Category Archives: Sexuality

1501: Pope Alexander VI likes to watch

alexander vi
Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI

Pope Alexander VI (ruled 1492-1503) was one of the worst-behaved pontiffs in the long history of the Catholic Church.

Alexander was born Rodgrio Borgia in 1431, a member of the powerful Valencian clan that dominated Italian politics during the Renaissance. When his uncle Alfons became Pope Callixtus III in 1455, Borgia entered the church and became a cardinal, despite having a law degree and no clerical or theological training.

Borgia continued to benefit from a string of nepotistic appointments handed down by his powerful uncle. Borgia himself continued this favouritism after he bribed his way to the papacy in 1492 – one of his first moves was to make his 17-year-old son, Cesare, an archbishop.

Alexander VI also had a reputation for sexual excess: he had several mistresses and fathered at least a dozen children, including the notorious Lucretia Borgia. After taking up residence in the Vatican, the new pope – by now in his early 60s and overweight – celebrated by taking a teenaged lover, the noted beauty Giulia Farnese.

According to one of his ceremonial staff, the noted chronicler Johann Burchard, the Vatican occasionally hosted parties that fell away into unrestrained orgies:

“On the last day of October, [the pope’s son] Cesare Borgia arranged a banquet in his chambers in the Vatican with 50 honest prostitutes, who danced after the dinner with those present, at first in their garments, then naked. After dinner, the candelabra were taken from the tables and placed on the floor and chestnuts were strewn around, which the naked prostitutes picked up, creeping on hands and knees between the chandeliers, while the Pope, Cesare and [the pope’s daughter] Lucretia Borgia looked on. Finally prizes were announced for those who could perform the act [of sexual intercourse] most often with the courtesans, such as tunics of silk, shoes, barrets and other things.”

Just a few days later, the pope and his daughter Lucretia entertained themselves by watching papal stallions mate with a farmer’s mares:

“On Monday the 11th of November, a peasant leading two mares laden with wood entered the city. When they arrived in the place of St. Peter the Pope’s men ran towards them, cut the saddle bands and ropes, threw down the wood and led the mares to a small place inside the palace… There four stallions, freed from reins and bridles, were sent from the palace. They ran after the mares and with a great struggle and noise, fighting with tooth and hoof, jumped upon the mares and mated with them, tearing and hurting them severely. The Pope stood together with Lucretia under a window… both looked down at what was going on there with loud laughter and much pleasure.”

Source: Chronicles of Johann Burchard, Ceremoniere to Pope Alexander VI, 1501. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1776: Hester Thrale tends her husband’s swollen testicle

Hester Salusbury Thrale (1741-1821) was a Welsh-born writer, best known for her friendship and correspondence with Dr Samuel Johnson. In 1763, Hester married wealthy brewer and future MP Henry Thrale. The union was not popular with Hester’s aristocratic family, who considered Thrale too middle-class and flighty.

Shortly before the wedding Hester’s father told her:

“If you marry that scoundrel he will catch the pox and, for your amusement, set you to make his poultices.”

This prediction seemed to come true in 1776, when Hester wrote:

“Mr Thrale told me he had an ailment and showed me a testicle swelled to an immense size… I now began to understand where I was and to perceive that my poor father’s prophecy was verified… I am preparing poultices as he said and fomenting this elegant ailment every night and morning for an hour together on my knees…”

Thrale denied any possibility that he had syphilis or a similar disease, claiming that his testicular swelling started after an accident “jumping from the chaise”. A relieved Hester later wrote that:

“He has, I am pretty sure, not given it [to] me, and I am now pregnant and my bring a healthy boy, who knows?”

Despite a relatively loveless marriage, Hester Thrale delivered her husband 12 babies in just over 13 years. Only four of these children lived beyond the age of 10. Hester Thrale was widowed when her husband died, aged 52, in 1782. Hester soon took up with and later married her daughter’s Italian music teacher.

Source: Journal of Hester Thrale, July 23rd 1776. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1872: Headmaster uses barbed wire to thwart sexual hijinks

Edward White Benson (1829-96) was an Anglican clergyman who for the last 16 years of his life served as Archbishop of Canterbury. He started his career as a schoolmaster at Rugby before becoming the foundation headmaster of Wellington College, Berkshire, in 1859.

