32-63.

Fanous, Samuel, and Henrietta Leyser, eds. 2005. Christina of Markyate: a twelfth-century holy woman. London: Routledge.

Jaeger, C. Stephen. 2005. “The loves of Christina of Markyate.” Ch. 6 (pp. 99-115) in Fanous & Leyser (2005).

Royle, Joanna. 2011. “Managed Holiness and Negotiated Recollection in the Life of Christina of Markyate (c.1098-after 1155).” Women’s History Review. 20 (2): 227-244.

Talbot, C.H. trans, Samuel Fanous and Henrietta Leyser, rev. and ed. 2008. The life of Christina of Markyate. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

men's inferiority in the life of Christina of Markyate

Christina of Markyate in St. Albans Psalter

The twelfth-century Life of Christina of Markyate encompasses vignettes of Christina’s relationships with men. The men are morally and intellectually inferior to Christina. The narrative progresses from men who are obviously stupid and morally defective to men who reflect subtle and pervasive forms of masculine failings. While the Life of Christina of Markyate is commonly thought to be unfinished, the last relationship in the surviving text makes a suitable end for the narrative. The eminent Abbot Geoffrey of St. Albans provides material resources to Christina of Markyate, and she instructs him morally. That remains to our day a paradigmatic gender relation.

Shortly after Christina vowed to God to remain a virgin unlike “all them that go a-whoring,” she entered Ranulf Flambard’s bedroom. Ranulf Flambard was a rich, powerful man. Then a leading bishop, he had been the chief financial and legal agent and personal chaplain to the English King William II. Ranulf was regarded as an energetic, courageous, cunning, and very worldly official.[1] He had taken Christina’s maternal aunt Alveva as his concubine and had several children with her. He subsequently permitted Alveva to marry another man. Alveva’s new husband probably helped to provide for Ranulf’s children with Alveva. Ranulf maintained cordial relations with Alveva and her family and frequently visited them.[2] Since Christina’s family frequently visited Alveva’s family, Ranulf and Christina could come to know each other. Knowing Ranulf would offer Christina considerable worldly advantages.[3]

The Life of Christina Markyate shows Ranulf to have been stupid and morally defective in relation to Christina. Rejecting his extensive worldly experience, Ranulf acted out the part of the impulsive, devious, evil man in the fantasies of romance:

It happened that the bishop {Ranulf} gazed intently at Auti’s beautiful daughter {Christina of Markyate}. Straightaway Satan, that songster of voluptuousness, put into his heart an evil desire for her. Busily seeking some trick whereby to get her into his clutches, Ranulf had the unsuspecting girl brought into his chamber where he slept at night, a room handsomely decorated with hangings, the only others present with the innocent maiden being members of his retinue. Her father and mother and the others with whom she had come were on their own in the hall, enjoying too much drink. As night fell, the bishop gave a secret sign to his retinue and they went off, leaving their master and Christina, that is to say, the wolf and the lamb, together under the same roof. For shame! The shameless bishop indecently seized the maiden by one of the sleeves of her tunic, and with the mouth which he used to consecrate the holy sacrament he urged her to commit a wicked deed. What was the poor girl to do in such straits? [4]

The poor girl might well have followed the propitious example of her aunt Alveva, who had been Ranulf’s concubine. Alternatively, she might have prudently left the bishop’s bedroom before she found herself alone with him late at night. Such thoughts are now regarded as morally offensive. Anyone who thinks such thoughts, or even worse, expresses them, faces harsh condemnation and punishment.

Ranulf then attempted to rape Christina, according to orthodox scholarship. Poor Christina, alone with the bishop in his bedroom late at night, suddenly was propositioned by him:

Should she call her parents? They had already gone to bed. To consent was out of the question, but she did not dare to resist him openly for had she done so she would certainly have been overcome by force. [5]

Anyone who wonders why she didn’t just walk out of the room is a rape apologist. Careful study of romantic conventions provides a guide to prudent action in the bedroom of a cunning, worldly bishop:

Hear, then, how prudently she acted. She glanced back at the door, and saw that though it was closed it was not bolted. So she said, “Allow me to fasten the bolt, for even if we do not fear God at least we ought to fear men, lest they should catch us in this act.” He demanded an oath from her that she would not  deceive him but that she would do as she said and bolt the door. And she made the oath to him. And so, being released, she darted out of the room, bolted the door firmly from the outside, and hurried quickly home.

