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Homosexuality in Modern European

It’s 42 years since an unknown writer called Alan Bray published a hugely influential book, Homosexuality in Renaissance England. Bray was an amateur historian – his day job was with the Inland Revenue. But he had the instincts of a scholar, trying to give the first properly historical account of male-male sexual relations in the England of Shakespeare and Milton. This was a million miles away from the anecdotal ‘Great Homos in History’ approach of previous writers such as A. L. Rowse.

At the same time, Bray was a gay activist. The main historical puzzle which he tried to solve was this: in a society where preachers and moralists denounced sodomy – as it was generally called – as a monstrous aberration, worthy of the severest punishment, why was the actual number of cases brought to the courts so very low? Court records for the Home Counties, for example, yielded only a tiny quantity; Essex, with a population of roughly 100,000, saw not a single prosecution for sodomy in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, a total of 66 years.

His solution was simple. The reason why sodomites were so rarely prosecuted was that they were widely present in society, and, in effect, widely accepted. All those moralistic denunciations had built up such an extreme picture of depravity that people could not relate it to the unthreatening, day-to-day homosexuality that existed around them ‘on a massive scale’. Prosecutions were prompted only by special factors, such as the use of violence in rape cases.

It’s a tribute to the calm persuasiveness of Bray’s writing that the alarm bells didn’t start clanging immediately. How credible is it that people would have shrugged off the presence of sodomites in their midst, when they happily denounced even ‘simple fornication’ (i.e. between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman) to the authorities? And why, anyway, did he suppose that homosexuality was present on a massive scale? Alas, there was only one plausible answer: the wishful thinking of the activist had trumped the critical thinking of the historian.

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by Anonymousreply 15February 11, 2024 1:58 PM

Do you have the rest of this article OP? It looks really interesting but I cant get to see the full thing and 12 foot Wall doesnt seem to be working any more

by Anonymousreply 1January 25, 2024 7:25 AM

I done some more digging and found the rest of it for yall

[quote]Bray’s theory quickly became an orthodoxy, however – and there was a further reason for that. Soon afterwards, studies from Florence, Venice and elsewhere began producing a mass of evidence about male-male sex in the early modern Mediterranean world. The richest source was the archive of a special sodomy tribunal in 15th-century Florence: over a 40-year period, 13,000 men and boys had been implicated, with 2,000 convicted. And all this in a population of distinctly sub-Essex size – around 60,000 in total.

[quote]Besides the sheer numbers, these sources also revealed a general pattern of sexual behaviour very different from modern homosexuality. As in ancient Greece, the sex here was between an adult man and a teenage boy. When the boy became fully masculine, he ceased to be desirable; sex between adult males was taboo. And no idea of a special orientation was involved; it was thought that any man could naturally feel desire for a boy, though only sinful ones would act on it. These men were happy to have sex with women too.

[quote]And so this whole pattern was lowered like a master-template onto the English evidence, regardless of whether it fitted or not. Among the rare cases in the court records, the ones involving sex with teenagers were highlighted, while the adult-adult ones were conveniently ignored. Satirical poems by writers such as John Donne, mentioning men lusting after boys, were treated as documentary evidence, even though they were plainly imitating literary models from ancient Rome. Historians blindly assumed that London must have been just like Florence, and so were grateful for the get-out-of-jail-free card which Bray had already supplied – the argument that the lack of evidence of widespread sodomy, in England, was more or less proof of just how ‘massively’ common it really was.

by Anonymousreply 2January 25, 2024 7:34 AM

[quote]I came to this subject-matter from the Mediterranean side of the story; my chance discovery of a document in Venice, an investigation into a same-sex scandal in the Venetian embassy in Istanbul in the 1580s, led me to look more generally at male-male sex in the Mediterranean region. But I gradually realised that the pattern of behaviour I found there was simply not replicated in lands further north. Not quite a case of ‘no gay sex please, we’re British’, but rather of ‘no Florentine sex please, we’re northern European.’

