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People with a History: An Online Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History

Section III Europe to World War I

Editor: Paul Halsall


Section III: Europe to World War I

Go to the following pages for other parts of People with a History

Chapter 10: Early Modern Europe

The great distinction between "modern" and "ancient and medieval" history lies in the quantity of available sources. In pre-modern culture we rely primarily on literary and legal sources to understand homosexuality. Both types of source are highly distorting. Although we can - with care - outline the contours of some "homosexual" subcultures in pre-modern societies, such efforts always remain tentative.

From the late fifteenth century in Europe this all changes. Large amounts of source material begins to survive, and new sorts of material at that. Most important are court records - especially when full trial records remain. So great are the survivals in some Italian cities that statistical surveys of the data are possible (for which see the work of Michael Rocke and Guido Ruggiero in the bibliography). The sources are not perfect, but now a social history is possible.

Real progress has been made for some parts of Europe - especially Italy. Other areas remain less well investigated. But debates are now flourishing about what exactly was the social "identity" of homosexually active men (there is still not enough evidence to document Lesbian subcultures until much later than for males).

At the same time, the types of "homosexual source" we have for previous societies continued to be produced. Plays and poems are less central to our conception of homosexuality in this period, but they remain important. Especially because we now have evidence about audience and styles/occasions of performance, socially significant inferences can be made. This data cannot be disgarded.


Texts: Legal and Historical

  • The Law in England, 1290-1885, texts of the major laws.
  • The Act of 1533, which first made buggery a crime under English Criminal Law [At Knitting Circle]
  • Homily Against Adultery and Whoredom, from Short-Title Catalogue 13675. Renaissance Electronic Texts 1.1.1994 Ian Lancashire (ed.) [At U. Toronto]
    With some discussion of Sodom! The Woman-Hater's Lamentation, 1707 [At Rictor Norton's website]
  • But Among Our Own Selves, 1728 [At Rictor Norton's website]
  • Molly Exalted, 1763 [At Rictor Norton's website]
  • Documents of Early Modern Queer History [At Rictor Norton's website]
    [Rictor Norton has informed me that "During the coming few months I hope to add pages on various broadside ballads, satires and trials, e.g. John Dunton's The He-Strumpets, 1710; The State of Rome, 1739; Love in the Suds, 1772; excerpts from Sodom and Onan; a molly trial of 1709; a molly trial of 1707; A Sapphick Epistle, 1777; the Latin Epitaph on Bob Jones, 1773; A Dialogue Concerning Venus, 1691, and Jenny Cromwell's Complaint Against Sodomy, 1690s."]
  • Montaigne: A Homosexual Marriage in Rome, [At Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Catholic Handbook].
    Account of a gay marriage in 16th-century Rome by Montaigne.

Texts: Literary


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Chapter 11: Nineteenth-Early Twentieth-Century Europe



Texts: Literary


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This page is part of  People with a History. People with a History is a www site presenting history relevant to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people, through primary sources, secondary discussions, and images.. People with a History: An Online Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History is part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project.

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