For good triumphing over evil, a false oath and bolting the door from the outside makes a much better story than simply walking out. Ranulf had deceived a whole army of men to collect a levy from them. He had also managed to escape from imprisonment in the tower of London.[6] Nonetheless, Christina fooled Ranulf with a false oath.

Stopping by again on the return leg of his journey, Ranulf offered Christina “silken garments and precious trinkets of all kinds.” She looked on those goods with utter contempt. That’s impressive, yet why was Ranulf seeking Christina’s favor? Surely if a medieval man in his position had wanted a beautiful concubine, he could have gotten one other than Christina with little effort and without being charged with rape in modern literary scholarship.[7] In the Life of Christina of Markyate, Ranulf Flambard is a fool.

Displaying the psychology of men who lack confidence with women, Ranulf responded with an act of “revenge” for Christina’s rejection, rather than with lack of concern. Ranulf urged the young nobleman Burthred and Christina’s parents to seek marriage between Burthred and Christina. Christina rejected that proposition. She insisted that she wanted to remain a virgin. In contrast to currently prevailing mis-education, a daughter was not merely her father’s property, to be given to any man he chose.[8] Burthred and Christina’s parents had to convince Christina to consent to marriage:

They gave her presents and made lavish promises. She refused. They cajoled her. They threatened her. She would not yield. Eventually they coaxed a young woman by the name of Melisen, one of her peers and a close friend, into whispering incessant blandishments in her ears, so that by her insistent chatter she would arouse a desire in the heart of her listener for the dignity and status of matrimony. … she was quite unable to extort one word of consent, even though she spent a whole year trying out stratagems of this kind. But sometime later, on a day when they had gathered together at church, everyone quite out of the blue accosted the girl. What more is there to say? I do not know how, all I do know is that with God’s consent Christina gave in to this chorus of haranguing voices. And in the same hour Burthred was betrothed to her. [9]

Burthred, seeking to provide better materially for his wife Christina, built a new, bigger home near the home of Christina’s parents. Ranulf’s vengeful marital act toward Christina is one that many women undoubtedly would have welcomed. Perhaps that explains Christina “giving in” and consenting to marriage.

As many men now sadly understand, a woman consenting to marriage doesn’t mean her consenting to have sex. Although Christina and Burthred as betrothed persons could licitly have sex, Christina publicly expressed her refusal “to be defiled by submitting herself to the carnal embraces of a man.” Christina’s parents diligently sought to stimulate in Christina desire to have sex with her husband. They flattered her and taunted her, gave her presents, and made promises to her. They isolated her from pious persons and surrounded her with “people given to jesting, boasting, and world amusements.” They insisted that she go partying:

they took her against her will to banquets, where an excellent variety of dishes was served with various kinds of drink, where the alluring melodies of singers were accompanied by the sounds of the zither and the harp, so that by listening to them her strength of mind might be sapped and in this way she might finally be brought to take pleasure in the world.

Christina’s loving parents even arranged for her to serve wine while dressed alluringly as the cup-bearer at the Gild merchant festival. Nonetheless, Christina retained her determination to remain a virgin even after she had consented to marriage. Burthred thus faced many more years of sexless marriage than Margery Kempe’s husband did.

After failing to arouse sexual desire in Christina, her parents tried a more forceful approach. They arranged to let Burthred into Christina’s bedroom secretly at night. They hoped that Burthred would find Christina sleeping and would “suddenly violate her.” That’s not how a normal man enjoys having sex, especially for the first time with his wife. In any case, the conspiracy failed. Entering Christina’s bedroom secretly at night, Burthred found Christina dressed and awake. She welcomed him “joyfully as if he had been her brother”:

She sat on the bed with him and strongly encouraged him to live chastely. … {She told him} “Do not feel shame that I have spurned you. So that your friends will not taunt you with having being rejected by me, I will go to your house and we will live there for a while ostensibly as husband and wife but in reality living chastely in the sight of the Lord. But first, let us join hands in agreement that neither meanwhile will touch the other unchastely, neither will one look upon the other except with a pure and angelic gaze, promising God that after three or four years, we will receive the religious habit and offer ourselves … to whichever monastery providence chooses.” [10]

After enduring talk of this sort for the greater part of the night, Burthred left, probably stunned and dazed. Surely he had a much different vision of his marriage to Christina when he build a big, new house for her near her parents’ house. He must have realized how stupid he was to get married to Christina.

