Maverick Life

DEADLY BREW

Male droop and the gender war against coffee

Male droop and the gender war against coffee
An 18th Century London coffee house. (Image: Culture Club)

In 1674, the women of London declared war on coffee houses. This ghastly ‘boiled Turkish soot', they said, was causing men to droop, depriving their wives of the pleasures they deserved. A year later King Charles II shut them down.

About 20 years earlier a Greek named Pasqua Rosée, who had worked for a Levant merchant in Smyrna and developed a taste for crushed, boiled beans, opened a coffee stall in London. 

The new drug was a runaway success. It was seen as an antidote to “drunkenness, violence and lust” and as providing a catalyst for pure thought.

By 1663 there were 82 coffee houses within the old Roman walls of the city. People from all classes met to greet, drink, think, write and gossip over coffee at a penny a jug. 

But there seems to have been more to coffee than these pleasures and was outlined in a petition penned by “Good Women Languishing in Extremity of Want”.

The reason, it seemed, was that Englishmen were becoming “cock-sparrows not able to stand to it, and in the very first Charge fall down flat before us. Never did Men wear greater breeches or carry less in them.”

The reason, the petitioners said, was “the Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE, which Riffling Nature of her Choicest Treasures and Drying up the Radical Moisture”.

coffee

The petition against coffee houses. (Image: Supplied)

This problem comes from consuming the “pitiful drink”, leaving men “with nothing moist but their snotty Noses, nothing stiffe but their Joints, nor standing but their Ears… Their Ammunition is wanting; peradventure they Present, but cannot give Fire, or at least do but flash in the Pan.” 

At the heart of this calamity, insisted the petitioners, was the spread of coffee houses. 

“Men by frequenting these Stygian Tap-houses exceed us in Talkativeness. Like so many Frogs in a puddle, they sup muddy water, and murmur insignificant notes till half a dozen of them out-babble an equal number of us at a Gossiping.”

After imbibing “this boiled soot” they provided their wives with no more comfort “than from a shotten Herring or a dried bulrush”. 

They petitioned for the drinking of coffee be forbidden of persons under the age of 60.

This was fighting talk and it didn’t take long for the men of London to respond in full flight of florid language. 

“Experience’d Solomon was in the right when he told us that the Grave and the Womb were equally Insatiable. But why must innocent COFFEE be the object of your Spleen? That harmless and healing Liquor which Indulgent Providence first sent amongst us? 

A 17th-century London coffee house. (Image: Hulton Archive)

“Coffee Collects and settles the Spirits, makes the erection more Vigorous, the Ejaculation more full, adds a spiritual escency to the Sperme, and renders it more firm and suitable to the Gusto of the womb and proportionate to the ardours and expectation too, of the female Paramour.

“At home we have scarce time to utter a word for the insufferable Din of your ever active Tongues, the Foolish extravagancies of our lives, are infinitly out-done by the wild Frolliques of yours. 

“Till Noon you lie a Bed hatching Concupiscence, then having paid your Adorations to the Ugly Idol in the Glass, you descend to Dinner were you gormondize enough at one Meal to Famish a Town Besiedg’d.

“That our Island is a Paradise for Women is verified still by the brisk Activity of our Men. Cease then for the Future your Clamours against our civil Follies. Alas! alas! Dear Hearts, the Coffee house is the Citizens Academy, where he learns more Wit than ever his Grannum taught him. Tis Coffee that keeps us Sober.”

It’s difficult to tell how serious both petitions were, so outrageous was their language for the time. 

But did they have an effect? A year after their publication, Charles II issued an edict banning coffee houses. But it probably wasn’t connected to sex-starved women.  

His father had been executed at the climax of the English Civil War and he was extremely paranoid about his hold on power after the monarchy was restored. 

Coffee houses, he said, “produced very evil and dangerous effects”, and were also a “disturbance of the peace and quiet realm”. 

The edict put an end to the sale of coffee, tea and chocolate in coffee houses and even in private homes. 

It provoked a huge outcry. 

People in the 18th century found coffee disgusting, routinely comparing it to ink, soot or mud. (Image: Culture Club)

Pressure from the coffee-quaffing public and even his own ministers forced him to back off. Coffee houses won and are today an international institution. 

Charles himself could not be counted among the men with withered occupants of his codpiece. 

Though his marriage to Catherine of Braganza produced no surviving children, the king acknowledged at least 12 illegitimate children by various mistresses.

So, does coffee promote the droop? 

A study at the University of Texas found evidence to show that the problem among the deprived women of London back then suggests it was they who were drinking coffee. 

The study found the Abominable, Heathenish Liquor increases female libido. But the men had a point as well: It can help with erectile dysfunction.

King Charles II, however, will forever be on the dark side of coffee history. DM

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