An hermaphrodite in the King’s Two Bodies

Kantorowicz‘ The king’s two bodies, first published in 1957,  is a classic in medieval studies. He was mainly interested in the legal maxims used by (Tudor) lawyers to discuss kantorowiczthe ‚two bodies‘ of the king, but in passing he mentioned the legal treatment of ‚real‘ bodies, namely the hermaphrodite body of Giovanni de Malaspina as discussed by Baldus de Ubaldis. He wrote (Kantorowicz 1997, 10-11):

The Latin legal maxim saying that „the worthier draws to itself the less worthy“ was common among mediaeval jurists. It was regularly invoked when a persona mixta (or, for that matter, a res mixta) was the issue. Baldus, the great Italian lawyer and legal authority of the fourteenth century, for example, linked that maxim most fittingly to the two sexes of an hermaphrodite: according to the Digest, the more prominent qualities were to determine the sex, for (summarizes Baldus) „if a union of two extremes is produced, while the qualities of each extreme abide, then the one more prominent and striking draws to itself the other one.“ What fitted the two sexes of an hermaphrodite, fitted juristically also the two bodies of a king.

To my knowledge, this is the only reference to this case before Julius Kirshner and Oswaldo Cavallar in a series of articles addressed this spectacularly well-documented case (for the time being, have a look here at the abstract of Oswaldo Cavallar’s paper at the 2015 Zwischen conference). It also shows that legal questions surrounding hermaphrodites – Baldus had written a consilium on Giovanni’s contested inheritance – were easily compared to and used as metaphor in very different fields of the law in pre-modern times.


Ernst Hartwig Kantorowicz, The king’s two bodies. A study in mediaeval political theology, Princeton, N.J. 1997. []

Christof Rolker

Prof. Dr. Christof Rolker, Historiker an der Universität Bamberg.

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Christof Rolker

Prof. Dr. Christof Rolker, Historiker an der Universität Bamberg.

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  1. 02/08/2016

    […] posted on Kantorowicz‘ King’s two bodies ( reminds me of John of Salisbury and his Policraticus, an important medieval source for the […]

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