Medieval LGBT+ Literature

LGBT+ history did not begin in 1850 with a magic glitter explosion. The sequins were always there if you knew where to look! Most of the literature on this list was originally written in Middle English, Old & Middle French, Old Occitan, et cetera. You can find translations by searching for the titles and authors on Amazon … or, if you’re really adventurous, learn the languages!

  • Christine de Pizan (ca. 1364–1430?), Le livre de la mutacion de Fortune (1403)
    • Christine de Pizan was an Italian-French writer who identified as a woman in works such as The City of Ladies (La Cité des Dames). In the Mutacion de Fortune, however, the speaker Christine recounts how “she” was transformed bodily into a man by the allegorical figure of Fortune.
  • Bieiris de Romans, trobairitz lyric (13th century)
    • A love lyric written by a woman (Bieiris, or Beatrice) to another woman (Maria) in Old Occitan.
  • Heldris of Cornwall, Le Roman de Silence (13th century), translated into Modern English by Sarah Roche-Mahdi
    • A semi-anonymous Old French verse romance (i.e. a narrative poem) in which a lord and his wife raise their anatomically-female child as a son in order to keep their vast tracts of land in the family. The child, called Silence, goes on chivalric adventures. Includes allegorical debates between Nature and Nurture. Warning: A very unhappy ending.
  • Raymond Lull (1232–1316), Libre de Amich e Amat (1283–1286)
    • A sequence of 366 stanzas (interpolated in the fifth chapter of the romance Blanquerne), ostensibly an allegory about the love between a Christian mystic and his God. The Lover and Beloved are both masculine.
  • Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179), Epistolae
    • I don’t know much about this woman mystic, but I’ve heard that some of her epistles (written in Latin) are love letters to another woman, who was also a nun.
  • Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1340s–1400), The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale in the Canterbury Tales (14th century)
    • See Carolyn Dinshaw’s classic monograph, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (1990)
  • Aucassin et Nicolette (13th century)
    • Nicolette disguises herself as a male singer-performer (in Old French, a jongleur) in order to be with her beloved Aucassin, whose own masculinity is open to question.
  • Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose (1270)
    • The allegorical figure of Warm Welcome (in Old French, Bel Accueil) is ambiguously gendered. There is also a section that fantasizes about what we would call polyamory. [EDIT: At least, the fantasy begins with something like polyamory. Unfortunately, about halfway through, the speaker adds that men didn’t have to ask for women’s consent in “the good old days.” Thanks to Chase Doyle for pointing this out!]
  • Marie de France, “Guigemar,” “Launval,” “Bisclavret,” and “Eliduc” (c. 1160)
    • In “Guigemar,” the hero seems to be asexual until one day, while out hunting, he shoots a deer that is both a doe and a stag. The deer curses him so that he won’t be cured until he falls in love with a lady. Good beginning, but if you identify as asexual it goes downhill from there.
    • Queen Guinevere propositions Sir Launval. He refuses. She accuses him of sleeping with young male squires. Not a positive reference. With whom is Launval really sleeping? An invisible lady, but he can’t tell you that …
    • “Bisclavret” — A werewolf and his liege lord.
    • Eliduc has a wife and falls in love with a maiden overseas. A brief moment of polyamory.
  • Lancelot du Lac (c. 1225) *Look for the sections on Sir Galehaut.
    • Sir Galehaut engages in what Eve Sedgwick calls “homosocial” bonding and in what Lillian Faderman might call a male version of “romantic friendship. Unhappy ending: Galehaut, convinced that Lancelot is dead, falls ill and dies for love.
  • Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Inferno 15 and Purgatorio 26
    • Inferno 15 portrays Dante’s literary mentor Brunetto Latini as homosexual. Although the setting is Hell, Dante seems to deeply admire Latini’s literary genius (while still condemning his sexual activities).
    • Purgatorio 26: At the top of Mount Purgatory, very close to Heaven, both homosexual and heterosexual men and women are purged of their sins on Earth.
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (14th century)
    • Sir Gawain promises to give Sir Bertilak anything that he should happen to receive during his stay in the castle while Bertilak is out hunting. Sir Bertilak’s wife kisses Gawain and hints that she’d like to do more. Gawain gives Bertilak a kiss when he returns. I won’t spoil the ending.
  • Alain de Lille (ca. 1128–1202/03), De planctu naturae (13th century)
    • Ostensibly a complaint spoken by the allegorical figure of Nature against “unnatural” sins. What could be the true nature of this text …?
  • I’m sure there’s a lot of material in the Old French fabliaux.
    • A fabliau is a raunchy story, usually about ordinary people rather than aristocrats.
  • Guillaume de Machaut, La fontaine amoureuse (1361)
    • Look for the section in which the poet and his noble patron fall asleep together and dream the same dream.
  • François Villon, Le Testament (1461)
    • In the prologue, the speaker sarcastically exclaims, of the Archbishop of Aussigny, “I’m not his servant or his bitch!” (Je suis ne son serf ne sa biche!) Obviously, this is a passing reference and not at all a positive one.

I originally compiled this list for my Tumblr blog, and I’m re-posting it here with the kind permission of the original compiler!

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