As an educator, Benson was a disciplinarian especially tough on sexual misconduct or antics. Students caught masturbating, dallying with other boys or girls from outside the school were punished severely. Several students were expelled, including one senior who fornicated with a teenaged servant over the Christmas holidays and returned to Wellington with a sexually transmitted disease.

Benson also moved to prevent unhealthy relationships by separating older students from much younger ones. Mixed-aged dormitories were dissolved and restrictions were imposed on ‘fagging’. Concerned that students were breaching these rules by climbing over dormitory dividers after lights out, Benson personally strung two tiers of barbed wire along the tops of each cubicle.

Rudyard Kipling’s son John attended Wellington College in the years before World War I. In 1912 Kipling wrote to John warning him to steer clear of:

“..any chap who is even suspected of beastliness… Give them the widest of berths. Whatever their merits may be in the athletic line, they are at heart only sweeps and scum, and all friendship with them ends in sorrow and disgrace. More on this subject when we meet.”

Source: D. Newsome, A History of Wellington College, 1959; Rudyard Kipling letter to John Kipling, May 1st 1912. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1248: Priests warned for drinking, sex and “ball games”

Eudes Clement was a prominent French cleric in the early 13th century. Eudes was born into a prominent family in Normandy sometime in the 1190s. He entered the clergy in his late teens and later become the abbot of Saint-Denis. Eudes also became a close friend and advisor to Louis IX, after he purportedly saved the king from a deadly illness by hauling the corpses of saints out of their tombs.

In 1245, Eudes was ordained as archbishop of Rouen, a diocese in Normandy known for its corruption and lack of discipline among both the higher and lower clergy. He spent several months travelling across the diocese, carrying out surprise visits on its parishes and monasteries and keeping a register of sins and transgressions.

The nuns at St Armand de Rouen came in for strong criticism from Eudes. According to his register, they sang hymns and prayers “with too much haste and jumbling of the words”, they received wine in unequal amounts and they slept in their underwear rather than their habits.

More serious clerical misbehaviour was uncovered at Ouville, where Eudes found that:

“..the prior wanders about when he ought to stay in the cloister… he is a drunk and of such shameful drunkenness that… he sometimes sleeps out in the fields… he is sexually active and his conduct with a certain woman of Grainville and the lady of Routot are matters of scandal…”

At Jumieges, the archbishop found two monks, both named William, guilty of committing sodomy with each other. He ordered their removal to separate monasteries.

A number of other monks were placed on notice and threatened with expulsion if they transgressed again. Brother Geoffrey of Ouville was one of these given a ‘last chance’; he had fathered a son with the wife of Walter of Ecaquelon. William of Cailleville was placed on notice for his frequent drunkenness. The parish priest at Ermenouville was warned for having sexual relations with a local woman.

Meanwhile, another cleric was warned about one of his leisure pursuits:

“..the priest of Saint Vaast de Dieppedale confessed that he was guilty of playing ball games in public, and that in this game one of the players had been injured… He swore before us that if he was found to have acted thus again, his parish would be resigned from that time on.”

Source: Register of Eudes, Archbishop of Rouen, ent. July 1248, September 1248, January 1249. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1889: Bowen’s pubic hair-pulling anti-masturbation device

In the late 19th century, the United States was gripped by anti-masturbation hysteria. Fuelled by the writings of Tissot, Kellogg and others, scores of American physicians warned that “self-pollution” was an avenue to physical infirmity, mental illness and even death.

This hysteria gave rise to numerous cures and treatments, as well as several inventions. Between 1856 and 1918, the United States Patent and Trademark Office approved 35 patent applications for anti-masturbation devices. As might be anticipated, the majority of these were intended for male use.

Several were based on the chastity belt principle, encasing the genitals or hands and rendering them untouchable. A lockable belt and apron device, designed by Thomas Thomas (1907, patent 852638), prevented the wearer from sleeping on his or her back and touching their groin. Henry A. Wood (1910, patent 973330) submitted a patent for ‘night mittens’ that prevented any dextrous use of the hands and fingers. There were also three patented alarm systems, designed to wake the wearer or the parents in the event of an erection.

Perhaps the most elaborate patent was granted to Frank Orth (1893, patent 494437). Orth’s device connected a pair of rubber underpants, an electric pump and a water cistern. In the event of arousal or self manipulation, this machine pumped cold water around the genitals to lower their temperature.

Frank Orth, 1893

The most bizarre contraptions, however, used pain and discomfort as a disincentive to arousal or self pleasure. Albert V. Todd (1903, patent 742814) submitted two designs: one delivered a mild electrical shock to the erectile penis, the other employed a series of spikes.

