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Tags: People/Event Tags - Historic Relationships

The purpose of tags is to make information relatively easy to find. The topics covered under “people/event tags” are historical persons, authors, written works, and other specific events, organizations, or works that are the subject of the research and publications covered by the Project. This essay is intended to explain briefly how the “people/event” tags are being used.

The second purpose is to provide a tag list that the visitor can use to explore the site. The number of tags used in the project, and the organization into four different categories, doesn’t lend itself to a traditional tag-cloud. The Place and Time Period tags each have a single essay. The Event/Person and Misc. Tags will be covered in thematic groups in multiple essays due to the larger number. I’m planning six essays for the People/Event Tags, each covering a general category with several subcategories.

  • Non-Fiction Sources and General Authors
  • Historic Crossdressing and Passing/Transgender People
  • Historic People Relevant for Emotional, Affectionate, or Sexual Relationships
  • Literary Examples of Crossdressing or Gender Disguise
  • Literary Examples of Emotional, Affectionate, or Sexual Relationships
  • Poetry Expressing Romantic or Sexual Relationships

This present essay covers the third category and includes the following:

  • Passionate Friendships - Women who were known for engaging in passionate friendships with other women, generally when the relationship was not publicly considered to be sexual. This category primarily covers cases where there may not have been a specific partnership or where the women never lived as a couple.
  • Romantic Pairs - Women who were a romantic couple of some type, whether or not the relationship was sexual. (As a rule, if a sexual relationship is documented, such couples will be listed in the "Reputed Lesbian" group instead.) In some cases, only one member of the couple is listed, but she is relevant to the Project because of such a relationship. The nature of these relationships is quite varied.
  • Reputed Lesbian - Historic cases of women who had documented sexual relationships with women, or whose contemporaries are recorded as believing they did. This group is primarily individuals where no one relationship was significant in the historic record or where the overtly sexual nature of the relationships was significant.

Obviously these categories are quite fuzzy at the edges, and I've classified individual people according to what seems the most noteworthy aspect of their lives. Every story is far more complex than a single classification. These are only for the purposes of exploring general themes.

Passionate Friendships

The concept of passionate or romantic friendship covered a wide range of expressions. Women who enjoyed these relationships might also be in a heterosexual marriage. They might never have the opportunity of having the relationship recognized or respected within their social circles. They might never be able to co-habit or even spend extended time in each other's company. And such intense friendships might not be exclusive--or necessarily reciprocated. Those couples who were able to enjoy a more marriage-like living situation have generally been placed into the "Romantic Pairs" group.

  • Charlotte Cushman - 19th century American actress who enjoyed several passionate friendhips with women.
  • Emily Dickinson - 19th century American poet whose letters and poetry reveal a passionate friendship with the woman who became her sister-in-law.
  • George Elliot - 19th century English author (aka Mary Ann Evans) who was the object of a woman’s passionate friendship.
  • Hildegard of Bingen - 11th century German abbess who had a passionate and possessive friendship with a female protegee. She was a prominent author and composer.
  • Jane Pirie & Marianne Woods - 19th century Scottish schoolmistresses who had a passionate friendship that resulted in a famous libel trial when they were accused of lesbianism. The episode was fictionalized in the Lillian Hellman play The Children’s Hour.
  • Laudomia Forteguerri - 16th century Italian intellectual who composed romantic praise poems to Duchess Margaret of Parma. The passionate friendship between the two women was remarked on positively by their contemporaries.
  • Leonor López de Córdoba - 14-15th c Spanish favorite of Queen Catalina of Castile, with whom she had a stormy and jealous (but not overtly romantic) relationship.
  • Margaret Duchess of Austria/Parma - 16th century daughter of the Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, whose passionate friendship with the writer Laudomia Forteguerri was remarked on by contemporaries. Laudomia wrote her romantic poetry.
  • Mary Wollstonecraft - 18th century English feminist and writer. Both her life and her writings included passionate female frienships.
  • Queen Anne of England - 18th century Queen of England who had several passionate friendships with favorite female courtiers that gave rise to rumors of lesbianism.
  • Richardis of Stade - 12th c German abbess with whom Hildegard of Bingen had a passionate and jealous friendship.
  • Saint Radegund - 6th c French saint whose biography includes symbolic homoerotic imagery in her veneration.
  • Sarah Churchill Duchess of Marlborough - 18th century English woman whose passionate friendship with Queen Anne gave rise to rumors of lesbianism.
  • Willa Cather - 19th century American novelist who shared her life with a female romantic partner but whose work, unlike many of her contemporaries, did not represent passionate friendships between women.

