Saturday 16 May 2020

Anne Lister

The Real Gentlemen Jack
Molly Southward
BA History

The recent and critically acclaimed BBC series Gentlemen Jack has sparked an interest in the real woman behind the programme. Remarked to be the first ‘modern lesbian’, she had an incredible life that only became public knowledge many decades after her death. 

Anne Lister was born on the 3rd of April 1791 in Halifax, Yorkshire. She was the second child and eldest daughter of Jeremy Lister, a former soldier, and Rebecca Battle. The two were wealthy north of England landowners. She had five other siblings, four of them brothers, but only Anne and her younger sister, Marian, survived.

In 1793, the family moved to Skelfler House in Market Weighton. Anne began her education at home with the vicar of Market Weighton, the Reverend George Skelding. Later, in 1804, she was sent to boarding school in King’s Manor, York. She was expelled following a relationship with another female student, Eliza Raine, who later suffered from mental health issues. Raine was placed in an asylum following the discovery of Anne’s relationships with several other students. Following her issues with school, and the time she spent there as a child, Anne moved in permanently with her Aunt and Uncle at Shibden Hall in 1815. When her Uncle James died in 1826, Anne started to manage and renovate the estate. In 1836, when her Aunt and Father died, she took compete control of the estate.

Due to her inheritance, she became the owner of agricultural tenancies, town properties and a quarrying business which she went on to expand. She was known as being a firm, driven but fair landowner, who made major improvements to the estate. This is partially due to the fact she had been involved with the running of Shibden Hall from a young age. She was known by local people as ‘Gentlemen Jack’ and would often be seen wearing dark coloured men’s clothes. This led to her getting heckled and stopped in the street as well as being the target of abusive letters from local people.

Historians have argued that the prejudice she received from the people around her fuelled her desire to escape from the constraints of home in order to live her life as freely as possible. Because of this, she spent a lot of her adult life away from Yorkshire, travelling whilst using her income from the Hall to fund herself. Much to her family and business partners’ annoyance, she often only returned home when she ran out of funds or was forced to attend to urgent business.

She made her first trip to continental Europe in 1819, a two-month trip to France. In 1824, she returned to Paris and stayed until the following year. In 1826, she was back in Paris and began a tour of northern Italy and Switzerland, returning in 1828. In 1829, with Paris as her base, she visited Belgium and Germany before heading south to the Pyrenees and Spain. She also made the first ascent of Mount Perdu in the Pyrenees in 1830, before summiting Mount Vignemale in France in 1838. Her last trip began in 1839. It took her through France, Denmark, Sweden and Russia where she arrived in St Petersburg before travelling to Moscow. Travelling so extensively, taking part in such hard, traditionally ‘masculine’ physical activities, and all of this without a male chaperone, was unheard of for women of her class at this time.

There were two main loves of Anne’s life. The first was Mariana Belcombe, who she met aged 23. She was referred to as ‘M’ in Anne’s journals. However, Anne suffered from heartbreak following Mariana’s marriage to an older man in 1815 so that she could gain financial stability. Their relationship was ended and the heartbreak was said to have impacted Anne for the rest of her life. It is seen as one of the main reasons for her extensive travelling, using it as an attempt to escape from the memories.

 Her most retold and well-known relationship was with the heiress Ann Walker. The two women had been casual acquaintances throughout the 1820s, but they were first properly introduced when they became neighbours in 1832. Miss Walker had moved in with her Aunt and Uncle to recover from being of ‘unsound of mind’. Historians believe she may have been suffering with anxiety and depression. They began an intense and whirlwind romance in the following months.
The two were married on March 30th, 1834 in Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York. The marriage took place under the cover of night using church blessings and the lighting of candles to consolidate their love and commitment to one another. This has been viewed as the first lesbian marriage in Britain. They later visited France and Switzerland for their honeymoon. The couple then moved in together at Shibden Hall and combined their landowning interests.
They both lived and travelled together until Anne Lister died aged 49 on September 22nd, 1840 in Georgia. She had contracted a fever while travelling with Ann. Her body was embalmed and brought to the parish church in Halifax to be buried by her lover on the 29th of April 1841. It remains there to this day. Her partner gained Anne’s estate from her will, and died in 1854 from ‘congestion of the brain’.

The reason historians know so much about Anne Lister’s life is that, starting in 1806, she wrote a partially encoded 26 volume-long diary. Linking to her love of education and literature, the code was made from a blend of algebra, ancient Greek mathematical symbols, punctuation and the Western zodiac. It has been dubbed ‘Anne’s Crypthand’. Anne believed that her code was unbreakable and no key was ever left for posterity. However, in the 1890s, the code was cracked by John Lister, the new owner of Shibden Hall, and his friend Arthur Burrell. They discovered that the code was used to cover up her sexual encounters. Sections with Xs and Qs were used to denote different sexual acts. The diary also included her notes on her seduction techniques, a skill on which she prided herself.  

In order to preserve the diaries, avert scandal and prevent their destruction, the diaries were hidden behind wall panelling in the Hall until John Lister’s death in 1933. When the ownership of the Hall was passed to Calderdale Council, the site became a museum. The journals were found and Anne Lister’s incredible and trailblazing life was brought back into public knowledge.

The Golden Lotus

A History of Foot Binding in China
Tom Wilkinson-Gamble
BA Modern and Contemporary History

Foot binding, despite its fall from regular practice, still remains one of the most famous traditions of classical Chinese culture. Though the exact origins of the practice remain unknown, it is thought to have started in either the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) or the subsequent Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Throughout the Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties foot binding was normally reserved for the upper classes and the aristocracy. By the Qing dynasty, however, the practice had spread to other social classes. 

The actual process of foot binding was typically carried out by the oldest female member of the family. First, the big toe would be broken and forced under the foot. Then, bandages would be wound tightly around the foot. The force of the bandages would distort the growth of the bones and cause the foot to grow into the shape of a distorted heel with an extremely high arch. For the bones to grow in the desired way, foot binding was normally started when the girl was between 5 and 10 years old. Bound feet were known as ‘lotus feet’ and the specially designed shoes they wore were appropriately named ‘lotus shoes’. Because of the disfigurement of the foot, women were forced to walk very carefully and daintily. This was considered attractive, even erotic, in classical Chinese culture.

After the republican government came to power in 1911, foot binding was declared illegal and its prevalence declined. However, in the more rural areas of the country, where the government’s control was far weaker, the practice continued in secret. By the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, the practice is all but dead. In 1999, the last factory producing specially designed ‘lotus shoes’ closed down. As of the 2010s, only a handful of women are known to have bound feet.

Pendroni…Rhywedd a’r Troubles yng Ngogledd Iwerddon [Pondering...Gender and the Troubles in Northern Ireland]

Mari Elin Wiliam 
Lecturer in Modern History/ Darlithydd Hanes Modern

Deillia’r pendroni yma o ffynonellau gweledol a thrafodaethau ar y modiwl is-raddedig Nationalism in the UK 1916-1997. Diolch o galon i grŵp 2019/2020 am eu brwdfrydedd a’u hysbrydoliaeth / These ponderings stem from visual sources on the Troubles in Northern Ireland and associated discussions in the undergraduate module Nationalism in the UK 1916-1997. Heartfelt thanks to the 2019/2020 group for their enthusiasm and inspired observations in class.

Ym mis Chwefror 2020 roedd Sinn Féin yn ymfalchïo yn ei llwyddiannau yn etholiad cyffredinol Gweriniaeth Iwerddon.  Merched a ddominyddai’r delweddau o’r dathlu: yn benodol, Llywydd Sinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald, a Michelle O’Neill, ei his-lywydd a Dirprwy Brif-Weinidog yng ngweinyddiaeth ddatganoledig Gogledd Iwerddon.  Gydag Arlene Foster yn arwain y Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) ac yn Brif-Weinidog yn Stormont, mae’r sbectrwm gwleidyddol - o’r Gweriniaethwyr i’r Unoliaethwyr - ar droad degawd newydd yn fwrlwm o ferched. 