Todd, 1903

Harry F. Bowen’s machine (1918, patent 1266393) also delivered electric shocks.

Bowen, 1918

More simple in its design was a “surgical appliance” suggested by James H. Bowen (1889, patent 397106). Bowen’s device consisted of a lockable metal penis cap connected to small cables that were clamped to strands of pubic hair. In the event of an erection the cables would stretch taut and pull the pubic hair, causing the wearer considerable pain.

James Bowen, 1889

Source: US Patent and Trademark Office database, patent numbers as listed. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1870: Army officer’s wife unimpressed by Illinois flasher

Frank and Alice Baldwin

Frank D. Baldwin served in the United States Army for more than 40 years, enlisting as a teenaged private in 1862 and retiring as a major-general in 1906. During his service, Baldwin fought with distinction in the US Civil War, several campaigns against Native American leaders Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, and the Spanish-American War. He was one of only 19 Americans to win the prestigious Medal of Honor twice.

Michigan-born Baldwin married Alice Blackwood in January 1867. For the next few years, husband and wife were separated by Frank’s military postings so corresponded regularly by mail. Alice’s letters suggest she was a devoted wife who adored her husband, as well as being a person of good humour.

Writing in October 1870, Alice informed Frank of an incident during a train trip through Illinois:

“There was a man showed his conflumux [penis] to me at one station where we stopped… while I was looking out the window. I thought he might have saved himself the trouble because I had seen one before.”

Alice’s letters occasionally contained sexual commentary or titillation. In one note from June 1873, she playfully chastises Frank for “casting sly glances at Mrs Sowter’s bubbies. You ought to be ashamed.” She also teases him by writing:

“How are you this hot day? I am most roasted and my chemise sticks to me and the sweat runs down my legs and I suppose I smell very sweet, don’t you wish you could be around just now?”

In another letter from December 1870, Alice taunts her husband about his prior intentions to marry another woman, Nellie Smith. According to Alice, Frank’s alternative wife might have suffered from his generous endowment:

“I felt real queer and strange when I heard you had half a mind to marry another girl. I thought I held undivided your love. Well, it’s too late now. Nellie Smith don’t know what she escaped. She would have been killed at one nab of your old Long Tom.”

Frank Baldwin died in 1923, aged 80. Alice died in 1930 after securing the publication of her late husband’s memoirs.

Source: Letters from Alice Baldwin to Frank Baldwin dated September 5th 1869; October 1st 1870; June 22nd 1873. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1511: Belgians amuse themselves with pornographic snowmen

From New Year’s Eve 1510, the city of Brussels was frozen by more than six weeks of sub-zero temperatures and constant snow. In a city with high levels of poverty, this prolonged cold snap caused considerable human suffering, leading some to dub it the ‘Winter of Death’.

Those able to stay warm made the most of things by engaging in a spontaneous snowman competition. All across Brussels, life-sized snowmen began to appear in parks, on street corners and outside private homes. One contemporary report suggests at least 50 clusters of snow figures could be observed in various places around the city.

By all accounts, most of these snowmen were cleverly sculpted and quite realistic. Some may even have been created by prominent artists. Among the figures represented in snow were Jesus Christ, Adam and Eve and other Biblical figures, Roman deities, Saint George and the dragon, unicorns and several signs of the Zodiac.

In the city’s working-class areas, however, the majority of the snow figures were pornographic or scatological. Near the city fountain, a snow couple fornicated while another snow figure watched with a visible erection. A number of snow women, ranging from nuns to prostitutes, appeared in various states of undress. Near the city market, a snow boy urinated into the mouth of another. A snow cow could be seen, halfway through defecation, while a snow drunk lay amongst his own snowy excrement.

The poet Jan Smeken, who penned the best-known account of the Belgian snow figures, described one scene of implied bestiality:

“In the Rosendal, a wonder was to be seen: a huge plump woman, completely naked, her buttocks like a barrel and her breasts finely formed. A dog was ensconced between her legs, her pudenda covered by a rose…”

The snowmen of Brussels lasted for about six weeks, until the return of warmer weather in mid-February.

