Utrecht sodomy trials

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Timely punishment depicted as a warning to godless and damnable sinners. Engraving depicting the Dutch massacre of sodomites. Published in Amsterdam, 1731.

The Utrecht sodomy trials (Dutch: Utrechtse sodomieprocessen) were a large-scale persecution of homosexuals that took place in the Dutch Republic, starting in the city of Utrecht in 1730. Over the following year, the persecution of "sodomites" spread to the rest of the nation, leading to some 250[1][2] to 300[3] trials, often ending in a death sentence.


As of 1730, the Dutch Republic had just experienced an epizootic disease in its cattle population, while its dikes were threatened by shipworm. Several disasters had hit the country: the flooding of Stavoren in 1657, the collapse of the Utrecht Dom Church's nave in 1674 and the earthquake of 1692 were all ascribed to divine wrath.[1] These circumstances had readied the minds of the Dutch for moral panics, and the homosexual part of the population became their scapegoat.[citation needed]

The ruins of the Dom Church's nave had for years been a meeting place for homosexuals when in April 1730,[2] the city authorities started an investigation at the request of the Dom's sacristan, Josua Wils.[4] A number of men, including a Zacharias Wilsma,[1] were arrested and interrogated. Their confessions indicated the presence of networks and meeting places of homosexuals elsewhere in the Republic. In July of the same year, Holland followed suit[2] and a nationwide wave of prosecutions ensued; several men in high positions were suspected, but fled before they could be arrested. In Utrecht, some forty men were tried,[3]:229 of whom 18 were convicted and strangled. Death by strangling was the most common punishment for homosexual acts in the Dutch Republic,[3]:131 but other punishments during the 1730–31 purge included hanging and drowning in a barrel of water.[2] The convicts' remains were either burnt, cast into the sea or buried under the gallows.[2] Protestant preachers supported the purge, using a.o. the aforementioned shipworm in the Dutch dikes as evidence of God's wrath against homosexuals.[3]:259

Of the trials outside of Utrecht, those in the village of Zuidhorn acquired particular infamy. Grietman Rudolf de Mepsche of Faan used the occasion to persecute his political enemies. He had a total of 22 people sentenced to death and executed, after two more had died at the rack. Overall, though, most accusations appear to have been true, the victims of prosecution having mostly been actual homosexuals, leading Rictor Norton to comment that "this is properly described as a pogrom (...) rather than a hysterical witch-hunt".[2]

Earlier and later persecutions[edit]

Several waves of prosecution followed during the eighteenth century: in 1764 (Amsterdam), 1776 (several cities), and 1797 (Utrecht and The Hague).[1] As noted in the case of Joost Schouten, it was preceded by other episodes of persecution and execution, such as that which occurred in Dutch colonial possessions like Batavia, capital of the seventeenth century Dutch East Indies [5]



The city of Utrecht has recently decided to confront this reputation for persecution. The Dom Square was once a place where, in the ruins of the middle nave of the church, gay cruising took place. Since 1999 it has hosted a stone, the so-called Sodomonument, commemorating the deaths of the persecuted sodomites, and telling that the terminology has changed to homosexuality, and the city wants its women and men to live their lives in freedom.


As a result of the trials, the demonym Utrechtenaar gained a second meaning as a slang term to denote homosexuals (first attested in a dictionary of 1861), esp. among students. In common usage, though, it is still used as a demonym, alongside the alternative Utrechter, with the latter being the preferred term in newspapers, while Utrechtenaar is more common on the internet (as of 2004).[4]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Louis Crompton (2003). Homosexuality & Civilization. Belknap Press.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Rictor Norton (17 November 2011). "Newspaper Reports: The Dutch Purge of Homosexuals, 1730". Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook.
  3. ^ a b c d D. J. Noordam (1995). Riskante relaties: vijf eeuwen homoseksualiteit in Nederland, 1233-1733 (in Dutch). Hilversum: Verloren. ISBN 906550513X.
  4. ^ a b Ewoud Sanders (18 November 2004). "Nogmaals Utrechters en Utrechtenaars". NRC Handelsblad.
  5. ^ Peter Murrell: "Sin and Sodomy in the Dutch East Indies" History Today: 63.6: (July 2013): 10-17
  • L. J. Boon (1997). 'Dien godlosen hoop van menschen'. Vervolging van homoseksuelen in de Republiek in de jaren dertig van de achttiende eeuw (in Dutch). Amsterdam: De Bataafsche Leeuw. ISBN 906707442X.
  • Theo van der Meer (1995). Sodoms zaad in Nederland: het ontstaan van homoseksualiteit in de vroegmoderne tijd. Nijmegen: SUN. ISBN 9061684447.

External links[edit]