Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England

Synopsis

"Common women" in medieval England were prostitutes, whose distinguishing feature was not that they took money for sex but that they belonged to all men in common. Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England tells the stories of these women's lives: their entrance into the trade because of poor job and marriage prospects or because of seduction or rape; their experiences as streetwalkers, brothel workers or the medieval equivalent of call girls; their customers, from poor apprentices to priests to wealthy foreign merchants; and their relations with those among whom they lived. Common Women crosses the boundary from social to cultural history by asking not only about the experiences of prostitutes but also about the meaning of prostitution in medieval culture. The teachings of the church attributed both lust and greed, in generous measure, to women as a group. Stories of repentant whores were popular among medieval preachers and writers because prostitutes were the epitome of feminine sin. Through a sensitive use of a wide variety of imaginative and didactic texts, Ruth Karras shows that while prostitutes as individuals were marginalized within medieval culture, prostitution as an institution was central to the medieval understanding of what it meant to be a woman. This important work will be of interest to scholars and students of history, women's studies, and the history of sexuality.