Christina’s family and Burthred’s friends taunted Burthred with his failure to have sex with his wife. They perceived the problem to be his lack of manliness:

When those that had got him into the room {Christina’s bedroom} heard what had happened, they joined together in calling him a spineless and useless fellow. With many reproaches they goaded him on again, and on another night thrust him forcefully into the bridal chamber, warning him neither to be misled by Christina’s deceitful tricks and naive words nor to let her unman him. He was to get his way either by force or entreaty, and if neither of these sufficed, he was to know that they were standing by to help him. He must just remember to act the man. [11]

Not acting like a man tends to dry up heterosexual women’s sexual desire. Burthred apparently lacked advantage in both physical force and entreaty in seeking sex with his wife Christina. His friends “standing by to help him” have sex with his wife suggests pathos, brutality, and comedy.

Burthred’s second secret entrance into his wife’s bedroom combined romance, horror, and comedy. Sensing that Burthred was coming into her bedroom, Christina jumped out of bed and hung on a nail, hidden between the wall and the curtain. That strongly protruding nail provides a counterpoint to questions about Burthred’s masculinity. Soon Burthred approached his wife’s bed:

Not finding what he had hoped, he gave the signal to those waiting by the door. They immediately burst into the room, and with lights in their hands ran here and there looking for her, all the more eagerly since they were sure she had been in the room when he entered it and that she could not escape without them seeing her. What, I ask you, do you suppose were her feelings at that moment? How she trembled in fear for her life as they noisily sought her! Was she not faint with fear? She imagined herself already dragged out in their midst with them all surrounding her, leering at her, threatening her, abandoned to the violation of her seducer. [12]

Presenting a woman in danger and prompting sympathy for her is a core strategy in communication that seeks attention, e.g. contemporary mass media. The Life of Christina of Markyate adds a touching, dramatic gesture:

Finally, one of them by chance touched and held her foot as she hung there, but since the curtain between them deadened his sense of touch, he let it go, not knowing what it was.

That would make a winning scene in a Hollywood blockbuster movie about a strong, independent woman who prevails over her husband seeking to rape her. Events the next day provide another propitious Hollywood movie scene:

as he came in one door she fled through another. In front of her was a kind of fence which, because of its height and the sharp spikes on top of it, was calculated to prevent anyone from climbing over it. Behind her, almost on her heels, was the young man, who at any moment might catch hold of her. With amazing ease she jumped over the fence, and looking back in safety from the other side she saw her pursuer standing there unable to get across. [13]

Christina then identified her husband with “a devil of horrible appearance, with blackened teeth.” Men and women who internalize such mass-media representations of men become morally broken.

Archbishop Thurstan of York, who was a close friend of the Bishop of Durham Ranulf Flambard, intervened to help Christina after she fled from her home and her marriage. Thurstan met privately with Christina for a long time. That was foolish in light of the subsequent literary history of Ranulf being accused of attempting to rape Christina. But Thurstan probably couldn’t have imagined such a development. He served Christina well. He promised to annul her marriage, confirm her vow of virginity, and permit her husband, by apostolic indult, to marry another woman. He fulfilled his promises.[14]

With Christina desperately seeking a safe place to live, Thurstan also arranged for her to live with a cleric who was a close friend of his. That was foolish:

certainly at the beginning they had no feelings for each other, except chaste and spiritual affection. But the devil, the enemy of chastity, could not for long bear this situation. And he took advantage of their close companionship and feeling of security to infiltrate himself stealthily and with guile, then later on, alas, to assault them more openly. Loosing fiery darts, he pressed his attacks so vigorously that he completely overcame the man’s resistance. But the devil could not wrest consent from the maiden, even though he titillated her flesh and put ideas in her head. [15]

The man, blessed with naturally potent masculinity, suffered terribly from the carnal allure of Christina:

Sometimes the wretched man was so aroused that he came before her naked, burning with lust and quite beside himself, and behaved in such a shocking way that I cannot make it known lest by such shamefulness I pollute the wax by writing about it or the air by saying it. Sometimes falling on the ground, he implored and beseeched her to have pity upon him and to have compassion on his wretched state.

