Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 16 (1999)
This paper draws on materials from my book, Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern (Duke University Press, 1999). The book has a double focus: it’s about the ways various communities in late medieval England dealt with sexual issues as they constituted themselves as groups (I have gathered materials produced by and around the heretical followers of John Wyclif, known as Lollards) and it’s about ways various sexual communities today can use relations to the past–especially to such phenomena as those groups cast out–in constituting ourselves. In this paper I maintain a similar double focus.
One Sunday evening in December, 1394, Eleanor Rykener walked the streets of Cheap Ward, a busy commercial district in London. It was no doubt cold that night, and Eleanor was no doubt bundled up. But she was still woman enough to catch the eye of John Britby, passing through the high road of Cheap; he approached her and asked her to have sex with him. Eleanor agreed, named her price, and the two withdrew to a stall in nearby Soper’s Lane to do the deed. It was then that authorities of the city of London, waiting nearby, apprehended them and put them in prison, and it was sometime thereafter, in front of the Mayor and Aldermen of London in the Guildhall, that her confession unfolded.