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Braveheart: The "Inning" of Piers Gaveston

(by Paul Halsall, 3/26/96)


Pierre Chaplais, Pierre Gaveston: Edward II's Adoptive Brother, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994)

Alerted by a review in February 1996's American Historical Review, I have just read this truly amazing book.

Chaplais attempts an inning [the obverse of "outing"] of Edward II and Piers Gaveston. His "thesis" is that Gaveston and Edward II were "adoptive brothers" - like "David and Jonathan" and "Achilles and Patroclus". Despite the apparent unanimity of chroniclers in stating that Edward II "loved Gaveston 'immoderately'": the naming of Edward II as a "sodomite" by others: and the death of Edward by having a red hot poker inserted in his rectum (an incident to which Chaplais can only refer to in the most oblique terms), Chaplais is determined to argue that the two were not homosexual lovers.

He cannot cite any actual evidence that the two were adoptive brothers.

One of his arguments is that Edward had four children - with the possibility of Edward being "bisexual" simply being dismissed in a footnote.

It is little wonder then that J.S. Hamilton, the recent author of a long study of Gaveston, in his overkind AHR review, remains unconvinced of Chaplais' argument.

What I find astounding (after having searched through all the footnotes in an Oxford UP book without a bibliography) is that Chaplais apparently embarked on writing a book addressing homosexuality equipped, apart from his undoubted philological tools, only with his prejudices. While this is of course legitimate, it is less than convincing to read a book on medieval [non-?]-homosexuality which refers to no modern discussion of the topic of sexuality. (John Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality is cited for one factual note), note even Georges Duby's general accounts. When the book evinces absolutely no awareness whatsoever of considerations of medieval textuality, and is, to be frank, obtuse in refusing to see Achilles and Patroclus as longstanding homosexual types, the lack of suasion is only increased.

Chaplais does provide some interesting information - for instance that the old English for an adoptive brother was "wed brother" [does this mean they were joined in a "wed-ding", I wonder?], and Hamilton assures us that in pure diplomatics he is no ditz. But one has to wonder what is going on here.

There are relatively few sources which state explicitly that "X was a [inset appropriate word we might see as "homosexual"]. Yet by all accounts [Peter Damian, Alain de Lille, Bernardine of Siena, Venetian court records], homosexual activity was well known and reasonably widespread in locations where there were large numbers of men. [One does not have to have a dirty mind to see what Benedict was getting at in some parts of the Rule.] With a limited number of figures, the evidence is personal: among English kings, for instance, William II, Richard I, and Edward II have all been seen as homosexual with rather good, although not absolute, contemporary evidence. With Edward II the evidence is about as good as it gets. Few would claim him as a hero, but accounts of his life, character, and attitudes towards him, along with literary material such as Chaucer's discussion of the Pardoner and Dante's conversation with Brunetto Latini do allow us to interrogate, if not come to definite conclusions about varying medieval concepts of gender and sexuality.

It is sometimes said that those who engage in such discussions are blinded by "advocacy" or "presentist" concerns. But with Chaplais we see the reverse - a case where a historian as so internalised apparently late Victorian notions of appropriateness, "vileness", and "natural sexuality" that he will, as it were, bend over backwards to avoid facing a very different medieval world.

REPONSES TO, AND DISCUSSION OF, THIS ARTICLE

1.

Date: Tue, 26 Mar 1996 22:00:42 CST

Sender: Medieval History MEDIEV-L@UKANVM.BITNET

From: "bachr001@maroon.tc.umn.edu"

Are you arguing that Edward II was homosexual and not bisexual? It is my impression from reading the penitentials and the canon law that there was also a great deal of 'bestiality' going on as well during the MA. In short, it would seem that not a few people were omni-sexual. Any information about

Edward II and the sheep?

2.

Date: Wed, 27 Mar 1996 02:05:20 -0500

Sender: Medieval History MEDIEV-L@UKANVM.BITNET

From: Paul Halsall HALSALL@MURRAY.FORDHAM.EDU

Prof. Bachrach,

In fact I vacillate between a willingness to accept that modern western terms for sexuality are applicable in the past, and a more pomo [!] opinion that no-one in the past identified themselves by any particular sexuality. [Sometimes I am even willing to blame the whole "identity" problem on Rousseau.]

While there may by some minor room for doubt, I think the call on Edward II is pretty clear that he was for want of a better word "queer". And, while having one charming young man as a constant companion

may constitute nothing more than gossip, having two [Gaveston and Dispenser], seems as another married man with children, [Oscar Wilde] might have said, to go beyond mere luck.

