In the 14th century, a considerable number of men in Germany and Switzerland were executed for committing sodomy. In the 17th century, simply speaking of the act was cause for censorship. Here, in the first ever history of sodomy in these countries, Helmut Puff argues that accusations of sodomy in this era were actually crucial to the success of the Protestant Reformation. Drawing on both literary and historical evidence, Puff shows that speakers of German associated sodomy with Italy and, increasingly, the Catholic Church. As the Reformation gained momentum, the formerly unspeakable crime of sodomy gained a voice, as Martin Luther and others deployed accusations of sodomy to discredit the upper ranks of the Church and to create a sense of community among Protestant believers. During the 16th century, official reactions to this defamatory rhetoric, and fear that mere mention of sodomy would incite sinful acts, resulted in the suppression of court cases from public scrutiny. This eye-opening study should interest historians of gender, sexuality and religion, as well as scholars of mediaeval and early modern history and culture.
Helmut Puff is an associate professor of German and history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is the author of Von dem schlussel aller Kunsten: Nemblich der Grammatica: Deutsch im lateinischen Grammatikunterricht 1480-1560 and the editor of Lust, Angst und Provokation: Homosexualitat in der Gesellschaft.