The Secrets of Sex and Society


The Secrets of Sex and Society; Courtly Excesses & The Renaissance


After last week’s post about such a gruesome topic in French history, I chose a lighter and more salacious subject for this week’s post. Join me as we continue my winter walk through French history to talk about sex and the steamier side of life behind closed doors during the French Renaissance, where things weren’t necessarily really happening behind closed doors, if you know what I mean. While I have an entire library of racy photos I share during my Loire Valley tours, I apologize that there are NO photos with this post to avoid it being censored.

Step back in time with me as we embark on a journey to explore the intricacies of sex, power, and social dynamics that characterized life in the French court during the French Renaissance. From the opulent halls of kings to the humble cottages of the peasantry, the role of sex and sexual relations in society was both complex and ever-present, shaping the lives of individuals from all walks of life.

From the days of the later Kings of the house of Valois into the early Bourbons, openly reigned sexual tone and moral freedom. Intellectuals and artists explored the complexities of human desire and passion. Royal courts became hubs of opulence and debauchery, where concubines and mistresses vied for the attention of their regal patrons. Extramarital affairs were not only common but socially accepted, reflecting the unrestrained appetites of the ruling elite. With the arrival of the French Renaissance, the study and understanding of the vascular mechanics of the male genitalia came to the forefront of society. At the French court, sex and excess went hand in hand, with kings and nobles indulging in lavish feasts, extravagant parties, and scandalous liaisons. Society moved to a “make love, not war” mindset. Yet still, with the pursuit of pleasure often came exploitation and abuse, particularly of women and children who had little power to resist the advances of their social superiors.


The Unbridled Lust of Kings & Roles of Women

Kings and nobles wielded power and privilege that extended to their sexual escapades. At the French court, extramarital affairs, concubinage, favorites, and mistresses were common among the elite. Kings like François I (1515-1547), Henri III (1574-1589), and especially Henri IV (1589-1610) were notorious for their favorites and numerous mistresses, often flaunting their affairs. Sexuality bled through every aspect of daily life.

Known for his passion for the hunt, our well-known Renaissance King François I relished some unique ways to relax during his hunting escapades. On his breaks during a typical hunting day, one of his pastimes included undressing and fondling the ladies who accompanied him on his outings.  Henri II’s wife, Queen Catherine de Medicis, a cunning woman who knew how to employ her intelligence with men to accomplish her political agenda, used her position as Regent during the reign of her three sons (François II, Charles IV, Henri III) to bring back the court of beauties that originated under François I’s reign and halted by her husband, Henri II. The women comprising the court of beauties frequented important events and meetings. They were Catherine’s eyes and ears, and they used their physical beauty to her advantage. Sexual relations played a pivotal role in shaping alliances and securing political influence. These women held sway over powerful men, influencing behind the scenes and discreetly shaping history.

Henri IV was as enthusiastic about conquering women as he was about winning on the battlefield. It is believed that he had about seventy-five mistresses, and of course, this despite his garlic-stenched body odor. These were in addition to his wife Marguerite de Valois and his “favorite” Gabriele d’Estrées, with whom he had three bastard children.

While some used their charms to secure favor and protection, others defied convention to pursue love and passion on their own terms. Women like the Poet Louise Labé, a well-known Renaissance poet who experienced life uniquely focused on her physical and spiritual beauty, celebrated the pleasures of eroticism and sexuality in her poetic works fed by her experiences with her unknown lover.

Witchcraft became more prevalent during the Renaissance, and women were believed to practice it to fulfill their depraved lust and passion. Approximately eighty percent of women were thought to practice witchcraft in a frantic quest for pleasure. Considered sinners, these women practiced what was seen as a public service to have sexual relations with the devil, both penetratively and orally, and swallow semen to feed their magical powers, one of which included being able to fly on a broom. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. Perceived as prisoners of their desires, they rendered men powerless, even in those of no interest to them, all with their aura of need to be sexually satisfied.

The Renaissance saw the rise of a more enlightened approach to sexuality. The feminity of the female body was put on a pedestal. Whereas during the Middle Ages, thin, blonde-haired, and green-eyed women were viewed as the most beautiful, the idea of beauty evolved with curvy, voluptuous blonde-haired women being seen as more attractive. It became fashionable for women to shave their private “girly” parts. Times haven’t changed, huhmmm. With artists and thinkers exploring themes of love, desire, and intimacy in new and provocative ways, the female body represented a work of art. The courts of France became centers where the boundaries of sexual behavior were sensually pushed to their limits.

As we reflect on the changing landscape of sex and society in Renaissance France, one cannot help but wonder, “What secrets still lie buried beneath the stones of old castles?” To unravel the mysteries of the past and embark on a journey through time to learn more about the secrets (from leprosy to syphilis) and untold stories of erotic France, join us on a small group tour to Loire Valley, France. Uncover the hidden truths and forgotten tales of an unforgettable period of history.


Facebook     •    Instagram