Verniolle, Arnaud de Fourteenth Century

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Verniolle, Arnaud de
Fourteenth Century

Arnaud de Verniolle (also known as Vernhole) may be one of the earliest examples in Western history of a man who, under interrogation, acknowledged himself as a practicing lover of males, and to have tried to articulate his sexuality during his trial. He was a fourteenth-century cleric from the southern French Sabarthès village of Montaillou, mentioned in the Inquisition records of Jacques Fournier, bishop of Pamiers, who was sent to ferret out the last remnants of Albigense heretical sympathy in the region. The records were subsequently mined by historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie to uncover the texture of daily life and its interface with class and faith in this strongly male-centered yet morally unorthodox culture. Le Roy Ladurie's identification of Arnaud as an individual "condemned" to be a homosexual and ridden with remorse (1979, p. 145) elicited criticism from various quarters of the scholarly world; some found this comment frankly homophobic (Camille 2001), while others, from a strict constructionist perspective, objected to the term homosexual being applied to Arnaud's time.

According to the trial proceedings, Arnaud, who had relations with women as well as men, was primarily attracted to young men and adolescents in the clerical milieu and entertained troubled physical relations with them, combining consent and violence, attraction and bribery, curiosity and revulsion. He refused to concede that he was any more sinful than those engaged in normative sex. While he did admit to having sinned, and at once denounced sodomy and denied practicing it, he made no bones about his attraction to men. He denounced his interrogatory as an unjust double standard that made short shrift of the sexual violence routinely exercised against young women and girls, and he maintained that his same-sex experiences were consensual (Duvernoy 1965).

It is surprising that these documents have drawn such intense criticism from strict constructionist historians. No doubt, all modern words designating same-sex activity in Arnaud's time are anachronisms and thus questionable. But it would be no more accurate to refer to him as a "sodomite" than a "homosexual" because he himself refused the term, or at least the association between the term—the only one available at the time—and the acts it purported to designate.

The general reliability of Inquisition records has also been questioned, because they are obtained under duress. Further, the linguistic gaps that occur when the original Latin is translated into Occitan to interrogate local witnesses and then transcribed back into Latin make these records even less trustworthy (Davis 1979).

In Arnaud's case, however, Latin would not have been a barrier to communicating with the inquisitors. And rather than merely dismissing the records and Arnaud's testimony, if one engages in a close reading of the confession, one has to suspect that extracting it in this form would do little to enhance Church dogma and teachings by eliciting, and recording, such a confrontational confession. In effect, concern with the appropriateness of the "homosexual" label is a modern one: Arnaud was not tried principally for his alleged sodomitical acts, but for exercising without license the spiritual functions of the priesthood, in particular, confession and absolution. Sodomy was thrown in as an aggravating circumstance, and in spite of his recorded defiance, he was not condemned to death, but to life incarceration. Examined with all the necessary prudence, this remains a remarkable case in which the combination of the charges, their weight in the proceedings, and the inscription of sodomy into the interrogation and onto the body of the accused render a complex account of the construction, representation, and punishment of sexualities in fourteenth-century France (Sautman 2001).

see also Catholicism; Homosexuality, Male, History of; Inquisition, Spanish; Sodomy, Repression of.


Camille, Michael. 2001. "The Pose of the Queer: Dante's Gaze, Brunetto Latini's Body." In Queering the Middle Ages, ed. Glenn Burger and Steven F. Kruger. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. 1979. "Les Conteurs de Montaillou." Annales 34(1): 61-73.

Duvernoy, Jean, ed. and trans. 1966. Inquisition à Pamiers, interrogatoires de Jacques Fournier, 1318–1325. Toulouse: E. Privat. 14-53: "contra Arnaldum de Vernohla Fillium Guillelmi de Vernhola de Mercatali Appamiarum super crimine heresis et sodomie," cols 226a-234b.

Duvernoy, Jean, ed. and trans. 1978. Le Registre d'inquisition de Jacques Fournier, 1318–1325. 3 vols. Paris and New York: Mouton. Vol. 3: 1039-1068.

Goodich, Michael, ed. 1998. "Arnaud of Verniolle." In Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. 1979. Montaillou, Promised Land of Error, trans. Barbara Bray. New York: Vintage.

Sautman, Canadé Francesca. 2001. "'Just Like a Woman': Queer History, Womanizing the Body and the Boys in Arnaud's Band." In Queering the Middle Ages, ed. Glenn Burger and Steven F. Kruger. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

                                 Francesca Canadé Sautman