Medieval Prostitution in Secular Law: The Sex Trade in Late Medieval London, Paris, and Toulouse

Medieval Prostitution in Secular Law: The Sex Trade in Late Medieval London, Paris, and Toulouse

By Suzanne Meade

Master’s Thesis, McMaster University, 2001

Abstract:  This thesis focuses on the sex trade in three late medieval cities, London, Paris and Toulouse, in an attempt to determine why prostitution became a municipal institution in Toulouse but not in either of the other cities. The examination and comparison of medieval law codes and traditions in the various regions involved in the study appear to be a new angle for research on the topic of medieval prostitution. The main conclusion drawn from this study is that the legal traditions of the regions in question affected how the governments dealt with prostitution, and that the main difference lay in whether the main legal tradition was Roman or Germanic in nature.

This historiographic essay is an attempt to examine and analyze a variety of works on sexuality, gender, and prostitution in the Middle Ages. These studies have covered an assortment of viewpoints and hypotheses. The most compelling works are those that are open to more than one ideology and utilize a number of different sources. In some cases, authors wh0 subscribe to a strictly Marxist or feminist perspective seem to limit their conclusions to those that fit into their larger ideology. As well, those authors who utilize a single source, or limited sources, can draw conclusions that are limited in scope. One challenge for the reader is therefore to make certain that such works are read in the proper context.

This task is made even more challenging by the fact that the records for the Middle Ages are limited in scope for nearly all geographical locations. Because of this, my own research has focused on secular records, specifically the national and municipal regulations for England and France, and more particularly London, Paris and Toulouse. This decision was made when it became obvious that church court records for London before the sixteenth century were nonexistent. My conclusions can not be taken as an overall picture of either country, since the church courts were important in dealing with accusations of prostitution. In addition, each of these cities had a specific legal and social tradition and are unlikely to be representative of outlying areas. Within these constraints, I have attempted to provide as broad a study as possible by studying not only the medieval legislation from each area, but the legal traditions that shaped the attitudes and laws of the time.

Click here to read this thesis from McMaster University


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