[quote]This opened my eyes to the fact that so much of the English evidence had been misinterpreted. For example, it is commonly claimed that King James I had a Mediterranean-style sexuality: while married, with children, he also had sex with attractive favourites such as Robert Carr and George Villiers. Yet the evidence of sex with them is vanishingly slight. At the time, the accusation was made only very rarely, for blatantly political purposes. Yes, James was unusually touchy-feely with them at court, sometimes leaning against them for support. But a medical historian has shown that the weakness of his legs, and some other physical symptoms, were signs of mild cerebral palsy.

[quote]As for the ‘revolution’ around 1700: the key development here was just a change in policing methods, with agents provocateurs and police raids generating much fuller records; so a poorly documented small minority became a much better documented one. Sex between adult men was not invented then; it crops up clearly enough in the previous records, sparse though they are. At the Maidstone Assizes in 1645, for example, Henry Gibbs of Ashford, a 40-year-old grocer, and William Phillpott, a 50-year-old oatmeal-maker, were convicted of sodomy with each other, and the former was sent to the gallows.

[quote]Nor was a sense of sexual ‘identity’ an 18th-century development: in 1587 Anthony Bacon (brother of the famous lawyer and philosopher) was identifying as a distinct type of person when he told his servant that “there is nothing wrong with being a bugger and a sodomite.” And while the fashion for socialising probably accelerated in the laxer world of Restoration London, we know that as early as 1632 there were weekly gatherings of ‘sodomites’ in a private house in Southwark.

[quote]Men with no sexual interest in women can be found in much earlier periods too. As for effeminate behaviour: yes, some men indulged in camp fun and games inside the molly houses, but this had no implications about a new gender identity in their everyday life. The only people to have invented an entire ‘third gender’ for this period are modern historians – not the mollies themselves.

[quote]But still: although these early modern English sodomites, both pre- and post-1700, differed in some ways from modern homosexuals, they were, we might say, their true ancestors. The so-called ‘emergence of modern homosexuality’ did not happen suddenly and inexplicably – it developed, gradually, from these pre-modern proto-homosexuals. The one thing most in need of explanation is what has been taken for granted: the behaviour of the boy-chasing heterosexual men of the Mediterranean region. But that is another story.

by Anonymousreply 3January 25, 2024 7:34 AM

[quote]Court records for the Home Counties, for example, yielded only a tiny quantity; Essex, with a population of roughly 100,000, saw not a single prosecution for sodomy in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, a total of 66 years.

Maybe the homos lived elsewhere.

by Anonymousreply 4January 25, 2024 7:38 AM

Oh shit I missed this bit;

Stick this between posts 2 an 3

[quote]And then there was another problem. Starting around 1700, a large amount of evidence appeared of a different kind of homosexual behaviour in England, much closer to the modern variety. Adult men were having sexual relations with other adult men; they were meeting in special places, typically taverns, known as ‘molly houses’, where they could socialise, drink, and have sex in a back room. There were clear signs of a distinct sexual orientation, with some saying that they had no desire for women. At the same time, some adopted feminine mannerisms in the molly houses, with nicknames such as Miss Kitten, Dip-Candle Mary, Miss Sweet Lips and Pea-Green Moll. So historians swiftly declared that a sexual revolution had occurred in about 1700, with the sudden – and totally unexplained – emergence of a so-called ‘third gender’, a.k.a. the modern homosexual.

by Anonymousreply 5January 25, 2024 7:39 AM

"Dip-Candle Mary" is my new persona for patronage of farmers' markets and craft fairs.

by Anonymousreply 6January 25, 2024 7:52 AM

I see Bray died two months after 9/11, at age 53. These days, a theory like his wouldn't escape the academic scrutiny for as long as it could back then, there's been a wide pushback against pseudo- and amateur and the ancient aliens "historians" in recent years by actual trained historians, an effort we all benefit from.

by Anonymousreply 7January 25, 2024 11:05 AM


by Anonymousreply 8February 4, 2024 10:08 PM

Homosexuality in Peoria.

by Anonymousreply 9February 4, 2024 10:12 PM

Forbidden Desire, Noel Malcolm’s sober and footnote-heavy history of male homosexuality between 1400 and 1750, has some friskier bedfellows: on Amazon it shares its title with a slew of hairy chested bromances, one or two Sapphic romps, and a sulphurous tale about a witch’s affair with a tormented demon. Against such competition, Malcolm fields a cast that includes lustful Turkish potentates, predatory Catholic priests, corruptible scullions and smooth-cheeked choristers, together with two English kings who allegedly fooled around with virile young favourites. But mostly the sodomites, as Malcolm grimly insists on calling them, are left to satisfy their desires in private; the historian’s concern is the forbidding religious commandments that the same-sex couples flouted and the crazily brutal penalties imposed by laws that purported to uphold the divine order of the universe.

