Title: History: 1730: The Dutch 'Sodomy' Panic Credit: Craig Young Comment Wednesday 20th September 2006 - 12:00pm1158710400 Article: 1423 Rights
In 1730, the Netherlands were convulsed by antigay pogroms, involving the use of torture to extract confessions, which shed light on what is usually considered to be a paragon of tolerance and pluralism within Western Europe. Indeed, as Louis Compton noted, the Netherlands were an oasis of religious pluralism that even compassed Muslims and Jews, as well as providing ample opportunities for free speech and academic freedom during the dawn of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. What were the origins of this fierce upsurge in antigay sentiment? The Netherlands had entered an unhappy phase of uncharacteristic recession as the United Kingdom's Industrial Revolution began to take off, and there were similar anxieties about climatic conditions and further catastrophic failure of the system of dykes that protect the Netherlands from inundation, given that it is below sea level, and serious floods in 1728. In 1730, two young men were arrested in Utrecht, implicating one Zacharias Wilsma (22), who further disclosed the details of one hundred and forty others in Amsterdam, the Hague, Haarlem, Leiden, Delft, Kampen, Leeuwarden, Groningen, Heuesden, Middelburg, Naarden, Ryswyk, Schieland, Vianen, Voorburg, Woerden, Zutphen and Zwolle. Altogether, two hundred and fifty trials were held, and while one hundred men escaped capture, seventy five men were tried and executed. As with the contemporary excesses of England's Societies for the Reformation of Manners, most of these men were either working-class or artisans, including couriers, apprentices, sailors, domestic servants, interior decorators, food and drink vendors, handymen, florists and weavers. And as with today's US Christian Right and the likes of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, natural disasters and other catastrophes were blamed on 'divine wrath' at sexual 'immorality.' Thus, seventy five men were strangled, hung or drowned, attracting comment from English, Irish, German and French newspapers. Given its own controversies about the Societies for Reformation of Manners and informant corruption, English newspapers slammed the Netherlands for the use of torture to extract confessions from these men. In Faan, a small farming community, there was considerable bloodshed in September 1731 when one fanatical inquisitor slaughtered twenty two men and boys, some as young as twelve, much to the revulsion of their relatives and neighbours. This fundamentalist cleric fantasised about a satanic papal/Jesuit Catholic conspiracy to destroy the human race, but in this case, brutality led to a public backlash. There were further episodes of Dutch urban homophobia, in Amsterdam (1764), the Hague and Utrecht (1799), but the excesses of 1730-1 had led to subsequent doubt about the unprecedented severity of the persecution, and led to mitigation to long-term imprisonment for 'sodomy' in 1809, before the Napoleonic invasion abolished criminal penalties for homosexuality altogether in 1810. It's a sad story, but also one that has some uncanny contemporary parallels. History never repeats...? Recommended: Louis Crompton: Homosexuality and Civilisation: Cambridge, Massachuesetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: 2003. Simon Schama: The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age: New York: Knopf: 1987. Craig Young - 20th September 2006    
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