On this day: mass murder, the Utrecht sodomy trials

Utrecht sodomy trials June 24

On June 24, 1730, four ‘sodomites’ underwent gruesome public executions in Amsterdam. Just a handful of the numerous men and boys killed during the year-long purge known as the Utrecht sodomy trials.

In Homosexuality & Civilization, Louis Crompton described the liquidation as ‘the deadliest persecution of homosexuals known’ prior to the 20th-century Nazi slaughter of gays.

On June 24, 1730, executioners strangled and burned Pieter Marteyn Janes Sohn and Johannes Keep. Multi-stage executions were once common practice across Europe. Executioners almost killed the condemned by one method before finishing them off with another. Prolonged agony and senseless cruelty.

On the same day, Cornelius Boes, Keep’s 18-year-old servant,  and Maurits van Eeden were drowned in a barrel of water.

The Utrecht sodomy trials resulted from a nationwide hysteria prompted by the discovery of extensive gay social networks in the Dutch Republic. The revelation came at a bad time. The Netherlands recently suffered multiple calamities. With the economy in decline following the end of the Dutch Golden Age, the nation endured devastating floods and lost great herds of cattle to an epidemic. Then, a woodworm infestation caused the collapse of a number of the dykes the low-lying Republic depended on to hold out the water of the North Sea.

Amidst this mood of national crisis, authorities arrested two men for sodomy in the city of Utrecht. They implicated 22-year-old Zacharias Wilsma who then gave up the names of another 140 other men in various cities.

God’s most sacred laws

Thus began a nationwide witchhunt. Authorities decreed that sodomites should suffer public execution to spare the Republic from God’s wrath.

“In addition to other transgressions of God’s most sacred laws, whereby his just wrath towards our dear Fatherland has been inflamed time and again, some terrible atrocities have been committed for some time past in our dear states of Holland and West Friesland, offending Nature herself.”

Wealthy men at risk of prosecution fled overseas. But men of lesser means faced prosecution in the approximately 250 trials that took place. At least 75 men and boys died by strangling, hanging, drowning and burning. The 1731 engraving shown above ‘depicting the Dutch massacre of sodomites’ shows men hanging from gallow and roasted over flames. The skeleton holds a poster showing a ship leaving port with men condemned to be cast into the sea.

The lists of executed included couriers, apprentices, seamen, coachmen, house servants, house decorators, spice merchants, tanners, coopers, innkeepers, wine merchants, florists, and weavers. And they included boys.

A cleric in the small village of Faan decreed boys as young as 12 eligible for execution. Like his modern-day counterparts, he demonised those who disagreed as ‘advocates for Satan’s realm’. On September 24, 1731, 21 men and boys went to their deaths at Faan. That number included nine teenagers, one a 15-year-old and another just 14.

Jan Ides

Among the condemned that day, 18-year-old Jan Ides. Jan’s final words are reminiscent of those of WWII Dutch resistance hero Willem Arondeus who famously said, “Tell the world that homosexuals are no less courageous than anyone else.”

When the court pronounced sentence on Jan Ides, he responded, “I forgive you for the sin which you have committed against me.”

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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