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Friday, October 14, 2022 - 08:00

This is a relatively short installment because I want to put each of the lawyer's points into it's own installment.

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Vermeil. 1765. Mémoire pour Anne Grandjean. Louis Cellot, Paris.

Publication summary: 

The original text, translation, and commentary on the appeal record of Anne Grandjean against a charge of "profaning the sacrament of marriage" by marrying a woman.



L’Accusé demande à être renvoyé de l'accusation intentée contre lui, & cette accusation le suppose profanateur du Sacrememt de mariage. Il faut donc établir, pour la justification de l’Accusé, qu'il ne s'est point rendu coupable de cette profanation.


The Accused asks to be dismissed from the charge brought against zir, and this charge presupposes that he is a profaner of the Sacrament of Marriage. It must therefore be established, for the justification of the accused, that he was not guilty of this profanation.

{HRJ: One thing I’d like to pause to notice here, is that, to some extent, the narrator has represented Grandjean’s gender based on the context of the narrative: sometimes female, sometimes male. But at this point, when medical examination has identified Grandjean’s anatomy as feminine, the narrator still consistently represents them as male. Setting aside the question of how Grandjean may have understood their own gender, their lawyer’s willingness to gender them according to public presentation is significant. It may, however, simply reflect the lawyer’s position that—until the question of physical gender has been thoroughly reviewed and discussed—his responsibility is to assert the gender (masculine) that would support his client’s innocence. And perhaps the narrator is hedging a bit. For as he tackles the question of how to categorize Grandjean’s gender, it feels like he’s using language deliberately designed to avoid gender references.}

{Another thing to note here is that Grandjean is not accused of cross-dressing. They are not accused of engaging in “female sodomy” (the question of sexual activity has not been touched on). The charge is that, by entering into a marriage while not meeting the required conditions for that marriage to be valid, one is disrespecting the institution itself. As we will see, this is perhaps the easiest to refute of the possible charges that could have been brought.}

Pour remplir ce point de vue, nous examinerons d'abord quel est, dans le physique l'état de l'Accusé.

To fulfill this point of view, we will first examine what is, in physical terms, the state of the Accused.

{HRJ: That is, one point to establish is how the accused relates to that “required condition for the marriage to be valid.”}

2°. Dans le droit, nous verrons ce que c'est que la profanation du Sacrement de mariage.

2. In the law, we will see what the profanation of the Sacrament of Marriage is.

{HRJ: The second step is to establish the necessary and sufficient conditions for “profanation of the sacrament of marriage” to exist.}

3°. Dans le fait, nous démontrerons qu'il n'y a point ici de profanation à reprocher à l'Accusé.

3. In fact, we will demonstrate that there is no profanation to be reproached to the Accused.

{HRJ: The defense counsel is, perhaps, giving away the weakness of point #1 by indicating that the defense will focus on negating the definition in point #2.}

Chacun de ces objets demande une discussion séparée.

Each of these objects requires a separate discussion.

Time period: 
Event / person: 
Tuesday, October 11, 2022 - 10:00

In this 5th installment of the appeal record of Anne/Jean-Baptiste Grandjean, we get the context in which Grandjean was accused of being "a female hermaphrodite married to a woman" and the somewhat scanty details of the initial trial, conviction, and sentencing for "profanation of the sacrament of marriage." As I'll discuss in a later installment, this is only one of the possible chargest that could have been brought against Grandjean, and in many ways the least hazardous. Does this reflect an underlying sympathy on the part of the prosecutor? Or does it reflect a shift in the legal environment in France from earlier eras when a charge of "female sodomy" might have been more likely? Or, at the very least, a charge of cross-dressing would have been nearly impossible to refute. I suspect that the fact that a formal marriage ceremony had taken place meant that the prosecutor felt the need to address the validity of the marriage in the context of the charge. But it's still interesting that no other charge was added to the "profanation" one.

Minor note: my intent is to post installments of this publication on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule in order to complete it by the end of the month. But today's installment is going up a day early because tomorrow will be my first day returning to my physical job-site for "routine" work. Going forward, I'll be on-site one day a week, which makes a nice balance between the joy and convenience of working from home, and the delightful change-up (and synergy opportunitites) of being on-site. But to simplify my morning tasks on my first back-to-commuting day, I figured I'd skip scheduling a blog!

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Vermeil. 1765. Mémoire pour Anne Grandjean. Louis Cellot, Paris.

Publication summary: 

The original text, translation, and commentary on the appeal record of Anne Grandjean against a charge of "profaning the sacrament of marriage" by marrying a woman.

Accusation and Trial

Mais voici le moment de l'infortune.

But here is the moment of misfortune.

{HRJ: In phrasings such as this, we can envision this text as representing a speech directly to an audience. Given the framing, it doesn’t seem to be purporting to be the actual presentation made to the court, but perhaps a cleaned-up, dramatized version. It would be interesting to know more about this type of publication and how it relates to actual court proceedings.}

La nommée Legrand, que Grandjean avoit connue à Grenoble arriva à Lyon dans le cours de l'année derniere. Elle y aprit qu'il avoit épousé Françoise Lambert, & ayant eu occasion de voir cette femme, elle lui dit qu'elle étoit étonnée de son mariage, parce que Grandjean étoit hermaphrodite.

The [woman] named Legrand, whom Grandjean had known in Grenoble, arrived in Lyon during the course of last year. There she learned that he had married Françoise Lambert, and having had the opportunity to see this woman, she told her that she was astonished by her marriage, because Grandjean was a hermaphrodite.

{HRJ: Here we must pause to consider what Legrand (or the author of the pamphlet) understood by the word “hermaphrodite,” and for this I suggest reviewing the studies cited in my introductory text, from the medieval period up through Grandjean’s lifetime. As you can see from those discussions, the term “hermaphrodite” was not restricted to those with ambiguous anatomy, but could apply generally to anyone who transgressed gender norms, but especially to assigned-female persons who were considered to be intruding on male prerogatives, in dress, in behavior, in intellectual interests, or in sexuality. So when Lambert tells Legrand that Grandjean is a “hermaphrodite” she isn’t necessarily (or even most likely) accusing Grandjean of being intersex, but could just as likely (perhaps more likely) be accusing Grandjean of being a cross-dresser, a lesbian, or transgender. Another possibility would be "someone presenting as female who has male-coded intersts and activities" but within the present context this doesn't seem likely to be the intent. These concepts may not have been clearly distinguished in Legrand’s intention. Nor can we necessarily identify how Lambert would have understood the accusation, except in terms of how her reaction is presented here.}

Ce discours surprit Françoise Lambert, elle sit des réflexions sur la stérilité de son union, elle crut en trouver la cause dans la nouvelle qu'on venoit de lui appredre, sa conscience fut allarmée elle témoigna son inquiétude à son Directeur, & ce dernier lui conseilla de ne plus avoir de familiarités avec son mari.

This speech surprised Françoise Lambert, she thought about the sterility of her union, she believed to find the cause in the news that she had just received, her conscience was alarmed she showed her concern to her Director, & the latter advised her not to have any more familiarity with her husband.

{HRJ: I believe “Director” here is a short form of “directeur de conscience,” another name for religious confessor, which makes sense in context. The superficial interpretation of this passage is that Lambert is not consciously aware that her husband is in any way different from any other man, in person or in actions. The “sterility of her union” is most obviously interpreted as their lack of chidren. But here we can envision a spread of possible situations and interpretations, depending on how naïve we believe Lambert to be about sex and procreation, how honest she is to herself and her confessor, and whether her action is driven by spiritual concern or fear of being accused of complicity in the irregular marriage. Just to pick a few of the possible options: Lambert could be ignorant of male anatomy and the experience of procreative sex, believes that Legrand has her welfare at heart, and is genuinely anxious about whether she is committing a sin. From a very different angle, Lambert could have entered into the marriage well aware that Grandjean was anatomically female and (whether or not they engaged in a sexual relationship) she may have understood an implied threat in Legrand’s communication and (whether or not she consulted with Grandjean first) concluded that her own safety required going on record as being an ignorant and deceived party before Legrand went more public with the information. In between those two are many other possible interpretations. I think it’s reasonable to believe that Legrand’s motivation involved jealousy and revenge, given her prior courtship by Grandjean, regardless of how it was cloaked in moral concern. And, as noted above, I think we need to consider it a strong likelihood that Legrand and Lambert both knew that Grandjean had originally been assigned female and raised as a girl, which rules out a number of the possible scenarios.}

Ainsi, & par un concours de circonstances plus singulieres les unes que les autres, ce fut un Directeur qui obligea Grandjean à prendre les habits d'homme, & ce fut un Directeur qui obligea Françoise Lambert à refuser la qualité d'homme à son mari.

Thus, and by a combination of circumstances more singular than the others, it was a Director who obliged Grandjean to take on the clothes of a man, and it was a Director who obliged Françoise Lambert to refuse the status of man to her husband.

{HRJ: Here we see confirmation that “Director” should be understood as “confessor” since the latter term was used explicitly in the earlier passage. The phrase “la qualité d’homme” literally means “the quality of a man”, but reviewing the idiomatic meanings of “la qualité d’homme X” and related phrases here, it’s clear there’s an idiomatic meaning to this construction and it should be interpreted as “the status or capacity of a man” or “manhood, masculinity.” Ironically, several cited examples at the link make it clear that “la qualité d’homme” can mean “humanity” in a general sense, but I think we can understand the current use as specifically gendered.}

Grandjean fu averti par son épouse de la démarche qu'elle venoit de faire, de ses inquiétudes & de ses craintes; cette nouveauté fit sur lui une sensation douloureuse. Il aimoit sa femme, il l'avoit épousée de bonne foi; elle l'avoit connu avant son mariage; il avoit cru jusqu'alors avoir rempli les devoirs de mari; aucun nuage, aucun trouble jusqu'à ce moment ne s'étoient élevés dans leur union; mais enfin voyant que sa femme insisoit, il lui proposa d'aller ensemble faire confidence au Grand-Vicaire de leur situation respective, de la maniere dont ils avoient vécu jusqu'alors, & de suivre les conseils qu'il leur donneroit.

