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Gender and Sexual Identities


The family, the body, gender, and sexuality each have histories. The experience of being male or female, of having sex, of desiring someone of the same gender, or of changing gender was not the same in early modern Europe as it is today. This seminar asks how authority within the household was understood in early modern Europe, how men and women experienced, negotiated and challenged expected gender norms, and how attitudes towards sex and gender changed over the course of the period.



  • Were women and men equally constrained by gender expectations?
  • To what extent was domestic authority contested in early modern Europe?
  • How was sexuality understood in early modern Europe?  


‘Police report of a man arrested for sodomy, France 1723’ and ‘Trial record of a woman executed for sexual relations with women and cross-dressing, Germany 1477’ in Monica Chojnacka and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks (eds), Ages of Woman, Ages of Man: Sources in European social history, 1400-1750 (2013), pp. 63-66.

Questions about the sources:

  • What do these accounts of ‘deviant’ sexual behaviour tell us about early modern attitudes and anxieties to same-sex relations?
  • How significant was gender in determining the prosecution of people for same-sex relations?


Poska, Allyson M., ‘Upending Patriarchy: Rethinking Marriage and Family in Early Modern Europe’ in Jane Couchman et al., The Ashgate Research Companion to Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe (2013), pp. 194-204.



'The First Sexual Revolution', Not Just the Tudors Podcast [an interview with Prof. Faramaerz Dabhoiwala]


Bingham, Caroline C. ‘Seventeenth-Century Attitudes Toward Deviant Sex’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 1 (1971), 447-68.

Capp, Bernard, ‘Gender and Family’, in Beat Kümin (ed.), The European World (3rd ed, 2018), 25-35.

Crawford, Katherine, European Sexualities, 1400-1800 (2007), ch. 3.

Dabhoiwala, Faramaerz, The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution (2012), prologue: the culture of discipline. See also critique by Julie Hardwick, 'A Sexual Revolution in the Eighteenth Century?'.

Foyster, Elizabeth, ‘Male Honour, Social Control and Wife Beating in Late Stuart England’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, vol. 6 (1996), pp. 215-224.

Gowing, Laura, ‘Ordering the body: illegitimacy and female authority in seventeenth-century England’ in Michael J. Braddick and John Walter (eds), Negotiating Power in Early Modern Society: Order, Hierarchy, and Subordination in Britain and Ireland (2001), pp 43-62 (ebook).

Gowing, Laura, ‘Women’s Bodies and the Making of Sex in Seventeenth-Century England’, Signs 37, no. 4 (Summer, 2012), pp. 813-822.


Bennett, Judith and Amy M. Froide, ‘A Singular Past’, in Bennett and Froide (eds), Singlewomen in the European Past, 1250-1800 (1998), pp. 1-38 (ebook).

Berry, Helen, and Elizabeth Foyster (eds), The Family in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2007) (ebook)

Brown, Judith C., and Robert C. Davis eds., Gender and Society in Renaissance Italy (1998), chs 1, 7

Capp, Bernard, When Gossips Meet: Women, Family and Neighbourhood in Early Modern England (2003) (ebook), chs. 2-3.

Cattelona, G., ‘Control and Collaboration: The Role of Women in Regulating Female Sexual Behaviour in Early Modern Marseille’, French Historical Studies 18 (1993), 13-33

Chojnacka, Monica, and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks (eds), Age of Woman, Ages of Man: Sources in European social history, 1400-1750 (2013) [an excellent collection of primary materials relating to this period]

Davis, Natalie, Society and Culture in Early Modern France (1975) (The Renaissance Beard: Masculinity in Early Modern England’ebook), ch. 5 women on top

Fisher, W., ‘The Renaissance Beard: Masculinity in Early Modern England’, Renaissance Quarterly (2001).

Gowing, Laura, Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London (1996), ch. 6 ‘Domestic disorders: adultery and violence’

Hanley, S., ‘Engendering the State: Family Formation and State Building in Early Modern France’, French Historical Studies 16 (1980)

Rocke, Michael, Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence (Oxford, 1996) (ebook)

Roper, Lyndal, Oedipus and the Devil: witchcraft, sexuality and religion in early modern Europe (1994), chs 2, 4, 5.

Rublack, Ulinka (ed.), Gender in Early Modern German History (2002), chs. 2, 6 & 7.

Muir, E. and G. Ruggiero (eds), Sex and Gender in Historical Perspective (1990)

Shepard, Alex, Meanings of Manhood in Early Modern England (2003) (ebook)

Wiesner, Merry E., Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe (3rd ed., 2008), ch. 2


Perdita Manuscripts - documents written or compiled by women in the British Isles in the 16th and 17th centuries

Defining Gender - a collection of over 50,000 images from original documents relating to Gender Studies

English Broadside Ballad Archive

Italian Women Writers database

Internet Medieval Sourcebook: Selected Sources: Sex and Gender