All The Devils Are Here

The 14th century saw huge advancements in terms of society, governmental stability, and written laws throughout all of Europe. It also saw the increased influence of the Church, and its theological teachings. The 13th century writings of Thomas Aquinas made themselves felt during the Renaissance. Aquinas  argued “special sins are against nature, as, for instance, those that run counter to the intercourse of male and female natural to animals, and so are peculiarly qualified as unnatural vices’ and thus a destruction of good. Any perversion, according to Aquinas, was a sin. Aquinas believed that in order for sin to be purged, an individual’s natural inclinations must be moral. In order for an individual to regain the moral path, punishment must be meted out each time a person sinned.

The severity of the punishment depended on the severity of the sin. Since homosexuality was considered a pervasion that could lead to the down fall of society, a sin ranked only second to murder, the punishment must be most severe for every offence. The Church used every means necessary to promote the punishment of these sins, and the Renaissance was the culmination of the Churches moral laws. By the end of the Renaissance, every nation in Europe had cemented homosexuality as a violation of moral laws, and outlawed it.

Florence, a city which has a deep historical background of art and culture and architecture, also had a deep historical background of what the Church considered immorality. In 1432 the city of Florence, with the support of the papacy, established the The Officers of the Night. Although Florence wouldn’t be a papal state for another century, the influence of the Church was easily felt. The purpose of the Officer of the Night was to identify, arrest, and convict homosexuals. In essence, the papacy wanted Florence to get control of its own immoral citizens. Florentine government was just re-stabalising after the last bout of the Black Death, and the biggest reason Florence survived was because of the assistance of the Church. Florence couldn’t afford to ignore the Church’s desires that it clean up its act. Although the rooting of homosexuals was highly controversial in Florence, and severely disapproved of, the power of the Church prevented any real discourse.

Between 1432 and 1502, 17,000 men were arrested and tried for sodomy. Of those 17,000, 3,000 were convicted. Of those 3,000, punishments ranged from prison, to exile, to death. In 1512, two weeks before the Medici family staged a coup, 30 young aristocrats staged what would be history’s first gay rights demonstration. The youths stormed City Hall, demanding the senior justice resign and revocation of the conviction all who had been exiled or deprived of public office. Although their demands were initially ignored, the Medici family acceded to their wishes in an attempt to gain their support. Once in power, the Medici family re-asserted the sodomy laws, and several of the aristocrats were themselves detained.

The Spanish Inquisitions, of the late 15th century, saw an increase crackdown of heresy and moral aberrations. By the 15th century, sodomy was listed as illegal in Canon Law as a crime against nature. By the end of the Spanish Inquisition, 1,000 men had been convicted of sodomy- 174 of whom were burned at the stake.

The protestant reformation, which began in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the church door in Wittenberg, had no impact on the politics of homosexuality. Neither Luther nor Calvin disagreed with the Catholic church’s belief that homosexuality was a crime against nature. If anything, the protestant reformation re-enforced moral laws, because they were no longer just Papal law.

In 1532, the Holy Roman Empire officially made sodomy punishable by death. Although homosexuality was a sin, and therefore illegal, according to Canon Law, the Empire had not yet taken a specific legal stance. The Holy Roman Empire’s sodomy law would remain after the dissolution of the Empire itself. Most countries within the Empire retained that sodomy was a capital offence some until after the Second World War.

The next year, the English parliament passed the Buggery Act, which established sodomy as a capital offence (yes, that’s really what it was called). The act was formally known as An Acte for the punnysshement of the vice of Buggerie (because no Oxford dictionary to make spelling rules). This was England’s first civil sodomy law. It defined “buggery” as a crime against nature, God and man. The Act was pushed through Parliament by Henry VIII’s advisor Thomas Cromwell, himself a devout Catholic. Even after the separation of England from the Catholic church and the creation of the Church of England a year later, the Buggery Act remained law. England’s divorce from the Catholic church did not change any of its moral laws. The Buggery Act remained in effect until 1828, when it was repealed and replaced with the Offences Against the Person Act. Sodomy would remain a capital crime in England until 1861.

Although the Renaissance was, in many ways, the light after the Dark Ages, in terms of gay rights it was only the beginning. Sodomy and homosexuality laws increased between the 14th and 16th centuries, and most nations legislated sodomy as a capital offence. Persecution of homosexuals rose, and as the world moved further away from ancient times, so did gay rights. As the world moved forward into the early modern period, the Age of discover and Shakespeare, the social rights for homosexuals moved backward.


[DISCLAIMER: Seriously people, these are not my PERSONAL religious, nor political beliefs, and I have no animosity toward any church (because, really, let’s all just love each other and get along). This is HISTORY, which is often not PC and not pretty. So..don’t hate the blogger. Feel free to hate the post, that’s legit.]

[Apologetic Disclaimer: So, I feel as if the last several posts have been anti-religiously skewed, which isn’t intentional, it’s just the way it is. HOWEVER, in order to dig myself out of the Catholicism schism I seem to be in, this post was shorter than intended with just bare necessities. Starting with the next post, there will be more nationality speak, and less religious laws, ’cause that’s the way it happened. (Also, far longer since we’re into the time of history I have degrees in…I’ll try and split the posts into reasonable chunks, but if they get too long, speak! I’ll break them up better. This is seriously stuff I can talk about without any resources, for hours, without running out of material, so I’m a bad judge of what’s too long.) Although, I cannot promise a complete divergence from religious chatter, because, well, it’s pretty much the basis of ALL “morality” laws…so, you no like, argue in the comments ;)]

Part V: Homosexual Rights and Early Modern Europe

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