When one thinks of medieval times, gallant knights, spirited horses, jesters, and fair maidens often come to mind. And of course, the iconic chastity belts supposedly worn by maidens to maintain their purity. But, dear readers of Africa Nova, let’s set the record straight: historical evidence suggests these belts weren’t as medieval as one might think.
It’s a Popular Tale
Crusading knights leaving their homes, trusting the chastity belts they’d locked around their beloveds to ensure their fidelity. But delve into history and you’ll find that these brave knights, though familiar with honor and valor, probably had no inkling about “chastity belts.”
The term “chaste” in the 12th century pertained to virtue and purity in the context of the Church’s definition of “unlawful sexual intercourse.” By the 14th century, its meaning extended to refer to a virgin.
But Where Did the Whole Metal Belt Saga Come Into Play?
A hint comes from Konrad Kyeser’s 1405 military tome, Bellifortis. In it, amid illustrations of crossbows and torture apparatus, lies a depiction of a “female chastity device.” Kyeser’s cheeky commentary hints at it being a joke: a humorous notion rather than historical fact. His playful insinuation about Florentine women suggests these devices weren’t a widespread reality but might’ve been an inside jest.
From poetry to paintings, references to cloth-like chastity belts pop up in several sources. Often, they seem more symbolic than literal—a physical testament to a maiden’s vow of purity. But it’s essential to approach tales of metal chastity belts with caution. Putting such abrasive materials against the skin for extended periods could lead to life-threatening infections. The fact that no tangible artifacts from these times have been conclusively verified also casts doubt on their historical authenticity.
However, in Venice’s Doges Palace, one purported chastity belt allegedly designed by Francesco di Carrara II in 1388 for his wife stands on display. But its authenticity, like many others in museums worldwide, remains a matter of academic debate. Many renowned museums have revised the dates of their chastity belts, realizing that some might not be as ancient as once thought.
Flash forward to the Victorian era, where the concept of chastity belts made a striking comeback, but for different reasons. During this period, societal fears around masturbation labeled it a grievous malaise. Victorian chastity belts, often cushioned to prevent metal-flesh contact, were seen as safeguards against this perceived threat and were even used to protect working women in hazardous environments.