Nicola here. Today it’s my very great pleasure to welcome Andrea Zuvich to the Word Wench blog to talk about her new book “Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain.” I first met Andrea at the Historical Novel Society conference in Oxford in 2016. We share a passion for the 17th century and enjoyed putting together a talk on secret Stuart marriages. Andrea is a historian, a historical consultant for film, radio, & TV and an audiobook narrator as well as a novelist and non-fiction author but today she is going to give us an intimate insight beneath the bed sheets of Stuart Britain!
Andrea, welcome to the Wenches! I’ve enjoyed reading Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain very much – as with all your books, it’s scholarly but also very accessible, brilliantly-researched and full of fascinating historical information. I recommend it very highly. So, let’s jump into the interview! Where and how did you research the book?
I contacted almost every county record office (archives) in the UK and several in the USA. I went to the National Archives, British Library, and went to Blenheim Palace to talk with the researcher there about the figures associated with Queen Anne's court. Of course, there were numerous online websites such as British History Online, and Archive.org, among others, which were invaluable to my research.
What did the Stuarts consider to be sexually attractive?
Throughout the period, portraits showed how fashions emphasised certain parts of the human anatomy. For men, their legs had to be good-looking, and they were often in tight hose which displayed this. Women with a pale complexion unsullied by the ravages of smallpox were considered attractive. Plumper women were more sexually desirable than slimmer women. (The portrait is of Elizabeth Hamilton, one of the "Windsor beauties".) In the early seventeenth century, men sported trendy facial hair, but by the late Stuart period, they favoured the shaved face.
You include some areas of research in the book that might surprise people given that it is entitled Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain. Where do food and fashion, for example, fit into this topic?
Sex and sexuality impacted so much more than we think and I wanted to emphasise that it wasn't just about sexual acts or preferences, but a wide variety of topics including fashion, literature, and more. Makeup, for example, was (and is) related to sex as throughout history people have used it in order to help attract a potential spouse or lover because it feigns sexual arousal. Some people didn't like makeup as a result, such as the diarist John Evelyn, who in May 1654 wrote: 'I now observed how the women began to paint themselves, formerly a most ignominious thing, and used only by prostitutes'. Food could be used as an aphrodisiac, and some recipe books of the time mention various herbs and foods that could help fan the flames of one's passion.
One of the things you mentioned in your talk that I particularly enjoyed was the advice on what to do if you suffered from a broken heart. Would you like to share that with us here?
Certainly! One book I found really fascinating was The Ladies Dictionary from 1694. In this, there were several tips on how to get over a broken heart. 'Exercise yourself in Walking or Running, do it vigorously…and the burning Flames of Love…may expire, or much abate of their vehemency'. I personally know at least two people who took up power walking or running after a relationship had come to an end. This makes sense because, as we now know, exercise releases endorphins in your brain and will help give you a boost.
What was the attitude of people in the period towards sexual equality?
The Stuart period was a time in which sexual inequality was not only the norm, but many (including women) seemed to think this good and natural. There were, of course, outliers who disagreed with this, but in general, it was accepted and viewed in a positive light. Women were expected to be submissive to men.
I find Rupert of the Rhine an extremely interesting person. He had an incredibly full life: warfare, imprisonment, privateering, and he also had what we'd now call 'scientific' pursuits with the Royal Society, and he was a very good artist. He had passionate love affairs, two children, and heartache such as when his beloved brother, Maurice, was lost during a hurricane.
What was the most surprising thing you discovered during your research?
I found that some women thought urination after sex was a form of contraception—which doesn't work! Most surprisingly, however, was when I looked in various online sex forums and some women *to this day* believe this. Whilst urinating after sex is great for preventing a urinary tract infection, it is not a form of contraception!
What will you be writing about next?
Thank you very much for coming to chat to us today, Andrea. It’s been a fascinating interview on a fascinating topic!
So now it's over to you! What do you think of the advice given in the Ladies Dictionary? What would your recommendation be for getting over a broken heart? Andrea is offering a copy of Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain to one lucky commenter between now and midnight Saturday!