Catharina Margaretha Linck

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Catharina Margaretha Linck (died 1721) was a Prussian woman who for most of her adult life presented herself as a man. She married a woman and, based on their sexual activity together, was convicted of sodomy and executed by order of King Frederick William I in 1721. Linck's execution was the last for lesbian sexual activity in Europe and an anomaly for its time.


The only source of information about Linck is a court document dated 13 October 1721. It summarizes the testimony taken at the trial of Linck and her wife and reviews possible punishments for consideration by the monarch.[1] Scholars of the period characterize her as a lesbian[2][3][4] and place her in a social context in which women adopted male attire for a variety of reasons, including "to involve themselves sexually with another woman, either with or without the other woman's knowledge".[5]


Linck was born the illegitimate child of a widow, and grew up in an orphanage in Halle. According to her mother's testimony, after leaving the orphanage at age 14 and learning to work in the cloth and button-making trades, Linck "[i]n order to lead a life of chastity ... had disguised herself in men's clothes" and then spent some years with an unorthodox religious group she called "Inspirants", likely a form of Quakers. Linck next served three years in the army of Hanover until she deserted in 1708. When apprehended, she escaped hanging "when she disclosed her sex", submitting to an examination by someone identified as Professor Francken. She served in the armed forces of Prussia until a letter from Francken revealed she was female. Dismissed from military service, Linck returned to Halle and lived for a summer as a woman. She then joined a Polish garrison and then the forces of Hesse, using several more men's aliases and deserting from the service both times. She returned again to Halle and worked in the cloth trade for several years, sometimes supervising several women, "sometimes wearing female, sometimes male clothing". When arrested, presumably for her earlier desertion, she was again released "because of professor Francken and his disclosure of her femaleness", though only after a physical examination by authorities at the town hall.[6]

In 1717, having adopted men's clothing once more and representing herself as a man named Anastasius Lagrantius Rosenstengel, she met and married 18-year-old Catharina Margaretha Mühlhahn at Halberstadt.[7] The court records detail their sexual activities. Linck "had made a penis of stuffed leather ... and had tied it to her pubes with a leather strap. When she went to bed with her alleged [sic] wife she put this leather object into the other's body and in this way had actually accomplished intercourse." Linck claimed to have performed similar acts with women she hired while a soldier. Linck testified to experiencing great excitement during intercourse: "whenever she was at the height of her passion, she felt tingling in her veins, arms, and legs".[8] The marriage was unsettled, with Mühlhahn's mother at times trying to separate the couple. Linck, supporting herself by begging and sometimes relocating to seek charitable support, had herself been baptized a Catholic and then received baptism as a Lutheran. In a final confrontation, the trial records say, Mühlhahn's mother "charged the defendant with being a woman and not a man", "ripped open her pants, examined her, and ... found not the slightest sign of anything masculine." Mühlhahn's mother provided the authorities with the artificial penis along with a "leather-covered horn" that Linck wore next to her body, which constituted part of her male disguise and allowed her to urinate standing up.[9]

In court, Linck and Mühlhahn disputed whether Mühlhahn fully understood how their intercourse was accomplished. Mühlhahn in her testimony detailed how Linck had "tortured and tormented her" in attempting intercourse.[10] She said her questions about the way Linck urinated had been met with abusive comments and the threat of violence. She described examining Linck's anatomy once in 1717 while she slept and discovering that "he was fashioned exactly like herself". This gave her an advantage over Linck, who begged her not to notify the authorities and proposed to live with her as brother and sister.[11]

Linck admitted to sodomy on account of having been "deluded by Satan" but denied making Mühlhahn suffer. Her marriage to Mühlhahn was the work of other forces, she claimed, since Satan had tracked her since she was born. As for the additional charges, she claimed the wearing of men's clothes was forbidden for married women but not the unmarried; she said she had suffered for her desertions when she "spent weeks in chains and fetters" while held under arrest; she excused her multiple baptisms as motivated by new covenants with God. In sum:[12]

Whether she had committed an offense she did not know; she confessed and repented her sins; she deserved death tenfold; however, even if she were done away with, others like her would remain. She did not know what else to offer as an excuse; she had committed sins against God and was quite willing to die.

