By Adrina Schulz, 30/06/2020
Protagonists: Pastor Hans Ochsner, tavernkeeper and prostitute Anna Berger, Berger’s husband Hans Buman
In this court report from 7.3.1606, Hans Ochsner, the pastor of Spanweid (most likely referring to the almshouse in Zurich rather than the town nearby), was questioned about his encounter with a prostitute four years previously. According to his testimony, he went to the nearby town of Cloten for business and became drunk. He returned to Zurich but was not permitted to enter the city at either of the two gates he tried. Therefore, when he saw people in Anna Berger’s tavern outside the city walls, he entered and drank wine with them, becoming so drunk he could not identify his fellow guests, except to say that they were not citizens. When everyone else left, Berger brought him pillows and he slept in the living room, with both Berger and her husband Hans Buman present. He claimed not to know whether or not he had had sexual relations with Berger, due to his drunkenness and a medical condition (“lybs bruch”). However, he was willing to pay 5 Gulden to Hans Jacob Ziegler and 2 1/2 Gulden and 8 Schillings to Heinrich Freitag in order to keep the affair quiet. He was also willing to admit guilt upon learning that Berger had accused him of having sex with her. The court fined him 25 pounds and dismissed him from his position as pastor.
This deposition is part of a much larger case, comprising over 200 pages of archival material and involving multiple prostitutes, pimps, go-betweens, and clients. Anna Berger was at the center of the action, as both a prostitute and a pimp, and was later executed, officially for adultery and fornication (“eebrüch und huryg”: STaZH A 27.52, undated). She was questioned several times, and most likely gave Ochsner’s name as her client under torture. Ochsner’s deposition is quite similar to that of the other clients in this case: many claimed drunkenness as the reason that they had had sex with one of the prostitutes and later paid the group for their silence. This mix of prostitution and blackmail was common in the early modern period, in Zurich as well as in Europe more generally (See: Strika 2012; van de Pol 2011). The prostitution ring seems to have maintained control over its clients/victims for many years before the scandal erupted in 1606, leading to extensive investigations and punishments, generally a fine and/or imprisonment for the clients and execution for the prostitutes and pimps.
The discrepancy between Ochsner and Berger’s punishments, as well as between those of the clients and prostitutes more generally, does not stem from an explicitly gendered law. The Zurich mandates against fornication and adultery proscribed punishment for both sexes, with the penalties increasing for repeated crimes, from fines and imprisonment to exile to execution (See: Campi/Wälchli 2011; Grünenfelder 2007). Thus, a client who only had sex with a prostitute once could escape with a comparatively light punishment, while a prostitute with many clients had inevitably taken part in multiple offenses, and thus received a harsher–even capital–sentence. Interestingly, Ochsner’s status as pastor does not seem to have affected his punishment significantly. He was fined the same amount as Caspar Hirt, a clothmaker whose deposition was recorded on the same day. Furthermore, while Ochsner was also removed from his position as pastor, a similar fate befell secular municipal leaders in similar circumstances (See the case of Thomann zur Linden from 1608: STaZH A 8.4, Nr. 51). Thus, at least in the early seventeenth century, men were punished for their sexual activities with prostitutes no matter their class or religious status, though far more lightly than were the prostitutes themselves.
Finally, Ochsner’s deposition echoes the previously discussed case of Pastor Hans Göldi. Ochsner and Göldi told similar stories of traveling, drinking, and then accidentally coming into contact with a prostitute, and were both punished for their actions. The main difference is that while in the Göldi case, the prostitute involved remained anonymous and free, in the Ochsner case almost 20 years later, Anna Berger was named, interrogated, and finally executed. This change follows a general trend in the Zurich court records, as prostitutes began to be identified and brought before court around the turn of the seventeenth century (this is discussed in more detail in my chapter of the forthcoming book Zürichs Gelebte Reformation, to be published in 2021). It is not yet clear why this development occurred during these decades–the mandates against adultery and fornication discussed in the previous paragraph had been promulgated decades earlier. But whatever the reason, these changes negatively impacted the legal treatment of prostitutes, while the punishment of their clients remained unchanged.
For a full transcription of this court protocol, see the archival materials page.
For a discussion of why why I use the word prostitute rather than sex worker or source terminology, see my personal page.