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9-08-2015, 17:10

The deviant body: sex crimes and scandals

Contraception largely remained a private matter and not an issue of government concern in early modern Europe, but other sexual practices were clearly public issues and could become criminal matters. As we saw in chapter 2 , unmarried women who became pregnant were viewed as guilty of fornication and thus merited punishment; if they miscarried or their infant happened to die, they were increasingly open to charges of infanticide. Before the sixteenth century, church and secular courts heard very few cases of infanticide, as jurists recognized that physicians could not make an infallible distinction between a stillbirth, a newborn who had died of natural causes, and one who had been murdered. Though there was no improvement in diagnostic techniques, this leniency changed in the sixteenth century, when infanticide became legally equated with murder in most areas of Europe and so carried the death penalty, often specifi ed as death by drowning. A French royal edict promulgated in 1556 carried this even further, requiring all unmarried women to make an offi cial declaration of their pregnancy and decreeing the death penalty for any woman whose infant died before baptism after a concealed pregnancy or delivery, whether or not there was evidence of actual infanticide. A similar statute was passed in England in 1624 and in Scotland in 1690, and in various German states throughout the seventeenth century. Sometimes this surveillance of unmarried women bordered on the pornographic; an eighteenth-century German physician suggested, for example, that all unmarried women between the ages of fourteen and forty-eight should be viewed monthly at a public bath to see if their bodies showed any signs of pregnancy. These stringent statutes were quite rigorously enforced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; more women were executed for infanticide in early modern Europe than any other crime except witchcraft. In the Spanish Netherlands, women found guilty of infanticide were generally also accused of witchcraft – the reasoning being that only the devil could lead a mother to kill her child – and executed in gruesome ways, such as being impaled on a stake and then buried alive, or having the offending hand cut off before being drowned. In England the conviction rate went down after 1680 when women successfully argued that they had not intended to kill the child because they had prepared linen for it, or had killed it accidentally or through ignorance. Executions for infanticide or presumed infanticide also decreased in other parts of Europe in the eighteenth century, though the laws remained on the statute books. Whether this represented a decrease in the number of infanticides or only a change in enforcement is diffi cult to say, though there were more orphanages and foundling homes available for infants. The death rate at such places was extremely high, however, so that placing a child in them did not increase his or her life expectancy by much. Selling sex for money was also increasingly criminalized. As we saw in chapter 6 , during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, licensed brothels in many cities were closed, and national statutes declared prostitution illegal. Rulers did not have the means to enforce these statutes, however, so illicit prostitution fl ourished, especially in ports and other growing cities and wherever large professional armies were housed. Many women combined occasional prostitution with other types of wage labor such as laundering, serving in taverns, or selling at the public market, and increasingly all unmarried poor women were suspected of prostitution. Religious and civic leaders regarded prostitutes as worse than other criminals, for they seduced other citizens from the life of moral order and discipline that authorities regarded as essential to a godly community. Women who sold sex, and women who simply engaged in sex outside of marriage, were “whores,” and portrayed extremely negatively in sermons, popular plays, illustrations, and ballads. Sexual honor was a key element in women’s social identity, so that calling someone or something a “whore” was a high insult. “Whore” continued to be used to describe religious opponents; in the words of an English anti- Catholic pamphlet from the 1680s, the Catholic Church was “a foul, fi lthy, old withered harlot … the great Strumpet of all Strumpets, the Mother of Whoredom.” 4 In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, large cities such as Paris and Amsterdam organized police forces, which monitored taverns and streets, arresting women suspected of selling sex. Women charged with prostitution were generally so poor that punishment by fi ne was impossible, so they were imprisoned, punished corporally, and then banished from the area; in England this banishment occasionally included deportation to the colonies. Repeat offenders were sometimes executed, especially if they were also involved in other sorts of crime or had previously been banished and had broken their oath not to return to an area. Prisons that housed prostitutes might also house other sorts of “fallen” women. In many southern European cities, women charged with fornication or unseemly fl irting might be locked up, often in institutions dedicated to Mary Magdalene, the New Testament fi gure understood to be a repentant prostitute. Such houses also began to admit women who were regarded as in danger of becoming prostitutes, women whose husbands threatened them, poor young widows, or young women regarded as in danger of losing their sexual honor. The ordinances stated explicitly that the women admitted had to be pretty or at least have acceptable looks, for ugly women did not have to worry about their honor. Many of these asylums were started by reforming bishops, who also supported the establishment of orphanages and foundling homes (termed ospizi in Italy), in which unwed mothers were required to leave their children, and in which they might be required to work as wet-nurses for other infants along with nursing their own. In such asylums, the women did not take vows and could leave to marry, but otherwise they were much like convents, with the women following a daily regimen of work and prayer. Some of them stressed penitence and moral reform while others were more purely punitive, closer to prisons than convents. This mixture of punishment and penitence may be seen very clearly in the Parisian women’s prison of the Salpêtrière. In 1658, Louis XIV ordered the imprisonment there of all women found guilty of prostitution, fornication, or adultery, with release only coming once the priests and sisters in charge determined the inmate was truly penitent and had changed her ways. Imprisoning women for sexual crimes marks the fi rst time in Europe that prison was used as a punishment rather than simply as a place to hold people until their trial or before deportation. Such prisons later became the model for similar institutions for men and young people – often specifi - cally called “reformatories” – in which the inmate’s level of repentance determined to a great degree the length of incarceration. (This, of course, is still true for prisons and “reform schools” today.) Thus the “Great Confi nement” was clearly gendered, with women judged morally deviant imprisoned along with the mentally ill and vagrants.

