Book Review: “Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England” by Kathryn Warner

cover260838-medium (1)When we think about the more intimate moments in the medieval period of European history, a few misconceptions and myths come to mind, thanks to historical fiction and medieval movies. The idea that girls as young as twelve were married off to much older men was the norm, and there were such things as chastity belts. Everyone was filthy and smelled awful, so they only married in the spring when they would take their annual baths. And the brilliant idea that the wealthiest lords of the village were able to have their way with the bride on her wedding day. The latest book by Kathryn Warner, “Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England,” aims to eliminate these myths to reveal the truth of the intimate lives of those who lived during the medieval period.

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed the previous book in Pen and Sword’s Sex and Sexuality series on Tudor England by Carol McGrath, so when I heard that Kathryn Warner was writing the next book on Medieval England, I jumped at the chance to read it.

Warner begins this book by exploring the cleanliness of those from the medieval period and how they dressed. Cleanliness was vital in all aspects of life; the people took baths more than once a year. She then tackles the marriage myths, exploring everything from young marriages and marriages year-round to the moments when relationships did not work out well and even abductions and forced marriages. We also encounter stories of domestic violence, the rituals of birth and baptism, prostitution, adultery, illegitimacy, and sexuality. These tales also include their methods for healthy sex, how they dealt with abortions, and how same-sex relations were viewed at every level of society.

Warner examines literature, historical documents, and archeological clues to help her audience better understand the past. What Warner does brilliantly is the fact that she incorporates stories from every rank of society, from monarchs to peasants between 1250 and 1450, to tell a sweeping tale of sex and sexuality in medieval England. I found this book extremely enlightening and a fantastic resource for understanding the medieval period. It illuminates the shady areas of the past to dispel myths that have been circulating for a while now.

Warner has yet again combined her meticulous research with well-written prose to give her audience an informative read for medievalists and medieval history nerds alike. If you want to learn more about how medieval England viewed the more intimate moments in life, I recommend you read “Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England” by Kathryn Warner.

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