The Interrogation of of a Male Transvestite Prostitute in Fourteenth Century London
David Lorenzo Boyd and Ruth Mazo Karras
The GLQ Archive: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies, Vol. 1, pp. 459-465
Although legal records provide much valuable information on the practice of “sodomy” in late medieval Italy, such evidence is remarkably scant for other parts of Europe (Rocke 11, 19; Ruggiero 109-145). The document presented here stands practically alone for medieval England as a description of same-sex intercourse and male transvestism. ’It thus provides important information toward an assessment of how medieval English society viewed such behavior. Medieval ideas about what modern people call “sexuality” cannot be elucidated just by analyzing the writings of cancmists and theologians,’ but must also be sought from documents of practice.
The document (the first case on membrane 2 of Plea and Memoranda Roll A34, Corporation of London Records Office) describes the testimony of John Rykener, “calling himself Eleanor,”who was apprehended in women’s clothing having sex with another man in a London street one night in December 1394. Rykener described his initiation into transvestism and prostitution. He claimed that he had worlced as a prostitute in London, having been initiated by women who taught him to cross-dress. He then worked in Oxford as an embroideress, having sex with several students, and in Burford as a tapster, again also practicing prostitution. His partners included priests, Franciscans, and Carmelites. Ha also reported having sex with many women, including nuns, but not apparently for money.