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Episode 614             Episode 616
Episode 615

John/Eleanor Rykener
Thu, 2019-Jan-10 00:39 UTC
Length - 4:11

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Welcome to featured Wiki of the Day where we read the summary of the featured Wikipedia article every day.

The featured article for Thursday, 10 January 2019 is John/Eleanor Rykener.

John Rykener, also known as Eleanor (fl. 1394), was a 14th-century transvestite sex worker arrested in December 1394 for performing a sex act with another man, John Britby, in London's Cheapside. Although historians tentatively link Rykener to a prisoner of the same name, the only known facts of his life come from interrogation made by the mayor of London. Rykener was questioned on two offences: prostitution and sodomy. Prostitutes were not usually arrested in London during this period, while sodomy was an offence against morality rather than common law, and so pursued in ecclesiastical courts. There is no evidence that Rykener was prosecuted for either crime.

Rykener said that he was introduced to sexual contact with men by Elizabeth Brouderer, a London embroideress who dressed him as a woman and may have acted as his procurer. According to his account, he had sex with both men and women, including priests and nuns. Rykener spent part of summer 1394 in Oxford, working both as a prostitute and as an embroideress. He later mentioned that in Beaconsfield he had a sexual relationship with a woman. Rykener returned to London via Burford in Oxfordshire, where he worked as a barmaid and continued with sex work. On his return to London, he had paid encounters near the Tower of London, just outside the City. Rykener was arrested with Britby on the evening of Sunday, 11 December. Rykener was in women's clothes, which he was still wearing during his subsequent interrogation. It was there that he described his encounters—and his sexual history—in great detail. But it appears that no charges were ever brought against him; or at least, no records have been found suggesting so. Nothing definite is known of Rykener after his interrogation; he has been tentatively identified as a John Rykener imprisoned by and escaping from the Bishop of London in 1399.

Historians of social, sexual and gender history are especially interested in Rykener's case because of what it reveals about medieval views on sex and gender. Jeremy Goldberg, for example, views it firmly in the context of King Richard II's quarrel with the city of London—although he has also questioned the veracity of the entire record, and posited that the case was merely a propaganda piece by city officials. Historian James A. Schultz has viewed the affair as being of greater significance to historians than more famous medieval stories such as Tristan and Iseult. Ruth Mazo Karras—who in the 1990s rediscovered the Rykener case in the City of London archives—sees it as illustrating the difficulties the law has in addressing things it cannot describe. Modern interest in John/Eleanor Rykener has not been confined to academia. Rykener has appeared as a character in at least one work of popular historical fiction, and his story has been adapted for the stage.

This recording reflects the Wikipedia text as of 00:39 UTC on Thursday, 10 January 2019.

For the full current version of the article, go to

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This has been Kendra. Thank you for listening to featured Wiki of the Day.


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