SOURCE 23 August Tissot on onanlsm

Along with fornication, whoredom, and sodomy, masturbation (termed “the sin of Onan” from the biblical story of Onan who “spilled his seed on the ground” rather than have sexual relations with his brother’s widow) was seen as a sin in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. Its punishment was left in God’s hands, however, and it was never viewed as a source of physical harm. That changed in the eighteenth century. In 1715, an anonymous pamphlet with the long, self-explanatory title Onania, or the heinous sin of self-pollution, and all its frightful consequences in both sexes considered, with spiritual and physical advice to those who have already injured themselves by this abominable practice was published in London. It was republished and expanded in more than twenty editions, and widely read. One of its most avid readers was Samuel- August Tissot, a Swiss medical doctor, who published a number of medical treatises in Latin and French, several on the topic of what came to be known as “onanism.” His Onanism, or a physical discussion of the ailments produced by masturbation, fi rst appeared in Latin in 1758 and then in French in an expanded edition in 1760, and in a third and even more expanded edition in 1764. English, German, Italian, and Dutch translations appeared. Tissot regards masturbation as a moral peril, but even more strikingly as a physical danger: [It will cause in men] a general wasting of the machine; the weakening of all the corporal sense and all the faculties of the soul; the loss of imagination and memory; imbecility; contempt; shame; the resulting ignominy; the functions that are disturbed, halted, painful; long, deplorable, bizarre and disgusting illnesses; sharp and always renewed pains … a perceptible reduction of strength, of memory and even of reason; blurred vision, all the nervous disorders, all types of gout and rheumatism, weakening of the organs of generation, blood in the urine, disturbance of the appetites, headaches, and a great number of other disorders … [Masturbators have] a continual tension of the mind, always occupied by the same project [so that] the part of the brain that is thus active, makes an effort that can be compared to a muscle that is stretched too long and too hard. Worn out by continual fatigue, these patients are affl icted by all the maladies of the brain, melancholy, catalepsy, imbecility, loss of reason, weakening of the nervous system, and a host of similar ills. The shame that follows them infi nitely increases their misery [and leads to] the loosening of fi bers, the slowing of circulation, imperfect digestions, nutritional lack, obstructions…spasms, convulsions, paralyses, pains, an infi nite increase in anguish… The troubles experienced by women are just as explicable as those experienced by men. The humor they lose being less precious, less perfected than male sperm, its loss does not perhaps weaken them as quickly, but when they indulge excessively, their nervous system being weaker and naturally more inclined to spasm, the troubles are more violent. (Onanisme, 1764 edition) Tissot reported on a young watchmaker he was called to treat, who had been healthy until he began masturbating: I found less a living being than a cadaver lying on straw, thin, pale, exuding a loathsome stench, almost incapable of movement. A pale and watery blood often dripped from his nose, he drooled continually; subject to attacks of diarrhea, he defecated in his bed without noticing it…Mental disorder was equally evident; without ideas, without memory, incapable of linking two sentences, without refl ection, without fear for his fate…Thus sunk below the level of a beast, a spectacle of unimaginable horror, it was diffi cult to believe he had once belonged to the human race…He died after several weeks. To combat this peril, Tissot recommended milk, exercise, clean air, and cold baths, but primarily avoidance. Tissot’s work was extremely infl uential, cited by physicians all over Europe during the century after it appeared, who added observations drawn from their own patients. His work formed the basis of the article on masturbation in the 1781 Encyclopedia Britannica; doctors devised metal rings, electrical alarms, and special garments to keep their patients from the “solitary vice”; and surgeons occasionally performed penile and vaginal surgery. Child care manuals advised mothers to tie children’s hands. