A wave of persecution started in Utrecht
Between 1730 and 1732, more than 300 people in the Netherlands were charged with sodomy, of whom at least 75 paid the price with their death. Never before have so many sodomites been rounded up and put to death in our country or abroad. Hundreds of others were exiled or fled and had to lead a new – often perilous – existence under a different name for the rest of their lives.
18th century – Sodomy – Barend Blomsaet and 17 other men were convicted and strangled in Utrecht. Their deeds concealed.
This text on the memorial stone placed in 1999 on the cathedral square (Domplein) in Utrecht reminds us of this witch hunt.
The word ‘sodomy’ originates in the Bible, the story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18-19. In it the men of Sodom cry out to Lot about men who are his guests: ‘Where are the men who came to you this night? Brings uyt to us, in that wise confession.’ (in contemporary English: ‘Where are those men who spend the night with you? (…) we want to take them!’) In a narrower sense, sodomy meant anal sexual intercourse between man and woman, man and man or man and animal. Under the influence of the Catholic Church, the concept evolved to include all sexual acts that were not aimed at procreation. Men who had sex with men were mainly persecuted, but this fate also befell women who loved women.
Sexton of the tower of the cathedral
The witch hunt started with a statement from the sexton of the tower of the cathedral (Domtoren), Josua Wilts, on January 12, 1730. He stated to the court that he and his children had caught the lime carrier Gilles van Baden and barber Willem Luyten about six months earlier in the Michael Chapel in the tower of the cathedral. They had watched the lovemaking of the men through the lifting hatch in the sexton’s house above. Wilts then shot at the men, but they remained in place and threatened Wilts with knives before leaving. His statement was probably an attempt to save his own skin because he was in danger of ending up in a reform house due to excessive drinking.
Molly houses and cruising areas
This ‘unmentionable’ sin turned out not to be the only case and the tower of the cathedral turned out not to be the only place where men made love. With the arrest of Gilles van Baden – the court found – “the thread of a tangle of this impiety” had been discovered. The court records paint a picture of a network of sodomites who met in inns or molly houses (lolhuysen). In Utrecht were mentioned: molly house ‘The Lively Death’ somewhere near the current Central Station, molly house ‘Vredenburg Castle’ behind the current town hall and the molly house of Hendrick Coopman outside the Tolsteeg gate. At Coopman’s, men met and ‘weak things were made stiff’ in a separate room for men. Outside the molly houses, men met in open-air cruising areas, such as in the Pandhof next to the cathedral (Domkerk) and on the city’s fortifications. Sodomites sometimes called each other ‘nephew’ or ‘cousin’. Various researchers regard the existence of a language, culture and networks as the first traces of something like a modern ‘gay identity’.
Little is known about female sodomites from the early eighteenth century. Descriptions from a century earlier paint a picture of women who went through life as men in order to live together with a woman. The most famous was Hendrikje van der Schuur from Amsterdam. Nicolaas Tulp (from Rembrandt’s Anatomical Lesson) described her not as ‘sodomite’ but as ‘tribade’ (derived from the Greek ‘tribein’, meaning ‘to rub’; the action was called ‘tribadie’). Her lover, Trijntje Barends, told the judge in 1641 that Hendrikje was a passionate woman who sometimes had sexual contact with her three times during the night. Hendrikje was sentenced to flogging and banishment from the city.
After the arrest of Van Baden and Luyten, a witch hunt for sodomites followed that lasted two years. In Utrecht, eighteen men were sentenced to death and strangled. The suspects – such as wine merchant Barend Blomsaet and soldier Zacharias Wilsma – kept revealing new names during torture. This exposed a network of sodomites. In this way, the fire first spread across the Republic of the United Netherlands and later far into Europe.
Evert van der Veen
Song about the sodomite persecution
Kees van den Berg and Ingeborg Hornsveld: 1730 In the shade of the cathedral (In de schaduw van de Dom) (3.36 min.)
L.J. Boon, ‘Dien godlosen hoop van menschen.’ Vervolging van homoseksuelen in de Republiek in de jaren dertig van de achttiende eeuw. Bezorgd door I. Schöffer (Amsterdam 1997).
Theo van der Meer, De wesentlijke sonde van sodomie en andere vuyligheeden, sodomietenvervolgingen in Amsterdam 1730-1811. (Amsterdam 1984).
Theo van der Meer, Sodoms zaad in Nederland. Het ontstaan van homoseksualiteit in de vroegmoderne tijd (Nijmegen 1995).
D.J. Noordam, Riskante relaties. Vijf eeuwen homoseksualiteit in Nederland, 1233-1733. (Hilversum, 1995).
Print from July 1730 showing how badly things end for sodomites. Six Scenes: 1 Gathering of Sodomites; 2 Leaving wife and children; 3 Arrest; 4 In prison; 5 Hanged And Burnt; 6 Drowned in a barrel in front of the city hall in Amsterdam. – Source: Gleich und Anders, Ed. Robert Aldrich ISBN 3-938017-81-3.
Memorial stone for the sodomite persecution, placed in 1999 on the Dom square in Utrecht in front of the WWII monument.
“Righteousness glorified by the discovery (and punishment) of high sin.” Two figures, the Time and the Vengeance of Heaven lift the curtain behind which sodomites are hiding. on the right we see the sins as bound women and in the background Sodom being destroyed by heavenly fire. This illustration from 1730 belongs to a long poem with the same meaning. – Source: Gleich und Anders, Ed. Robert Aldrich 3-938017-81-3 | Anonymous
Frederik Adriaan baron van Reede, lord of Renswoude (1659-1738). Frederik was a prominent Utrecht nobleman and regent. He was known as a sodomite in both The Hague and Utrecht and his name was often mentioned during the trials, but he was not prosecuted. – Painted by Adriaen van Heusden in 1685, owned by the Van Renswoude foundation, Utrecht
Round photo above: Burning of two sodomites, knight Richard von Puller Hohenburg and barber Anton Maetzler, Zürich 1482 (Zentralbibliothek Zürich).