By Tom Clegg
Medieval History Magazine, Issue 5 (2004)
Introduction: The history of prostitution is the history of women on the very edge of society. It is the history of a marginal world that was for most dominated by poverty, violence, deprivation and crime. A squalid world within a society whose laws were created and enforced by men who in general considered women to be a subordinate spieces, inferior, yet threatening, who easily overstepped the boundaries of reason. A society that had seen the church, the guardian of morality, through gradual secularisation, decay into a ‘Great Whore arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with precious stones and pearls.’ A society whose cultural foundations were built on a firm tradition of misogyny; one that perceived women as the original cause of all evil, whose independent sexuality was the sexuality was the sexuality of the whore that lurked behind even the most virginal of female facades.
The medieval prostitute, as has always been the case, was demanded and desired by the same men who abhorred and persecuted her, and her history has also been coloured by the attitudes of the men who recorded it in court records, ordinances, canon law, surveys and chronicles.