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, masturbation was linked with imperialism; young men had been given “a sacred trust for carrying on the race,” wrote Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, who warned “you are throwing away the seed that has been handed down to you as a trust instead of keeping it and ripening it for bringing a son to you later on” (Scouting for Boys, 1930). The anti-masturbatory campaign has sometimes been labeled a “panic” or a “hysteria,” but it is important to recognize that it was promoted by highly educated physicians and scientists, not naïve villagers. Warnings about the dangers of masturbation were directed to, and accepted by, sophisticated urban residents, whose interest in new medical discoveries was a sign of their modernity. (Quotations taken from Jean Stengers and Anne van Neck, Masturbation: The History of a Great Terror, trans. by Kathryn Hoffman [New York: Palgrave, 2001], pp. 65, 66, 70, 72–4, 146.) Same-sex relations, termed “sodomy” or “buggery,” were even more deviant than whoredom in the minds of many clerics and jurists, because they could never lead to procreation, and thus broke God’s commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.” They were therefore linked with heresy, and, as one German jurist commented, “such a monster [ Unmensch ] is called a heretic, and generally punished as a heretic, by fi re.” 5 These attitudes were shared by Protestant and Catholic authorities, but enforcement of sodomy laws was sporadic and selective, as was the enforcement of so many laws. Some authorities were less concerned about sodomy than about other types of sexual misconduct, because same-sex relations did not lead to a child who might create a public scandal or require public support. Most male same-sex relations seem to have occurred between a superior and inferior, such as an older man and a younger one, or a master and a servant. The dominant individual was generally married and heterosexually active, with his homosexual activities not viewed as upsetting the social order. Alongside this age-based homosexuality, in the late seventeenth century homosexual subcultures began to develop in a few large cities such as London, Paris, and Amsterdam, with special styles of dress, behavior, slang terms, and meeting places. These networks brought together men of different social classes and backgrounds, but did not necessarily involve a dominant and subordinate partner. This was a new type of same-sex relationship, involving men interested only in other men, rather than the traditional structures in which the dominant male was also heterosexually active. Some men began to dress and act effeminately, at least in private, with wigs and clothing even fancier than those worn by most well-to-do men, and distinctive gestures. They met in special houses for sexual relations and socializing. In England such men were called “mollies,” a word used originally for prostitutes, and the areas of town where mollies gathered were also frequented by female prostitutes and their customers. By the late eighteenth century, these effeminate men began to describe themselves as having a “condition” or “way of being” that was different from other men: as having what we might term a “homosexual identity.” The policing of homosexual activities could be intrusive, especially in cities. In London, the Society for the Reformation of Manners, founded in 1690 as a private group with a paid staff that would bring complaints regarding drunkenness, swearing, prostitution, and other moral offenses to the attention of authorities, organized raids on molly-houses. Police in Paris watched and kept records on men suspected of sodomy, using spies and informers, including clergy to spy on other clergy; typical punishment was being forced to stay awake for a few days in custody, though occasionally sterner measures were ordered. The persecution of sodomites was most severe in the Dutch Republic, where there was a major waves of arrests in the 1730s leading to interrogations with torture, secret denunciations, life-long imprisonments, and about 200 executions. Women were not immune from sodomy accusations and trials, although there were only a handful in all of Europe during the early modern period. In part this was because, in the minds of most male authorities, true sexual intercourse involved penetration by a penis, so that female–female sex was not really sex. The cases that did come to trial generally involved women who wore men’s clothing, used a dildo or other device to effect penetration, or married other women. The horror with which they were regarded sprang more from the fact that they had usurped a man’s social role