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The Friend

In the chapel of Christ’s College, Cambridge, some twenty years ago, historian Alan Bray made an astonishing discovery: a tomb shared by two men, John Finch and Thomas Baines. The monument featured eloquent imagery dedicated to their friendship: portraits of the two friends linked by a knotted cloth. And Bray would soon learn that Finch commonly described his friendship with Baines as a connubium or marriage.

There was a time, as made clear by this monument, when the English church not only revered such relations between men, but also blessed them. Taking this remarkable idea as its cue, The Friend explores the long and storied relationship between friendship and the traditional family of the church in England. This magisterial work extends from the year 1000, when Europe acquired a shape that became its enduring form, and pursues its account up to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Spanning a vast array of fascinating examples, which range from memorial plaques and burial brasses to religious rites and theological imagery to classic works of philosophy and English literature, Bray shows how public uses of private affection were very common in premodern times. He debunks the now-familiar readings of friendship by historians of sexuality who project homoerotic desires onto their subjects when there were none. And perhaps most notably, he evaluates how the ethics of friendship have evolved over the centuries, from traditional emphases on loyalty to the Kantian idea of moral benevolence to the more private and sexualized idea of friendship that emerged during the modern era.

Finely nuanced and elegantly conceived, The Friend is a book rich in suggestive propositions as well as eye-opening details. It will be essential reading for anyone interested in the history of England and the importance of friendship in everyday life.

History Today’s Book of the Year, 2004
“Bray’s loving coupledom is something with a proper historical backbone, with substance and form, something you can trace over time, visible and archeologicable. . . . Bray made a great contribution in helping to bring this long history to light.”— James Davidson, London Review of Books  

392 pages | 11 halftones, 4 figures, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2003

Gay and Lesbian Studies

Gender and Sexuality

History: British and Irish History

Sociology: Sociology--Marriage and Family


"Magisterial. . . . This intricate book—so suggestive and so valuably different from many ’popular’ treatments of the history of intimacy—offers a promising way forward for historians of sexuality and the family."

H.G. Cocks | Albion

"Bray’s book. . . both radically shifts our understanding of premodernity and points the way toward a more humane and useable postmodernity. . . . It tells a story that provides an alternative to the frequently false intimacy found in sex, a story that will speak powerfully to a new generation for whom the mechanics of sex (both heterosexual and homosexual) holds few mysteries, but for whom friendship is an uncharted territory."

Tim Hitchcock | American Historical Review

"Bray’s loving coupledom is something with a proper historical backbone, with substance and form, something you can trace over time, visible and archeologicable. . . . Bray made a great contribution in helping to bring this long history to light . . . not just because his thoughtfulness and subtlety show what can (and cannot) be done with those materials, but because of his extraordinary ability to question the questions we ask of the past and to rethink the issues in a way that does less violence to the traces the friends have left behind."

James Davidson | London Review of Books

"Daring and important. . . It deserves to be read. Its implications stretch beyond the history of friendship, and challenge our very understanding of kinship in premodern Europe."

Alan Stewart | BBC History Magazine

"It is precisely his painstaking quest for objectivity -- his refusal to conflate friendship with what we today call homosexuality -- that gives this book such contemporary relevance, and which ultimately makes it (as Bray puts it) ’a book about ethics’. It should be read not only as an exemplary piece of historical detective work and source criticism. By seeking to restore a space for friendship as a spiritual bond of public significance, this book also provides an indispensable frame of reference for current debates spiralling from the increasingly fraught relationship between homosexuality and Christianity." -- Alexandra Shepard, History Today

Alexandra Shepard | History Today

"Bray offers a fascinating history of male same-sex friendship, from the twelfth through the nineteenth century."

Achsah Guibbory | Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

"Medievalists should read this book for its content, its method, and its revisionary view of a Middle Ages extending . . . . far beyond the Lockean ’civil society’ that supposedly buried it. . . . The Friend is beautifully and engagingly written: the reader is treated as peer and confidant, embarked on a rather eccentric but wholly absorbing itinerary of church combing and tomb peering.”

David Wallace | Speculum

"The Friend is a complex, multi-layered book that transports the reader through five or six centuries of religious rituals, tomb markers, letters between friends, manuscripts, and historical events. . . . It is also like a detective story in which the author and reader explore together thje mysteries hidden beneath and behind the tombstones and brass plaques. . . . But have no mistake this is a scholarly work with some important insights about the meaning of friendship in English culture."

Peter M. Nardi | Journal of Homosexuality

"A masterful piece of interdisciplinary scholarship. . . . Anyone who is interested in the topic of friendship will find it worthwhile, as the book raises real questions about the very essence of friendship in the modern world."

Benjamin de Lee | Comitatus

Table of Contents

Editor’s Note
1 Wedded Brother
2 Friend to Sir Philip Sidney
3 Families and Friends
4 The Body of the Friend
5 Friends and Enemies
6 Friendship and Modernity
7 Coda: The Lickey Hills, August 1890
Afterword: Historians and Friendship
List of Works Cited


American Academy of Religion: American Academy of Religion Awards for Excellence

History Today/Addison Wesley Longman: Longman/History Today Awards

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