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LHMP #131 Monter 1985 “Sodomy and Heresy in Early Modern Switzerland”

Full citation: 

Monter, E. William. 1985. “Sodomy and Heresy in Early Modern Switzerland” in Licata, Salvatore J. & Robert P. Petersen (eds). The Gay Past: A Collection of Historical Essays. Harrington Park Press, New York. ISBN 0-918393-11-6 (Also published as Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 6, numbers 1/2, Fall/Winter 1980.)

Publication summary: 


A collection mostly of case-studies of specific historic incidents or topics relevant to the changing understandings of homosexuality. Most of the papers address male topics. Only the three relevant to female topics are covered in this project.

Monter, E. William. 1985. “Sodomy and Heresy in Early Modern Switzerland”

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The majority of this article concerns accusations of sodomy between men, and looks at the numeric distribution of evidence with regard to the date, location, nature of the charge, and demographic information about the accused. The analysis is particularly interesting with regard to the interplay of religious and sexual concerns. There is a single reference to an incident involving women.

In 1568, a woman in Geneva was accused of fornication and “irritated her judges” by proclaiming her innocence, based on a claim that she was a virgin. When a midwife (who presumably examined her physically) testified otherwise, She broke down and confessed to both heterosexual fornication and a lesbian interaction four years previous with a woman who had died since then. The record of the sentence included, “it is not necessary to describe minutely the circumstances of such a case, but only to say that it is for the detestable crime of unnatural fornication. ... a detestable and unnatural crime, which is so ugly that, from horror, it is not named here.” But her death sentence focused more on the crimes of blasphemy and the heterosexual fornication. Execution was by drowning.

Given that torture seems to have been a routine part of obtaining evidence from defendants, the trial record may be considered more accurate with regard to what the court believed to be plausible than to the woman’s actual deeds.

Time period: 

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