The ideology of courtly love valorizes men begging women for love and sex. Men who act like courtly lovers are dupes. Begging women for sexual pity, or pity generally, seldom works. So it was with Christina:

as he lay there she upbraided him for showing so little respect for his calling, and she dismissed his advances with harsh reproaches. And though she herself was struggling with this wretched passion, she wisely pretended that she was untouched by it.

Men are far inferior to women in guile. Moreover, because the man lacked enlightenment about seducing women, his very presence chilled Christina’s sexual desire:

Only one thing brought her respite {from her sexual passion}: the presence of her patron {the man sexually impassioned for her}. For then, her passion cooled; for in his absence she used to be so inwardly inflamed that she thought the clothes which clung to her body might catch fire! Had this happened while she was in his presence, the maiden might well have been unable to keep herself in check. [16]

The cleric unknowingly spurred Christina’s sexual desire in a way that her parents had never been able to do for her with respect to her husband. However, the cleric’s sexual self-abasement and ignorance of women’s guile saved him from sexual sin. A dream of stern admonishment from Mary Magdalen, a renowned holy harlot, ultimately cured his lust. Married men wanting sex with their wives should seek much different blessings.

After Christina became the prioress of a woman’s hermitage at Markyate, she established a paradigmatic gender relation with Abbot Geoffrey of St. Albans. Geoffrey promised to be the patron of her hermitage and provide for its material needs. She in turn provided him with moral instruction and served his spiritual needs.[17] Christina became his super-ego:

the abbot, whether near or far away, could not offend God either in word or deed without her immediately knowing it in the spirit. Nor did she make a secret of reproving him harshly in his presence whenever she knew that in his absence he had gravely sinned … Whenever Geoffrey was sorely tempted to sin, he imagined Christina to be present, for he knew that scarcely anything was hidden from her, and so he easily repelled temptation. [18]

Christina was credited with saving Geoffrey’s life and knowing what color cape he was wearing before she saw him. She also advised him about whether he should accept particular ecclesiastical travel assignments. In short, Christina was Geoffrey’s moral superior, and Geoffrey was Christina’s material provider. Christina and Geoffry, in addition to not having sex, related to each other in ways similar to that of many wives and husbands today.[19]

Men should read the Life of Christina of Markyate. That story can help men to understand their need for sexual self-confidence. It might also inspire men to reject the oppressive material-provider gender role and assert their moral equality with women.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Reviewing Ranulf Frambard’s life in detail, Southern described Ranulf as “the first outstandingly successful administrator in English history.” Southern noted:

he was a new phenomenon in English government. This son of an obscure priest in the diocese of Bayeux was the first man of ignoble birth in English history to climb from the bottom to the top of the social scale by the backstairs of the royal administration.

Southern (1970) pp. 188, 186. More generally, id. pp. 183-205. King William II is also known as William Rufus.

[2] Life of Christina of Markyate 5, from Latin trans. Talbot, Fanous & Leyser (2008) pp. 6-7. I reference the text with the Latin section numbers and the page in the English translation of id. Talbot (2002) provides the Latin text. The Anglo-Saxon form of Alveva’s name is Ælfgifu. The subsequent two quotes are from Life of Christina of Markyate 5-6, pp. 7-8.

The Life of Christina of Markyate has survived in only one manuscript, British Museum MS. Cotton Tiberius E.1., f. 145r–167v.

[3] Ranulf had at least five sons and helped his family to achieve eminent offices and statuses. Southern (1970) p. 201 and Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, entry for Flambard, Ranulf (c.1060–1128).

[4] Life of Christina of Markyate 5, p. 7. Christina’s baptismal name was Theodora. She adopted the name Christina to indicate her vow of virginal fidelity to Christ. I refer to her as Christina throughout for clarity.

[5] Christina’s consideration of consent indicates that Ranulf sought her consent. With respect to the relational discourse of sexual consent, see my post on Calisto and Melibea.

[6] See entry for Ranulf in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Earlier in his life, Ranulf had shrewdly secured by himself his freedom from kidnappers. Southern (1970) p. 187.

