Prostitution in the Middle Ages

Prostitution in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, there was a lot of tergiversation around the definition of prostitution, for there were just too many canonical and secular organizations trying to define it in their own way. A chapter entitled De meretricibus, in Marseille’s thirteenth-century statutes, had an equivocal but also simple definition: ‘designated girls’. These ‘designated girls’ had more than two men visiting their houses day and night. One among the other variants of definitions for women who prostituted was ‘ women who did business trading, within the confine[s] of a brothel’.

Women who had made prostitution a means of their daily bread rarely held family ties, or had any means of protection. It was recorded on several occasions that mothers would be charged with prostituting their own daughters for extra money. Medieval civilians had stoically accepted that prostitution was a part of their life, and that it played an integral role. Just by subsisting, prostitutes were able to subvert the sexual tendencies of youth. At that time, it was very well established that when men engaged in prostitution, there was reportedly a decline in the cases of rapes. The general notion that had matured there was that if there were no prostitutes to subvert the sexual tendencies of males, then the guys would target innocent girls on the street. Hence, prostitution was also viewed as a favor to the society.

In the early decades of the middle ages, it was often misconstrued that prostitution was flourishing more in the rural regions, when compared to the urban regions. But it wasn’t long before the claim was refuted. There were some roving prostitutes in rural regions, who often made appearances in village fairs and the like, and completed a circuit of villages. But other than this, most stuck to the cities. One reason for this was due to the huge population and the institutionalisation of brothels in the cities. But one common thing that could be found both in urban and rural areas was the relation between patriarchy and prostitution.

Women who didn’t live under patriarchy were suspected of committing fornication and adultery because they were included in a group which didn’t fit any of the stereotypes in the society. Like most aspects of prostitution in the Middle Ages, secular law was also difficult to generalize due to the regional variations in attitudes towards prostitution. But globally, the aim was to promulgate prostitution as a positive aspect and restrict the laws holding the bar on prostitution. Albeit, the places of fornication ranged from private bordelaise, which were run by procuresses from their homes, to public baths established by the municipality, the only places where fornication was legal was at institutionalized and publicly funded brothels. But despite this, illegal brothels thrived on. And the people who bought sex also included the clergymen, among the aristocrats.