Story of 12th century medieval Irish same-sex couple resurfaces

The 900 year-old story of a same-sex female couple has caused a stir on social media but a historian says "it suggests that the history of queerness is a lot more complicated."

Drawing of a medieval same-sex couple two woman who are embracing

A story from medieval Ireland which features a same-sex couple has gone viral on Twitter.

Medieval literature scholar Erik Wade discovered the story in John Boswell’s 1994 book Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe.

The 12th-century story which is set in the 8th-century tells of a woman going to the Irish king Niall Frosach “carrying a boy-child”, and asks for his help in uncovering the father saying that she has not been with a man for many years.

“For your kingship and your sovereignty,” she pleads, “find out for me through your ruler’s truth who the carnal father of this boy is, for I do not know myself. For I swear by your ruler’s truth, and by the king who governs every created thing that I have not known guilt with a man for many years now.”

When asked by the king if she “had playful mating with another woman?” the woman replies, “I will not conceal it. I have.”

The king tells her “That woman had mated with a man just before, and the semen which he left with her, she put it into your womb in the tumbling, so that it was begotten in your womb.

“That man is the father of your child, and let it be found out who he is.”

The 900 year-old story caused a stir on social media with many surprised by the openness by which same-sex relationships were discussed in the Middle Ages.

This was not a surprise to Wade, as he tells Pink News, there were many stories which contained LGBT+ characters.

“I’m a scholar of medieval sexuality, but I’m constantly stumbling across stories like this Irish one that I never heard about,” Wade says. “So it’s hard to say how common queer stories were: not just because of medieval people who disapproved, but modern people’s disapproval.”

Another version of this story from the 17th century appeared in a poem by Tuileagna Ó Mhaoil Chonaire called “Labhram ar Iongnaibh Éireann”.

The poem was translated in 1938 and the story about the medieval same-sex couple was removed. Fortunately, it was translated and printed in 2008 by Damian McManus.

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