The Champions Of Chastity

I love reading stories about those great souls who put the realm of the spirit first.

Peter Ackroyd writes in his 2013 book Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors:

At a convent, near Watton in the East Riding of Yorkshire, in the 1160s, one nun had lost her virginity to a young priest; when her condition became obvious, the nuns interrogated her about the offending man. When she revealed his identity, the nuns captured him. They took him to the cell of the pregnant nun. She was given a knife and forced to castrate her lover; whereupon the nuns stuffed his genitals into her mouth. She was then flogged, and bound with chains in a prison cell. In an age when the call of heaven was direct and unequivocal – and when the spiritual world was pre-eminent – a general indifference was maintained to the fate or the sufferings of the physical body. When one English king was asked if he regretted the thousands of soldiers he sent into slaughter, he remarked that they would thank him when they were in heaven. The chronicler, after telling the story of the savage nuns, exclaimed, ‘What zeal was burning in these champions of chastity, these persecutors of uncleanness, who loved Christ above all things!’
These stories of physical cruelty would have been familiar to all the people of England in a period when violence was tolerated to a surprising degree. Village justice could be savage and peremptory, largely going unreported. The violence of lord against villein does not often appear in the historical record. In this society men and women took weapons with them; even small children possessed knives. William Palfrey, aged eleven, stabbed and killed the nine-year-old William Geyser outside the village of Whittlesford in Cambridgeshire. There was in any case what would now be called a culture of violence. Children were educated with severe physical discipline. Corporal punishment was familiar and usual in all elements of society. Public whipping, for a variety of offences from adultery to slander, was commonplace.
A genuine pleasure was also derived from bitter disputation, denunciation and vilification. This was a culture of rhetoric and the spoken word. A wide vocabulary of scatological abuse could be employed, while sexual misdemeanours were commonly and loudly publicized. In a society of intense hierarchy, a preoccupation with good name and standing is only to be expected. Disputes were sometimes settled by ritualized fights in the churchyard. Slights and insults were the occasion of bloody disputes. The smallest incident could provoke a violent fracas. One man came into a hostelry, where strangers were drinking. ‘Who are these people?’ he enquired, for which question he was stabbed to death. An element of gratuitous cruelty could also be introduced, as in the case of one man who was dragged to a local tavern and there obliged to drink a cocktail of beer and his own blood.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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