A few chastity belts are on exhibit in a few European museums, but they are few enough to suggest that their use was not widespread. There is also some doubt as to what that use may have been. There were no contemporary literary references at the time to what is surely one of the most remarkable items of female couture in the history of the world, and there were no precedents. The Romans and Greeks didn’t mention them neither did the Persians, Egyptians, Chinese or Assyrians. They are generally associated with the Crusades of the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries, being worn apparently by European women as a deterrent to promiscuity, while their husbands were off fighting the Infidels.
The Infidels coincidently had the same problem, but they didn’t go to such lengths to deal with it. They simply covered their women from head to foot, and if they caught them sneaking out, they stoned them to death. An efficient solution requiring minimal outlay and no maintenance.
Both Christianity and Islam marginalized the role of women, and the essential concern for both was the safeguard of property. Not the wife per se, but her means for producing heirs to promote and increase her husband’s estate. The same means conversely that could be used to compromise said wealth by producing offspring other than his own.
Even though the crusader faced the same dilemma as his opponent, his ethical constraints prevented him from resorting to similar methods for solving it. That kind of thing was what made an Infidel an Infidel after all. To add to the difficulties, unlike his Muslim counterpart, a crusader was only permitted one wife to expend. His ingenious solution we are to believe therefore was to place his assets under lock and key. That being the case, the first question that comes to mind is where did he get such a device?
European nobility are not known for their ingenuity, but even if one of them had been inspired with the idea of a chastity belt, he would have needed someone else to make it for him – a metal worker of some sort, an armourer perhaps, or a jeweler. Since women occur in a variety of shapes and sizes, fitting the contraption would have been an essential part of the process – and necessarily a sensitive one. Allowing a red-faced, stubby-fingered smithy to fuss around the wife’s privy parts, making a tuck here and a tuck there seems highly improbable. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that the Lord would simply spring it on his Lady wife as a fait accompli. Surprising a woman with a pair of shoes is an insane idea let alone a pair of iron drawers that aren’t supposed to be taken off for years. The dutiful wife therefore would have to be on board with the idea from the outset. An idea proposed to her over breakfast maybe…
“Looks like rain what?”
“Think I might round up a few of the chaps and bugger off for a while.
“Pop over to the Holy land. Give those damn wogs a thrashing.”
“A splendid idea.”
“Certainly. So that’s settled then. I’ll have George stop by this afternoon and attach a metal contraption to your privates.”
And the wife just said, “Jolly good” and that was that.
As a devout Christian presumably, she acknowledged the need for such measures, given her essentially wanton and deceitful nature as a woman as defined in the Bible. On the other hand, if she didn’t agree, she could end up being strapped into a badly fitting, off-the-peg version whether she liked it or not.
Either way the plan went ahead. In the interest of propriety and to avoid the indelicacies of being fingered by the help, it’s possible she tried on the device in private then suggested modifications and adjustments – the way wealthy Chinese women used to send a doll back and forth to the doctor with a note pointing out which parts didn’t feel good. Or maybe the husband conveyed the information himself:
“Says it’s a bit tight up around her bum here…”
Relationships between men and women vary in their expression, particularly with a couple that perceives wife as property this way. It would be most noticeable at the inauguration, the moment when the key was finally turned in the lock. One would think it might have been a romantic occasion, a fond wave goodbye so to speak – or simply one last use of the anatomical part in question to relieve the anxieties of the upcoming journey.
But if that were the case, it raises a very real concern: what if the wife were to get pregnant as a result, or if she was unknowingly pregnant already? Crusades weren’t a five-minute affair. Things could get messy. A chastity belt blocks traffic in both directions. It would put things on a far more pragmatic footing. Both parties would absolutely want to make sure there wasn’t a bun in the oven before they parted ways. Meaning there could be no sex for at least a month – for the wife that is. The good lord could always relieve his anxieties elsewhere – which in all likelihood, being to the manner born – he was doing anyway. Final lock down would have then been a perfunctory matter on a par with making sure the gas was turned off before going on holiday.