Grandjean was informed by zir wife of the step she had just taken, of her worries and fears; this news {lit. “novelty”} had a painful effect on zem. He loved his wife, he had married her in good faith; she had known zem before their marriage; he had believed that until then he had fulfilled the duties of a husband; no clouds, no troubles had arisen in their union until that moment; but finally, seeing that zir wife insisted, he proposed that they go together to confide in the Grand-Vicar their respective situations, the way in which they had lived up to that point, and to follow the advice he would give them.

{HRJ: The narrative consistently frames Grandjean as naïve and innocent of deliberate intent, simply acting based on the gender role assignment from their confessor. But as with the discussion of Lambert’s possible understandings and motivations, this can’t be separated from the possibility that Grandjean is acting from a fear of the legal consequences of being outed. So does this framing reflect Grandjean’s true mental state? Or does it reflect a constructed story that Grandjean presented to the court to try to get the best outcome, once it was clear that their background was going to be made public? Or is it a framing constructed by the lawyer to achieve the desired outcome?}

Une proposition pareille, de la part de Grandjean, annonçoit la pureté de ses intentions & de ses sentimens; mais la nouvelle divulguée par la nommée Legrand, avoit été saisie avec avidité par le Public, & voloit déja de bouche en bouche. On avertit le Substitut de M. le Procureur Général à Lyon, qu'une femme hermaphrodite avoit épousé une nommée Françoise Lambert, & vivoit avec elle depuis plusieurs années.

Such a proposal, on the part of Grandjean, announced the purity of zir intentions and feelings; but the news divulged by the said Legrand, was eagerly seized by the public, and was already flying from mouth to mouth. The deputy of the Attorney General in Lyon was informed that a hermaphrodite woman had married a woman named Françoise Lambert, and had been living with her for several years.

{HRJ: This is the context in which we need to consider the possible interpretations of Grandjean’s and Lambert’s actions (and reported motivations). The cat was out of the bag. Clearly Legrand had talked to more people than just Lambert. And whether from naïveté or strategy, the couple needed to get ahead of the story. Notice that the accusation against Grandjean isn’t the ambiguous state of being neither man nor woman, but specifically the state of being a woman who is also a “hermaphrodite” with whatever range of meaning was attributed to that word. (Assuming that Legrand's accusation used the word "hermaphrodite" rather than this being the author's interpretation. But it's probably reasonable to think the word "hermaphrodite" was used in this context in the Lyon court record, however Legrand may have phrased it.) Within context, the simple act of being assigned female and being married to a woman could result in being labeled “hermaphrodite”. The simple act of being assigned female and being believed to be engaging in a sexual relationship with a woman (while performing some degree of masculinity) could result in being labeled “hermaphrodite”. But the label “hermaphrodite” could also imply a belief that Grandjean, while assigned female, had some degree of masculinity of anatomy, especially if it allowed for some approximation of penetrative sex. And all these would not necessarily be clearly distinguished in the minds of the accuser or listeners.}

Le Procureur du Roi, pour le maintien des mœurs, crut devoir rendre plainte contre cet individu; cette plainte fut suivie de l'instruction la plus sévere; Grandjean décrété de prise de corps, fut, mis dans un chachot les fers aux pieds, dans un tems où il attestoit le Ciel de son innocence, où l'on ne pouvoit imputer ses torts qu'à la nature.

The King's Prosecutor, in order to maintain morals, believed that he had to file a complaint against this individual; this complaint was followed by the most severe inquiry; Grandjean was ordered to be taken into custody, and was put in a shackle with irons on zir feet, at a time when he was attesting to Heaven of zir innocence, and when zir offences could only be imputed to nature.

{HRJ: I’m fumbling a bit for the best translation of “instruction la plus severe” in a legal context, where “instruction” seems to have some specialized senses. From what I can find, in modern French legal practice, the “juge d’instruction” (judge of inquiry) conducts a pre-trial hearing to determine if there’s sufficient evidence for a charge. Which seems to be more or less what’s going on here. Grandjean is arrested, but the court is still assembling the evidence necessary to determine if there will be a trial. But 18th century practice may differ from the explanations I can find. The narrator is jumping ahead of the arguments in stating that Grandjean’s offences (the word in the text is “tort” but I’m not sure it has the same sense here as that word has in legalese) can be “imputed to nature.” There’s also an ambiguity in whether Grandjean is supposed to be understood to be appealing to Nature, or whether this is purely the narrator’s interpretation.}

Des témoins furent entendus, l'Accusé fut visité; les Chirurgiens dans leur Procès-verbal, après avoir rendu compte de ce qu'ils avoient trouvé chez lui appartenir au sexe masculin, current devoir attester que son sexe prédominant étoit celui de femme.

Witnesses were heard, the accused was visited; the surgeons in their report, after having given an account of what they had found him to have belonging to the male sex, had to attest that his predominant sex was that of a woman.

{HRJ: The phrase “chez lui appartenir au sexe masculine” is hard to translate literally, but I think I have the gist of it here. The surgeons did an anatomical examination of Grandjean (and let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge how invasive and frightening this must have been) and concluded that their anatomy was “predominantly” female. Recall that when Grandjean’s confessor instructed them to present as male, there was no question of anatomy, just as there was no question of gender identity. How, then, did Grandjean interpret the confessor’s instruction? Did they believe they had developed male anatomy? Under some theories of gender at various times, behaving as a different sex could result in physiological changes (this belief may have been influenced by certain types of intersex condition where male secondary sex characteristics developed only in adolescence). But regardless of what Grandjean believed to be the case about their physiology, it was a standard response in the early modern period to suspect masculinized anatomy in any case of apparent female same-sex desire. In many cases, such an examination concluded that the accused had completely normative female anatomy. This motif might be allowed as a mitigating factor if examiners found the anatomy ambiguous. But evidently this was not the case in Grandjean’s examination, according to the conclusions of the examiners.}

L'accusé fut interrogé par le Juge, mais les traits de vérité, de candeur, de bonne foi qui sortirent de sa bouche, & qui justifioient son erreur, ne le toucherent pas. Il déploya contre l'Accusé la sévérité la plus grande, & par sa Sentence il le condamna à être attaché au carcan pendant trois jours avec cet écriteau, Profanateur du Sacrement de mariage, à être fouetté par la main du Boureau, & au bannissement à perpétuité.

The accused was questioned by the Judge, but the lines of truth, candor, and good faith which came out of zir mouth, and which justified zir error, did not touch him {note: “him” being the judge}. He used the greatest severity against the accused, and by his sentence he {the judge} condemned him {Grandjean} to be tied in the stocks for three days with this sign, Profaner of the Sacrament of Marriage, to be whipped by the hand of the executioner, and to be banished for life.

{HRJ: The narrator is, perhaps, being hyperbolic in calling this “the greatest severity.” While the sentence is certainly inhumane, it is relatively lenient within the historic context of how women engaging in marriage in male guise were treated. While there don't seem to be any 18th century French cases of execution of "female husbands," that penalty was enacted occasionally in eralier centuries. There’s a question of how to interpret “banishment” here. In other legal judgements involving banishment, it’s often “from the city of residence” rather than something more global. So was Grandjean being banished from Lyon, the city in which the original charge was made? The “Conciergerie du Palais” mentioned in the next paragraph, appears to be the name for a specific prison in Paris. It doesn't appear that the initial trial held in Paris, so was Grandjean sentenced in Lyon, banished, and as part of that banishment transferred to Paris? Recall that the case was first brought to the attention of “the deputy of the Attorney General in Lyon” but then was brought to “the king’s prosecutor” presumably also in Lyon. Both titles appear to be general ranks in the 18th century French court system, and not unique offices.}

Grandjean a interjetté appel de ce Jugement; il a été transféré dans les prisons de la Conciergerie du Palais, & est de tous les prisonniers le plus malheureux peut-être. Son état a páru exiger des précautions que l'on ne prend pas contre les autres. Les hommes & femmes qui ne sont pas destinés à des peines capitales ont successivement la liberté du préau; mais comme Grandjean, dans l'opinion publique, n'est ni homme ni femme, ou qu'il est tous les deux à la fois, on ne lui permet d'aller ni avec les hommes ni avec les femmes. C'est dans le secret de la prison la plus étroite, & réduit à la plus affreuse solitude, qu'il dévore sa douleur.

Grandjean appealed this judgment; he was transferred to the prisons of the Conciergerie du Palais, and is—of all the prisoners—perhaps the most unfortunate. Zir condition may have required precautions that are not taken against others. The men and women who are not destined for capital punishment are successively allowed freedom of the yard; but as Grandjean, in the public opinion, is neither man nor woman, or both at the same time, zie is not allowed to go either with the men or with the women. It is in the secrecy of the narrowest prison, and reduced to the most dreadful loneliness, that he devours his pain.

{HRJ: While writing this commentary, I found a brief post by blogger Rodama1789 providing outlines of judicial practice in 18th century France, which I have drawn on for certain points of understanding. Evidently an appeal was automatic for sentences involving execution, corporal punishment, or banishment, and thus the transfer to Paris. There’s also a comment that defendants were only allowed counsel in cases that did not involve crimes against persons. One wonders whether the sensational aspects of Grandjean’s trial attracted a more energetic defense counsel than might otherwise have been available. The larger part of this paragraph sets out the universal problem encountered by legal systems dealing with non-gender-conforming individuals. How do you handle them in a system that not only assumes a gender binary, but that demands gender segregation? We see a similar quandary two centuries earlier in Spain in the case of Elen@ de Céspedes, whose trial similarly involved questions of anatomical sex. The answer, as seen in some other historic cases, is solitary confinement, which the narrator squeezes for all the pathos that can be obtained. The French phrase “dévore sa douleur” clearly has some idiomatic or poetic meaning—I can find other examples of this phrase in literature of a similar era—but I haven’t be able to find additional context.}

Time period: 
Event / person: 
Monday, October 10, 2022 - 08:00

Sorry, no extra commentary this time. Running a bit behind this morning.

