Fornicating Foreigners. Sodomy, Migration, and Urban Society in the Southern Low Countries (1400-1700)

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Hörsaal 07 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Jonas ROELENS, Ghent University, Belgium
During the early modern period, it was commonplace to represent sodomy as a phenomenon that particularly prospered abroad and could infect the native society through contact with foreigners. Immigrants therefore proved vulnerable for local distrust and defamations, which is illustrated by the high numbers of accused foreign sodomites in court records throughout early modern Europe.

This paper will examine to what extent this was also the case in the Southern Netherlands between 1400 and 1700. An analysis of court records of the cities of Bruges, Ghent, Ypres, Antwerp, Louvain, Malines and Brussels, who were in many ways among the major urban centers in the early modern Low Countries, has revealed 182 sodomy trials in which 360 individuals were accused of same-sex acts. In 51 cases, foreigners were involved, comprising a total number of 88 individuals. It appears that roughly one out of four prosecuted sodomites in the Southern Low Countries was an outsider to the urban community. Moreover, these migrants were more likely to be executed for their ‘crimes’ than their local counterparts. The convicted foreigners constituted a very diverse group of both individuals who were fully integrated in the urban fabric and people living at the fringes of society, which shows that the persecution of sodomy in the Low Countries was dependent on a variety of factors. Apart from origin, one’s social position also played an important role during a sodomy trial.

Based on a meticulous examination of historic court records, this paper analyses the early modern perception of foreigners as potential sodomites and the relation between same-sexual behavior and migration experiences in pre-modern society.