[7] A papal legate reportedly visited Ranulf in 1125 to deliver a disciplinary measure for his incontinence. Ranulf arranged for a women to spend the night with the legate. Ranulf and his associates then burst into the legate’s room when he was in bed with the woman. The legate quickly left Durham without further annoying Ranulf. Southern (1970) p. 203. If Ranulf could arrange an appealing woman for a papal legate, surely he could do so for himself.

Moore notes scholarly references to Ranulf’s bedroom incident with Christina as “attempted rape.” Moore convincingly argues that such a phrase “is a stronger description than the text will support.” Moore (2005) p. 139. Jaeger (2005) p. 101 perceives in the Life of Christina of Markyate an instance of rape. Leading newspaper reporting on rape provides important context for that perception.

Brooke suggests that some stories within the Life of Christina of Markyate have “a quality of fantasy about them.” He asserts that Alveva may actually have been a concubine to Ranulf “even if the account of his efforts to seduce Christina has an element of fantasy in it.” Brooke (1989) p. 145. It’s reasonable to think that the account of Christina’s interaction with Ranulf has even more than one element of fantasy in it.

Patrolling against perceiving even one element of fantasy in that fantastic story, Stanton declares, “Yet more troubling is Brooke’s use of the term ‘fantasy,’ which he repeats in the following paragraph.” Stanton evokes the horror of Brooke implying a “rape fantasy” and declares that the text “leaves no doubt about the threat of rape.” Stanton (2002) pp. 262-2. Such remarks provide context for dominant mendacity in public discourse about rape and domestic violence.

[8] Among social scientists, Margo Wilson and Martin Daly have been highly successful in propagating the view that women, until the recent glorious age, have been universally the property of men. See notes [3] and [4] in my post on primatology and vegetarianism.

[9] Life of Christina of Markyate 8, p. 9. The subsequent two quotes are from id. pp. 9-10. Burthred is the Latin form of the Anglo-Saxon name Beorhtred. I have replaced Anglo-Saxon names with the more common Latin names for consistency and ease of identification.

Ranulf’s conception of revenge was for a man to auferret Christine florem pudicicie (remove from Christina the flower of modesty / deflower Christina). That language reflects deeply rooted social hostility to male sexuality.

With respect to Christina’s betrothal, the Latin text used the term desponsavit:

Desponsavit is often translated ‘betrothed’, but it was the common, indeed the normal, word for the exchange of promises which formed the core of matrimonial consent. It is clear that what is described here is a marriage ‘at church door’.

Brooke (1989) p. 146. For convenience of reference, I use the terms wife and husband in referring to Christina and Burthred in relation to each other prior to when their marriage was annulled.

[10] Life of Christina of Markyate 10, pp. 11-2. Christina taught Buthred about saints living sexless marriages:

She recounted to him the example of the saints, narrating to him in detail the story of St Cecilia and her husband Valerian

Id. Saint Cecilia and Saint Valerian were crowned with both sexless marriage and martyrdom.

[11] Id. The underlying Latin for “spineless and useless fellow” is ignavum ac nullius usus. These terms hint of male erectile failure.

[12] Life of Christina of Markyate 11, pp. 12-3. The subsequent quote is from id.

[13] Life of Christina of Markyate 12, p. 13. On the godly jumping over walls with ease, Psalm 18:29.

[14] On Thurstan’s friendship with Ranulf, see the entry for Ranulf in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Christina was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Lincoln, not under that of Thurston, the Archbishop of York. Thurstan’s particular concern for Christina is further expressed later:

The archbishop of York {Thurston} in particular tried very hard to honour her {Christina} by making her superior over the virgins whom he had gathered together under his name at York, or as an alternative to send her over the sea to Marcigny or at least to Fontevrault. But she preferred our monastery {St. Albans}

Life of Christina of Markyate 50, p. 52.

[15] Life of Christina of Markyate 43, p. 46. In ancient Greco-Roman literature, Cupid rather than Satan would shoot passion-inducing fiery darts. The subsequent two quotes are from id.

[16] Life of Christina of Markyate 44, p. 47. Regarding her virginity and her desire to be a consecrated virgin, the text observes:

she remembered the forcefulness of the thoughts and stings of the flesh with which she had been troubled and even though she was not aware that she had fallen either in deed or desire, she did not dare assert that she had escaped unscathed from such great storms.

