Prostitution was tightly regulated in fourteenth-century England, and brothels—although not prostitution itself—were illegal in the City of London.[note 2] City authorities tended not to prosecute individual sex workers, but focused on arresting the pimps and procuresses who lived off them. Prostitution was perceived as most dangerous to the moral fabric of society. Another sexual offence for which people could be prosecuted was sodomy, but this would generally be by the church in its own courts. Of these two sexual offences, sodomy was deemed the worse. The thirteenth-century philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas compared prostitution to a sewer controlling the flow of waste, saying that if one were to remove it, one would "fill the palace with foulness". Aquinas then expanded on the point, saying "take away prostitutes from the world and you will fill it with sodomy". Prostitution was thus seen as a necessary evil, that if not eliminated could be controlled. The Lord Mayor of London's secular court would not have been seen as competent to hear cases involving either offence.
In late-fourteenth-century London, it was considered socially unacceptable for a man to habitually wear women's clothes. There were exceptions if it was deliberately obvious or necessary—for example, in theatre, or mystery plays.[note 3] Corpus Christi mystery plays, as the historian Katie Normington notes, provided an occasion "where gender identity could be tested or disrupted". Conversely, the limited number of such opportunities, says Vern Bullough, meant that male-to-female transvestism was effectively non-existent in public society. But beneath the surface, suggests Ruth Evans, London was "a place of unrivalled sexual and economic opportunities".
Hermaphroditism too had a legally recognised status; the thirteenth-century jurist Henry de Bracton, for example, had discussed it in his
Laws and Customs of England, and there was a strong tradition of fictionalising it. The best-known, a story told by at least four separate German chroniclers in the 1380s, was from Lübeck. The protagonist dressed as a woman by night and sold sex out of a booth. By day, he was a priest and was eventually discovered when a client recognised him celebrating mass. The medieval historian Jeremy Goldberg has compared the Lübeck and Rykener cases: both involved "cross-dressing, dishonesty, the close association of priests with homosexual activity, and the eventual intervention of the city authorities".