Fodd bynnag, ffenomenon go ddiweddar yw i ferched fod ar flaen y gad yn cynrychioli gwleidyddiaeth Gogledd Iwerddon: am ddegawdau yn dilyn cychwyn y Troubles yn 1968 delwedd wrywaidd iawn oedd i’r ymrafael.  Er mai cymedroldeb protestiadau’r Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (sefydlwyd 1966) a amlygodd y rhagfarn sectyddol a wynebai’r lleiafrif Catholig yng Ngogledd Iwerddon, militariaeth a saernïodd y gwrthdaro fel un gwaedlyd a hirdymhorol.  Rhwng grwpiau parafilwrol fel yr IRA (Irish Republican Army) gweriniaethol, a’r UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force)/ UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters) Teyrngarol, portreadwyd cymunedau mewn llefydd megis Belfast a Derry fel rhai dan reolaeth dynion mewn balaclafas oedd wedi’u harwisgo â gynnau AK47.  Pan anfonwyd y Fyddin Brydeinig ar strydoedd Gogledd Iwerddon i ‘gadw trefn’ o 1969 ymlaen, atgyfnerthwyd yr ymdeimlad macho wrth i ddisgwrs rhyfelgar am ‘wrhydri’ ac ‘arwriaeth’ gael ei ddyrchafu o’r naill ochr.  Y tu hwnt i’r iwnifform, dynion yr eithafion hefyd oedd prif ladmeryddion y Troubles: o Gerry Adams a Martin McGuinness yn eirioli ar ran Sinn Féin/IRA, i ‘r efengylwr unoliaethol Ian Paisley yn tanio o blaid Protestaniaid a grwpiau Teyrngarol. 

Bron yn awtomatig felly, lluniwyd yr hanes fel un ‘dynion’, ac yn sicr yn un ‘gwrywaidd’ ei naws. Er fod gan ferched bresenoldeb mewn hanesion o’r Troubles, gan amlaf gosodwyd hwy ar y cyrion, mewn rôl famol/gofalgar neu fel dioddefwyr:  straeon sy’n rhy gyffredin i gynhyrfu llawer o sylwebwyr, neu’n fawr mwy nac addurn i’r brif ffrwd wrywaidd.

Yn ei hymchwil ar ‘Brotest Fudr’ y cyfnod 1978-1981 mae’r hanesydd Rachel Oppenheimer yn feirniadol o’r duedd i ynysu ysgolheictod ar ferched yn y Troubles i flwch ‘hanes merched’, gan fod hynny’n cyfrannu at eu hesgeuluso o naratifau canolog.  Roedd y gwrthsafiad ‘Budr’ – a nodweddwyd gan garcharorion yn lledaenu baw ac wrin ar hyd waliau eu celloedd - yn gydran o Ryfel Carchar Gweriniaethwyr Gwyddelig wrth iddynt hawlio nad oeddent yn droseddwyr cyffredin, a gan hynny’n haeddiannol o statws fel carcharorion gwleidyddol.  Er mai protest y dynion yng ngharchar y Maze sydd yn cael ei phortreadu fel yr un arwyddocaol (wrth iddynt feithrin gwalltiau a barfau hir a’u hymdebygai i Grist), roedd merched yng ngharchar Armagh hefyd yn gwrthdystio, ond mewn modd mwy trawiadol byth wrth i’w celloedd hwy gael eu patrymu gan ysgarthion, gwaed mislif, tamponau a phadiau hylendid.  Yn 1980 smyglwyd ffotograff o Mairéad Farrell allan o’i chell yn Armagh: ffotograff eiconig gan ei fod herio gwerthoedd cymdeithasol ceidwadol a phatriarchaidd (Catholig a Phrotestannaidd), yn ogystal â bod yn symbol o Weriniaetholdeb.  Yn hytrach na delwedd o ferch oddefgar, fregus oedd yn ddibynnol ar ddynion i’w hamddiffyn, ymddangosai Farrell yn feiddgar a chadarn mewn protest wleidyddol oedd yn ategu’r un yn y Maze, ond hefyd yn mynd gam ymhellach – ac yn rhy bell i rai Gweriniaethwyr – gan danseilio’r tabŵ ar y mislif.  Trwy edrych ar y ‘Brotest Fudr’ yn Armagh a’r Maze yn gyfochrog datgelir nid yn unig haenau amrywiol o Weriniaetholdeb, ond hefyd gymhlethdodau rhywedd yn gymysg â’r Troubles.

Adlewyrchir hyn hefyd trwy gymryd cipolwg ar Bernadette Devlin, ymgyrchydd hawliau sifil a etholwyd fel Aelod Seneddol (AS) Unity/Annibynnol dros Ganolbarth Ulster yn 1969.  Yn 21 oed hi oedd y ferch ieuengaf ar y pryd i ddod yn AS, a rhwng ei hoed, ei rhyw a’i hagwedd gwrth-sefydliadol roedd yn tramgwyddo mewn amryfal ffyrdd ar arferion ‘gwrywaidd’ gwleidyddiaeth seneddol a pharafilwrol yr oes.  Amlygwyd hynny yn sgîl Bloody Sunday yn 1972, pan laddwyd 14 o drigolion gan y Fyddin Brydeinig yn ystod gorymdaith hawliau sifil yn Derry.  Roedd Devlin ar yr orymdaith hon, a’r diwrnod canlynol roedd yn y Tŷ Cyffredin i wneud safiad ar ran y dioddefwyr a’u teuluoedd.  Cythryddwyd hi i’r fath raddau gan oerni a diffyg edifeirwch yr Ysgrifennydd Cartref Ceidwadol, Reginald Maudling, nes iddi roi slap iddo yn y siambr.  Mewn cyfweliad yn fuan iawn wedyn gyda thyrfa o ohebwyr cyhuddwyd hi o fod yn ‘emotional’ ac ‘unladylike’, gyda geirfa fisogynistaidd o’r fath yn cael ei ddefnyddio i’w difrïo a’i chyfleu fel ‘hogan bach ddrwg’.  Roedd yn eironig fod llawer o’r wasg yn dewis canolbwyntio ar ‘drais’ Devlin - gan ei fod yn herio normau rhywedd - yn hytrach na’r trais milwrol marwol oedd wedi ennyn ei hatgasedd yn y lle cyntaf.  Mewn modd clinigol, gwrthododd Devlin wahoddiad un o’r gohebwyr i ymddiheuro i Maudling, gan nodi’n gadarn ‘I’m just sorry I didn’t get him by the throat’, a labelodd y digwyddiad fel ‘simple proletarian protest.’  Er fod cynhyrchwyr ffilm wedi cael eu denu at fywyd Devlin, hyd-yn-hyn cyfyngedig yw’r sylw academaidd iddi.  Mae’n ffigwr coeth i’w hastudio, nid yn unig o bersbectif rhywedd, ond hefyd fel un a roddai bwyslais cytbwys ar sosialaeth ynghyd â Gweriniaetholdeb Wyddelig (bu’n flaenllaw wrth sefydlu plaid fyrhoedlog yr Independent Socialist Party ddiwedd y 1970au), ac a ddewisodd, mewn cyferbyniad â Sinn Féin, eistedd yn y Tŷ Cyffredin, gan ei gosod ar lwybr mwy cyfansoddiadol (er gwaethaf natur ei rhethreg!) yn braf cyn i Adams a McGuinness ddechrau gwyro oddi wrth genedlaetholdeb grym-ffisegol yn ystod y 1980au. 

