Medieval attitudes towards homosexuality

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,205
T'Republic of Yorkshire
So I've been having an argument with someone about the attitudes towards same sex relationships in Medieval Europe.

My contention is that, while it was not quite as intolerant as is often made out, it was still pretty intolerant in society as a whole. My understanding is that after the 11th century, the Church began to preach against homosexuality and treat it as a sin.

His contention is that it was far more tolerant than that, and was positively celebrated in some societies (he cited Renaissance Italy as an example).

I'm far from convinced. So what's the rub, guys (and gals)?
 
  • Like
Reactions: Modor and Futurist
Oct 2015
1,195
California
So I've been having an argument with someone about the attitudes towards same sex relationships in Medieval Europe.

My contention is that, while it was not quite as intolerant as is often made out, it was still pretty intolerant in society as a whole. My understanding is that after the 11th century, the Church began to preach against homosexuality and treat it as a sin.

His contention is that it was far more tolerant than that, and was positively celebrated in some societies (he cited Renaissance Italy as an example).

I'm far from convinced. So what's the rub, guys (and gals)?
I would imagine that it may have been more tolerated among the nobility/ royalty. i.e., Richard the Lionheart and Philip Augustus were at least rumored to have been lovers.

Here's a scholarly source about Medieval attitudes towards homosexuality:

Internet History Sourcebooks Project
 
Jan 2013
1,019
Toronto, Canada
Medieval Europe was far more tolerant of homosexuality than during the Renaissance. Church leaders might have preached against homosexuality, but the village priest usually did whatever he wanted.

Most people were indifferent. When people were attacked for being gay, the attackers usually had some ulterior motive, i.e. people didn't care about Edward II's sexuality until he started losing wars.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Futurist
Oct 2015
1,195
California
Here's an interesting article about how the Vikings viewed homosexuality, apparently they were like the Romans on this issue.. They found nothing "strange" or "shameful" about it, as long as the man took the "active" "manly" role, while the passive partner was viewed with derision:

Internet History Sourcebooks Project
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Futurist

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,205
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Medieval Europe was far more tolerant of homosexuality than during the Renaissance. Church leaders might have preached against homosexuality, but the village priest usually did whatever he wanted.

Most people were indifferent. When people were attacked for being gay, the attackers usually had some ulterior motive, i.e. people didn't care about Edward II's sexuality until he started losing wars.
Sources?
 
  • Like
Reactions: Futurist
Aug 2019
51
Southwest Florida
I am hard pressed to provide the source now, but I taught (sometime back; '90s) from an AP Modern European History textbook that claimed Medieval villages were akin to a modern prison culture where all adolescent boys (save for the nobility) were forced into homosexual relationships as protection from gang rape; that adolescent boys were unlikely to make it to adulthood without having some homosexual encounters.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Futurist

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,738
USA
Medieval Europe was far more tolerant of homosexuality than during the Renaissance. Church leaders might have preached against homosexuality, but the village priest usually did whatever he wanted.

Most people were indifferent. When people were attacked for being gay, the attackers usually had some ulterior motive, i.e. people didn't care about Edward II's sexuality until he started losing wars.
Weren't most of the Edward II rumors about homosexuality and his supposed nasty death only based on a few sources written long past his death, something to do with poisoning his family's reputation?
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,864
Blachernai
I am hard pressed to provide the source now, but I taught (sometime back; '90s) from an AP Modern European History textbook that claimed Medieval villages were akin to a modern prison culture where all adolescent boys (save for the nobility) were forced into homosexual relationships as protection from gang rape; that adolescent boys were unlikely to make it to adulthood without having some homosexual encounters.
Not a specialist of the western middle ages, but I did do a grad course that engaged a lot with peasant life and this is the first I've heard about that...

I wish I had the source to cite, but a few months ago a friend showed me a passage from an Arabic text (ca. 10th c.?) that explicitly referred to lesbianism. Interestingly, the author provided a pretty vivid description of how the women went about it, but seemed to be completely unaware that what they were doing might constitute sex.

I need to drop this in here before anyone sees something crazy on the internet: in Byzantium there's this thing called brother-making (adelphopoiesis). Contrary to some old and questionable scholarship, this is not homosexual marriage.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Menshevik

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,864
Blachernai
Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium:



Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World:



Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity:


It's worth noting that the Dictionary of the Middle Ages does not have an entry dedicated to homosexuality unless it's in one of the supplement volumes that I don't have.
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,205
T'Republic of Yorkshire
I am hard pressed to provide the source now, but I taught (sometime back; '90s) from an AP Modern European History textbook that claimed Medieval villages were akin to a modern prison culture where all adolescent boys (save for the nobility) were forced into homosexual relationships as protection from gang rape; that adolescent boys were unlikely to make it to adulthood without having some homosexual encounters.
Sounds like a very bizarre claim, to be honest. I would need to see the sources that the textbook is drawing from.