The problem with Adam, Eve and Steve

May 27, 2020 by

by Louise Perry, The Critic:

Is Polyamory really a progressive, feminist-friendly modus vivendi?

Turkish princes have a dozen wives each” muses Jane Seymour in The Mirror and the Light, the final volume of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy on the life of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII:

If the king had been of their sect, he could have been married to the late queen, God rest her, and Katherine, God rest her, and at the same time to me, if he liked. For that matter, he could have been married to Mary Boleyn, and to Mary Shelton, and to Fitzroy’s mother. And the Pope could not have troubled him about it.

There are many different ways of being polyamorous. Polygyny, historically the most common form, involves a single man partnered with multiple women, typically in a “hub and spokes” structure, in which the women are romantically linked to the man but not to each other. This might indeed have been a model that Henry VIII would have enjoyed, if it had been formally recognised in the England of the sixteenth century. High-status men, including Seymour’s “Turkish princes” within the Islamic tradition, have in some times and places been permitted to acquire many wives, occasionally forming harems consisting of thousands of women.

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