The Lothar, Theutberga and Susanna Story

I’ve been trying to keep up with developments in the academic world while I’ve been ill and unable to work. Most of this has involved twitter, and following various conference hashtags! I know my academic interests aren’t going to be interesting to everyone, but it helps keeping up with things because I can feel a bit more ‘human’, it’s something that doesn’t entirely revolve around being ill and acts as a nice distraction! I also think it’s important where possible to remember that even if you aren’t well, you’re still the person that you were, even if inevitably slightly different! For me, academia was so much a part of my life and identity that staying with one foot there feels like the only thing I can do. I wrote a little bit about this in a previous post (https://debbiescancerblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/it-could-have-been-a-brilliant-career/). So I’m going to take advantage of this being my blog and being able to write about what I want to write about by telling you all one of my favourite medieval stories! I decided to write about this one after seeing it mentioned on Twitter this week. Also, juicy gossip, bad men and accusations of adultery, incest and sodomy abound! This was something I learnt about during my MLitt and is probably familiar to a fair few medievalists (so hopefully I get the details right! It’s been a long time since I actually learnt about this)

The Lothar (or Susanna) Crystal is one of the objects held in the British Museum – if you are at the museum or otherwise in London, I’d recommend seeing it if you can. I’ve included a photo but I don’t think it really does it justice! It was made in the ninth century and depicts the apocryphal story of Susanna. But the interesting part is why it was made. Lothar had it made for his wife, Theutberga, after accusing her (as part of divorce proceedings) of conceiving and aborting a child through sodomitic incest with her brother. It’s as if he was trying to throw everything at her and hoping something stuck! Although, as much as I laughed about the process of conception while writing my essay about the crystal, I later read an article about a woman whose body wasn’t standard and did conceive through anal sex, so it may well be possible (though I don’t remember any of the details of that, much later, case!)

The whole crystal is very small, and you don’t really get a sense of that from the photo. It is about 4.5 inches in diameter, so the figures are hugely intricate. It’s even got an inscription, which reads (in translation from Latin) ‘Lothar, king of the Franks, caused this to be made’.

Theutberga was acquitted of the charges levied against her and the couple were reconciled – though one does wonder how much that was really possible when he had accused her of these things! In fact, she then went to the Pope and was granted an annulment before retiring to the abbey at Metz.

Doing a bit of reading for this post has been really fun, and it’s been nice to get a bit of a break from a daily routine which often consists of meds, food and medical appointments, so getting back to the medievalist mindset has been really good for me! Thanks to Lizy for suggesting I write about something medieval – and hopefully this might become a regular thing. (Next time, queer nuns?)

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