Previously: Part I, Part II, and Part III.
Seneca III informs us that an extension of this series is in the works, and further installments are to be expected in the future.
Part IV: Sexuality
by Seneca III
Sexuality comes in many guises, most of which will not surface in this essay in the interests of good taste (well, reasonably good taste!) and simple decency — in particular not those physically cruel, humiliating and positively inhumane practises to which some people subscribe. Such deviations distress me and it has already been difficult enough to write this essay in a form and manner just about suitable for public consumption without venturing into any of the darker corners of the human psyche.
Nevertheless I would recommended that anyone prone to prudishness or with a predilection to take offence at any but the most obscure references to the subject at hand should sign off now. Truly, I have no wish to distress you either.
“…It has long been held that chastity belts were in common usage amongst the gentry of the early Middle Ages. When the Knight or Lord went off to Outremer to besiege a town or two, and hack at a few necks in the process, the Lady remaining behind was locked into a certain type of activity-restricting iron girdle for reasons which, whilst rather obscure in this more enlightened age, may have had something to do with fidelity. Or whatever.
“Furthermore it is rumoured that skilled Lockpicks were in high demand during this milieu and made a quite a reasonable living in comparison with that of their fellow artisans, the Locksmiths. But why not? This, as you may be able to imagine, was not a risk-free profession on the basis that if found in ‘flagrante delicto’ by a somewhat tired and sandblasted Crusader his broadsword was likely to make the malfeasant’s eyes seriously water. Or so it is said. No first-hand reports have ever surfaced!”
…O.K., O.K., I know, the foregoing is complete and utter rubbish, both the legend itself and my vicarious meanderings on the subject, but I have stuck my neck out in order to make two points:
First, human sexuality is a subject that needs to be approached with at least a modicum of humour, otherwise it has a tendency to get serious, and when it does get serious it can turn quite nasty.
Secondly, most myths and legends, and even fairy tales and nursery rhymes, carry an underlying message. In their origins can often be found an idea, a story or even an example of wishful thinking that tells the reader or listener far more about the state of mind of the originator(s) and his or her situation than does the actual message. These mini-histories tend to be palimpsestic inasmuch as what is buried within can often be far more interesting and informative than that which is apparent on the surface.
In 1400 Konrad Kyeser von Eichstätt published ‘Bellifortis’, a book detailing the military technology of the time. Also in the book is a drawing captioned (in Latin) ‘These are hard iron britches of Florentine women which are closed at the front’, but he offers no supporting evidence or corroborating documents. This, for what it is worth, is the first known written account of chastity belts in the West, and succeeds the Crusades by a couple of centuries.
In 1889 one Alfred Pachinger, a German collector of antiquities, claimed to have found a chastity belt on the skeleton of a young woman who had been buried in Lintz, Austria, in the 16th century. The belt itself has since been ‘lost’ and researchers looking through the quite detailed Lintz town records have been unable to find any record of the woman’s burial. (The Teutonic mind-set does appear to surface quite frequently in this area of interest, doesn’t it? Now, why would that be I wonder?)
Modern metallurgical analysis has over the years brought into question the provenance (date and origin) of chastity belts displayed in the Musée de Cluny, the Germanisches Nationalmuseum and the British Museum and they have all subsequently either been removed from the Renaissance collections or clearly and correctly dated to their place in the 18th and 19th centuries. No early medieval examples have ever been located or displayed.
All in all, even this limited amount of evidence would suggest that the idea of chastity belts is a creation of a more modern era, commencing most likely during the early Renaissance and on through to the period of Enlightenment, particularly from about the 1750s onwards, and reflects on one face the historical romanticism inherent in much of the art and literature of the time and, later, on the other face, the prurience of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.