Saturday, 31 March 2018

Stranger Than Fiction

It was mad, bad and dangerous to know Lord Byron who once asserted that "truth is always stranger than fiction"; and Mark Twain who is supposed to have added the rider "because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't." Make of that paradox what you will. Owen Oyston, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are regular subscribers to the Twain maxim!

You might have deduced already that the revelatory theme of the blog this week is...

 
...and your diligent Saturday blogger has travelled to 16th century France and back in the interests of researching today's piece. It has been an eye-watering voyage of discovery and I hope you are all sitting comfortably before I begin. The men among you may not be, by the time I've finished!

Back in that pre-enlightened age of religious orthodoxy, the Roman Catholic church made it extremely difficult for people to get divorced, as Henry VIIIth of England discovered. The Vatican allowed very few permissible grounds. Not everyone had the option of establishing a new state religion in order to sanction their uncoupling.

In France, however, which has traditionally taken a more liberal view of all things sexual, there was an interesting loophole permitted to women of sufficient means. If a husband was unable to rise to his duty (we would call it erectile dysfunction these days) then she could cite "injurious non-consummation" as grounds for divorce. Of course, she couldn't just make the claim and expect to be believed. There was a due process of law to be followed and she was required to pay for the privilege. Assuming she could do so, then - to put it bluntly -  the man had to prove that it could stand up in court!


Zut alors! Pas ce soir!
These were ecclesiastical courts and the real justification behind the loophole related to the religious belief that the primary intent of marriage was procreation, to the greater glory of God. Wanting to have a satisfying sex-life didn't enter into it.

If a man could demonstrate to the court that his reproductive equipment was in satisfactory working order, then the parties were "condemned to live as man and wife." However, one suspects that many men who might normally be as rampant as goats would flag under such circumstances as these ecclesiastical courts - also nick-named the impotence courts. The French judiciary conceded this possibility as well. Therefore any defendant who couldn't bestir his manhood to spit in the eye of his detractor (so to speak) could have recourse to what was called Trial by Congress if he so wished.

The majority of men who failed to satisfy the impotence courts chose not to follow this route. They accepted the harsh reality that their women wanted shot of them.  The ecclesiastical court would then order the marriage to be annulled. Not only did such unfortunate men have to pick up the cost of the action (and refund their ex-wives both the court charges and the wedding dowry), they also had to live out their lives with the ignominy and could never marry again. Some were simply miserable, many went mad and there are reports of men having died from embarrassment.

Any individual who elected to go to Trial by Congress would then be required, with suitable examination of both parties beforehand and afterwards, to perform the sexual act with his estranged wife in front of a panel of experts - doctors, midwives and priests - to prove beyond a doubt that he possessed the ability to procreate. Such men were either masochists or desperate to hang onto a wife for her money. If he succeeded, the marriage stood. If he failed, he effectively lost everything.

Apparently there were as many as 10,000 such trials in France in the 16th century. I am sure there were some, perhaps many, women who deserved to be free of their husbands (for a whole variety of reasons) and the mechanism of the impotence courts served them well. I am equally sure there were many men who were ill-served by the processes outlined above. Thankfully we are slightly more civilised about it all six hundred years down the line.

And so to this week's poem, which seeks to furnish some light-hearted relief at the end of what has proved a deeply disturbing journey through the mores of our (French) ancestral past. If it sounds somewhat puerile, blame it on regression caused by shock! It attempts to put a positive spin on the whole thing - as why wouldn't it?

Arise Sir Loin!
Arise, Sir Loin,
knight of the wronged wives.
Spring forth
and put these pining plaintiffs
to the sword of pleasure.
Stay strong,
bury your measure up to the hilt
in their treasure
and feel no guilt
for our country loves
your gallant stand
and in so servicing the ladies
you do serve the Lord.
Ride glorious then,
ride on at His command
till kingdom come,
that when at last
your lancing days are done,
all your good seed being sown,
you may withdraw at leisure
to hang your head with pride.


Thanks for reading. May all your Easter rabbits be generous, S ;-)
Reactions:

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Holy moly! I've heard the 'it won't stand up in court' punchline before but I never realised stuff like this lay behind it.

Anonymous said...

No way!

Anonymous said...

the eiffle tower didn't even exist in the 16th century

Steve Rowland said...

No sh!t, Anon. I think we all know that. (Eiffel, by the way.) What did you think of the blog?

Anonymous said...

Scary if true.

Matt West said...

Upstanding blog! :-D

Anonymous said...

Scarily strange, that's true! Your poem made me smile.

Anonymous said...

Very naughty ;-)

Anonymous said...

"..hang your head with pride" - very clever inversion that. Also, regarding those courts, nothing would surprise me - bonkers as you said.