In fact the modern literature on this sort of topic is remarkably self-reflective ( John Boswell is not typical in his assumption that "there were always homosexuals"). The whole situation in which Edward married the a woman and had four children by her, but was also universally thought of as a sodomite [although he was never called "puta" in the streets like one slightly later Spanish king] does deserve some cultural unpacking. But this is not what the book in questions does. The book takes issues of sexuality as intrinsically unproblematic, and relies on diplomatics to "exonerate" Edward II of the "charge" (sic) of homosexuality.

The entire book is an exercise in obtuse erudition, which is evidently not, as my old supervisor John Meyendorff used to opine, a sin particular to Byzantinists.

3.

Date: Wed, 27 Mar 1996 12:11:02 -0500

Sender: Gay-Lesbian Medieval Studies Discussion Group MEDGAY-L@KSUVM.BITNET

From: Baltasar Fra-Molinero bframoli@abacus.bates.edu

I agree wit Paul Halsall's review and protest about the book on Edward II and Gaveston. My concern is about OUP and its different standards for different topics. As if investigation in homosexuality need not be held to the same standards, say, as Petrarchan love poetry. Who were the in house, out house editors of the book? They should be held accountable too.

4.

Sender: Gay-Lesbian Medieval Studies Discussion Group MEDGAY-L@KSUVM.BITNET

From: "Ruth m. Karras" <rkarras@nimbus.ocis.temple.edu>

Subject: Adoptive Brothers (was: "inning" of Gaveston)

I haven't read Chaplais' book, but I did read the review Paul referred to, and it made me think immediately of the controversy over Boswell's Same-Sex Unions, where Boswell suggests that what people have taken as a ceremony of adoptive brotherhood was more like a same-sex marriage ceremony. Now Chaplais is trying to take it in the other direction!

What I wanted to comment on, however, was the terminology "wed brother." Perhaps someone who is more of a philologist than I can help here, but I'm fairly certain that in the high MA this would not have had any connotation of "wedded" as in "married." The root means "to wager or to pledge." Thus a "wedding" is a "pledging." (as in the OE text Wifmannes Beweddunge.) IN Chaucer's Shipman's Tale, when the wife tells her husband "Ye shal my joly body have to wedde" she means "as a pledge." So my guess would be that "wed brother" means something like "sworn brother" and has no erotic connotation.

Which is not to deny that Edward II and Gaveston were lovers; just a footnote.

Ruth Mazo Karras rkarras@nimbus.ocis.temple.edu

5.

Date: Wed, 27 Mar 1996 15:04:57 -0500

Sender: Gay-Lesbian Medieval Studies Discussion Group MEDGAY-L@KSUVM.BITNET

From: "Gregory Jordan (ENG)" jordan@chuma.cas.usf.edu

Just the mention of that abominable "historical epic" that won at the Oscars is disturbing!

Well, anyway - about Edward II, the real one not Mel Gibson's, I'm perfectly satisfied that the relationship between Edward and Piers was erotic, but I don't think the manner of Edward's death can be used without care as proof of his sexual orientation. We really aren't sure Edward was murdered, and the earliest sources tell us that the "poker up the ass" was the last in a series of attempts (crushing his internal organs from his stomach, etc.) to kill the king without leaving an external mark. It may seem more than coincidental that it seems to parallel mockingly and viciously his preferred sexual practice, but perhaps that's just homophobic conditioning running away with us (like the usual reading of the Sodom and Gomorrah story).

Also, the claim about adoptive brothers fits in very closely to what Boswell suggested was a formal erotic union in his Same-Sex Unions - does Chaplais take this into account?

About Old English wedbrothor - yes, from wedd = pledge (in almost all senses), and dowry; and weddian = pledge, become engaged, betroth, marry. Now I'm going to have to scan the OE Corpus to see how that gets used -I'm very curious.

As for Chaucer's Pardoner - as much as I would like to be convinced, and although I still have some suspicions, I don't believe Chaucer intended to portray the Pardoner as a man who is attracted to other men. Lee Patterson recently gave a speech in which he assured his audience that the Pardoner was a "sodomite" whose criticism was linked to usury. Well, Chaucer doesn't call the Pardoner a "sodomite," nor a "usurer" as I remember. And he distinctly comments on the Pardoner's interest in having sex with women (a joly wenche in every toun). The Pardoner is effeminate in his voice and appearance, but the connection between that and homosexuality is not transhistorical - in fact, it is sometimes especially connected with heterosexuality. Men who are too attracted to women eventually start acting like them - so the theory goes, I guess. The reference to the Pardoner as seeming ("I trowe") like a "gelding" or a "mare" are in connection with his lack of facial hair, voice, and overall effeminate behavior. If he really had no testicles, one wonders why the host threatens to cut them off ("Lat kutte hem off").

Greg Jordan

jordan@chum.cas.usf.edu