Abelard and Heloise


Abelard and HeloiseYears ago while watching an old black and white movie set in some kind of senior girls’ school there was a chance reference to Abelard and Heloise. It meant nothing to me at the time and if I ever knew it the name of the movies escapes me.

It was an odd set-up with ‘schoolgirls’ all being women (or at least played by women) and the scene in question revolved around a senior girl ambiguously ‘seducing’ a master in a classroom as an elaborate way of embarrassing him.

“If you don’t cut along Miss…” whatever, he says, “I shall spank you.”

This is the moment the teacher’s colleague choses to enter and overhear and she quips, “Not exactly Abelard and Heloise is it.”

The girl scurries away while the male teacher stutters his explanations to a woman who is dismissive and has the naughty girl sussed.

The movie, which was made circa 1950, was otherwise unremarkable and was of the sort that was often shown on UK TV up to the 1980s and never seen again. But it did set me on a short quest to find out more about Abelard and Heloise.

This story has featured on this blog before, but not in any detail. One of the books dealing with the story was a biography by Enid McLeod, which was published in 1938. At the time a copy wasn’t be had but tantalisingly a reference at the library to the book said it “was over endowed with spanking other romantic nonsense.”

As you can imagine it was with regret that a copy couldn’t be found.

If you are wondering and didn’t know Peter Abelard and Héloïse d’Argenteuil were real lovers in the 12th century and he was indeed her tutor and empowered to thrash the girl as he saw fit; this at the orders of her uncle Fulbert.

Heloise was unusually talented and although her age at the outset of this arrangement isn’t known, it has been put between 17 and 27 by scholars.

The point of interest for us is that some of these scholars have speculated as to whether Heloise’s chastisements were a cover, a duty or something more erotic.

The tale is a tragic one as the picture above, which may be an engraving depicting the couple, suggests.

7 Responses to “Abelard and Heloise”

  1. The story has always fascinated me and I’ve seen other accounts from time to time. Alex Birch includes it in his “history” pieces which I believe are at LSF. I used it as a plot device for one of my own stories.

  2. 2 Raffe

    Very interesting, thanks for the information.

  3. 3 Redendmaker

    Not surprisingly there are quite a few books on the subject available on Amazon including an electronic version (The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise) for any Android device for $.99 There is also a a signed picture from a 1970 performance and a Playbill magazine available for a 1971 performance in New York both with Diana Rigg and Keith Mitchell. The play included a brief nude scene with Ms Rigg that stirred up a bit of controversy when it was first produced. I think I’ll get the Android version and check it out.

  4. 4 Petruchio

    Peter Abelard’s Historia Calamitatum contains one of the earliest references to erotic spanking (in this case, birching). Abelard was a well-known philosopher who enveigled his way into Fulbert’s house, ostensibly to teach his niece Heloise, but really to seduce her. “If I found her idle,” writes Abelard. “I was to punish her severely. I was amazed by (Fulbert’s) simplicity … what was he doing but giving me complete freedom to realise my desires…? …To avert suspicion, I sometimes struck her, but these blows were prompted by love and tender feeling rather than anger and irritation, and were sweeter than any balm could be.” In those days, the birch was used frequently when teaching scholars, so both of them would have been well-used to it. The issue is discussed at length in M T Clancy’s Abelard A Medieval Life (Blackwell, 1997).

  5. 5 DJ

    Lots of info and appreciation on our (now) favourite Medieval scholar. 🙂


  6. 6 Brigit

    Are you sure you realy like this story ? If you consider the fate of Abelard, you might reconsider 😉

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