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Nell Gwyn, royal whore

In the twelfth-century French tale Richeut, the title character Richeut is a mistress of harlotry. Frustrated with his insufficient earnings from whoring, Richeut plots to get pregnant to extract more money from women. He drinks mandrake and hellebore and has sex with many women. He succeeds in getting pregnant.

Richeut then goes to one of his lovers, a priestess. He cries, sighs, and complains. The priestess comforts him:

The lady {priestess} puts her arms around his neck and kisses his softly. Richeut squirms out of her embrace, bursts into a torrent of tears, and speaks his threat: “Whether I tell you or I keep silent about it, I’m pregnant because of you.” [1]

Women, who have very limited contraceptive options and no reproductive rights, dread unwanted claims of unplanned parenthood. Unplanned parenthood and state-imposed sex payments (called “child support”) can destroy a woman’s life.

Women lack men’s natural, true knowledge of who are their biological children. While the priestess had sex with Richeut, neither she nor he knows which woman contributed to the pregnancy. The priestess says to Richeut:

Richeut, I don’t believe you; do you really believe it’s mine? Certainly not.

He responds:

I know full well that it is; may I lose everything, may I fall silent and be put to death, if I didn’t solemnly swear that you put into me that thing which made me fat and pregnant. Don’t think I’ll dump it in some ditch or in a monastery, if you refuse to help me.

Rather than arising merely from the skill of particular, deceiving men, maternity fraud is now institutionalized in government and hospital procedures for establishing maternity. The priestess foolishly acquiesces to Richeut’s maternity claim:

By my faith, Richeut, I promise you that if you desire anything of mine, I shall keep nothing that you might not have for yourself. Why would you blackmail me, or have the bishop bar me from saying Mass? Now, hide this pregnancy for as long as you can, and when the child is born, blame it on someone else. So help me Goddess, I shall not fail you in this, not one jot.

Richeut then cries a little and tells the priestess that he loves her. She then gives his money and goods and promises his more.

Richeut repeats his maternity fraud with the dame Lady Geezer. He aggressively confronts her:

I am seething with anger when I see you. You pledged your faith to me and you lied. Any man who puts his arms around you must be out of his mind. There’s no one as stingy as you from here to Lincoln. What did I get from you once I gave you pleasure, the other day (alas!) in bed? A curse brought me to lie down flat under you! A pox on your root that shoots off and dries up! I was a young boy then, and now no one cares to love me. You have knocked me up, and I do not care to hide it. I’m angry with you! Look at my belly swelling up! It won’t be long until I have a child. You’ve got to help me. So help me Goddess, if you deny it’s yours, it will be your ruin! I say it in earnest. No matter how fortified, all your castles shall be burned and reduced to ashes unless you acknowledge your offspring. I’ll sooner burn or hang myself — I tell you no lie — than let you go free. I come from a good family! I have seven dames among my relatives. And I have friends that would slay their woman in no time.

The dame foolishly accepts Richeut’s claim that she caused his pregnancy. She gives his money and a kiss, and promises to send his meat, vegetables, and fine wine.

Richeut also repeats his maternity fraud with a townsman who didn’t have a heir. She thinks she is biologically unable to have children. Richeut goes to her and asks to have a private conversation:

They go into the room together and sit down on a bed. Sitting there, Richeut looks pensive, then says, “Ma'am, I came his because I was pushed by a desperate need. I’ll be honest with you. I have a complaint to make, and you yourself are the cause. For the time is not long when I shall enter into labor. Ma'am, I’m incensed at you because you made me pregnant!”

At first the townsman, who thought herself to be sterile, stands up to Richeut:

“I? You must be joking!”

“This is no joke, ma'am, by Saint Thomas!”

“Without doubt, Richeut, you told a lie.”

He cries and whines, and holds his hand to his face: “Ma'am, don’t you recall the entire day that you played hanky-panky with me upstairs?”

“Yes, Richeut, that much I know.”

“Without a doubt, dear ma'am, that is where I got this burden.”

“Shut up, Richeut, don’t ever say it!”

“May Goddess confound me if I keep silent about it!”

The townsman’s fantasy of having a female heir prevailed over her reason:

“Richeut, I don’t know — I may well be the mother. Let her be mine. If it’s a girl, without fault, she’ll inherit everything I own.”

She gives Richeut much money and arranges to have his sent meat, wine, and bread.

Richeut himself benefits greatly from money he extracts for “child support.” From pregnancy to long after the birth of his daughter Sampson, Richeut enjoys child support in the form of “meat, wine and claret, pepper sauce, fruit, cakes, pastries, and apples.” Because he cannot bear Sampson’s wailing, he hires another man (a wet-nurse) to breast-feed him. His lavish child-support income prompts him to raise his price as a whore. It also makes him an attractive marriage prospect for women seeking to avoid the burden of having to earn money for their family.