Source: Jan Smeken, The Pure Wonder of Ice and Snow, 1511. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1769: English lord lands in Vienna with his eight-woman harem

Frederick Calvert, the 6th Baron Baltimore (1731-71) was one of the 18th century’s most notorious womanisers. When his father died in 1751, Calvert inherited his titles and the family’s most lucrative asset: the colony of Maryland. Frederick Calvert would never land a foot in America but rents and taxes from Maryland would fund his decadent existence in Europe.

Calvert married after his 22nd birthday but despised his wife and separated from her almost immediately. She died five years later after falling from a fast-moving carriage. Calvert was also in the vehicle and many believed he had pushed her.

His wife’s premature death kick-started Calvert’s life of self-indulgence. He travelled around Europe and lived for more than a year in the Ottoman Empire, where he surrounded himself with a private harem staffed by local women.

Back in London in the 1760s, Calvert continued his sexual antics, taking several mistresses and fathering a host of illegitimate children. In 1768, Calvert was accused of kidnapping, falsely imprisoning and raping Sarah Woodcock, a noted beauty who ran a London hat shop. He was acquitted after claiming that Woodcock had consented to the whole affair, though few outside the pro-Calvert jury believed it.

After the trial one of Calvert’s former mistresses further embarrassed him by writing a tell-all book, suggesting that he was sexually inadequate. Eager to escape the scandal, Calvert assembled another harem and embarked on another grand tour of Europe. According to an Austrian noble who encountered him:

“…My Lord [Baltimore] was travelling with eight women, a physician and two negroes which he called his corregidores… With the aid of his physician he conducted odd experiments on his houris [harem]: he fed the plump ones only acid foods and the thin ones milk and broth. He arrived at Vienna… when the chief of police requested him to declare which of the eight ladies was his wife, he replied that he was an Englishman.”

Calvert contracted an illness and died in Italy in 1771, by which time his travelling harem had doubled in size. His body was returned to England for an extravagant funeral, though few genuinely grieved his loss.

Source: Letter from Count Maximilien von Lemberg, December 2nd 1770. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1892: Dr Morris: “Nature is trying to abolish the clitoris”

Robert T. Morris was an American physician of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Morris had a busy practice on Madison Avenue and was considered an expert on sexual, reproductive and gynaecological matters.

Like many doctors of his era, Morris was an advocate of clitoridectomy, a surgical procedure to remove the clitoris as a treatment for masturbation, hysteria and female depression. He considered the clitoris a redundant organ that caused more trouble than its worth:

“The clitoris is a little electric button which [when pressed] rings up the whole nervous system… a very common factor in invalidism in young women.”

Morris also made the extraordinary claim that the clitoris was dying out, at least in white women. While still pronounced in primates and African-American females, “in about 80 per cent of all Aryan American women” the organ was concealed by genital folds; as a consequence it was undeveloped and too easily aroused or irritated. From this Morris concluded that:

“Nature is trying to abolish the clitoris as civilisation advances. The degenerative process… is characteristic of the civilised type of homo sapiens.”

Source: Dr Robert T Morris, writing in Transactions of the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, vol. 5, 1892. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1898: Dr Warren’s cure for masturbation: sleep with a friend

Doctor Ira Warren (1806-64) was a Boston physician and the author of one of the 19th century’s most trusted medical guides. Warren’s Household Physician first appeared in the early 1860s and remained in print for more than 40 years. Like most guides of its ilk, the Household Physician condemned the habit of masturbation and warned against its physical and moral effects:

“There is probably no vice to which so many boys and young men, and even girls and young women, are addicted, and from which so many constitutions break down, as self-pollution. Small boys and girls learn the vile practice of the larger ones at school and generally continue it up to maturity, without the least suspicion that they are inflicting upon themselves either a moral or a physical injury.”

According to the 1898 edition, the symptoms of prolonged self-abuse included:

“..headache, wakefulness, restless nights, indolence, indisposition to study, melancholy, despondency, forgetfulness, weakness in the back and private organs, a lack of confidence in one’s own abilities, cowardice, inability to look another full in the face… There are few objects more pitiable to behold than a young man in this condition…”

The Household Physician did not provide specific instructions for treating chronic masturbation but offered a few general guidelines. The patient, it suggested, should only be permitted to mix with “intellectual and virtuous females”. He should also make himself busy with “useful and agreeable employment”. Furthermore, he should:

“..avoid solitude and sleep with some friend. He should sleep on a mattress and never on feathers; always on the side, never on the back.”

Source: Ira Warren, The Household Physician; for the Use of Families, Planters, Seamen and Travellers, 1898 edition. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.