Yng Ngogledd Iwerddon mae murluniau’n ffyrdd o gofnodi a siapio’r cof cymdeithasol, a dengys y ffaith fod Devlin wedi cael ei murlunio yn y Bogside yn Derry ei dylanwad ar y gymuned honno.  Ond, fel y gwelir gyferbyn, nid Devlin yw’r unig ferch i gael ei darlunio: mae hi’n cyd-sefyll gyda ddynes anhysbys yn dal caead bin, mewn cyfeiriad at yr arferiad mewn cymunedau Catholig i ferched guro’r caeadau yn swnllyd i rybuddio (dynion fel arfer) fod y Fyddin Brydeinig ar patrol.  Gymaint oedd arwyddocâd y ddefod yma nes iddi hefyd gael lle canolog ar furlun Mná na hÉireann (Merched Iwerddon) a ddadorchuddiwyd yn 2014, hefyd yn y Bogside.  Yn hwn nid oes lle i Devlin, ond yn ei brysurdeb mae’n cyfleu ystod o brofiadau hanesyddol merched wnaeth herio gafael Prydain ar Iwerddon: o Brotestaniaid a Ffeniaid yn y 18fed a’r 19eg ganrif, i Constance Markievicz, yr unig ddynes i gael ei dedfrydu i farwolaeth yn dilyn Gwrthryfel y Pasg yn 1916 (cymudwyd hyn, ac yn 1918 hi oedd y ferch gyntaf i gael ei hethol i’r Tŷ Cyffredin).  Mae’n portreadu merched mewn rôl parafilwrol, ar ffurf y Cumann na mBan, yn ogystal ag unigolion fel Ethel Lynch, gwirfoddolwr i’r IRA a laddwyd mewn ffrwydriad yn 1974.  Dangosir merched ar brotest y flanced gyda’r slogan ‘Do you care?’.  Gallai hyn fod yn gwestiwn i’r awdurdodau, ond hefyd i’r gymuned Weriniaethol ehangach yn wyneb eu ffafriaeth hanesyddol i naratif y dynion oedd dan glo.  Clodforir merched yn ogystal am eu rôl mwy ‘traddodiadol’ fel dioddefwyr a galarwyr, mewn murlun sy’n trwytho’r tirlun gyda’u cyfraniadau ‘benywaidd’ a ‘gwrywaidd’, gan yn gydamserol ddatgymalu rhywfaint o’r fytholeg rywedd ymhlyg yn yr ymrafael.

Dadleua’r archaeolegydd Laura McAtackney fod gan waliau mewn cymdeithas ranedig, fel Gogledd Iwerddon, swyddogaeth ddeuol: ar un llaw, trwy gartrefu murluniau a graffiti, maent yn ddulliau o gyfathrebu, ond hefyd, yn fwy negyddol, gellir eu portreadu fel gwahanfuriau sydd yn hybu ‘self-containment and isolation that deny multiple-perspectives and acknowledgement of shared…narratives.’  Yn sicr mae profiadau merched yn y Troubles yn rhan o’r ‘shared narrative’ traws-gymunedol yma, ond yn un sy’n stryffaglu i groesi ffiniau murluniol a sectyddol.  Mae Bill Rolston, cymdeithasegydd sydd yn arbenigo mewn diwylliant gwleidyddol poblogaidd Gwyddelig, o’r farn fod absenoldeb merched o ddisgwrs gweledol Teyrngarol yn ‘tantamount to silence’.  Perygl hyn, gan ategu McAtackney, yw mygu’r tebygrwydd rhwng profiadau Catholigaidd a Phrotestannaidd.  Er enghraifft, tra’r oedd merched dosbarth gweithiol y caeadau bin yn chwarae rhan yn y rhyfela trefol ar yr ochr Weriniaethol, roedd eu cymheiriaid Unoliaethol hefyd yn brysur yn yr ymgyrch ‘ryfel’.  Mewn cyfweliad yng Nghanolfan Ferched Ffordd Shankill yn 2013 nododd Eileen Weir, a fagwyd yn y gymuned Brotestannaidd honno, ei bod wedi ymuno efo’r Ulster Defence Association (UDA) Teyrngarol ddechrau’r 1970au, a’i dyletswyddau oedd gofalu am yr henoed ac arsylwi merched ifanc i sicrhau nad oedd unrhyw ‘hanky panky’ yn mynd ymlaen gyda pharafilwyr oedd ar ddyletswydd yn gwarchod ‘no-go areas’.  Adleisir y math yma o blismona moesol yn nofel Anna Burns, Milkman (2018), sy’n seiliedig ar ei phrofiadau hi o’i phlentyndod Catholig yn Belfast a chlawstroffobia byw mewn cymuned oedd wedi’i sylfaenu ar fawrygu parafilwyr Gweriniaethol, a lle’r defnyddiwyd gossip fel arf i reoli ymddygiad a chymeriad merched.  Awgryma’r esiamplau hyn fod y naill ochr i’r hafn sectyddol wedi’u crisialu gan geidwadaeth foesol.

Bellach, yn arbennig yn dilyn Cytundeb Dydd Gwener y Groglith yn 1998, mae cymdeithas Gogledd Iwerddon yn un llai milwriaethus.  Byddai’n rhwydd dadlau fod y pwyslais cynyddol ar gymodi a gwleidydda cyfansoddiadol wedi creu atmosffer mwy croesawus i ferched.  Ond, er fod y rhod wedi troi mewn nifer o ffyrdd, fel mae’r cipdrem yma wedi dangos, roedd merched yn perfformio rhychwant o swyddogaethau yn yr ymrafael ers y cychwyn.  Nid ategolyn bach ffrili a neis, gyda diwedd ‘hapus’ i’w stori, yw eu hanes.  Yn hytrach mae’r prism rhywedd yn un cwbl ganolog i arddangos cymhlethdodau a heterogenedd y Troubles a’r paradeim diwylliannol Gwyddelig yn ystod yr 20fed ganrif.

Margaret Beaufort

A Female Force to be Reckoned With
Leah Jepson
MA History

Margaret Beaufort; a woman of great historical significance, yet also strangely lacking in academic appreciation. A woman who pursued and achieved her own ends, yet is overlooked as an illustration of female agency within a society where women were typically, and erroneously, assumed to have had none. A woman who is probably better known for her role in historical fiction than in historical reality, more for her intense piety than her role as one of the most prominent players of the turbulent fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. 

Margaret was a woman who, during her long life, was a first-hand witness to the tumultuous years of the Wars of the Roses. Through her efforts, she helped establish the infamous Tudor dynasty in the name of her son, who would become Henry VII of England. Married at twelve to Edmund Tudor, both widow and mother at thirteen, Margaret was a woman who refused to remain idle. She negotiated, integrated, and plotted herself towards success. She risked her life and reputation in her son’s cause, though it is impossible to fully distinguish between it and her own. However, she was also a woman who achieved these things without stepping outside the lines of her accepted sphere as a woman. She was no Margaret of Anjou, ‘interfering’ in matters of government and stomping on the toes of powerful men. She remained, for the most part, behind the scenes, yet also often in plain sight.

An adroit Lancastrian, she integrated herself into the Yorkist court, making connections, forming networks, and working towards a greater goal. Her ‘invisibility’ was perhaps one of her greatest assets, allowing her to establish herself surreptitiously before revealing the extent of her efforts in her son’s triumph at Bosworth Field in 1485.

In many ways, it is easy to over-complicate Margaret, primarily because we often find it difficult to reconcile medieval female experience with the non-domestic. The political triumph of her later years has traditionally been in conflict with her intense religiosity, and scholarship has frequently been divided into two camps; those who celebrate her as an exemplar of piety, and those who condemn her excursions into the ‘masculine’ politic.

However, these approaches typically share two common misconceptions. Firstly, that the domestic had no impact outside the privacy of the household, and secondly, that the political was strictly concerned with matters of government. This, it turns out, was far from the case. The households of medieval noble families were often hubs of activity branching off from the wider context of the royal court. Here, factions grew from close family networks, reinforced through marriage alliances, patronage and feudal hierarchy. The domestic was often far from the private, and in a society where the future of the collective typically outweighed that of the individual, the family was a significant source of agency and power available to men and women alike, albeit often in different ways.
Within this context, the political entailed far more than matters of government. It extended to the intimacy of the marriage bed, the raising and education of children, and the creation of kinship networks, all of which would contribute, directly or otherwise, to the political fabric of the nation. The domestic was a socially acceptable context in which female agency could thrive, and it would be where Margaret would establish the foothold which would ultimately enable her to pursue her own ends.

