Urban Discourses on Sodomy in the Early Modern Southern Netherlands

Researcher: Jonas Roelens
Supervisor: Prof. dr. Anne-Laure Van Bruaene

This project studies early modern urban discourses on sodomy in the Southern Netherlands. Sodomy was considered as a crime against nature whose origins could be traced to the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Although sodomy comprised a variety of offenses, ranging from masturbation to bestiality, paedophilia and even anal sexual intercourse between men and women, the crime was generally associated with same-sex acts. Convicted sodomites were sentenced to death by burning, although in some cases they were simply banished, whipped, or fined. Historians have turned their attention to the history of same-sex relations since the 1980s. However, the Southern Netherlands more or less remained a blind spot in the field of gay studies. Using bailiff accounts and court records, this project aims to chart the persecution of sodomy between 1400 and 1700 in the major urban centres of the Southern Netherlands: Bruges (and the Franc of Bruges), Ghent, Ypres, Antwerp, Brussels, Mechelen and Leuven. This comparative approach allows us to analyse the particular motivations behind these trials and the fluctuating level of the sodomy prosecution in the Southern Netherlands. Yet, this project does not examine sodomy from a purely legal perspective, since a cultural approach to this phenomenon can also yield valuable insights. To reveal the perception of sodomy in early modern urban society, this project also analyse narrative sources like chronicles, pamphlets, treatises, diaries, song texts etc.