Friday, 15 February 2013

A Whore and 3 Johns,1395

Mayor John Fressh and his fellow City of London aldermen on 11 December, 1395 set about the examination of John Britby and John Rykener who had been brought to prison after being caught committing 'detestable wrongdoings.'

John Britby confessed that while passing through Cheapside he had propositioned a woman named Eleanor for sex. Eleanor had requested payment which he had agreed to.

Bypassing the local red light centre of Gropecunt Lane, they went instead to the adjacent Soper's Lane, a ramshackle street of soap and shoemakers. Merchants left portable stalls there to sell their goods at the nearby market, the city's largest, St Paul's Churchyard. If John and Eleanor had bothered to walk on to Cock Lane, we would never had heard of them. The City of London had decided two years before in 1393 to tolerate prostitution in that area, but Gropecunt Lane had remained popular with streetwalkers as did similarly named streets across England, usually in the vicinity of a busy market.

John Britby and Eleanor lay down in an empty Soper's Lane stall and got to it, but in an unfortunate case of coitus interruptus, passing city officials noticed their frantic coupling and arrested them.   At some point it was discovered Eleanor was actually one John Rykener in a dress. While it was considered quite naughty for a straight couple to grab a quicky in a laneway at the time if both participants were male it became a 'detestable unmentionable and ignominious vice'.

Fortunately for us what was unmentionable in this case got quite a bit of mention, and the records of Eleanor/John Rykener's sex life are rather detailed.


In this 1720 map of London Cheapside St, where John Britby met Eleanor, runs along the top.
Gropecunt Lane is marked in blue in the upper right hand corner. Soper Lane was no longer . Destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, it's remains lie under what is called New Queen St on this map, and is now just Queen St.

John Rykener claimed to have been taught to cross dress by a woman called Elizabeth Bronderer who would place her daughter Alice in men's beds for 'the sake of lust' in the dark, but then substitute Eleanor while they slept and when the sun came up, accuse them of misbehaving with 'her'. There is no more detail but I get the strong impression of blackmail. First collect money from the clients for sleeping with Alice, then collect more for staying quiet about them bonking a cross dresser.

John's career options expanded when a whore called Anna taught him to 'practice this detestable vice in the manner of a woman.' Thereafter he began to actually have sex with men, rather than just pretend to.

And he had sex with many men, and women. He had sex with men while dressed as a man or as a woman, but he only had sex with women while dressed as a man.

He claimed he preferred priests to other customers because they paid better. He probably didn't do too badly - when he wasn't whoring he earned extra income as a female embroideress.

There is no record of what happened to John/Eleanor. Earlier in the 14th century homosexuals had been burnt at the stake in England (hence the word 'faggot') but times seemed slightly more tolerant  at the arse end of the century and poor people were not kept long in the hell hole of Newgate prison which is probably where he was questioned. More likely he paid a fine to the city and a bribe to his keepers and returned to  his detestable, unmentionable and ignominious pursuits (oh! and embroidery).



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