One of the most obvious means available to her was marriage. Within the medieval context in particular, marriage has received a lot of bad press, thanks to persistent focus on what is perceived as female subjugation. Whilst women certainly did not enjoy equal status with their husbands, the over-generalised assumption that all women suffered as a result of arranged matches and masculine abuse has meant that it is typically seen in the negative, rather than as a potential tool which women often readily employed to their own ends. Marriage itself did not typically carry the same connotations as it does today, and within noble and gentry families in particular, it was understood more as a business arrangement than as a result of mutual love and affection. Whilst these things might develop during the marriage, and some did indeed marry for love, they did not constitute the primary factors when considering potential matches.

For Margaret, marriage offered security and a means of advancing both her own interests and those of her son. By the time Henry was born in 1457, she was already a widow, and aged just thirteen, she recognised the need to remarry quickly. Her latter two marriages, first to Henry Stafford, second son to the Duke of Buckingham, and secondly to Thomas Stanley, a prominent member of the Yorkist court, were pursued and arranged by Margaret herself. They provided her with a safe haven and a legitimate means of advancing her cause through interaction and association with other powerful nobles. Her marriage to Stanley in particular allowed her access to the inner circles of the Yorkist regime, and she would spend the twelve years from 1271 to 1483 integrating herself behind enemy lines.

Motherhood too allowed Margaret to operate within the political in a socially acceptable way. For noble and gentry women, children, particularly sons, provided them with a stake in the great game of court politics, and Henry Tudor afforded his mother opportunities for agency long before he acceded to the throne. Through her son, Margaret had a legitimate cause to pursue which would ultimately draw people to their side prior to 1485. Whilst Henry would spend most of the first half of his life either as the ward of another or in exile, his identity as potential, albeit weak, claimant to the throne meant that, should the Yorkist regime fail, or be overturned, Margaret’s son might well be looked on as an attractive alternative.

However, whilst the Yorks remained in power, it was also a dangerous position for Henry.  History does not tell us exactly when Margaret’s ambitions transitioned from bringing her son home from exile to placing him on the throne of England, if they had ever been otherwise. What we can suggest though is that Margaret played the game well, not revealing her hand or overtly stating Henry’s claims. We also know that, at least by the time Richard III seized the throne in 1483, she had begun to plot his downfall with other nobles, most notably the Duke of Buckingham, who also had a claim to the throne, and Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of Edward IV.

Following the disappearance of Edward’s sons in the Tower of London, Margaret and Elizabeth came together to arrange the marriage of their children, Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York. The plan was that Henry would take the throne and, in order to bolster his shaky claim to it, marry Elizabeth.  In return, her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, would pledge her support to Henry’s cause. Together, the plotting of these two powerful women demonstrated the significance of established networks in promoting female agency.

Whilst initial attempts to unseat Richard were unsuccessful, Henry Tudor would go on to secure his infamous victory at Bosworth Field in 1485, taking the throne as Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty. Following this, her ultimate triumph, Margaret became an active and prominent figure at her son’s court. She was referred to as ‘My Lady the King’s Mother’, and would come to enjoy legal and social independence which most other married women could not. Henry’s first parliament recognised her right to hold property independently of her husband, and towards the end of his reign, she was given a special commission to administer justice in the north of England. Following Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth of York, she was reluctant to accept a lower status, and wore robes of the same quality as her daughter-in-law, walking only half a pace behind her on official occasions. She would sign her name Margaret R., perhaps to signify her royal authority, with R. standing potentially for regina – the Latin word for queen customarily employed by female monarchs.

Margaret’s story not only demonstrates the potential for agency available to women, but also raises questions as to how these women have been recorded and studied. That Margaret receives little attention within the primary documentation prior to her son’s reign might suggest to some that she had little involvement in the politics of her day. I however would challenge this approach by suggesting that she had little direct involvement in matters of government. Historians have since come to appreciate that the political went far beyond the governance of the nation i.e. the type of politics that primarily left its mark on written documents. Today, we can suggest that Margaret’s relative obscurity was more a result of her operating behind the scenes than of her absence from the political landscape. That she pursued and achieved her ambitions is testament not only to female opportunity, but also to how far a woman could and would go.

However, Margaret is far from being a unique case. Whilst her ultimate triumph draws more attention to her experience than many other individuals, her story is also an entreaty for adopting a similar approach to the study of other noblewomen in the past, women who had comparable access to similar modes of agency. Furthermore, it demands a reconsideration of approaches to medieval marriage and motherhood, and a redefinition of the domestic. Whilst Margaret was indeed a pious woman and a learned scholar, she also operated on a similar level to so many other women. Marriage and motherhood should no longer be understood solely through the lens of female subjugation, but also through those of female opportunity.

Margaret’s participation in the great political game as both wife and mother enabled her to establish herself as the matriarch of one of the most infamous royal dynasties in history. It is therefore strange that she has not received much attention in scholarship. However, as history, and women’s history in particular, continues to develop and to reshape approaches to the past, it can be hoped that she will finally get the recognition she deserves as one of the most successful political players England has fostered.

A Letter to Women Kind

Dear mothers, sisters, grandmothers, wives, partners, girlfriends, friends, daughters

We write to you to bring to bear with big hearts and care an issue that has been neglected, one that needs addressing in a format as intimate as a letter. It is an intimate topic: after all, affairs of the heart often are. A more structured outlook would only detract from the message we hope to give you, one which very much runs counter to the general opinion found on university campuses and, too often, in wider society.

The issue is a simple one.  You have lost faith in us, men.  Without detracting from the real difficulties women face - and we know that there are real injustices against women - we beg you for your patience as we remind you that you are loved. We are your fathers, grandfathers, brothers, sons and friends, and it is certainly a warped reflection on society that we have to ask the people who brought us into this world not to fear us. The issue is fear in a world where we men, especially heterosexual men, have been vilified.  This is not a whiny, unnecessary statement, but a sad truth. It is despairing that the people who held us close to them at birth often look at their creations in terror.

We will put the grand sentiment of emotive sentences aside.  We can add statistics that show such fears are justified.  1 in 4 women suffer domestic abuse in the UK from a male partner (W-Fowler, 2020).  This is a tragedy and greatly unsettling. We understand why such a figure is horrifying, but when we consider such crimes, it would also be unfair to define domestic violence as a crime which is exclusively perpetrated by males.  According to Stonewall, 1 in 4 women who are in a lesbian partnership are also victims of domestic abuse (Stonewall, 2020). This, of course, does not detract from men being instigators of domestic violence, but it does challenge the dominant societal and academic impression of male masculinity being the sole driver of such horrors.

We will not, however, suggest that just because women can also be abusers that this justifies the initial bold statement in this piece. Let's also put the positive case forward for men.  It is an emotive case, based on the claim that we are not all hard, violent and stone-hearted people: we can show love.  A highly subjective word, love is hard to define, but is also a word which is used confidently here. Love comes in different forms - friendship, romance, familiarity - that cannot be represented in statistics. It is emanated by a father holding his child's hand on the way to school, the man waiting for a friend in the rain after class, or that surprise loving gesture offered by a male partner.  In the face of a tornado American NBC correspondent Brian Williams demonstrated how love could compel a man into acts of heroism (Stevens, 2020). This is not to glorify ‘sacrifice’ or the notion of ‘saving’ women, but it is testimony of how much we care.

We would ask those who are in academia to just step back and count their positive experience of men in the workplace, and gamble on the fact that are many instances of male colleagues offering genuine support, guidance and collegiality. This is not a gambit, or an attack on equality and women's rights. It does not diminish the fact that there are men who are guilty of terrible abuses, nor the fact that there are real structural problems in society posing distinct obstacles for women.  It does however ask women to revaluate their fear of men.