than that they had been attracted to another woman. Female–female desire was increasingly portrayed in poetry, drama, pornography, medical literature, and the visual arts, however, sometimes coded as passionate friendship and sometimes as suspicious sexual deviance. Women themselves expressed powerful same-sex emotions in letters and poetry, though there is no evidence of the female equivalent of a molly-house. The enforcement of many sexual laws was intermittent, and rarely applied to the upper classes, who continued to have extra-marital affairs of all types, generally with little social sanction. In Spain, nobles were expected to have children out of wedlock as well as in, because fathering many children was a sign of virility. The “reformation of manners” did shape extra-marital relations among the elite, however. Elite men sought the company of well-educated and refi ned women rather than streetwalkers; such women were generally dignifi ed with the term “courtesan,” a word that originated at the pre- Reformation papal court. Courtesans such as Veronica Franco (1546–91) became known for their poetry, while others, such as Ninon de Lenclos (1615–1705), were known for their connections to famous writers. Kings and high nobles often had an offi cial mistress or two whose standing at court and family infl uence were enhanced, rather than lessened, through their sexual relations with the monarch. Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Madame de Pompadour (1721–64), was just such a maîtresse en titre to Louis XV of France, the third woman to have this title. She was an important patron of the arts and a skilled courtier as well as sexual partner, and her role eventually included choosing younger sexual partners for the king. Such courtesans were often glamorized in plays and poetry, and one, Françoise d’Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon (1635–1719), the last offi cial mistress of Louis XIV of France, even became the wife of the king, though she was never named queen. Extramarital relations among the elite occasionally included same-sex ones, a situation that has been best studied for the French court. King Henry III (ruled 1574–89) visited courtesans when he traveled to Venice, but also wore women’s clothing to balls and parties and surrounded himself with male favorites, his so-called mignons . Philippe d’Orléans (1640–1701), the brother of Louis XIV, regularly cross-dressed and had homosexual affairs, though he also married twice and had children with both wives. The goings-on at court were avidly reported in scurrilous pamphlets and broadsides, though many of the stories they told were patently false. Marie Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI, was accused in a series of pamphlets of being insatiable and debauched in her sexual desires, engaging in incestuous and lesbian affairs, and killing children. Paris police did not send spies to court or make arrests at the royal household, but this sexual demonization of Marie Antoinette, along with reports of her lavish spending, gambling, and seeming unconcern for the people of France, contributed to growing hostility toward the monarchy in the 1780s. The body of any queen, and not just that of Marie Antoinette, was a matter of great public concern in early modern Europe, for only through that body – or that of another female relative – would a ruling dynasty continue. British writers during the reign of Queen Anne (ruled 1702–14), who had no children who lived to adulthood despite eighteen pregnancies, remarked – often in pamphlets published anonymously – on the problems created by depending on the bodies of women for political continuity. The body of a king was also a public body, which both represented the nation and was expected to father an heir. Political theorists, in fact, sometimes talked about the “king’s two bodies,” one his physical body that lived and died, and the other the body of the realm, which continued. Today we might call this split between public and private life a distinction between the kingship and the king. Queens also had two bodies. Catherine II of Russia (ruled 1762–96), whose sexuality was as much a matter of gossip as Marie Antoinette’s, had three children by several of her many lovers; only the one born while her husband was still alive was publicly acknowledged, however, and her husband was offi cially regarded as the father. Even for those at the pinnacle of society, whether one was born in or out of wedlock mattered tremendously.

 

 

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