Sex here seems to be followed, almost automatically, by excruciating death. In the 15th century, sodomy in Venice was punished by decapitation, after which the corpses of the malefactors were burned to ensure that no trace of them remained. Because it was unlawful to kill an ordained man, a lecherous cleric was locked in a cage in the Piazza San Marco and left to starve in full view of a gloating populace. In Florence a boy aged 15 was castrated on the scaffold, then fatally sodomised with a hot iron poker. A Dutch youth placed in the pillory was pelted with filth and bombarded with stones, which finally finished him off. Others were sentenced to row themselves to death as galley slaves; the lucky ones, in a bizarre act of mercy, had their noses, not their heads or penises, chopped off.

Muslim theology, to its credit, made discreet allowances for sensual foibles The moral panic whipped up by these prosecutions often concealed squalid financial or political motives. A French assault on the secretive Knights Templar in the 14th century used sodomy as an excuse for confiscating their wealth. In Peru, Indigenous tribes were accused of the same vice to justify the rampages of the Spanish conquistadors. In case you wonder why Christian Europe was so tightly clenched against intrusion, Malcolm mentions an abstruse psychological hang-up known as “xenohomophobia”: men who opted for a passive role in sex were considered treacherous because their preference signalled “religious and military penetrability”. Perhaps the mad metaphor can be stretched to explain Trump’s border wall, designed as a protective plug for one of America’s orifices.

A group of French men c1470 View image in fullscreen A group of French men c1470. Illustration: Archivist/Alamy As Malcolm demonstrates, this paranoid bigotry derived from a misreading of scripture. The ungodly city of Sodom is condemned because its inhabitants committed a particularly abominable sin, but the Bible does not specify that this peccadillo was “male-male sexual intercourse or desire”. Patristic commentators filled in the blank by huffing and puffing about a practice they called “unnameable”; warning that if uttered aloud it would “pollute the mouth of the speaker and the ears of the listener”, which left the devout free to luridly fantasise about a love that dare not speak its name. Sodom remained so conveniently obscure that when the Marquess of Queensberry invoked it to denounce Oscar Wilde for corrupting his son, he could not remember how to spell the word: the card he left at Wilde’s club addressed him as a “posing Somdomite”. Thanks to one of Malcolm’s learned asides, the synonymous charge of buggery also vaporises into hot air. The term comes from the French “bougre”, originally meaning “Bulgar”’, which refers to “the Bogomil dualists of the Balkans”, Gnostics who shunned procreation in order to reject the material world. Vulgarised in English, Bulgaria turned into buggery, an all-purpose expletive that reduced the religious anathema to an exercise in name-calling.

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by Anonymousreply 10February 11, 2024 6:04 AM

Interesting article R10. Christianity used to be so bloodthirsty, and still is in Africa and a few other places

by Anonymousreply 11February 11, 2024 7:15 AM

[quote] Christianity used to be

by Anonymousreply 12February 11, 2024 7:19 AM

By the 1700s, syphilitic straight people were jealous of healthy homos.

by Anonymousreply 13February 11, 2024 10:04 AM

While there was certainly wishful thinking going on re Bray, a lot of the other findings here seem to strenuously downplay the incidence of same sex sex.

There’s no reason to think there were fewer (or more) gay men than there are now percentage-wise, the hard part is trying to suss out how many actually acted on it and how they thought of themselves.

by Anonymousreply 14February 11, 2024 11:35 AM

"I see Bray died two months after 9/11, at age 53. These days, a theory like his wouldn't escape the academic scrutiny for as long as it could back then, there's been a wide pushback against pseudo- and amateur and the ancient aliens "historians" in recent years by actual trained historians, an effort we all benefit from."

You're telling me!

by Anonymousreply 15February 11, 2024 1:58 PM
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