Finally, two medical witnesses reported that in examining Linck they had found "nothing hermaphroditic, much less masculine".[13]

The local court forwarded the records of its inquiry to the Judicial Faculty at Duisburg, which recommended Linck be publicly hung and her body burned. They recommended torture to extract further testimony from Mühlhahn.[13] The Halberstadt officials who were submitting all this information for review by King Frederick William wrote at length about its difficulty in determining the appropriate punishment because the Bible was silent on sexual activity between women and the acts in question did not meet the formal definition of sodomy, since they were "committed with a lifeless leather device".[2] They also considered which method of execution was called for: beheading, hanging, or fire. They recommended beheading by the sword with the body to be burned afterwards. Some members of the court who thought the death penalty could not be imposed if Linck's behavior did not precisely match Biblical definitions of sodomy recommended flogging for her other offenses.[14] The report recognized that Mühlhahn had committed a lesser offense and described her as "this simple-minded person who let herself be seduced into depravity". For her the Halberstadt court recommended three years imprisonment followed by banishment, rather than the torture the Duisburg court had recommended.[14] The king confirmed the sentences of death by beheading for Linck and imprisonment for Mühlhahn.[15]

In contemporary media[edit]

Linck's story was the subject of a play, Executed For Sodomy: The Life of Catharina Linck, performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013.[16]

Linck's monologue appeared in Jack Shamblin's solo performance SODOMITE, A History Of Sodomy Laws, which was performed at P.S. 122, Dixon Place, The Red Room Theatre, Mother, and Jackie 60 during the mid to late 90s in New York City. It was a political performance against the then-existing U.S. sodomy laws. The monologue is reinterpreted in a video art piece by Fred Koenig for Jack Shamblin's book Queering The Stage launch at Hot Festival 2015 at Dixon Place in New York City. You can read it fully in Queering The Stage.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Eriksson, Brigitte (1981). "A Lesbian Execution in Germany, 1721: The Trial Records". Journal of Homosexuality. 6 (1): 27–40. doi:10.1300/J082v06n01_04. PMID 7042827. Retrieved 1 August 2014. The trial records have been reprinted in Salvator J. Licata and Rebert P. Petersen, ed. (1982). The Gay Past: A Collection of Historical Essays. Routledge. pp. 27–40. ISBN 9781317959694. Retrieved 1 August 2014.
  2. ^ a b Crompton, Louis (2006). Homosexuality & Civilization. Harvard University Press. pp. 473–475. ISBN 0-674-02233-5. Retrieved 1 August 2014.
  3. ^ Eriksson, "Trial Records", 28
  4. ^ Matter, E. Ann (1986). "My Sister, My Spouse: Woman-Identified Women in Medieval Christianity". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 2 (2): 91. JSTOR 25002043.
  5. ^ Potter, Edward T. (2012). Marriage, Gender, and Desire in Early Enlightenment German Comedy. Camden House. pp. 90–91. ISBN 9781571135292. Retrieved 1 August 2014.
  6. ^ Eriksson, "Trial Records", 28-31
  7. ^ Eriksson, "Trial Records", 31, 34
  8. ^ Eriksson, "Trial Records", 31
  9. ^ Eriksson, "Trial Records", 32-33
  10. ^ Eriksson, "Trial Records", 34-35
  11. ^ Eriksson, "Trial Records", 35
  12. ^ Eriksson, "Trial Records", 33-34
  13. ^ a b Eriksson, "Trial Records", 37
  14. ^ a b Eriksson, "Trial Records", 37-40
  15. ^ Eriksson, "Trial Records", 28. The report to the king does not indicate his response. Historians like Eriksson who state that he followed the Halberstadt court's advice follow the commentary of F.C. Müller who first discovered the trial report in the Prussian Secret Archives, transcribed it, and published it in 1891.
  16. ^ "LINCK the only woman ever executed for sodomy". Retrieved 1 August 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Angela Steidele, In Männerkleidern. Das verwegene Leben der Catharina Margaretha Linck, hingerichtet 1721, Cologne: Böhlau, 2004., ISBN 3-412-16703-7.