Prostitution and the "Styves"


There were two municipally-regulated districts in late-medieval England where prostitution was legal: Sandwich and Southwark (the latter under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Winchester).


"Licensing" is a somewhat misleading gloss in the Friar's Tale: what the archbishop had was the authority to collect fines when the relevant rules and codes were broken.

Women were exempt from prosecution for prostitution per se, although it would have been illegal elsewhere--in the city of London, for instance (which is not to say that it didn't happen there).

o   Boat traffic was regulated

o   Hours were regulated

o   Residence in the house of ill-repute was not allowed (workplace only!)


In the late 13th through the early 15th century, prostitution was more free and easy than either earlier or later.In France, northern Italy and Germany, these districts were regulated by the

municipal authorities, and it was thus a source of income for civil as well as ecclesiastical coffers. On the continent, women tended to manage the houses, while in England only men were

allowed to be proprietors.There are hints, but no firm evidence, that there was even a guild of prostitutes in Paris, which gathered together under the auspices of Mary Magdalene.


Why was such activity allowed and even sanctioned?

        Augustine's "bilge" model--like bilge on a ship, this sort of thing is going to be there--it's better if itís in the open and under control than left to its own devices.

        Rape more widespread--victims needed a place to be put?

        Definition of prostitution turned on sexual profligacy, not making sex a commercial transaction. According to canon law, the number of your partners--in some accounts two

or more, in others at least 5 or 6--was what made you a prostitute.