Historisk Tidskrift. Utgiven av Svenska historiska föreningen
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Historisk tidskrift 131:2 • 2011

Innehåll (Contents) 2011:2

Den politiska kärleken. Homosocialt begär och heteronormativa praktiker under svensk medeltid

Henric Bagerius & Christine Ekholst

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Political love: homosocial desire and heteronormative practices in medieval Sweden

This article discusses the character of political relationships in the Middle Ages and shows the usefulness of gender and queer theory for analyzing political history. Recent research has expanded on the deeply personal and emotional character of political relations and has depicted them as based on friendship. We argue that the term male homosociality is a more accurate description because it emphasizes that women tended to be excluded from these male relationships. Women were used to bind men together, for example by marriage, but their own political influence was clearly limited. In fact, in order for the homosocial relationships to function women needed to be subordinated.

Strong emotions such as love and jealousy were common between men of power. This homosocial desire needed to be kept in check; women were therefore essential as mediators. Having a woman present, preferably as a wife, made it possible to avoid accusations of sodomy and allowed men to show signs of affection more openly. The fear of sodomitical sin was, however, always present in late medieval society. Even having a wife could not always save a king from being suspected of same-sex sexual activities.

Suspicions of sodomy put the entire political system in jeopardy: by letting himself be seduced by another man the king showed an effeminate side that made him incapable of reigning. Furthermore, since heterosexual intercourse was seen as a symbol of the correct gender order, if the king refused to have sex with his wife it was believed to create chaos. The queen subsequently would become power hungry and too independent.

In this article we argue that medieval political relationships were characterized by homosocial desire and heteronormative practices. The homosocial desire formed the relationship between men of power and bound them together, but the system was structured on compulsory heteronormative practices symbolized primarily by the institution of marriage.


Sweden, Middle Ages, political history, rulership, gender, homosocial desire, heteronormative practices, queer theory, Erikskrönikan, Libellus de Magno Erici rege