Sodomy, Politics, and Male-Male Desire

  • Richard E. Zeikowitz
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The Order of the Knights Templar, once a highly respected military order, came under serious attack in the early fourteenth century and in the course of a few years was disbanded.1 Historians unanimously agree that the motivation of Philip IV of France, who led the persecution of the order, was economic and political. Boswell notes that with the Templars’ “international treasury” sitting in Paris, it is not surprising that Philip “cast his eye hungrily upon the prosperous order.”2 Malcolm Barber sums up Philip’s position: “the Templars were particularly obnoxious to Philip the Fair as a wealthy, exempt and predominantly aristocratic enclave in a country whose king had made considerable progress towards subduing the pretensions of the feudal nobility”3 Barber also observes that because charges of heresy and indecent acts were at the center of the subsequent trials of the Templars, Philip was evidently tapping into the ongoing persecution of “sodomitical heretics.”4 Boswell maintains that the current harsh penalties for those found guilty of committing sodomy made it the most politically effective accusation to bring against the order. He goes on to point out that in France, “mere suspicion of the act was considered sufficient to warrant such torture that many of the knights died under it.”5 James Given asserts that “King Philip the Fair … used and abused inquisitorial procedures to destroy the Knights Templar.”6


Fourteenth Century Intimate Friend Initiation Ceremony Early Fourteenth Century Late Fourteenth Century 
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  1. 1.
    There is a good deal of literature on the Templars. For a general history of the order, see Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), and Edith Simon, The Piebald Standard: A Biography of the Knights Templars (London: Cassell, 1959). The most recent full-length study of the Knights Templar in England is Thomas M. Parker, The Knights Templar in England (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1963). For a study of the trial in England, see Clarence Perkins, “The Trial of the Knights Templars in England,” English Historical Review 24 (1909): 432–47. Henry Charles Lea offers a full account of the persecution of the Templars in Europe in A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, vol. 3 (New York: Harper, 1887), pp. 238–334. For a more recent, detailed study of the events leading up to the trials as well as facts regarding the trials themselves, primarily in France, see Malcolm Barber, The Trial of the Templars (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978). Anne Gilmour-Bryson offers an engaging discussion of the charges of sodomy leveled against the Templars in “Sodomy and the Knights Templar,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 7 (1996): 151–83. Her article is also useful for its wealth of references to primary sources of the various trials.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    James B. Given, Inquisition and Medieval Society: Power, Discipline, and Resistance in Languedoc (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), p. 165.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    John H. Arnold, Inquisition and Power: Catharism and the Confessing Subject in Medieval Languedoc (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), p. 79.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Anne Gilmour-Bryson, The Trial of the Templars in the Papal State and the Abruzzi (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1982), p. 17. For a complete list of the charges in English, see Barber, The Trial of the Templars, pp. 248–52.Google Scholar
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    “Item de osculis dixit, quod recipiens dixit ei, quod punctus ordinis erat, quod dictus receptus oscularetur recipientem in ore, et in umbilico et in fine spine dorsi” (quoted in Konrad Schottmüller, Der Untergang des Templer-Ordens, vol. 2 [Berlin: Mittler, 1887], p. 43). James Noel Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), notes that the “back or it lower part could…be used…for anus” (quoted in Gilmour-Bryson, “Sodomy and the Knights Templar,” 157 n22).Google Scholar
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    Iohannes de Villaribus: “Gonterius et Ymbricus fratres dicti ordinis… duxerunt eum ad partem camere, ubi fuit receptus et fecerunt eum spoliari et ambo unus post alium osculati sunt ipsum in ore, in umbilico et in fine spine dorsi et duxerunt ipsum ad preceptorem.” Iacobus de Castilhione: “De oculus dixit, quod recipiens osculatus fuit eum in fine spine dorsi, secundo in umbilico, tercio in ore.” Both quotations are taken from Heinrich Finke, Papsttum und Untergang des Templerordens, vol. 2 (Münster: Aschendorf, 1907), pp. 329 and 331.Google Scholar
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    “dixit quod ipse cohabitavit cum quatuor fratribus ejusdem ordinis, videlicet, cum fratre Stephano de Bosco…et cum tribus aliis fratribus jam defunctis de quorum nominibus non recolit, dicens quod quando jacebat et cognoscebat eos, ipsi cogniti ponebant os versus terram et cum pedibus et manibus sustinebant se, et ipse qui loquitur ascendebat supra ilium quern carnaliter volebat cognoscere et intromitebat virgam suam virilem per anum ipsius sic prostrati, dicens etiam quod quinquagesies et pluribus vicibus cognovit predictos” (quoted in Roger Sève and Anne-Marie Chagny-Sève, Le Procès des Templiers d’Auvergne (1309–1311) [Paris: Comité des Travaux Historiques et Scientifiques, 1986], p. 148).Google Scholar
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  31. 77.