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Vermeil. 1765. Mémoire pour Anne Grandjean. Louis Cellot, Paris.

Publication summary: 

The original text, translation, and commentary on the appeal record of Anne Grandjean against a charge of "profaning the sacrament of marriage" by marrying a woman.


Grandjean & Françoise Lambert allerent à Chamberry; & le 24 Juin 1761, après trois publications de bans, sans avoir découvert aucun empêchement légitime, ainsi que l'atteste le Curé de la paroisse, ils furent mariés avec les formalités ordinaires.

Grandjean & Françoise Lambert went to Chamberry; & on June 24, 1761, after three publications of bans, without having discovered any legitimate impediment, as the parish priest attests, they were married with the ordinary formalities.

{HRJ: “Publishing the bans” is the process of announcing the intent to marry, in part to allow anyone who feels there’s a legal impediment to the marriage (pre-existing marriage or contract, a forbidden degree of consanguinity, etc.) to speak up. It is, perhaps, relevant that the couple didn’t publish the bans in Grenoble, where people would presumably be familiar with Grandjean’s interesting history, but in Chamberry, where perhaps no one knew them personally. Chambéry is perhaps 30 miles northeast of Grenoble, so while this interpretation is possible, I don’t know that it’s likely. Furthermore, the couple return to Grenoble later to get Grandjean’s legal status settled, so if the marriage was seen as problematic by those who knew them, the issue could have been raised later. Lyon, where they move later, is perhaps 50-60 miles northwest of both towns so the chance of someone who knew Grandjean as a child encountering them seems quite likely to have happened eventually. Given that, I think we can assume that Grandjean’s community was aware of their personal history and accepted their marriage as valid.}

L'inclination des deux époux fut aussi vive que l'avoit été celle des deux amans. Ils vivoient dans la bonne foi heureux & tranquilles, sans que Françoise Lambert eût aucune défiance du sexe de son mari, & sans que ce mari eût aucun soupçon de son insuffisance.

The inclination of the two spouses was as lively as that of the two lovers had been. They lived in good faith, happy and tranquil, without Françoise Lambert having any distrust of her husband's sex, and without this husband having any suspicion of zir insufficiency.

{HRJ: This is where one starts to wonder whether Lambert and Grandjean were startlingly naïve with regard to intercourse, whether they later pretended to ignorance, or whether the author is shaping the story to his own ends in asserting that they believed their union to be a normative male-female marriage. Although that's not exactly what he asserts, if one wants to be technical. If Lambert knew and accepted an assigned-female-at-birth person as a husband, that could count as "not having any distrust." Since Lambert presumable met Grandjean in Grenoble (although the location of the marriage ceremony suggests she may have been a native of Chamberry), it would seem odd for her not to be aware that Grandjean had grown up presenting as female. Particularly given what now follows. And (presumably) knowing that, surely if she had any doubts or questions it would have been reasonable to raise them. A natural interpretation would be that Lambert was not ignorant or naïve, which then also raises the question of whether Grandjean was.}

Mais une circonstance nouvelle devoir donner encore plus d'authenticité à l'état d'homme & de mari, dont Grandjean étoit en possession.

But a new circumstance had to give even more authenticity to the state of man & husband, of which Grandjean was in possession.

Françoise Lambert avoit un compte à faire rendre à ses parens de l'administration de ses revenus, elle avoit dessein de faire le commerce avec son mari, & le reliquat de ce compte devoit leur en faciliter les moyens; mais Grandjean étoit soumis à la puissance paternelle dans un pays où le mariage n'émancipe pas. Il ne pouvoit par conséquent rien faire pour son intérêt personnel qu'il n'eût obtenu l'émancipation. Il pria son pere de lui accorder cette faveur, & ce dernier y consentit.

Françoise Lambert had an account to render to her parents of the administration of her income, she intended to do business with her husband, and the remainder of this account should facilitate the means of doing so; but Grandjean was subject to paternal power in a country where marriage does not emancipate. He could not, therefore, do anything for zir personal interest until he had obtained emancipation. He begged his father to grant zem this favor, and the latter consented.

{HRJ: This is mostly an interesting side-light on everyday legal matters in France. Based on the dates given in the text, Grandjean was 29 years old at marriage. But evidently neither this age, nor the fact of marriage gave them the legal right to act in their own behalf.}

La cérémonie de cette émancipation fut faite en l'hôtel du Juge de Grenoble.

The ceremony of this emancipation was made in the hotel of the Judge of Grenoble.

Comme dans l'acte de baptême, Grandjean étoit nommé Anne, & désigné comme fille, son pere, pour le rétablir dans tous ses droits, lui donna, dans cet acte, le nom de Jean-Baptiste, qu'il a toujours porté depuis.

As in the baptismal act, Grandjean was named Anne, and designated as a daughter, zir father, in order to re-establish him in all zir rights, gave zem, in this act, the name of Jean-Baptiste, which he has always borne since.

{HRJ: This event again speaks to the openness and acceptance with which Grandjean’s reassignmet of gender was performed. Maybe. It could be that the legal ceremony made no reference to a change of name and change of designation, but was simply done by referring to “my son Jean-Baptiste”. But as with the courtship, this is in a community where at least some people were aware that Grandjean had been raised presenting as female. I'll also note that there were occasional examples of "Anne" being used as a male baptismal name in 18th century France, although it was clearly considered the default to female. This use may have been regional or class-based, so Grandjean's community in Grenoble may well have seen Anne as female signifier, motivating the change.}

Voilà donc Grandjean constitué dans tous les droits de Citoyen en qualité d'homme & de mari.

Thus is Grandjean constituted in all the rights of a citizen in the capacity of man and husband.

Après une année ou environ de séjour à Chamberry, Françoise Lambert engagea son époux à aller à Lyon avec elle pour y fixer leur domicile, sous prétexte qu'ils y trouveroient plus de facilités dans le commerce qu'ils se proposoient de faire.

After one year or approximately of residence in Chamberry, Françoise Lambert urged her husband to go to Lyon with her to make their home there, under the pretext that they would find it easier to do the business they proposed to do.

Grandjean avoit toujours pour sa femme la même inclination, la même complaisance; il ne résisita point, mais il ne prévoyoit pas les malheurs qui l'attendoient dans cette Ville.

Grandjean always had for zir wife the same inclination, the same complaisance; he did not resist, but he did not foresee the misfortunes which awaited zem in this city.

{HRJ: One gets the impression that Lambert was the driving force in this relationship, which makes it all the more ironic that she more or less disappears from the narrative without a splash.}

Grandjean & sa femme arrivés à Lyon, allerent demeurer chez un Marchand Fabriquant en soie. Ils y vécurent toujours comme époux pendant trois années entieres, avec la conduite la plus retenue & à la satisfaction de ceux qui leur donnoient à travailler.

When Grandjean and zir wife arrived in Lyon, they went to live with a silk merchant. They lived there as husband and wife for three whole years, with the most restrained behavior and to the satisfaction of those who gave them work.

{HRJ: The author regularly emphasizes that the couple were productive, well-behaved, and virtuous. This seems to be an essential aspect of establishing Grandjean as a naïve innocent, not an immoral law-breaker.}

Time period: 
Event / person: 
Friday, October 7, 2022 - 08:00

Today's passage establishes the context in which Grandjean shifted from living as female to living as male. The reasons and attitudes that are laid out here are a major part of why I have doubts about the author's later arguments that Grandjean was intersex. I think we must assume that the book's author had access to information about these events via the testimony given in Grandjean's first trial in Lyon (which we'll get to in a couple more segments). It would have been useful if we could have direct access to that trial record, but I've never seen any references to it surviving or having been located. The author, of course, also had direct access to Grandjean, but the summary of events reads more like a formal record.

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Vermeil. 1765. Mémoire pour Anne Grandjean. Louis Cellot, Paris.

Publication summary: 

The original text, translation, and commentary on the appeal record of Anne Grandjean against a charge of "profaning the sacrament of marriage" by marrying a woman.

Early Life

Memoire POUR ANNE GRAND JEAN, connu sous le nom de JEAN BAPTISTE GRAND JEAN, Accusé & Appellant.

CONTRE M. le Procureur-Général, Accusateur & Intimé.

Un individu que l'on désigne sous le nom d'un Dieu de la fable, un être participant de l'un & l'autre sexe, qu'on a vu porter successivement les habits de femme & d'homme, qui a été baptisé comme fille, & marié comme garçon, fixe aujourd'hui l'attention des Magistrats, & la curiosité du Public, toujours avide de ces sortes de phénomenes; les premiers Juges croyant trouver dans son mariage la profanation d'un Sacrement auguste, ont prononcé contre lui des condamnations rigoureuses; mais les Juges supérieurs ne verront dans cet assemblage de circonstances singulieres que les erreurs de la Nature & la bonne foi de l'individu que la Nature elle-même a trompé.

Brief FOR ANNE GRAND JEAN, known by the name of JEAN BAPTISTE GRAND JEAN, Accused & Appellant.

AGAINST the Attorney General, Accuser & Respondent.

An individual who is referred to by the name of a God of fable, a being participating in both sexes, who has been seen successively wearing the clothes of a woman and a man, who was baptized as a girl, and married as a boy, is now attracting the attention of the magistrates, and the curiosity of the public, who are always eager to learn about these kinds of phenomena; The first Judges, believing to find in zir marriage the profanation of an august Sacrament, have pronounced rigorous condemnations against him; but the higher Judges will see in this assemblage of singular circumstances only the errors of Nature & the good faith of the individual whom Nature herself has deceived.

