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Defamation, gender and hierarchy in Late Medieval Yorkshire

Kane, Bronach ORCID: 2018. Defamation, gender and hierarchy in Late Medieval Yorkshire. Social History 43 (3) , pp. 356-374. 10.1080/03071022.2018.1472886

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This article focuses on a late fourteenth-century defamation suit from the ecclesiastical court of York to demonstrate the granular nature of gender identity and homosocial cooperation and competition across status groups. In this case, a dispute between two gentry families developed into an accusation of sexual dishonour against the father of an unmarried pregnant woman. The analysis of networks of homosocial interaction reveals the gendered composition of reputation and identity at the social level. Male anxiety solidified around honesty in sexual and personal dealings, while concerns about social and religious status arose as the scandal became widely publicised. The study qualifies works on masculinity and insult in late-medieval society, demonstrating the significance of sexual honour and speech in men’s disputes over reputation. It also illustrates the extent to which patriarchal authority could be enforced through control over the sexual activity of dependent men. Despite the involvement of gentry and lower aristocratic parties, the perspectives of women and non-elite men are visible and reveal the limits of patriarchal control in gentry households. Thus, the article delineates the nature of disputes between elite and lower-status men, tracing the boundaries of reputations, as well as their protection and maintenance in periods of conflict.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DL Northern Europe. Scandinavia
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
Publisher: Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
ISSN: 0307-1022
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 12 February 2018
Date of Acceptance: 4 February 2018
Last Modified: 06 May 2023 00:22

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