    Knighton, Knighton’s Chronicle, ed. Martin, p. 392. Martin oddly omits “abominable” from his translation. The Oxford Latin Dictionary, ed. P. G.W. Glare (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982), defines nefandus, a, urn as “wicked, impious, heinous” when referring to persons, and “abominable” for “other things involved in wicked conduct.” I am reading nephandi here as “abominable” since Knighton is referring not merely to the men’s character but also the actions they perform on the king. Furthermore, “abominable” situates Knighton’s condemnatory label in a biblical/religious context, which is perhaps the meaning Knighton had in mind given that he was an Augustinian canon who devotes many pages to the Lollard controversy. Din-shaw notes that “the adjective ‘nephandum,’ [is] traditionally (after Saint Paul…) used for same-sex sodomy” (Getting Medieval, p. 105). On the association between the Lollards and sodomy, see Dinshaw, Getting Medieval, pp. 55–99.Google Scholar
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    Walsingham, Chronicon Angliae, ed. Thompson, p. 374. Compare the Westminster chronicler’s report of the same situation: “Rex…permisit dominum Michaelem de Poole comitem Southfolchie libertate gaudere et penes eum retinuit, et ad quemcumque locum se divertere contingebat deinceps fuit ipse cum eo” [The king…not only allowed Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, to enjoy his freedom but kept him in his own society, so that wherever circumstances took the king he was henceforward joined by the earl] (Westminster Chronicle, ed. Hector and Harvey, p. 178; trans. Hector and Harvey, p. 179). In the discussion that follows I examine how Walsingham’s language creates an eroticized picture of Richard’s relations with his favorites at this time. For the actual articles of impeachment brought against Michael de la Pole, see Knighton, Knighton’s Chronicle, ed. Martin, pp. 362–69. For an in-depth study of the affair, see J. S. Roskell, The Impeachment of Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, in 1386 in the Context of the Reign of Richard II (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984).Google Scholar
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    Thomas Favent, Historia sive narracio de modo et forma mirabilis parliamenti apud Westmonasterium, ed. M. McKisack, Camden Miscellany 14 (London: Offices of the Society, 1926), p. 3. I am reading obcecarunt as a variant spelling of occaecarunt.Google Scholar
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    I am drawing on Jonathan Dollimore, who defines “perversion” as “a concept involving: (1) an erring, straying, deviation, or being diverted from (2) a path, destiny, or objective which is (3) understood as natural or right—usually right because natural (with the natural possibly having a yet higher legitimation in divine law)”(Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault [Oxford: Clarendon, 1991], p. 104).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    John Gower, Chronicon tripertita, The Complete Works of John Gower, ed. G. C. Macaulay, vol. 4 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1902), p. 220; The Major Works of John Gower, trans. Eric W. Stockton (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1962), p. 297.Google Scholar
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    Historia, ed. Stow, p. 166; emphasis added. With the exception of the first phrase, English translation is taken from Ordelle G. Hill and Gardiner Stillwell, “A Conduct Book for Richard II,” Philological Quarterly 73 (1994): 322 [317–28].Google Scholar
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    See Annales Ricardi secundi, regis Angliae, in Johannis de Trokelowe et Henrici de Blaneforde, monachorum S. Albani, chronica et annales, ed. Henry Thomas Riley (London: Longman, 1866), pp. 252–87. An English translation of the thirty-three articles of the deposition is printed in Chris Given-Wilson, ed. and trans., Chronicles of the Revolution 1397–1400: The Reign of Richard II (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), pp. 172–84.Google Scholar
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