{HRJ: The phrase “the name of a God of fable” seems most likely to be a reference to the myth of Hermaphroditus. A more literal translation of “participating in both sexes” would be “participating in the one and the other sex”. Note that, in French, possessive pronouns take their grammatical form from the gender of the thing possessed, so possessive pronouns referring to Grandjean will always be rendered in my translation with a neo-pronoun.}


Un enfant est né à Grenoble au mois de Novembre 1732, de Jean-Baptiste Grandjean, & de Claudine Cordier; il faut croire que le sexe le plus apparent chez lui, au premier instant de son existence, fut le sexe féminin: aussi cet enfant fut-il baptisé sous le nom d'Anne, fille de Jean-Baptiste.


A child was born in Grenoble in the month of November 1732, to Jean-Baptiste Grandjean, & Claudine Cordier; it is to be believed that the most apparent sex in him, at the first moment of zir existence, was the female sex: therefore this child, he was baptized under the name of Anne, daughter of Jean-Baptiste.

{HRJ: The noun “enfant” (child) can be either masculine or feminine. The phrase “un enfant” is grammatically masculine; the feminine would be “une enfant”. But the masculine can also be used for the general case “a child of unspecified gender” so this choice isn’t necessarily taking a stand on the child’s gender, though the rest of the paragraph suggests that the author may have been using specifically as male. Although the “apparent sex” of the infant was female, and the child was baptized as a daughter (“fille”), all the clearly gendered pronoun references to Grandjean in this passage are masculine (“chez lui”, “fut-il baptisé”). So I think we can conclude that the author is establishing the position that Grandjean is masculine and the choice of “un enfant” was deliberate and not just a generic.}

On lui donna les habits propres à ce sexe aussi-tôt qu'il fut en état de les porter; il étoit élevé parmi les jeunes filles de son voisinage, & ne voyoit alors en elles que des compagnes indifférentes.

Zie was given the clothes proper to this sex as soon as he was able to wear them; he was brought up among the young girls of zir neighborhood, and saw in them only indifferent companions.

A peine parvenu à sa quatorzieme année, il éprouva un changement dont il fut lui-même étonné.

Barely having reached zir fourteenth year, he experienced a change of which he himself was astonished.

{HRJ: The implication here seems to be that Grandjean didn’t experience romantic/sexual attraction to girls when young—that it only developed at puberty. It isn't mentioned what Grandjean's position on male companions was in childhood. The next statement clearly establishes that, at puberty, Grandjean had no romantic interest in boys. It might have strengthed the author's case if he'd been able to assert that Grandjean preferred to play with boys rather than girls, in childhood. But conversely we can't put too much weight on this absence since the question may not have been raised. Or they may not have felt that a child either didn't have a choice of who they associated with or that it wasn't relevant.}

Dans cet âge où les passions commencent à établir leur empire, un instinct de plaisir dont Grandjean ignoroit la cause, le rapprochoit sans cesse de ses compagnes, & développoit en lui une faculté qui n'appartient point au sexe dont on l'avoit cru d'abord.

In this age when passions begin to establish their empire, an instinct of pleasure, the cause of which Grandjean did not know, brought him constantly closer to zir companions, and developed in zem a faculty which did not belong to the sex of which zie was first believed to be.

La présence des hommes au contraire le laissoit froid & tranquille, & la nature sembloit se plaindre du travestissement de son ouvrage.

The presence of men, on the contrary, left him cold and quiet, and nature seemed to complain about the travesty of its work.

{HRJ: “Travesty” here is probably invoking both the original literal sense of “cross-dressing” as well as the metaphorical sense of general transgression. The key thing to note in these last two passages is that the “change” in Grandjean is not framed as gender dysphoria, but as an experience of desire considered inappropriate for their assigned sex. “A faculty which did not belong to the sex zie was believed to be.” At this point in the story, I think it's key not to be distracted by the author's use of male language for Grandjean. The essential story is: a child, assigned female, raised female, and living as female, at puberty began experiencing romantic/sexual desire for girls. It's also important to note that the author (and as we'll see, others) considers this desire to be contrary to nature and inappropriate for "the sex Grandjean was believed to be". It's also important to note that nowhere at this stage of the story is there any reference to Grandjean noticing unexpected anatomical changes or to expressing an identification with male gender. This is a major reason why I'm skeptical about the anatomical description the author introduces during the appeal. If Greandjean had one of the types of intersex conditions where masculine genitals begin developing at puberty, it seems odd that this wouldn't have been raised as part of the "changes" they were experiencing. And if ambiguous genitals had been present from birth, surely even the presence of an under-developed penis would have resulted in Grandjean being assigned male? Though I must confess that I haven't studied early literature on intersex conditions to determine whether I'm correct in this assumption.}

Jean-Baptiste Grandjean ne fut pas long-tems sans s'appercevoir des nouvelles affections de son enfant, il lui fit là-dessus des questions auxquelles ce dernier répondit d'une maniere embarrassante.

Jean-Baptiste Grandjean was not long without noticing his child's new affections, and he asked zem questions about them, to which the latter replied in an embarrassing manner.

Ce pere lui dit de consulter son Confesseur, & de tenir la conduite qu'il lui prescriroit.

This father told zem to consult zir confessor, and to do as he prescribed.

{HRJ: The use of epicene pronouns here is not marked, but is simply the default language in French. This isn’t a case of representing a specific attitude of the father regarding Grandjean’s sex. Once again, note that what's being noticed is Grandjean's "affections" with no mention of other characteristics.}

L'enfant fut docile, le Confesseur fut instruit, il dit à la jeune personne qu'elle ne pouvoit rester plus long-tems sans crime en habit de femme, que cet habillement lui donnoit un accès trop facile vis-à-vis des filles de son âge, & qu'il falloit prendre le vêtement convenable au sexe dominant chez lui.

The child was docile, the Confessor was instructed, he told the young person {fem.} that she could not remain any longer without crime in woman's clothing, that this clothing gave zem too easy access to girls of zir age, and that it was necessary for him to take the clothing suitable for zir dominant sex.

{HRJ: In contrast, this passage starts out treating Grandjean as female and ends shifting to male. While “la jeune personne” may simply reflect the grammatical gender of “personne” (feminine)—though one might expect a different noun to be used if the intent were to emphasize masculinity—“qu’elle” is clearly feminine. But then “qu’il” uses a masculine form. Here we may be seeing a representation of the confessor’s shift in how he perceives Grandjean’s gender. From a philosophical point of view, the confessor seems to be saying, "If you are living as a woman, then you have intimate access to women and can easily act on your sexual desires whic would be "criminal," therefore in order to prevent sexual crime, you must present as male in order to create a social barrier from the objects of your desire so that your desires can be subject to social control." This desire is what determines Grandjean's "dominant sex" in the confessor's view. Once again I emphasize that there is no mention of a medical examination--though such a thing would be consistent with how communities reacted to open displays of f/f desire, see for example the case two centuries earlier of Greta von Mösskirch. Did the priest question Grandjean regarding their anatomy? Or was he solely focused on behavior? It may be that he was not entirely familiar with intersex possibilities, though the theory of f/f desire being due to masculinized anatomy had been circulating in popular culture for centuries. But if we take the priest's position as reported, it's yet another reason to be skeptical of later anatomical arguments.}

Le conseil du Confesseur fut exécuté, &-ce fut une nouveauté singuliere dans la ville de Grenoble, de voir un individu que jusqu'alors on n'avoit connu que comme fille, paroître tout-à-coup avec les attributs de la masculinité.

The Confessor's advice was carried out, and it was a singular novelty in the city of Grenoble to see an individual who until then had been known only as a girl, suddenly appear with the attributes of masculinity.

Grandjean, sous l'habit d'homme, parut ce qu'il étoit ou ce qu'il croyoit être, & les jeunes filles de son voisinage le virent avec un nouvel intérêt.

Grandjean, in the clothing of a man, appeared what he was or what he thought he was, and the young girls in zir neighborhood saw him with a new interest.

{HRJ: “Or what he thought he was” is an interesting inclusion, as it hints at the author’s later reframing that Grandjean’s performed gender was a matter of belief rather than essence. Aside from any of the underlying "truths" of Grandjean's case, I'd like to call attention to a clear example of an adolescent changing social gender, with the approval and knowledge of their community, in 18th century France.}

Une d'entr'e elles, nommée Legrand, mérita ses premiers soins, mais cette fréquentation n'eut pas de suite.

One of them {fem.}, named Legrand, earned zir first attentions, but this association did not continue.

{HRJ: This will be the woman who will later betray Grandjean.}

Françoise Lambert succéda à cette derniere. La passion qu'il sentit pour elle fut beaucoup plus forte.

Françoise Lambert succeeded this previous one. The passion he felt for her was much stronger.

Cette passion (car il ne faut rien dissimuler) introduisit des familiarités. Françoise Lambert connut tout ce que Grandjean pouvoit être, & Grandjean lui paroissoit être tout ce qu'il falloit.

This passion (because it is necessary not to hide anything) introduced familiarities. Françoise Lambert knew all that Grandjean could be, and Grandjean seemed to her to be all that was necessary.

{HRJ: Once again, the author gets vague and flowery when it comes to discussing how the couple expressed their desire. One gets the impression that the message is that Lambert was fully aware of Grandjean’s physicality, and had no problems with the nature of their physical relationship. That conclusion is reading a certain amount into the ambiguous language, but it will be relevant later when we consider the hypothesis that the two were naive and ignorant about the nature of their relationship.}

Ces familiarités ne servirent qu'à rendre leur union plus intime; ils desirerent de la sceller du sceau de la Religion.

These familiarities only served to make their union more intimate; they wished to seal it with the seal of religion.