The words of Toni Morrison come to mind: ‘the enemy is not men’ but ‘the concept of patriarchy’ (Morrison and Denard, 2008, p. 35).  Yes engrained patriarchy is a difficulty women face, but I will also admit a blasphemous ‘worriesium’, wondering if patriarchy in itself is solely responsible for the atrocity of domestic violence.  If so, why are women equally as liable to hurt their female partners as males are in heterosexual relationships?  Is this a male problem, is masculinity to blame?  Or, is there a darker force at work that transcends gender?  This is a call to open-up a new frontier: one which starts to look at the struggle faced by women beyond the constraints of gender.

We ask women-kind to look on your children more kindly: you brought us into the world and we haven't stopped loving you.

With love

Author’s Note:  the writing style has been made erratic on purpose and any feedback on how effective it is in engaging you, the reader, would be greatly appreciated. The lack of the trappings of professionalism found in academic writing is also purposely done as a means of testing how best knowledge can be conveyed to you. Any thoughts would be appreciated. I will apologise to the continued challenge to academia:  this is after all merely an attempt at healthy use of falsification principle (Naraniecki, 2010). I hope you will respond. 


Morrison, T. and Denard, C. (2008). Toni Morrison: conversations. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Naraniecki, A. (2010). Neo-Positivist or Neo-Kantian? Karl Popper and the Vienna Circle. Philosophy, 85(4), pp.511-530.

Stevens, J. (2020). 'He's my hero': Wife reveals moment husband gave his life to save her during tornado. [online] Mail Online. Available at: [Accessed 2 Feb. 2020].

Stonewall. (2020). Domestic violence. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Feb. 2020].

W-Fowler, A. (2020). Domestic Abuse Statistics | [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Feb. 2020].

Drowning Little Girls

A History of Female Infanticide in China
Tom Wilkinson-Gamble
BA Modern and Contemporary History

Female infanticide, along with foot binding, is one of the most infamous and darkest aspects of Chinese culture. The practice is ancient and its exact origins still remain unknown. Though the practice cannot be condoned, there remains some ‘method in the madness’. Up until the early parts of the 20th century, Chinese society was almost exclusively agrarian. This meant that most people’s livelihoods were dependent upon being able to do farm work, or living with someone who could. Since men, stereotypically, are considered more suitable for manual labour than women, Chinese society developed a preference for male babies. This preference of boys over girls is strongly ingrained in Confucian culture. Since women were not expected to do anywhere near the same amount of work that men did, girls were considered a burden and another ‘mouth to feed’ until they were married off to a, hopefully, well-off family. In ancient Chinese history, this preference manifested itself as the phenomenon of female infanticide that we are familiar with today.

With regards to religion, China’s three primary faiths (Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism) all differ on their stance towards female infanticide. Because Confucian culture is predominantly patriarchal, Confucianists are more tolerant of the practice. They are in direct conflict with the Taoists who are firmly anti-infanticide as they believe that the murder of anyone, including little girls, would be to contradict ‘the way’. The Buddhists, however, are torn, primarily because of their belief in a notion of re-incarnation. On one hand, they believe that the little girl would be re-incarnated elsewhere and so there’s no fear of wasting a life. On the other hand, they also acknowledge that taking a life, innocent or otherwise, would bring them negative karma.
Since the arrival of Christian missionaries in China in the 1500s, knowledge of female infanticide has spread to the West. The early 17th century Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci witnessed the practice during his time in China and reportedly saw newborn girls drowned in local rivers. Later, in the 19th century, French Jesuit Gabriel Palatre and the Annales de la Sainte-Enfance reported similar sightings across both the south-western and the south-eastern provinces. After the Xinhai Revolution of 1911, both the KMT (Kuomintang) and CCP (Chinese Communist Party) governments have worked to try and reduce the prevalence of the practice.

Despite a considerable decline in the 20th century, a modern incarnation of female infanticide resurfaced in the 1980s with the introduction of the one-child policy. Due to the continued prevalence of male babies being favoured over female ones, the one-child policy sparked a rise in the amount of gender selective abortions. Couples would abort the baby before it went to full term and then try again for a boy. In response to this emerging phenomenon, the policy was reformed in 1984; couples whose first born child was a daughter would be allowed to have a second.

One of the more disturbing ways the one-child policy was enforced was forced abortions. In June of 2012, a woman from Shaanxi province was forced to have an abortion after being unable to pay the ¥40,000 fine for violating the policy. After explaining to the authorities that she and her husband would be unable to pay the fine, Feng Jianmei claims she was forced into signing an agreement to have an abortion. Witnesses claim that she was removed from her home with a pillowcase over her head by four masked men. The next day, Feng was injected with an abortifacient to induce a stillbirth. A week later, Feng’s family posted to the blogging website Sina Weibo an extremely graphic image of Feng in a hospital gown lying next to the stillborn corpse of her daughter. The image rapidly spread across Chinese social and sparked outrage amongst the public. In response to this incident, two officials from the National Population and Family Planning Commission were fired and five others were disciplined. The one-child policy has had a disastrous effect on China’s population statistics; there are between 10 and 15 million ‘missing women’ which has led to an extremely uneven gender ratio in the general population. The lack of women has caused some serious sociological problems in Chinese society. Less women means fewer potential wives, which has fueled a rise in gender-related violence as well as an increase in sex trafficking and prostitution.  This, in turn, increases the risk of HIV and AIDS.

There is a theory, however, that the demographic problems may not actually be as bad as they appear to be. It is possible that, particularly in the rural parts of the country, the births of girls may actually have happened but were not officially recorded in fear of violating the one-child policy. These are the hēiháizi or ‘black child’. These are people who are not registered in the hùkǒu, the system of household registration. This means that those 30-35 million girls do actually exist but exist as hēiháizi and therefore are unknown to the government.

In the last 25 years, a series of documentaries have been produced about female infanticide, the one-child policy and their impact on Chinese society. The Dying Rooms (1995) and its follow-up film Return to the Dying Rooms (1996), both detail the lives of children who were abandoned by their parents as a result of the one-child policy. The filmmakers claim that the unwanted girls were left to die of neglect, allowing the parents another chance at producing a boy. Sixteen months after the first documentary was released, two members of the production team claimed that the film was ‘wholly exaggerated’ and was made ‘almost completely without substance’. Over 15 years later, another documentary titled It's a Girl: The Three Deadliest Words in the World (2012) was still examining the sociological effect of female infanticide in both India and China.

Is wearing ‘Black Hairstyles’ truly Cultural Appropriation?

This Essay was originally submitted as an assessment to the module ‘Race, Democracy and Political Ideology’.

Over the last decade, Cultural Appropriation has been thrust into the foreground of public discussion, with one of the most controversial debates revolving around ‘black hairstyles’, such as dreadlocks, cornrows and box braids (Google Trends, 2020). From addressing the erasure of the black community and the unfair stigmatisation of black culture, to whether ‘black hairstyles can really be claimed by one culture, this debate has been polarising.

Cultural Appropriation is broadly defined as the use of one culture’s intellectual property and cultural expression by members of another, and is typically built upon an unequal power dynamic that comes from a history of imperialism and assimilation (Rogers, 2006; Ziff & Rao, 1997).

When it comes to Cultural Appropriation there are some more clear-cut examples, such as stereotypical imitations of different cultures’ traditional clothing being sold as Halloween costumes (Toles-Patkin, 2017; STARS, 2013) or even the incorporation of the Hindu Bindi and Native American headdress into festival culture (Monroy, 2018; Murphy, 2014; Antony, 2010). These examples showcase the blatant devaluation of a culture’s elements for a capitalistic purpose, as well as the diminishment of that item’s meaning and the erasure of that culture’s community: both distinguishing signs of cultural appropriation (Lenard and Balint, 2019).

However, Cultural Appropriation is not always so black and white, with the controversy of ‘black hairstyles’ falling under this category of ‘grey area’. There is a massive divide in opinions when it comes to this example. Some individuals believe that the appropriation of ‘black hairstyles’ to be a continued erasure and oppression of their culture, while others argue that ‘black hairstyles’ don’t belong simply to one culture, and that it’s okay for it to be represented by many different communities (Prior, 2019; Arewa, 2017). The issue is that neither of these groups can speak for their whole culture, which then triggers intense debate.