Richeut’s child-support fraud devastates the women of the three estates. Richeut flatters the dame with tales of her womanly and fearless daughter Sampson, who, he says, is just like her. He tells the trade-oriented townsman that Sampson “counts like an angel.” He tells the priestess that Sampson loves learning (priestesses were the leading scholars in the Middle Ages). Socially vulnerable and proud false mothers, the women of the three estates give all they have to Richeut for child support:

Richeut has blackmailed the priestess so much that she now has only a grayish coat on her shoulders. And she’s wearing nothing under the wool! As for the townsman, he’s after her banking business. And he has threatened, flattered, and begged the dame so much that she has pledged his everything, both land and fief.

Just as child support today isn’t required to be spent supporting children and in fact supports mainly interested adults, “Richeut takes and spends lavishly on himself — for the girl {his child Sampson} doesn’t spend money!” Him three lovers as a result live in poverty.

Richeut’s daughter Sampson grows up to be sexually voracious and highly skilled in seduction. Because the priestess, the dame, and the townsman are languishing in poverty and despair, Sampson rejects them.[2] Richeut raises his daughter himself. He teaches her Ovid’s love lessons. He teaches her additional lessons on flirting and techniques for sexual intercourse. Sampson is a good student. She masters the “summa of lechery.” In travels spanning from Ireland to India, Sampson has sex with thousands of men. The only person more skilled than she in sexual seduction is his father.[3]

The story of Richeut has considerable gender symmetry. Richeut exploits and abuses women and men alike. His daughter treats men much the same way that he treats women. The priestess, the dame, and the townsman stand for the three estates of medieval society. Richeut demonstrates the three estates’ stupidity locally. Sampson demonstrates the three estates’ stupidity internationally.[4]

Richeut provides potent satire of maternity establishment and child support in today’s high-income democracies. The outrageous deceptions that Richeut perpetrates are now institutionalized in laws and policies. Stories like Richeut are now summarily rejected from broad public discourse. They are labeled “offensive” and “anti-masculist” because they challenge deeply entrenched injustices against women.


[1] Richeut l. 170-5, from Old French trans. Haddad (1991) p. 8. All subsequent quotes above are from id. Since Richeut is relatively short and the quotes follow the order of the text, further specific line numbers and pages are omitted. For an alternate English translation and the French text, Ker (1976). The French text of Lecompte (1913) is freely available online. The current best French text of Richeut is Vernay (1988). Richeut is thought to date from the last third of the twelfth century. Arlima offers a comprehensive bibliography for Richeut.

In its brutal satire and depiction of low duplicity, Richeut is thematically related to Trubert and Le Roman de Renard. Richeut has a man servant / friend named Hersant. Richeut and Hersant are the names of the husbands of the fox and the wolf, respectively, in Le Roman de Renard. Disparagement of prostitution in Richeut associates it with the sayings of Marcolf in Solomon and Marcolf.

[2] Sampson asks his father who his mother is:

Tell me now, father dear, which one of these three is my mother?

Richeut responds:

Dear daughter, I don’t know. I have mated with each of the three, and with a thousand others. I am not ashamed to tell you. How can a man that’s been mounted by this kind of population be expected to keep count of his children? One doesn’t know from whom he conceives nor when. Just go to the richest of the three. Take your pick.

Sampson responds, “Father, I don’t want any of them.”

[3] On the relationship of Richeut and Sampson, Adkins (2003).

[4] In medieval estates satire, townsmen and peasants are commonly grouped together in the third estate. Mann (1973) considers medieval estates satire, but focuses on Chaucer and ignores Richeut. Richeut surely has more direct, current public importance than Chaucer’s General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.

[image] Nell Gwyn. Painting by Simon Verelst c. 1680. Nell Gwyn (1650 – 1687) was a comic actor and long-time mistress of Charles II. He regarded himself as a whore. Image thanks to Wikipedia Commons, and no thanks to the rapacious, reactionary U.K. National Portrait Gallery.


Adkins, Carole Ann. 2003. “Beastly Fathers — Beastly Daughters: Richeut.” Reinardus: Yearbook of the International Reynard Society. 16: 3-17.

Haddad, Gabriel. 1991. “Richeut: A Translation.” Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 22(1): 1-29.

Ker, Donald Eugene. 1976. The twelfth-century French poem of Richeut: a study in history, form and content. Ph.D. Thesis. Ohio State University.

Lecompte, Irville Charles. 1913. “Richeut, Old French poem of the twelfth century, with introduction, notes, and glossary.” Pamphlet reprint of the article in The Romanic Review 4(3): 261-305.

Mann, Jill. 1973. Chaucer and medieval estates satire: the literature of social classes and the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. Cambridge, England: University Press.

Vernay, Philippe. 1988. Richeut. Berne, Switzerland: Editions Francke.

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