{HRJ: This is somewhat less ambiguous. Whatever their “familiarities” were, evidently it was something that required marriage to fully authorize. The strong implication is that the couple were engaged in what they categorized as sexual relations. To be continued.}

Time period: 
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Wednesday, October 5, 2022 - 08:00

The slightly shorter version of the publication reads more like a simple legal record (though one with significant "spin" by the author), but the expanded version, including the introductory summary here, is more clearly aimed at a popular audience. It plunges in with emotionally charged language to hook the sympathies of the reader and to clearly lay out the author's conclusions about the "truth" of Grandjean's identity and history. The fact that this is somewhat contradicted by the "origin story" that follows (in the next installment) is a key point in my own skepticism about the author's position.

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Vermeil. 1765. Mémoire pour Anne Grandjean. Louis Cellot, Paris.

Publication summary: 

The original text, translation, and commentary on the appeal record of Anne Grandjean against a charge of "profaning the sacrament of marriage" by marrying a woman.

Title and Introduction

{HRJ: We begin with the title page. Although no author is listed here, some catalog entries list the author as the M. Vermeil whose name appears at the end of the text and I have followed that practice.}

Mémoire pour Anne Grandjean, connu sous le nom de Jean-Baptiste Grandjean, Accusé & Appellant.

Contre Monsieur le Procureur Général, Accusateur & Intimé.


Un HERMAPHRODITE qui a épousé une fille, peut-il être repute profanateur du Sacrement de marriage, quand la nature qui le tromoit, l’appelloit à l’état de mari?

{Only in the expanded edition: Auquel on joint l’HERMAPHRODITE, ou Lettre d’Anne GranJean à Françoise Lambert sa femme.}




Brief for Anne Grandjean, known by the name of Jean-Baptiste Grandjean, Accused & Appellant.

Against the Attorney General, Accuser & Respondent.


A HERMAPHRODITE who has married a girl, can he be reputed to be a profaner of the sacrament of marriage, when Nature deceived him, called zem to the state of a husband?

{To which we join the HERMAPHRODITE, or Letter of Anne Grandjean to Françoise Lambert, zir wife.}

At Paris, from the printing house of Louis Cellot, Rue Dauphine


{HRJ: This next page is present in the more extensive text, i.e., the one that also includes the poem.}


Plusieurs personnes ont sans doute connoissance de l'avanture de Grandjean dont la Cour de Parlement de Paris vient de rompre le mariage dans lequel il vivoit depuis trois ans.


Many people are undoubtedly aware of Grandjean's predicament, whose marriage, in which he had been living for three years, has just been broken off by the Court of Parliament in Paris.

C'est ici un exemple des jeux de la nature, mais des plus frapans, Le rapport des Chirurgiens prouve qu'il étoit capable de sentir & de faire éprouver à une femme ces douces émotions qui accompagnent la jouissance; mais sans pouvoir de sa part achever l'intention de la nature.

This is an example of nature's games, but one of the most frightening. The surgeons' report proves that he was capable of feeling and making a woman experience those sweet emotions which accompany pleasure, but without being able to complete nature's intention.

{HRJ: There are a number of possible interpretations of this rather flowery passage. One implication would be that Grandjean experienced sexual arousal and was able to give sexual pleasure, but was not capable of some further act, whether that was intercourse or impregnation. Descriptions of erotic activity between women in this era often assert that regardless of whatever sexual satisfaction they may enjoy, it isn’t "complete" i.e., PIV sex. But another possible interpretation is that Grandjean felt and inspired romantic love without being able to achieve sexual gratification. See also the later anatomical discussion. The author tends to get flowery and vague in all discussions around sexual activity. So there is intentional vagueness here whether we're talking about emotions, about sexual pleasure, or about procreation.}

C'est après avoir joui long-temps de cette prérogative, quoique incomplette, qu'on le fait revenir d'une erreur qui lui plaisoit. Trahi, persécuté, accusé, condamné par des Juges barbares à une peine déshonorante, absous par d'autres plus justes & plus humains, mais éclairé par eux sur un mystére qu'il ignoroit, il est obligé de renoncer au titre d'époux, & qui plus est, à celui d'homme.

It is after having enjoyed this prerogative for a long time, albeit incompletely, that he is made to return from an error that pleased zem. Betrayed, persecuted, accused, condemned by barbaric judges to a dishonorable punishment, absolved by others who were more just and more humane, but enlightened by them on a mystery of which he was ignorant, he is obliged to renounce the title of husband, and what is more, that of man.

{HRJ: This passage finishes the page that is added in the longer edition. The above passage clearly sets forth the author’s point of view and sympathies on the case. The author takes the position that Grandjean is intersex, with sufficiently functional male anatomy to engage in sex but incapable of ejaculation and impregnation. As we shall see, there seems to be significant reason to question this explanation, if only because the question of anatomy is raised very late in the game and with contradictory evidence, and because it seems to be raised largely due to a complete rejection of the possibility of female same-sex desire. Even if Grandjean were intersex, we repeatedly see authority figures in the narrative rejecting the concept of desire between women, leading to the question of whether they would have acted differently regardless of Grandjean’s anatomy. We also need to consider that the author’s goal is to get Grandjean acquitted. And we must consider that he may have chosen and spun his evidence in the way he felt best supported that goal. Medical knowledge about interesex conditions was still in its infancy, and was emerging from an era when awareness of the range of variation available for "typical" female anatomy was lacking. Furthermore, we are still emerging from an era when female same-sex desire was regularly attributed to masculinized physiology, even in the face of contradictory evidence during examination. So was the author making a cased based on his own direct knowledge of Grandjean's anatomy? Or was he making a case that fit with pre-existing beliefs about the causes of erotic desire? Regardless of the absolute facts of the matter, which are not entirely knowable, there are several noteworthy things going on. In 18th century France, in this particular case, some religious and legal authorities supported the social and legal re-categorization of a person from female to male. Even if this was done in a sort of panic to avoid recognizing female-female desire, it’s still a significant thing to have done. A person who had been raised as female transitioned to being treated as male, changed their name to reflect this as part of a legal record, and married a woman. And the married couple were well on their way to living happily ever after until confronted by a jealous ex. So whether Grandjean understood themselves to be a woman, but changed to presenting as male due to instruction by the authorities (and to have a fulfilling romantic life); or whether Grandjean was intersex and developed masculinized genitals only in puberty at which time they experienced desire for women and re-aligned their gender identity to match heteronormative expectations; or whether Grandjean desired women as part of an internal male gender identity and was happy that the authorities authorized transition; whichever of these—or other possible interpretations—is the real story, this narrative is greatly enlightening regarding 18th century French attitudes toward gender, sex, and social category.}

Time period: 
Event / person: 
Monday, October 3, 2022 - 08:00

This blog series (in 14 installments) is probably the most ambitious thing I've done for the Project so far.

When trying to understand the details and nuances of primary source material dealing with gender and sexuality, there are many layers of information to sort through: the literal meaning of the words, the contextual meaning of the words, the social background of how people understood those concepts, the purpose and biases of the author of the text and of their culture. When historians discuss how such texts contribute to our understanding of gender and sexuality, we assume and trust that they have taken all these things into account. But sometimes you find yourself asking different questions than the historians, or coming at the questions from a different angle. And then you want to have a go at the original texts. If you're lucky, the material is relatively short and has been included in a scholarly publication. Alternately, the material is in publication somewhere and the scholar has given you a clear enough citation to find it. The worst case is when the source material exists only in manuscript in some archive (or--worse than that--has been lost since the time the scholar accessed it). But the appeal record of Grandjean falls somewhat before that worst case: it was written at a time when it was published in print, and copies of those print editions have been digitized and made available on the internet. (It is, of course, long out of copyright!)

And then there's the issue of translation. The text is in French--and French of the 18th century, though the differences from modern literary French are quite minor. My French is very very minimal--I can make my way through technical language in a field I'm familiar with, rather laboriously. But fortunately, we live in an age when machine translation has improved amazingly, and with the help of a truly marvelous translation site, Deep-L, I was able to render the original into English. More details on that below. This approach means I've been able to examine the ways that the author uses gendered language to discuss Grandjean's case, whether to put forth a particular view of Grandjean's gender categorization, or to follow the shifts and changes in how Grandjean's gender was understood by others.

I'm going to be completely up front about my own, personal interpretation of Grandjean's identity. Like Grandjean's advocate, I have emphasized and de-emphasized certain aspects of the stated evidence (which is contradictory). I believe that Grandjean was a woman who sexually desired women, but who believed authority figures when told that this was not a possible thing. Grandjean was told "if you desire women, then you must be a man." So Grandjean became a man as far as their community was concerned, changed their name, and married a woman. When other authority figures contradicted the original instructions (considering that anatomy was more important in determining gender than desire), I believe that Grandjean's case was taken up by an advocate who emphasized his own interpretation of the relationship of anatomy and desire to gender--an interpretation that still had no place for the existence of women who desired women. Grandjean's advocate, knowing of the existence of intersex conditions, spun a story that Grandjean was intersex and that this was the underlying cause of their desire for women. (At a later point, I'll go into more detail about the contradictory evidence of the medical examination.)

My take on Grandjean's story is certainly not the only valid one. But I think there's a deeper truth involved. Assuming Grandjean had fully normative female anatomy, the initial stages of their story would have been the same. Based on the stated evidence, Grandjean's initial social gender reassignment was not based on anatomy, but on sexual desire. And I necessarily reject the advocate's premise that sexual desire is impossible between two women. So the deeper truth is the light this story sheds on the variety of attitudes and understandings regarding desire between women in 18th century France. We certainly know that the "impossibility" opinion wasn't the only one that prevailed. We are less than a half-century away from the scandalous stories of the Anandrine Sect and the political accusations of lesbianism against Queen Marie Antoinette. But one possible position was that the idea of lesbianism was so unacceptable that the entire structure of society could be upended to align one person's gender with their desires.

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Vermeil. 1765. Mémoire pour Anne Grandjean. Louis Cellot, Paris.

Publication summary: 

The original text, translation, and commentary on the appeal record of Anne Grandjean against a charge of "profaning the sacrament of marriage" by marrying a woman.

