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How do historians deal with information that has no other sources than gossip?

I mean facts (or "facts") that are not covered by primary sources, but are widely known from gossip. Usually this information is related to human sexuality as it was somewhat hidden in sources, but are "known". Some may be related to other imperfections like kleptomania and so on. Some of course are trivia or anecdotes, but may say much about specific persons and explain some decisions, if they were true.

Examples of such gossip, legends etc. are

  1. Alexander the Great, Emperor Hadrian, Leonardo da Vinci and many others were homosexual
  2. Elizabeth I Tudor was a virgin
  3. Elizabeth Bathory drunk virgins' blood
  4. There was a woman pope (Joan)
  5. There was a man in Iron Mask held in prison
  6. all what Marquis de Sade did
  7. Circumstances of Felix Faure's death

etc.

Please note I don't say that any is true. Some probably are backed with sources (I've found them in my memory), but they are to show what I mean.

I understand that historians should be sceptic, but if gossip is related for 2000 years?... And it is important to have good overview of person's acts?

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2  
They treat them as gossip. I'm not sure what the question is. Gossip doesn't say anything about a person, but may say something about what other people thought of that person. –  Lennart Regebro Oct 29 '13 at 6:43
    
I mean that for example there is a gossip that a commander was spent a night with some woman and next they he lost a battle and many soldiers died. There is no source for this, but it happened 2000 years ago and there is a gossip. Should this gossip be treated as a source or just "we don't know why he lost"? –  Voitcus Oct 29 '13 at 6:54
    
Should historical works even mention gossip existence? –  Voitcus Oct 29 '13 at 6:55
3  
Sure, it can mention it. Historical gossip is also history. –  Lennart Regebro Oct 29 '13 at 7:00

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