Life 51, p. 53. The earlier text clearly indicates that she had fallen “in desire.”

[17] The hermit Roger of Markyate was more subtly depicted as morally inferior to Christina. Roger chastised himself severely for initially not recognizing Christina’s worthiness to be a hermit even though she was fleeing from a marriage. In her living arrangements with him, she suffered greater bodily hardships. That signals superiority among hermits.

The election of Christina as Roger’s successor at the Markyate hermitage also indicates Roger’s moral inferiority to Christina. Roger considered making Christina his successor. He discussed the matter with her. She neither refused nor consented. Instead, she entrusted the matter to the authority of the Lord and the Virgin Mary. The Queen of Heaven (the Virgin Mary) subsequently gave Roger’s hermitage to Christina at her explicit request. Christina’s actions indicate her belief in Roger’s lack of authority to choose a successor for his hermitage. Christina’s actions also underscore Roger’s initial failure to recognize her virtue. Life of Christina of Markyate 38-42, pp. 38-46.

Jaeger perceives the Life of Christina of Markyate to be “structured as a series of relationships with men, which rise from rape and seduction to a deep spiritual love.” Jaeger (2005) p. 101. Jaeger highlights the romantic convention (exchange of glances) in the development of Christina and Roger’s relationship and ignores the construction of Roger’s spiritual inferiority to Christina. Id. p. 102. Jaeger views the cleric with strong, independent sexuality to be an aberration in his scheme of man’s moral progression under woman’s instruction. Id. p. 112. While both Roger and Geoffrey are represented as morally inferior to Christina, Roger’s moral inferiority to Geoffrey is far from clear.

[18] Life of Christina of Markyate 58-9, p. 60. Before taking a trip to Rome, Geoffrey requested from Christina two undergarments (interulas) to “mitigate the hardship” of the journey. Jaeger (2005), pp. 109-10, perceptively interprets the undergarments as contact relics of Christina.

[19] In addition to viewing men’s abasement in courtly love as “ennobling,” Jaeger celebrates Christina’s relationship with Geoffrey:

The structuring idea of Christina’s friendship with Geoffrey is that the love reaches ever higher stages, consistent with the abbot’s rise in spirituality through Christina’s efforts to improve him. It is rich in reverberations with courtly love themes. The reward of love is given in accordance with the man’s improvement. The woman becomes the moral force which ‘educates’ him and assures him of God’s favour.

Jaeger (2005) p. 111. This view reflects unlimited public latitude for man-degrading gender-equality double-talk.

[image] Christina of Markyate petitioning Jesus on behalf of monks of St. Albans. The illuminated initial letter begins Psalm 105 in the St. Albans Psalter (page 285). Above the letter in Latin is the petition “Spare your monks I beseech you, o merciful kindness of Jesus.” Here’s an excellent online explication and presentation of the St. Albans Psalter. That site regrettably and shamefully claims copyright on reproduction of images from the St. Albans Psalter. The image above is thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Brooke, Christopher N.L. 1989. The medieval idea of marriage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fanous, Samuel, and Henrietta Leyser, eds. 2005. Christina of Markyate: a twelfth-century holy woman. London: Routledge.

Jaeger, C. Stephen. 2005. “The loves of Christina of Markyate.” Ch. 6 (pp. 99-115) in Fanous & Leyser (2005).

Moore, R. I. 2005. “Ranulf Flambard and Christina of Markyate.” Ch. 8 (pp. 138-42) in Fanous & Leyser (2005).

Southern, R. W. 1970. Medieval humanism. New York: Harper & Row.

Stanton, Robert. 2002. “Marriage, Socialization, and Domestic Violence in the Life of Christina of Markyate.” Ch. 11 (pp. 242-71) in Salisbury, Eve, Georgiana Donavin, and Merrall Llewelyn Price, eds. Domestic violence in medieval texts. Gainesville: University Press of Florida

Talbot, C. H. 2002. The life of Christina of Markyate: a twelfth century recluse. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Talbot, C.H. trans, Samuel Fanous and Henrietta Leyser, rev. and ed. 2008. The life of Christina of Markyate. Oxford: Oxford University Press.