Suffice to say, on the day of departure, the little woman would be comfortably secure in her wrought iron jock strap, and her owner and liege – equally comfortable and secure – would be able to put his mind to the matter in hand. Together they would go forward to the greater glory of God, each of them armored in their way against the assaults of the unworthy: One to fight the Infidel, the other to fight infidelity.
The arrangement was strictly a one-way street, and the Holy Land is a long way from Putney. Unlike the lady wife, his lordship was not hampered by any such restraint as he set off through other people’s back yards to do God’s work.
The first crusade in 1095 was a resounding success. Jerusalem was captured and sacked, and all the Infidels along with their wives and children were tortured, raped and/or murdered – as were most of the Jews and Christians and their wives and children. A very loose interpretation of Christ’s “Suffer the little children to come unto me” one would think.
In the fourth crusade, having set off in the usual way, the righteous arrived in 1203 at the gates of Constantinople – a Christian city – Orthodox Christian that is, not Catholic – a distinction based on their respective definitions of the number 3.
Constantinople hadn’t been too happy about crusades two and three and wasn’t about to change its tune this time around. In response, the devout Latins laid siege to the place, and when they finally broke in a year later, subjected it to the most appalling sack and pillage in recorded history.
The city at that time had become a “veritable museum of ancient Byzantine art” most of which the crusaders systematically looted or destroyed. The great library with its countless ancient Greek and Roman artifacts was also demolished. The “greatest Church in Christendom” looted and desecrated. By the time they were done, the prevailing Trinitarians had reduced the city to ruins and in the process raped and murdered most of the inhabitants.
It’s the rank and file of course that perpetrates this kind of behavior. Rape is the product of frustration, and frustration increases the closer we get to the bottom of the social ladder. Class is about money, and frustration decreases commensurate with how much of it you have.
Penises however, are often awake before their owners and long before the banks open. They know no such distinction. Men are men regardless, especially when they’re a long way from home.
The privilege of Prima Nocte was fashionable with the upper class around this time and must surely have extended to foreigners. If fucking the wives of his workers was the lord’s God given right, then fucking the wives of men he wasn’t financially obligated to was obviously a matter of course.
While the wife was back home struggling with the sanitary rigors of rusty underwear in an effort to repel all boarders, it’s more than likely her husband was boarding other men’s wives to his heart’s content.
But the crusades weren’t all fun and games. Sometimes the godly got killed as well and that’s where the real problem with chastity belts lies. His lordship presumably had the key to the device with him – or one of them. He also had his armourer, which had its up side and its down side. While the armourer was there, he couldn’t be coerced by the wife into making another set of keys. But since he was there, there was a chance he’d get killed, and if the Lord got killed with him, or simply lost his key, the wife was really screwed.
It’s possible the husband had a contingency plan for just such an outcome. He may have hidden a second key somewhere around the manor and left sealed instructions to be opened in the event of his death. On the other hand he might as easily reason that if he was dead, what did his wife need a key for anyway?
The chances of this happening were at least 50/50. 50,000 men set out for the first crusade but only 20,000 came home. 10,000 died in battle, the rest were killed by Bubonic Plague
All in all, chastity belts make no sense in terms of what they were supposedly intended for. It’s far more likely they were used as an aid to sex rather than a deterrent. The upper class may not be renowned for being smart, but they’re notoriously kinky.
Boredom used to be something only the rich had to contend with, and elaborate sex games and the paraphernalia that went with them have been recorded from Nero to De Sade. A chastity belt fits right in with that tradition. As an elaborate foreplay device it would certainly kill time. Literally locking the door to the funhouse then hiding the key could stretch a two-minute fuck into an all day event. Or it could have been a party game. A half dozen, randy, Middle Age, drunks searching for the key to the prize: A girl named Chastity maybe.
Nowadays more and more people have time to kill and in keeping with that idea, ‘chastity’ belts are once again available in sex shops world wide – both for men and women. They can be built to order, in all likelihood, even out of wrought iron.
In the words of one Japanese salesman:
“Chastity belt is greatest invention for humankind”
Malcolm Mc Neill’s first project out of art school was a seven-year collaboration with writer William S. Burroughs. His two books about the experience were published at the end of last year.
His most recent exhibition of paintings was in August 2013 in New York.