‘Black hairstyles’ such as dreadlocks are seen as a symbol of power and continued resistance against systematic racism in many black communities in the Western Hemisphere (Kuumba and Ajanaku, 1998). Therefore, the appropriation of those hairstyles as a fashion statement can be a sensitive topic for many, as it is seen as a complete disregard of the history and meaning behind those hairstyles (Richards, 2017). ‘Black hairstyles’ have become a staple of black identity, and so when members of other cultures use them simply as a fashion statement without receiving any negative stigmatisation for their actions, this can result in controversy (Gonzales, 2019). This can be seen with celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber who have all been credited for their stylish, edgy ‘new’ hairstyles. Meanwhile, the black community are commonly penalised for wearing the identical hairstyles, as they are not adhering to the Western perception of beauty and professionalism which omits to include their natural hair type (Jacobs-Heuy, 2006). This highlights the unfair standard placed upon black communities due to a persisting mentality of assimilation, which demands their conformity to Western culture, while allowing their own culture to be diminished and absorbed (Cuthbert, 1998). This has resulted in some people arguing that individuals outside of black culture should not be allowed to wear ‘black hairstyles’ unless specifically invited to by the community, in an attempt for black communities to maintain ownership of their cultural elements (Young, 2005).

On the other hand, there are also many who argue that, due to globalisation, the use of ‘black hairstyles’ by other cultures is not actually appropriation. The world is becoming a melting pot where cultures are shared between, and influenced by, many different communities (Rogers, 2006). Dreadlocks are a prime example of this: Historians and anthropologists have found evidence of this hairstyle among Ancient Egyptians, Vikings, Early Christians, the Aborigines and many different tribes of Africa (Aïnouche, 2018). This shows that dreadlocks have existed across multiple cultures; therefore, no one community should be able to lay claim to a cultural element with shared origins. Globalisation is a natural cycle of cultural evolution that, if stopped, threatens a world which is culturally stagnated and segregated (Rogers, 2006).

However, cultural exchange cannot occur when there is an unequal power balance between different cultures (Rogers, 2006). As long as there is a dominant culture, there cannot be a truly equal movement of ideas, practices and cultural elements, but rather the persistence of cultural appropriation, with the dominant culture absorbing and changing minority culture’s elements without giving anything in return (ibid, 2006). This is especially true when considering the prominent history that exists between Western and African cultures (McCall & Parker, 2005). The appropriation of ‘black hairstyles’ by white communities is a signifier of a perpetuated imperialistic ideology, turning black culture into a commodity that can be taken, which harkens back to the use of African people as slaves: treated as objects devoid of value.

Additionally, there is the argument that dreadlocks, cornrows and box braids are simply a hairstyle and can’t belong to only one culture (Lamberts, 2017). ‘Black hairstyles’ can be achieved by many different ethnicities, but this idea that certain people cannot wear a certain hairstyle due to the colour of their skin flies in the face of anti-racist rhetoric that has been encouraged for years: this could start placing unnecessary strain on race relations (Ibid).

Overall, the debate surrounding ‘black hairstyles’ being cultural appropriation has become hyper-individualised. When examining the argument being made, the issues being addressed can be chalked up to the persisting mentalities of imperialism, assimilation and capitalism within our society.
The term ‘cultural appropriation’ was first used in the 1980s as a term to describe a relationship of dominance and exploitation between a global ruling class and a subjected class (Coutts-Smith, 1976 as cited in Hiller, 2006). Rather than criticising one individual for their appropriation of ‘black hairstyles’, we should be addressing the persisting ‘rationale’ that penalises black communities for embracing their culture; questioning why black communities are forced to conform to so-called Western Ideals and challenging why Western Culture remains the dominant culture. The debate surrounding cultural appropriation has become a micro discussion, but in order to address the core issues, there must be a renewed focus on the macro structures and ideologies in place that encourage the systematic oppressing of minority cultures.

Aïnouche, L. (2018). Dreadlocks Story Documenting a ‘Story behind History’. Journal of Social Sciences, 1(2):141-162
Antony, M. G. (2010). One the Spot: Seeking Acceptance and Expressing Resistance through the Bindi. Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, 4(3):346-368.
Arewa, O. S. (2017). Love, Hate, and Culture Wars. Phi Kappa Phi Forum: Baton Rouge, 97(1):26-29.
Coutts-Smith, K. (2006). Some general observations on the problem of cultural colonialism. In S. Hiller (ed), The myth of Primitivism. London: Routledge Press.
Cuthbert, D. (1998). Beg, Borrow or Steal: The politics of cultural appropriation. Postcolonial Studies: Culture, Politics, Economy, 1(2):257-262.
Gonzales, J. (2019). “White Dreadlocks”. In B. W. Shiovitz (ed). The Body, The Dance and the Text: Essays on Performance and the Margins of History. North Carolina: McFarland.
Google Trends. (2020). “Are Dreadlocks Cultural Appropriation (Search Term): 2004 – Present”. Google Trends: (Accessed 21st February 2020)
Jacobs-Huey, L. (2006). From the Kitchen to the Parlor: Language and Becoming in African American Women’s Hair Care. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kuumba, M. and Ajanaku, F. (1998). Dreadlocks: The Hair Aesthetics of Cultural Resistance and Collective Identity Formation. Mobilisation: An International Quarterly, 3(2):227-243.
Lamberts, S. (2017). “We asked white people with dreadlocks ‘why’”. Vice, 28th November 2017. (Accessed 24th February 2020)
Lenard, P. T. and Balint, P. (2019). What is (the wrong of) cultural appropriation? Ethnicities, 0:1-22.
McCall, P. L. and Parker, K. F. (2005). A dynamic Model of Racial Competition, Racial Inequality, and Interracial Violence. Sociological Inquiry, 75(2):273-293.
Monroy, M. S. (2018). An Analysis of Cultural Appropriation in Fashion and Popular Media. Doctoral Dissertation, Baylor University.
Murphy, J. (2014). “The White Indian: Native American Appropriations in Hipster Fashion”. In L. Michael and S. Schulz (eds), Unsettling Whiteness. Inter-disciplinary Press.
Prior, A. (2019). What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? A Philosophical Investigation. Master Thesis, University of Hamberg. 
Richards, H. (2017). Dreaded Culture: The Appropriation of a culture of resistance in Aotearoa New Zealand. Fashion, Style & Popular Culture, 4(2):215-230.
Rogers, R. A. (2006). From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation. Communication Theory, 16(4):474-503.
STARS, (2017). “We’re a culture, not a Costume – Campaign Posters”. University of Ohio. (Accessed 22nd February 2020)
Toles-Patkin, T. (2017). When Free Expression becomes Microaggression: The Yale Emails and the Domestication of Halloween. Communication Law Review, 17(1):77-97.
Young, J. O. (2005). Profound Offense and Cultural Appropriation. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 63(2):135-146.
Ziff, B. and Rao, P. V. (1997). “Introduction to Cultural Appropriation: A Framework for Analysis”. In B. Ziff and P. Z. Rao (eds), Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Gods of the Past

Jacob Charnley
BA Philosophy and Religion

LGBT+ themes can be found in mythologies from many cultures around the world. These include stories centered around homosexual, bisexual and pansexual relationships, gender variance, transformation and identity. While many of the myths concerning these themes can be principally found in Greek and Roman mythology, they can also be unearthed in other European mythologies, as well as in Asian, African, Oceanic and the American ones. I will be exploring the myths concerning these themes in the context of the geographical area from which the cultures that developed them originated. I will be focusing mainly on myths where the themes of sexuality and gender are explicit over others which could be considered more interpretive or subjective. I will also be predominantly focusing on European mythologies, as they represent the biggest proportion of known myths containing evident LGBT+ themes.