Introductory Material


People in the past could have complex, contradictory, nuanced understandings of gender and sexuality, but we rarely have access to these complexities in as detailed a manner as for the case on Anne/Jean-Baptiste Grandjean, thanks to the existence of a popular-oriented publication of the legal appeal against Grandjean’s initial sentence. As a very brief summary, a person assigned female at birth, with female-conforming anatomy, raised as a girl, and with no prior indications of gender dysphoria, is instructed by their confessor to live as a man after confessing to experiencing sexual desire for women. This person continues living in their community as a man, courts several women and marries one, moves to a different community, has their assigned gender “outed” by a former girlfriend, and is tried in court for “profaning the sacrament of marriage” and given a fairly harsh sentence (though typical for the times). A sympathetic and broad-minded lawyer is responsible for Grandjean’s appeal, primarily on the argument that Grandjean is intersex and should be classified as male, althugh this argument was not accepted during the original trial. The lawyer also argues that Grandjean was naïve and sincerely believed the priest had the authority to reassign their social and legal gender, and that therefore the necessary intent for the charge of "profaning marriage" was lacking. This argument prevailed and Grandjean was released, with an injunction to return to living as a woman and never to see their wife again. To the legal arguments, in some editions, in appended a piece of doggerel verse in the persona of Grandjean bidding farewell to their wife and railing against the hand fate dealt them.

Even with the level of detail available through this publication, we must be aware of the layers of filtering and “spin” that have been put on the underlying narrative. We do not have direct access to Grandjean’s experience and thoughts except through what is recorded in testimony. We have even less access to the experience and thoughts of Grandjean’s wife, Françoise Lambert. Lambert does not appear to have been considered “at fault” in any way, but that only tells us that the court accepted a particular presentation of her experience (as well as demonstrating the legal presumption of women’s lack of agency). We may understand the lawyer’s stated opinions as reflecting his sincere beliefs about gender and sexuality, although we must also allow for the possibility that he is simply presenting what he believes to be the best case for the goal he seeks. (And that may include goals other than Grandjean’s acquittal.) The verse, we should understand as belonging to a particular popular genre of sensational entertainment, meant to appeal to the audiences sensibilities, but without any necessary truth-connection to the lives and experiences of the verse’s subject.

Text and Translation Credits

The original French text is taken from two different versions of the 1765 publication. Both are credited to the same publisher and have the same year of publication, but the layout and fonts are somewhat different and one has sections of additional material not present in the other. This additional material consists of an additional item on the title page referencing the addition at the end, an introductory summary and address to the reader (titled “Advisory”) located immediately after the title page, and the verse, with introductory matter, appended at the end. As best I can determine, the texts are otherwise identical except possibly for details of punctuation and occasional abbreviation.

The facsimile texts in pdf form were made available by Google Books (shorter version, extended version) and the initial rough transcription was copied from the Google Books epub editions of the text, presumably created by optical character recognition (OCR). I proofread the rough transcription against the facsimiles and performed extensive corrections, including sorting out the marginal commentary.

The initial translation pass was done using DeepL (, a truly amazing translation app, whose use for private or business translation is permitted by the use agreement. Acknowledgement statement: Translated with (free version)

I have performed light revisions of the DeepL text for contextual clarity, and especially to align and amend gender references, given the key importance of this aspect. In some passages, I have traded felicity of language for a translation that retains the gender references in the French, when a more idiomatic English translation might not use gendered language.

A Note on Gender in the Translation

Linguistic gender in French may either reflect the assigned gender of the person being referenced, or the arbitrary grammatical gender of the noun being used (including pronoun references to a previously mentioned noun). But some grammatical constructions do not distinguish masculine and feminine gender (i.e., use epicene gender). In order to track how the author is presenting Grandjean’s gender in various contexts, I’ve used an approach that may be somewhat awkward. Specifically, when the French text uses an epicene reference (and it isn’t closely associated with other, gendered, language) I will use the neo-pronouns “zie/zem/zir” to indicate this lack of gender specificity. Please note that this usage is strongly marked as “non-gendered” in English, but is translating French expressions that are not in any way marked. They simply don’t indicate gender. I felt that using singular gender-neutral “they” might introduce number ambiguity that isn’t present in the original text. The approach I’m using is not intended to indicate that the author viewed Grandjean as non-binary or to indicate that I do, but rather to highlight that the author sometimes clearly referenced Grandjean with feminine language, more often with masculine language, but in many cases with language that is unmarked for gender.

In my own commentary and comments, I will normally refer to Grandjean with gender-neutral “they,” not only to honor the alternatives that Grandjean had female or male identity, but to honor the possibility that Grandjean was intersex and of uncertain gender identity. (Also, to recognize that Grandjean didn't necessarily have the same conceptual options avaialble for identification that we would have today.) I, personally, believe that Grandjean was not intersex and that they had no gender dysphroria when living as a woman, but naively took direction from male authority figures with regard to what gender they should present. But this is only my personal reading and several other views are equally valid.

Use of the Word “Hermaphrodite”

In past centuries, the word “hermaphrodite” was used in several different senses. See the discussions in the following articles for a deep dive into some of the relevant context. 

The word “hermaphrodite” was sometimes used to identify persons whose social behavior did not align with the expected behavior for their assigned sex, at it is possible that this sense was included when LeGrand accused Grandjean of being "a hermaphrodite." However the more relevant use in this text is for intersex persons, i.e., those with ambiguous physiology. The use of “hermaphrodite” for intersex persons is currently considered offensive and should generally be avoided. However I have retained this word to translate the French hermaphrodite in the source text, not only as the best literal translation, but to signal that the concept embodied in the text differed from the modern concept of intersexuality. I acknowledge that this convention has the potential to cause harm and apologize for that.

Formatting Conventions

The general format of the text is as follows.

  • The original French text in plain type. Capitalization and punctuation are as in the original, though some extra spaces have been removed. There are a few places where a marginal note or variant text is indicated with curly braces.
  • The translation in bold type. This may include some notes for clarity. If the original text includes non-French material, it is kept intact at this point.
  • {HRJ: My editorial commentary in italics and in curly braces. If there was non-French material in the original text, this is where I will translate it. Not all passages will have this commentary, but most will.}

[The text and translation will begin in the next blog entry.]

Time period: 
Event / person: 
Saturday, October 1, 2022 - 10:16

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 240 - On the Shelf for October 2022 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2022/10/01 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for October 2022.

Sometimes I find myself scrambling to put a show together because time has simply slipped away, and sometimes it’s because life comes crashing down. September was definitely one of those crashing months, so this may be a bit of a bare-bones round-up. The month started off with the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, which was thoroughly enjoyable, if a bit exhausting. I participated in panels on podcasting, fairy tale retellings, themes in early “proto-science fiction”, the interaction of magic and gender in historic fantasy, and other topics. Then in mid-month I participated in an online panel on historic research for marginalized characters for the Toronto Romance Writers conference. Going on underneath all this was a rather intense project for my day job—because, of course, it’s not possible to schedule all these things in a rational manner.

And then at the end of the month, I traveled to a small family get-together on the opposite coast and Covid finally caught up with me. So far, it’s being a fairly mild case, thanks to being fully up to date on vaccinations, no doubt. But it’s been a lottery I participated in every time I chose to travel, and I finally lost the toss. So just a reminder for all of you: keep up to date on all your vaccinations, mask like everyone’s health depends on it, and don’t beat yourself up too badly if you eventually lose the roll of the dice and get Covid anyway. You’re still better off than if you hadn’t taken all the precautions.

Publications on the Blog

October is shaping up to have some great content. In September, the blog finished up the collection of articles from The Single Life in the Roman and Later Roman World  and October starts a multi-part presentation of a primary source in translation: the 18th century French legal appeal of Anne Grandjean. Grandjean’s story is an excellent example of how difficult it can be to define and interpret identities from historic records. Depending on how you interpret the record and how you filter for the prejudices and “spin” of the parties involved, Grandjean might be interpreted as a cross-dressing lesbian, as a trans man, or as an intersex person who was caught between classifications. I’ve seen references to the case in a number of articles over the years, but hadn’t been able to find a full translation. So when I was able to get copies of a couple different editions of the original publication from Google Books, I decided to tackle the ambitious project of producing my own translation and edition. In addition to presenting it in the blog, this month’s podcast essay will present some of the content and discussion.

Grandjean’s case is an example of what I mean when I say you cannot study lesbian history separate from trans history and other types of queer history. People who want there to be some sort of pure and unambiguous history of different categories of queer people often scoff at the phrase “we can’t really know.” But the evidence in Grandjean’s case is ambiguous, deliberately skewed in multiple ways, and full of unreliable witnesses. Even apart from the question of what types of identity categories Grandjean had available to try on, we aren’t given enough direct, unfiltered evidence to know what the facts were. If we want to relate Grandjean’s story to the field of lesbian history, we must embrace that ambiguity or lose a great deal of the available evidence.


October is a fiction series month and we’ll be presenting “The Wolf that Sings on the Mountain” by Miyuki Jane Pinckard, narrated by the author, plus an interview with Miyuki in next month’s On the Shelf episode.

And don’t forget that we’ll be opening for new fiction submissions in January for the 2023 series. It’s not at all too early to be thinking about writing something.

Book Shopping!

Book shopping for the blog is still very quiet these days, but on the fiction side we have ten new titles to talk about.

Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction

It seems a bit early in the year for Christmas-themed books to start coming out, but first up is Christmas Secrets of the Soho Club: New Season New Secrets a self-published anthology of Regency romance short stories by various authors. Only one story involves a sapphic romance: “The Widow’s Modiste” by Renée Dahlia.

What happens in the Soho Club stays in the Soho Club, especially during Christmastide! Get ready for some passionate, romantic secrets from the Regency club where people can be themselves, away from prying eyes and family demands. In The Widow's Modiste. Lady Merryam, widowed and bored, only attends the Soho Club’s latest ball to help raise funds for her son’s orphanage. The last thing she expects is a one-night-stand with the mysterious woman wearing ‘that’ dress. Could spending more time with her be the answer to her ennui?