Romantic Pairs

This group covers a wide variety of types of relationships and the term "romantic" is really a misnomer. The unifying factor is the intersection of two lives in a particular bond based on love, desire, or sex, especially if the two lived together to some degree in a marriage-like arrangement.

Reputed Lesbians

This grouping is defined, not necessarily by specific relationships, but by either the fact or rumor that a woman had sexual relationships with other women. There may be some edge cases where one specific relationship was noted in the historic record, but in general I've placed people in this group due to the specifically sexual nature of the evidence.

  • Anne Conway Damer - 18th century English woman who had passionate friendships/partnerships with women that were widely rumored to be sexual.
  • Anne Lister - 19th century English woman whose coded diaries detail her romantic and sexual relations with women and a social circle in which covert lesbian relationships were frequent.
  • Bathal - 9th century courtesan and Arabic-language poet openly known to enjoy sex with women.
  • Benedetta Carlini - 17th century Italian woman who had sexual relations with a fellow nun in a complex context of religious mania.
  • Bertolina called Guercia - 13th century Italian woman tried (in absentia) for sexual relations with other women.
  • Cecilia Venetiana - 16th century Roman courtesan described by Firenzuola as loving women “lasciviously.”
  • Charlotte Charke - 18th century English actress who specilized in “breeches roles” and cross-dressed regularly in ordinary life as well. She had at least one long-term relationship with a woman that is strongly implied to be sexual. Charke occasionally lived as a man for limited periods, raising the possibility of a transgender identity.
  • Elisabeth Wijngraaff - 18th (?) century Dutch woman who began a sexual relationship in prison with a fellow female priosoner and unsuccessfully claimed transgender identity in order to marry her.
  • Greta von Mösskirch - 16th century German woman who was investigated for loving women and pursuing them “as if she were a man.”
  • Isabella de Luna - A 17th century(?) Spanish courtesan in Rome, mentioned by Brantôme as maintaining a female mistress.
  • Julie d’Aubigny, Mademoiselle de Maupin - 18th century French opera singer and swordswoman who had multiple female lovers.
  • Katharina Güldin - 15th century German woman tried for having a sexual relationship with a woman.
  • la Maréchale - 18th century French woman accused or arranging for a woman to be released from prison in exchange for a sexual relationship.
  • Marie Antoinette - 18th century Queen of France who was rumored to engage in lesbian relationships among her court, though political animosity was a major aspect of the rumors.
  • Mary Frith aka Moll Cutpurse - 17th century English woman who openly wore male garments and was reputed to have both female and male lovers.
  • Memoirs of Europe (Delarivier Manley) - Fictionalized memoir (England, 1710) representing the lesbian amours of members of the authors circle.
  • Queen Christina of Sweden - 17th century Queen of Sweden who had a passionate friendship with one of her ladies in waiting, openly cross-dressed on occasion, and after her abdication was rumored in Paris to have lesbian relationships.
  • Sappho - 6th century BCE Greek poet whose work implies erotic relations with women and whose name and home island of Lesbos have become standard references to love between women.
  • Sarah Fielding - 18th century English woman who belonged to a circle of intellectual women suspected of lesbianism.
  • Satan’s Harvest Home - 18th century English polemic tract that includes descriptions of lesbian activity, both in England and in Turkish harems.
  • The True History and Adventures of Catharine Vizzani  / Breve storia della vita di Catterina Vizzani  (Giovanni Battista Bianchi) - 18th century Italian woman who passed as a man to enjoy romantic and sexual relations with women.
  • Wallada - 11th c Spanish-Arabic princess and poet who had female lovers as well as male.
  • Warda - Medieval Arabic poet (cited in a 13th century text) who praised love between women.