Greek and Roman
Many of LGBT+ myths can be found in Greek and Roman mythology. For simplicity, this article refers to these gods by their Greek names. Homosexuality is a theme in many Greek myths; however, this is mostly between male Gods. It can be inferred from this that bisexuality was common in the Greek and Roman gods, particularly the males.

Apollo, god of the sun, knowledge and poetry to name a few traits, is associated with the greatest amount of homosexual relationships of any of the Greek and Roman gods. This would be appropriate for the patron of homosexual love. Perhaps the two most notable of his partners were Adonis, Aphrodite’s mortal lover (when he wasn’t Persephone’s), and Hyacinth, a Spartan prince. Other notable gods and figures with homosexual partners include Achilles, Dionysus, Heracles (Hercules to the Romans), Hermes, Poseidon and Zeus.

While Eros, god of lust, sex and eroticism, didn’t have any homosexual relationships himself, he was considered the patron of pederasty (a relationship between an adult male and an adolescent boy). Aphrodite as well is attributed patronage of lesbianism by the Greek poet Sappho (c. 630 – c. 570 BCE), while not having any recorded homosexual relationships herself.

Gender transformation is not uncommon in Greek myths. In some stories it is viewed as a reward, while in others as a punishment. An example of both can be found in stories relating to Artemis, goddess of hunting, and Leto, goddess of motherhood and mother of Apollo and Artemis. In the case of Artemis, she decided to transform the hunter Sypretes of Crete into a woman, after she caught him staring at her while she was bathing. Leto meanwhile sees the plight of a young woman named Leucippus, whose father Lamprus told her mother, Galatea, that he would refuse to acknowledge their child unless she had a son. Galatea gave birth to a daughter and decided to give her a male name and raise her as a boy, without her husband’s knowledge. As Leucippus grew older, it was becoming harder to maintain her disguise. Galatea prayed to Leto to bestow the same transformational magic Artemis used on Sypretes on her daughter. Leto took pity on her and granted Leucippus manhood.

Androgynous and intersex themes can also be attributed to the Greek myths. Hermaphroditus (from which the term ‘hermaphrodite’ originates), is the god of hermaphrodites and intersex people. Referred to as the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, he is usually depicted with a mainly feminine body, including both breasts and male genitals. Hermaphroditus’s story is also one of transformation, as he was originally born male, but when the nymph Salmacis was overcome with lust for him and raped him, she pleaded to the gods for them to never be parted. Her wish was granted, and Hermaphroditus in his new form asked that the pool in which the transformation took place bestow the same for anyone who entered.

Dionysus was attributed the patronage of hermaphrodites and intersex people by Roberto C. Ferrari in the Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture (2002). While Dionysus himself was not a hermaphrodite or intersex, Ferrari attributes this patronage to him due to his birth from both his mother Semele and father Zeus, his effeminate nature and his choice of wearing women’s robes. 

Apollo and his twin sister Artemis are depicted as having characteristics of the opposite sex. Apollo is described as ‘eternally’ beardless and effeminate, while Artemis is considered more masculine. Apollo and Artemis can be seen in ancient Greek art engaging in roles more commonly performed by the opposite sex e.g. on the Lucanian Red-Figure Volute Krater, a mixing vessel which can be found in the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Norse and Germanic
Norse mythology contains a handful of notable stories with themes relating to homosexuality, transformation and gender roles. However, it should be noted that the tone of some of these stories are mocking, particularly to homosexual males considered less ‘manly’.

This is conveyed in the Gudmundar Saga – according to David F. Greenberg in his book, The Construction of Homosexuality (1988) - where a disloyal priest and his mistress are punished by having a group of men rape them both. Another example is that of Sinfjötli, half-brother of the legendary hero Sigurd, boasting that the einherjar (warriors who had died honourably in battle, receiving an afterlife in either Odin’s or Freyja’s halls) all fought each other for the love of Gudmundr, a king of the mythological realm of Jötunheimr, the realm of giants.  On another occasion it was claimed that Gudmundr would give birth to nine wolf cubs, of which he was the father. To be the ‘receiving’ partner in a homosexual relationship was stigmatised, but not the more ‘manly’ and dominant role, which was coveted my many of these characters.  Odin, All-Father and chief deity of the Norse gods, would have also faced stigma for his pursuit of magic, which was in the sagas considered an effeminate practice.

It is important to also reference that Freyr, god of fertility, is attributed with having a group of homosexual and effeminate male worshippers in Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum. Loki, the god of tricks and mischief, is said to have transformed himself into a mare and mated with the stallion Svadilfari, giving birth to his foal, Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir.

Gender non-conforming behaviour can be found in the poem Thrymskvida, where the giant Thrymr steals Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, demanding Freyja, goddess of love and beauty, to marry him as payment for its return. Rather than send Freyja to him, Thor and Loki travel to Jötunheimr, with Thor disguised as the ‘bride to be’ and Loki as his bridesmaid. Thrym hands Mjolnir to Thor as part of the ceremony, which Thor utilises to defeat all the giants present.

Celtic mythology is sparse in its reference to LGBT+ themes. This is most likely due to the record of many myths being lost post-Christianisation rather than none existing in the first place.

One notable story can be found in the Mabinogion. Two of the sons of the King of Gwynedd, Math fab Mathonwy, Gwydion, the magician, and Gilfaethwy, a demi-god, devise a plan to rape Math’s servant, Goewin. Goewin was important to Math as she was a virgin, and it is claimed that Math had to rest his feet in the lap of a virgin, or, unless he was at war, he would die.  Gwydion offers to travel to the kingdom of Dyfed, to the south, to acquire otherworldly pigs. He offers Pryderi, King of Dyfed, horses and dogs in return for some of his pigs. However, he had conjured these animals, and when Pryderi discovers he has been deceived, he declares war on Gwynedd, and Math leaves to fight in defence of Gwynedd.  While he is away, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy rape his servant Goewin. When Math returns to rest his feet in her lap, he realises she is no longer a virgin. He discovers Gwydion and Gilfaethwy are responsible for the recent events and curses them to turn into a deer, a boar and a wolf, each form for a year at a time, with Gwydion remaining male, but Gilfaethwy becoming female. They are then forced to mate every year, producing a son each year, after which their curses are lifted.

To conclude, there is so much more to be said on the portrayal of LGBT+ characteristics in European mythology alone. Two things stand out more than anything else.  Firstly, how far back in history these discussions about sexuality and gender, positive or negative, reach.  Secondly, how these stories have lived on and resonated, not only with the people and artists that shared and believed in them, but hopefully with you as well.

It is a comforting thought to think that the struggles we face today around these issues are far from new and neither are they isolated to particular cultures.  Perhaps that reflecting on what has come before will make our journeys to who we are meant to be more assuring. These stories reveal, at least in part, that religious belief (or lack thereof), sexuality and gender identity are far more than just compatible, they are interconnected in ways that show us humanity is not all that different now to what it was in the distant past.

A Brief History of the LGBT Community in Wales

A Brief History of the LGBT Community in Wales

A lot of us know either what it’s like to be apart of the LGBT community or know someone who does, yet the history of it is only known in relation to English Law. Something that needs to be looked at is the LGBT people who have never been fully recognised by modern society as being LGBT.

In Wales there have been numerous influential people that came from the LGBT community who haven’t been fully recognised including people such as Peggy Evans, also known as Margaret uch Evans of Penllyn who lived the 1770s. Most of the information known about her was recorded by Thomas Pennant, a writer at the time who was doing a tour of Wales. While he never met Peggy, he described her in his work solely from the descriptions given to him by other people. The descriptions used in his book are “Near the end of the lake lives a celebrated personage… This is Margaret uch Evans of Penllyn, the last specimen of strength and the spirit of the ancient British fair.”

She was said to be an “extraordinary female” who “was the greatest hunter, shooter, and fisher, of her time”. At the age of 70, she was apparently the best wrestler in the country, as well as a blacksmith, shoe-maker, boat-builder and maker of harps. Aged around 90, Peggy also kept a dozen dogs. When she was alive, she lived near Capel Cerig on the edge of Llanberis Lake.