Cameron Darrow has a sixth volume, Pax Victoria, in the Ashes of Victory series, a supernatural historical adventure.

For eleven years, the witches of EVE have made it their mission to ensure that the War to End All Wars remains exactly that. So when Svetlana returns home to Longstown with a proposal for a true, permanent peace in Europe, it's met with jubilation—and on the heels of tragedy, a renewed optimism that the future they have sacrificed so much for might actually be on the horizon. For those still sifting through the ashes of victory and defeat alike, it also presents a second, more personal opportunity: the chance to rest. But in order for the world to achieve true peace, so must Victoria Ravenwood. When she learns that the British government has started a program to put her theories on atomic energy into practical use, the realization that she may have inadvertently unlocked the ability for humanity to destroy itself comes with a singular responsibility: only she can stop it. After years of struggle with trauma and depression, is her love for her family and partner Katya enough to finally overcome her demons safely? Or will they drive her to pay the ultimate price to ensure they live into the glorious new future that they have been building together?

Witches are also the topic of The Pannell Witch self-published by Melissa Manners. This is a fictionalization of a brief reference to an actual victim of a witch trial in 16th century England.

Yorkshire, 1593. Mary Pannell, small-town herbalist, only ever wanted to help. She never meant for anyone to die. But still, they called her witch. She deserves to have her story told. When Mary is arrested for witchcraft, she must do whatever it takes to survive. From medieval torture methods and plague-ridden London, to the ever-looming threat of being hanged - does she have the strength to endure it all? Condemned as a witch, will she face the gallows? Or can she escape with the woman she loves?

In the cover copy of the popular sub-genre of pirate romances, it can be hard to tell whether a story is meant to have a historic setting or simply exists in the pirate-verse. Siren's Kiss self-published by Ariel Spencer is a bit light on historic specifics but strong on romance.

Siren's Kiss is the story of captive-turned-crew, Ashlyn Stillson, and a no-mercy, wild haired pirate captain, Iliana The Fierce. Ash is uncertain about these feelings towards her new captain and captor. She knows to be cautious and fearsome of her rage and cunning, but she also can see the tender, gentle side of her as well. She longs to grow closer to her stand-offish superior, but knows it could lead to her death. Iliana is suspicious of her newest crewmate. The small, white-skinned woman was constantly around. Whenever Iliana caught her gaze, she would hastily put her head down and scuttle off. But she can't help but be intrigued by her as well. Her soft, white skin and golden halo of curls, her wide, rich brown eyes. Perhaps there is more to this wench than meets the eye.

There are certain expectations that come with a title like Reader, I Murdered Him by Betsy Cornwell from Clarion Books. This take-off of the familiar concluding line from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre gives us a clue to the setting and tone, but this is the story of Mr. Rochester’s ward Adele.

Adele grew up in the shadows—of her broken family, of the gloomy manor halls of her lonely childhood. So when she's finally sent away to boarding school, she’s happy to enter the brightly lit world of society girls and their wealthy suitors. Yet there are shadows there, too. Many of the men that try to charm Adele’s new friends do so with dark intentions. After a violent assault, she turns to a roguish young con woman for help. Together, they become vigilantes meting out justice. But can Adele save herself from the same fate as those she protects? With a queer romance at its heart, this lush historical thriller offers readers an irresistible mix of vengeance and empowerment.

Divided Lives by K.R. Mullins from Jkj Books is frustratingly cagey about having queer content, so this is another case of reading the tea leaves and coded language in the cover copy and giving it the benefit of the doubt.

New York City (1912) is a city divided: Greenwich Village where rejected tradition is regularly flouted, and Manhattan where it is strictly upheld. Lottie Flannigan successfully balances both sides. While embracing a bohemian lifestyle, she maintains a legal career clerking for conservative Justice Goff in Midtown. Committed and dedicated, Lottie begins work on a high-profile criminal case involving local Police Officer Charles Becker. Suddenly her professional and personal lives collide as she finds herself caught in a blackmail scheme that seeks to disclose her most intimate choices if she doesn't do as they say. In a fascinating look into a scandalous turn-of-the-century trial and ever-changing Greenwich Village social norms, the book puts Lottie in the middle of Police Lieutenant Charles Becker's Conspiracy trial.

Maid to Love self-published by S.J. Faden sounds like a straight-forward rich-girl/poor-girl romance.

In 1930s Chicago Adoncia Martinez is a young heiress who spends most of her day in her vast library trying to figure out her purpose in life. Her seemingly endless search finds its possible answer when her new maid, Danika Batrovic enters her life. Though unassuming at first glance, Adoncia sees in the new maid a kindred spirit with a deep desire for something more. When the two come together things start to change in both their lives with the people around them paying most for the changes.

The glittering club scene of pre-WWII Germany brings together excitement and danger in Nothing Sung and Nothing Spoken by Nita Tyndall from Harper Teen.

Charlotte Kraus would follow Angelika Haas anywhere. Which is how she finds herself in an underground club one Friday night the summer before World War II, dancing to contraband American jazz and swing music, suddenly feeling that anything might be possible. Unable to resist the allure of sharing this secret with Geli, Charlie returns to the club again and again, despite the dangers of breaking the Nazi Party’s rules. Soon, terrified by the tightening vise of Hitler’s power, Charlie and the other Swingjugend are drawn to larger and larger acts of rebellion. But the war will test how much they are willing to risk—and to lose.

Jumping ahead to a more recent war, we have A Belief in Her by Barbara Valletto from Flashpoint Publications.

Claire McCollum, an American Red Cross Vietnamese Interpreter, and Maggie Calder, a Captain in the USAF, discover love in war-torn Vietnam in the months prior to the Fall of Saigon. Stationed on an air force base in Southeastern Vietnam, the two band together to partake in a mission of mercy that defies all odds. But the truth may not be what Claire expected, and knowing it may place beliefs she holds dear, in jeopardy.

To finish up this month’s new books, we have the third volume in Nghi Vo’s Singing Hills Cycle from Tor-dot-com, Into the Riverlands. This historic fantasy with an alternate China-like setting follows a collector of stories.

Wandering cleric Chih of the Singing Hills travels to the riverlands to record tales of the notorious near-immortal martial artists who haunt the region. On the road to Betony Docks, they fall in with a pair of young women far from home, and an older couple who are more than they seem. As Chih runs headlong into an ancient feud, they find themselves far more entangled in the history of the riverlands than they ever expected to be. Accompanied by Almost Brilliant, a talking bird with an indelible memory, Chih confronts old legends and new dangers alike as they learn that every story―beautiful, ugly, kind, or cruel―bears more than one face.

What Am I Reading?

For my own consumption this month, books read in print outnumbered audio books for the first time in several months. I finally finished a historical mystery that I started back in the beginning of the year: Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron. It’s part of a historical mystery series with a fictional Jane Austen as the amateur detective. Back in the ‘90s I was seriously into reading historical mysteries and still follow some of the series, though less avidly.

I’ve started another of KJ Charles’s m/m historical romance series with Slippery Creatures, set just after WWI. With Charles’s work there’s always a tricky balance for me between enjoying the plots and characters and finding the sexual content too emphasized for my taste. This series is a bit heavier on the sexual side than some of the others, to the point where it sometimes feels like the plot is more like connective tissue. And yet I keep reading for the marvelous writing.

I listened to the audiobook of The Oleander Sword, the second book in Tasha Suri’s Burning Kingdoms series. The series has a lovely, complicated, central lesbian romance, embedded in an epic fantasy of empires and magic. For the first half of the book, The Oleander Sword felt very much like a “middle book” in taking the elements introduced in the first volume, expanding the scope, and setting things up for a later climax. But then everything starts changing into new and strange shapes and you realize that all your assumptions about “good guys” and “bad guys” have been mistaken. The immediate conflicts resolve with the understanding that a far more drastic challenge lies ahead in the final volume. Yes, I’m being a bit coy about exactly what that drastic shift in understanding is, but I think it’s more enjoyable to experience it for yourself.

The last book I started this month is…well…something entirely different in a totally bonkers way. I picked up this anthology on a whim at Worldcon because it had an irresistible hook. The title of the collection is Well…It’s Your Cow and the hook is that every story begins with an exchange between two characters: “Do we think this is a good idea?” “Well, it’s your cow.” The collection begins with the real-life incident related by the collection’s editor, Frog Jones, that inspired the anthology, then continues with stories of all flavors and genres unified by that hook.

Show Notes

Your monthly roundup of history, news, and the field of sapphic historical fiction.

In this episode we talk about:

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

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Friday, September 30, 2022 - 07:00

Like the previous article, this one provides some comparative data for considering the social dynamics of singlehood. And like the previous article, it feels a bit disconnected from the main content of the volume. There are connections to be made regarding how non-married people fit into deliberate social structures even when marriage is the norm, but those connections are mostly left for the reader to make.

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Full citation: 

Manfredini, Matteo. 2019. “Singleness in Nineteenth-century Italy: Permanent Celibacy and Solitariness between Coercion and Free Choice” in Sabine R. Huebner & Christian Laes (eds), The Single Life in the Roman and Later Roman World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 978-1-108-47017-9

Publication summary: 

A collection of papers addressing (and definine) the state of "singleness" in the Roman Empire, both in pre-Christian and early Christian times. There is a strong focus on Egypt as well as Rome proper, as well as wider Byzantine material. Comparative material is offered from Jewish sources, as well as a small selection of studies from specific cultures of more modern date.

Manfredini, Matteo. “Singleness in Nineteenth-century Italy: Permanent Celibacy and Solitariness between Coercion and Free Choice”

This article summarizes various “ways of  being single” in Catholic society of one particular Tuscan community in the first half of the 19th century.

