Chastity Belts Weren’t Created By Crusaders For Their Ladies

By Debra Kelly on Wednesday, January 29, 2014
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“There’s a woman like a dew-drop, / She’s so purer than the purest.” —Robert Browning, “A Blot in the ‘Scutcheon”

In A Nutshell

The popular tales surrounding chastity belts are rather romantic, if not sad. Unfortunately, they’re all rather untrue. Chastity belts didn’t come about as a device Crusaders gave their wives and lovers to keep them modest when they went off fighting for years at a time. Instead, they were popularly—and voluntarily—used first by parents to stop masturbating children, then by female factory workers during the Industrial Revolution to discourage rape.

The Whole Bushel

We’ve all heard the stories. The valiant knight, leaving his lady behind as he goes off to fight for the freedom of the Holy Land, gives her a chastity belt. It’s supposed to keep her modest and loyal, and prevent any unsavory types from taking advantage of the poor woman who’s been left on her own.

Unfortunately, none of that is true.

When historians began taking a closer look at the mythos of the chastity belt, they found that it’s one of a number of historic artifacts that have been the victim of popular misconception.

The idea of a chastity belt seems to have started out as just that—an idea. The first written records of a chastity belt are in poems from the Renaissance period, in which poets appeal to their lovers to wear a chastity belt. There hasn’t been any evidence to suggest that these earliest mentions have been in anything but the metaphorical sense. Designs for such a device have been found in manuscripts from the 16th century, but it’s never been found that any were actually constructed.

Real chastity belts were a product of the 19th century, and contrary to the romantic myth of women being presented with them as a token of love and fidelity, most chastity belts were bought by women themselves. This was the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, a time when women were leaving the house and going to work in factories and offices. There were also no sexual harassment laws, and many women saw chastity belts as their only protection from the harassment of other employees or bosses.

The other use of the chastity belt was not for grown women, but for children of both genders. Nineteenth-century medical journals from both the United States and Great Britain discuss the virtues of using a chastity belt for adolescent girls and boys whose nighttime activities would potentially begin to cause them health problems. It was thought that masturbation would lead to mental and physical illnesses, and these medical journals suggested the use of chastity belts to prevent masturbation from becoming a chronic problem.

It’s undeniable that the idea of the chastity belt seems so clearly to be a medieval construction. Ideas of marital fidelity and a knight protecting his lady even in his absence seem completely plausible. The trouble was that it was so plausible that many historian and laypeople alike started to take it for granted. Recently, it’s been found that many examples of the chastity belt that were supposed to come from medieval Europe are in fact 19th-century reproductions of a product that didn’t even exist.

Several of what were thought to be the oldest chastity belts found—one supposedly belonging to Catherine de Medici and another rumored to have been used by Francesco de Carrara II as a torture device—have since fallen suspect in their authenticity.

And before anyone points out how many medieval chastity belts are on display in museums around the world, it’s worth noting that national museums in Paris and Nuremberg and The British Museum have all either removed displays or changed dates to be more accurate.

Show Me The Proof

Semmelweis Museum: The Secret Histories of Chastity Belts
BBC News: The Chastity Belt – Myths and Facts
Psychology Today: The Truth About Chastity Belts

  • Watts

    Neat. I don’t think many of us really believe most of the romanticized things we hear about this time period anymore since so much evidence has come to light in correcting our recorded history.

  • Maluca

    Very, very stupid phrasing. A chastity belt as sign of love and dedication, “protecting” the women? Hello? Had these things existed, they’d have been the equivalent of an iron collar, saying “mine”. The women would have suffered injuries from the definitely not rust-proof metals scraping their tender parts, hygiene would have been abysmal at best, and I dare not think of what might have happened to a woman who got pregnant right before being “belted in” and then had to suffer through pregnancy with such an abomination around her body. I am really glad that these things never existed.

    • Nathaniel A.

      They did exist, just not in the way you described.

      • Maluca

        you mean, “not just in the way envisioned of having existed in the middle ages”. I’ve read the 19th century part and that’s different – the women were in charge of the keys and not dependent of men 3000 miles and several years of travel away.

        • Nathaniel A.

          They way you described was the part that supposedly happened during the Middle Ages which did not exist. Sorry if my comment needed clarification.

    • Stranger

      Seriously?! Did you even read the damn article? You’re getting all up in arms about a situation that has never even been proven to exist.

      • Maluca

        It’s not the “situation”, but the phrasings, like that thing would have been a proof of love by the knight. Instead of “they locked up their women” the author writes “they protected their women”. That’s what bothers me. That the belts never existed wasn’t new to me, and I actually like the knowledgenuts. It’s just this small detail.

    • Scott

      Who cares?

  • Andyman7714

    I only ever thought of chastity belts as a form of torture. Never in any sense of being romantic.

    • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

      Today it’s mostly in use as a kinky sex toy. The irony!

      • Patriotic Dane

        Virkelig? Hvordan?

        But really, how?

        • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

          LOL google it Dane!

          • Patriotic Dane

            Oh gosh… that is ironic!

  • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

    Tension, nervousness, depression, aching bits & pieces … not masturbating can cause a whole range of mental and physical problems. How did they not notice THAT in the nineteen hundreds?

    • Chaos

      Thank god I wasn’t living during that era, I find a clearing of the tanks can give a much clearer state of mind when making important decisions

    • Susan

      The 19th Century was the 1800s.

  • augustus

    I remember ROBIN HOOD the movie where Robin takes the woman on her bed and when they’re about to have sex, he discovers her chasity belt and her maid also comes running in and saying they have to get married first…..

    • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

      I do. Classic scene. God bless Cary Elwes.

    • Erich

      Fetch the locksmith!

    • Chaos

      They don’t make comedies like that anymore!

    • x_anima

      CALL THE LOCKSMITH!

  • Modular Cat.#7

    What about their mouths? Chastity muzzle?

    • L.OHilo

      teeth.

    • welllahdeedah

      Look up the Scold’s Bridle. Basically a Hannibal Lecter mask for women who were deemed too talkative or “hysterical”.

    • DarthPoot

      Hygiene. Or lack there of.

  • Chaos

    I have to give it to the woman of that era for their ingenuity, while rape is never funny I would laugh my ass off when some dirty punk tries to have his way, only to be impeded by a device such as this.

  • DreaTheGreat

    I wouldn’t call that voluntery use, when someone else is choosing it FOR you.

  • CandelariaSchank

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