There are rumours surviving to this day which suggest that Edward II, also known as Edward of Caernarfon, was a homosexual and that he had a relationship with his court favourite Piers Gaveston. Upon the murder of Gaveston by aristocracy who wanted him out of the kings life, Edward is said to have begun a relationship that destroyed his life, with a man called Hugh Despenser. Despenser was surrounded by controversy as he was involved in executing someone in Cardiff, seizing lands, and wielding absolute power. He was a man who guarded access to the king and unpopular amongst the many. When Edward chose Hugh over his wife Isabella of France, when she wouldn’t return from France, it led to his then inevitable downfall.

His downfall was an attempted coup that would have put his son Edward III on the throne with his mother as regent. However, the pair fled to Caerphilly castle and then Neath Abbey when they failed to raise a welsh army as the welsh also hated Hugh. They were eventually captured near Tonyrefail on November 16th, 1326 and Hugh was later tried and found guilty of crimes including the prevention of a relationship between the King and Queen. Edward was declared dead in 1327 with controversy surrounding the how.

One of the first recorded cases of gender dysphoria is Henry, the Dancing Marquess of Anglesey. He is believed to have, using terms from the time, a man meant to be born a woman because of his love of jewels and acting. In Henry’s version of Aladdin, it is said he wore an outfit that cost £10,000 where he performed a “butterfly dance” gaining him the nickname The Dancing Marquess. A writer in the New Zealand paper Otago Witness wrote: “I am driven to the conclusion from much that I have seen that there are men who ought to have been born women, and women who ought to have been born men.”

This is why he is important in history as a figure of gender identity. Not much is known about Henry’s sexual orientation, apart from the opinions on others about despite the fact that he had married his cousin Lillian Florence Maud Chetwynd, as they annulled the marriage not long after. Iwan Block wrote in his 1964 book, The Sexual Extremities of the World, that “the Marquis of Anglesey... also seems to have had homosexual tendencies, or at least to have been effeminate to a high degree”.

Gwen John is one of Wales’ most famous artists, supposedly most well known for her relationship with French sculptor Auguste Rodin. It is believed that she realised her sexual orientation was bisexual during her time at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, an art school which admitted women as well as men. Her brother Augustus also attended the school at the same time and named one of the women as Elinor. She later had an affair with Auguste Rodin, which lasted around 14 years.

Dr John Randall, who did a brief stint at Cefn-Coed psychiatric hospital in Swansea and Sully Hospital in the Vale of Glamorgan, was the first to revolutionise the how doctors decided who would receive gender reassignment surgery in the UK the 1960s. He said that all patients wanting to undergo the surgery had to be observed by him for at least a year and have lived as their new gender for 6 months to a year. Patients also had to be free from any mental disorders, reasonably intelligent, single, and able to pass in public in the gender they chose.

Anyone who didn’t accept the rules would be declared a transvestite and not suitable for surgery. Despite becoming the go-to doctor for gender reassignment surgery in the UK, he believed that you could not be assigned the wrong gender at birth and viewed transgender people as homosexuals. His views on homosexuals were more out of the norm then most people’s views at the time because instead of believing they should be locked up he believed they should be offered psychiatric help.

In 1982 he died of a heart attack suddenly aged 63. Despite his flaws and thoughts on transsexual people, he was a pioneer in an era where LGBT people were vilified, helping many transgender people with his clinic in London.

These are just five of the forty or so LGBT people/pioneers in LGBT fields who have a connection to Wales that have either been nearly left to the passage of time to be forgotten or had the connection almost buried in order to preserve the image that English law wanted to present. The fact that Pride Cymru was only officially set up in 1999 shows how little Wales is thought about in the making of UK laws in Parliament as the first Pride held in the UK was in London on 1 July 1972, 25 years previously. Now, more and more people are attending the Pride parades in Cardiff each year since they were started in 1999.

The Mystery of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd

The Mystery of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd 
Dylan Hussey
MA Welsh History

Llywelyn ap Gruffudd is typically seen as the most powerful of all the medieval Welsh princes. He has been the topic of a number of academic studies, including J. Beverley Smith’s book Llywelyn ap Gruffudd: Prince of Wales. The image portrayed of him is that of a renowned warrior in his earlier years, and a great state builder during the creation of the Principality of Wales. Yet, there remains a number of questions about this somewhat elusive prince.

One of the most baffling, but simultaneously the least discussed, appears to be the fact that Lwelyn failed to marry until very late in his career. Smith notes this as ‘one of the most puzzling questions’ that comes up when looking at the life of the prince.  Not only this, but Llywelyn also did not have any illegitimate children (at least as far as we know) – which, for a Welsh prince, was quite a rarity, if not unheard of. He appears not to have had difficulty in fathering children, as the birth of his daughter in 1282 demonstrates, but this raises more questions than it answers. Contemporary sources are, for the most part, rather limited, at least in comparison to other places in Europe at the same time. As such, there is very little that can be said for certain about why Llywelyn made this decision, which so obviously jeopardised his achievements and his principality. However, speculation may lead to some insight not just as to one of the great mysteries of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s life, but also as to the way that historians perceive and subsequently treat the idea of homosexuality, particularly in the medieval era.

The idea of a medieval ruler being gay, or even bisexual, at first glance often sounds far-fetched, even to an open-minded historian. In many cases, the biggest argument against such a suggestion may be that there simply is not enough proof – which is indeed a valid concern, but a lack of overt evidence does not necessarily mean that everyone at this time, including rulers, were heterosexual. However, especially for nobility, marriage was often a political endeavour rather than a romantic one. Llywelyn, having lived through the turmoil of the succession crisis after his grandfather’s death, would have been acutely aware of the dangers that a troubled succession could bring. This swung both ways – too many heirs, such as the case with Owain Gwynedd, for example, would almost certainly lead to contested succession and bloodshed among those grappling for their father’s power. On the other end of the spectrum, having no male heir at all could lead to the endangerment and even disappearance of an entire political entity or dynasty.

Llywelyn would have experienced these harsh truths throughout his life, and yet he appeared to have been in no real rush to marry or to father children at all; his focus seemingly being on his military and political endeavours. His own letters are littered with reminders of the fact that the prince’s hard-won principality was likely to fall into the hands of the king were he to ‘die[s] without heirs of his body’.  And yet, his decision to marry Eleanor de Montfort only came truly into effect sometime after the discovery of a failed plot in 1274 by the prince’s own brother, Dafydd, and Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn of Powys to murder Llywelyn and install Dafydd as prince in his place. Historians acknowledge that this event likely brought into perspective the fragility of Llywelyn’s power without an ‘heir of his body’, but this does not explain why it took him until well past middle age to marry in the first place.

Was Llywelyn ap Gruffudd gay, or even bisexual, and did this contribute to his apparent apathy around finding a wife until the issue of succession became more crucial? Was this why he put off committing to marriage until the final few years of his life? It cannot be proven or said confidently, but it is one theory amongst a relatively small group of others. Despite this, the key may be determining whether such a lack of evidence stems from the impossibility of such a thing, the difficulties surrounding evidence for medieval Wales in general, or the secrecy that would likely surround that fact were it to be true. Indeed, running themes of secrecy and elusiveness are to be found when attempting to analyse any aspect of Llywelyn’s personal life and inner world. The fact that the mere suggestion that Llywelyn could have been gay or bisexual is unlikely to be taken seriously, however, is perhaps more of a reflection of the subtle bias that remains amongst academics against seriously exploring sexuality in the pre-modern age.

Speculation and assumption is always a dangerous game in any field, not just history, but in this case it can provide an interesting take on the way that historians could disregard the role that sexuality may have played in the lives of people in the medieval period.

Pryce, H. (ed.) with Insley, C., The Acts of Welsh Rulers, 1120-1283 (Cardiff, 2005), no. 407
Smith, J. B., Llywelyn ap Gruffudd: Prince of Wales (Cardiff, 2014, new edn.)