Permanent celibacy is defined for this purpose as being never-married by age 50. While out of line with normative expectations, permanent celibacy was accepted under certain conditions, e.g., for those with religious vocations. But certain economic strategies also required an acceptance of permanent celibacy when only the eldest son was expected to marry and beget children (to avoid diluting the inheritance), with other sons taking up religious, military, or diplomatic careers rather than marriage, and surplus daughters either entering religious life or performing household support activities for a married sibling. In a context where marriage was the only licensed means to producing children, control of access to marriage by the family was also a means of population control when resources or land was scarce. This could result in 15% of men and 12% of women never having access to marriage. (The social dynamics involve other complications, so this is a simplification of a simplification.) The vast majority of these never-married individuals were part of complex extended-family households, although solitary singles and members of smaller nuclear households also occurred. While these permanent singles were excluded from full access to social rights and privileges, they were not stigmatized, unless it were viewed as a personal whim rather than part of a family strategy.

Living alone as a one-person household was another option for singles, and its acceptability was highly contextual. If the solitary state was due to household attrition—the death of other members or the natural fracturing of the family into smaller units on a life-cycle basis—then there was not typically any stigma or marginalization. The solitary state tended to be unstable, with such persons typically joining another family unit or moving to an urban center for opportunity. However if the solitary state was perceived as voluntary or due to family rejection or the individual failure to form a family unit, then they might face social disapproval, especially if female. This was more often the case in rural areas than urban ones. These solitaries were likely to be never-married in younger age ranges, and much more likely to be widowed (especially female widows) in older age ranges.

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Misc tags: 
Thursday, September 29, 2022 - 07:00

There's an interesting sociology in trying to figure out how a specific set of paper topics get collected together into a publication. Appended onto this collection of studies relating to singles in the ancient world, we get two papers with "comparative material" that I find hard to integrate into an overall purpose. While this paper on singlewomen in late medieval Antwerp and Bruges touches on some parallels with, for example, the position of women in Roman and Coptic Egypt, it feels like the reader is left to draw her own conclusions about how the topics speak to each other. It almost feels like there was a conversation along the lines of, "I'm putting together a volume of papers on singlewomen in the classical world and I'd really like to have a paper from you." "Um...can't manage that, but how about the Low Countries a millennium later?" Goodness knows, I've be present for similar conversations.

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Full citation: 

De Groot, Julie. 2019. “To Marry or Not to Marry in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-century Cities, with Antwerp and Bruges as Case Studies” in Sabine R. Huebner & Christian Laes (eds), The Single Life in the Roman and Later Roman World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 978-1-108-47017-9

Publication summary: 

A collection of papers addressing (and definine) the state of "singleness" in the Roman Empire, both in pre-Christian and early Christian times. There is a strong focus on Egypt as well as Rome proper, as well as wider Byzantine material. Comparative material is offered from Jewish sources, as well as a small selection of studies from specific cultures of more modern date.

De Groot, Julie. “To Marry or Not to Marry in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-century Cities, with Antwerp and Bruges as Case Studies”

Comparative Voices

As a comparison from an extremely different time and place, the author looks at marriage patterns in 15-16th century Bruges and Antwerp in the Low Countries. This culture followed what is known as the “West European marriage pattern” involving a relatively late age for first marriage, a small age gap, and a significant adult population who had not yet married or might never marry. In these urban centers, newlyweds expected to establish an independent household, so marriage was delayed until a sufficient nest egg could be accumulated, often through wage labor by both parties.

Even when the will to marry existed, circumstances might make it impossible. And in a social context where marriage was not always possible, choosing not to marry stood out less. What consequence did that have? And did those consequences differ for men and women? Studies of singlehood often focus strongly on women, but this article explores both women’s and men’s single circumstances.

In theory, the marital status of men in Antwerp and Bruges did not affect their legal status, and so that status might not be mentioned overtly, as it typically was for women. Women’s legal status depended heavily on whether they were never-married, married, or widowed. Married women could enter certain types of legal contracts on their own, while singlewomen and widows were expected to have a male agent who acted for them. The importance of marital status shows up in how women are referred to in legal records in terms of their relationship to the relevant male relative “wife of” or “daughter of.” Widows are more visible as their own identities and they were often allowed to be their own legal agents. [Note: the article seems to contradict itself several times regarding the allowance for widows to be their own legal agents. Not just in terms of theory versus practice, but I think there’s a wording error when the topic is first introduced.]

We can also find differences between the prescriptive legal theory and the de facto activities of women reported in the record. One study of 14th century Ghent suggests that married women had far more real ability to act independently of their husbands than legal theory would suggest. This same de facto legal competency is seen in the accounts of widows in 15-16th century Antwerp, despite the official position that they were legally incapable and needed a male guardian to act for them.

Further, in an era when marriages were often clandestine or of challengeable validity, the categories of “single” and “married” could shade into each other.

Unmarried women were economically vulnerable, even setting aside the sharp differential in male and female wages for similar work. As the Middle Ages came to a close, trade guilds became increasingly closed to women as members, and hostile to women freelancers. Young men went into trade apprenticeships while the primary employment for young women was increasingly restricted to domestic service, which was viewed as a temporary lifecycle occupation.

But dynamics were shifting for men as well. It was no longer a given that apprenticeship would lead to independence as a master. And guilds developed feedback loops that increasingly favored the children of existing masters. Strategic marriage and the support of one’s father in law it could be critical to professional success.

There were identifiable strategies that single women (and widows) used to address economic pressures. Joining together in households or informal communities provided security and companionship.

[Note: This section brings in a much wider scope of time and place than the article’s nominal topic, so it’s hard to tell what it’s trying to demonstrate. I feel like this article lacks a clear overall point.]


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Misc tags: 
Tuesday, September 27, 2022 - 07:00

For all that I sometimes emphasize the opportunities that single women (and especially widows) could have--opportunities that are often more varied than popular visions of history include--we shouldn't overlook that relentless disadvantages that women had in relation to men in similar circumstances. Many of the anecdotes in this article emphasize that a woman, acting alone, often had very little leverage to enforce her legal and social rights. And that gaining the support of some male authority could be the difference between success and failure. But women were part of complex social systems. These widows were not necessarily isolated and  helpless. The might need male legal assistance, but they also felt they had a right to certain types of assistance, and would pursue it with that understanding. As I note, this article feels a bit like a scrapbook of isolated anecdotes, but somtimes those snapshots are what give us the best picture of people's everyday lives.

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Full citation: 

Cromwell, Jennifer. 2019. “‘Listen to My Mistreatment’: Support Networks for Widows and Divorcées in the Coptic Record” in Sabine R. Huebner & Christian Laes (eds), The Single Life in the Roman and Later Roman World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 978-1-108-47017-9

Publication summary: 

A collection of papers addressing (and definine) the state of "singleness" in the Roman Empire, both in pre-Christian and early Christian times. There is a strong focus on Egypt as well as Rome proper, as well as wider Byzantine material. Comparative material is offered from Jewish sources, as well as a small selection of studies from specific cultures of more modern date.

Cromwell, Jennifer. “‘Listen to My Mistreatment’: Support Networks for Widows and Divorcées in the Coptic Record”

This article is a narrowly-focused study of single, once-married women in Coptic Egypt, concerning their difficulties due to that state and the support networks available to them. It draws on non-literary evidence primarily from the 6th to 8th century from the area around Thebes. The evidence includes letters and incidental legal documents and focuses on local conditions at a village level.

The data shows women acting independently in a variety of economic contexts, but within this it can be difficult to distinguish married versus unmarried women. Widows tend to be easiest to identify, due to the use of specific vocabulary for them, or the tendency to reference their late husband. In other cases, the composition of specific households can be reconstructed from the evidence, even if larger demographic patterns are elusive.

Among these, we can sometimes identify households consisting of an adult woman and her children, with no husband/father present. While specific reference to a husband/father can identify a widow, the absence of an expected reference cannot distinguish between death, divorce, or the absence of any prior marriage.

Marriage and divorce were (still) relatively informal practices and Coptic records rarely refer to the actions directly. However there were economic and social pressures to remain married. Coptic Christian authorities viewed adultery as the only valid reason for divorce. And those who divorced for other reasons might be ostracized. But some references indicate that other reasons/contexts existed, and the only known surviving divorce agreement simply notes that the couple “agreed together and separated.”

Church officials encouraged widowed or divorced women to remain unmarried for moral reasons. Older widows were encouraged to become nuns. But more practical matters of finances and inheritance played a part, as well as the availability of support for from the wider family.

A man’s will might specify that his widow could not inherit if she remarried, likely out of concern that his property not leave the control of his descendants. But widows did remarry and the inheritance complications sometimes show up in the records. Some widows were wealthy enough that they could choose not to remarry. Some never-married women were wealthy enough that remaining so was an option.

The inventories recorded when women willed their property to religious institutions can document some significant resources, such as multiple houses and a share in a bakery or houses plus a share in a church property. Some no-longer-married women had significant business activities which might be large enough to involve employees.

Either in addition to property and business income, or as a substitute for them, close family we’re an important resource for unmarried women. An elderly widow might live with one of her children, or receive physical assistance even though financially comfortable.

A widow with no immediate family might turn to religious officials for substantial or social support that would typically be provided by family. (I’m skipping many of the fascinating individual stories.)

Women’s lack of ability to pursue their own legal matters as forcefully as a man could, meant that widows often needed a male figure to act for them. Sometimes religious leaders were asked to intervene on behalf of widows in disputes with their relatives. But it was also the case that secular authorities might be turned to for similar assistance.

Widows are easier to identify as such in the records than divorcées. In addition, there was a religious duty to provide support to widows, but the church frowned on divorce, therefore divorcées may have been less motivated to seek assistance when needed. But there is one record of a woman divorced by her husband who sought assistance in pursuing support from him for her children, as promised in their divorce contract.

[Note: If this feels like a somewhat random list of the circumstances widows might find themselves in, that’s an accurate understanding of the article’s contents.]

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