Pigs and Prostitutes: Streetwalking in Comparative Perspective
By Jeremy Goldberg
Young Medieval Women, eds. Katherine J Lewis, Noel James Menuge and Kim M. Phillips (Sutton Publishing, 1999)
Abstract: This chapter in the collection Young Medieval Women edited by Katherine Lewis, Noel James and Kim Phillips tries to understand the relative absence of evidence for regulation of prostitution in later medieval England and indeed north-western Europe more generally against the relative abundance of evidence for other parts of Continental Europe.
Introduction: No one shall keep pigs which go in the streets by day or night, nor shall any prostitute stay in the city.
So begins a York ordinance of 1301, made as part of a series in response to the problems created by temporary location of the royal court in the city. Concern with wandering pigs, the cause of some particularly nasty accidents as any perusal of coroners’ rolls demonstrates, was a perennial urban phenomenon; the concern was not with the keeping of pigs per se and thus the possible health hazards so caused, but the failure of some owners to keep their animals suitably constrained.
The civic concern to keep prostitutes outside the city is no more remarkable since this appears to have been common policy in many English towns throughout the later Middle Ages. The York injunction was indeed specifically reiterated in 1482. The perdurance of this policy through the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries contrasts strikingly with the policy of institutionalization of prostitution within civi brothels found in some regions of Continental Europe. It is the purpose of this present chapter to explore this English pattern in more depth and to locate it within a broader cultural framework by comparison with these other regions of Europe.
In 1301 the city authorities of York must have been concerned to forestall an influx of ‘misgoverned’ women in the wake of the royal court. What is remarkable about this ordinance is that two very different concerns are treated in the same paragraph, even the same sentence. They could just as well have constituted separate ordinances. Whereas to the modern reader there is little obvious connection between pigs and prostitutes, there evidently was in the minds of the medieval framers of this ordinance. The juxtaposition is not a matter of convenience, not least because the sanctions imposed for breach of this ordinance are very different to whether it is a pig or a woman that is at fault. Rather the juxtaposition is ideological.