The medieval humoral system of medicine suggested that it was possible to die from having too much - or too little - sex, while the Roman Catholic Church taught that virginity was the ideal state. Holy men and women committed themselves to lifelong abstinence in the name of religion. Everyone was forced to conform to restrictive rules about who they could have sex with, in what way, how often and even when, and could be harshly punished for getting it wrong.
Other experiences are more familiar. Like us, medieval people faced challenges in finding a suitable partner and trying to get pregnant (or trying not to). They also struggled with many of the same social issues, such as whether prostitution should be legalised. Above all, they shared our fondness for dirty jokes and erotic images.
By exploring their sex lives, Katherine Harvey, historian and author of The Fires of Lust: Sex in the Middle Ages, brings ordinary medieval people to life, revealing details of their most personal thoughts and experiences, and providing us with an important and intimate connection to the past.
You can buy copies of many of our speakers’ books from Fox Lane Books, a local independent bookseller and Festival partner. In some cases, author signed bookplates are available too.
About the speaker
Katherine Harvey is an honorary research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. She holds a PhD in medieval history from King’s College London and has published widely on the Middle Ages.