By Adrina Schulz, 30/04/2020
Protagonists: Pastor Johannes Göldi, an anonymous prostitute, foreign peddlers Moritz Benneradt, Moritz Gydonnis, Wilhälm Schomal, and Gabriel Laba
In this court case from 19/09/1587, Pastor Johannes Göldi of the town of Maur, Switzerland, was accused of suspicious behavior (“ärgwönisches aufführen”) with a prostitute (“gemeinne dirnn”) at the Helmhaus, a Zürich landmark that still exists today (for a discussion of why I use the word prostitute rather than sex worker or source terminology, see my personal page). The main witnesses to the events were the foreign (“wälltsche,” non-German-speaking and often French-, Romansch-, or Italian-speaking) peddlers, who saw him with the prostitute. The time and date of the event were related quite precisely: between 8 and 9 on the Wednesday of the yearly market. The peddlers stated that they had left a tavern and were going back to their stands and beds when they saw the pastor and the prostitute together in a corner. Similarly, the bodily positions of the two were described in detail: Göldi was sitting and the prostitute was standing, trying to cover him with her breasts (“mit irer büppen tegken”) and to turn off the light. The peddler Benneradt’s stated reaction to the scene is particularly interesting. He refused to say that he had seen Göldi do anything bad or have sex with the prostitute (“lybliche werch mit iren volbracht”), and stated that he was satisfied with Göldi. On the other hand, he also said that he told Göldi that the latter’s behavior did not fit his station (“das zime synnem stannd gar nit”) and that he gestured at Göldi in censure. The other peddlers did not discuss their reactions, but generally concurred with Benneradt’s version of events.
Then Göldi himself was summoned to the court to give his statement. He said that he had become quite drunk and wanted to cross the bridge to the home of his daughters (presumably he stayed with them when he visited Zurich). By the bridge, he saw the peddlers and the prostitute. The peddlers roughly accused him of having bad intentions until the situation became unbearable, but the prostitute stood for him (“für Inne gestanden”), probably defending him. He swore that he had done nothing with her and asked for forgiveness. However, he was punished with a stay in Wellenberg, one of the Zürich prisons, and a fine of 1 mark silver.
One aspect that is quite present in this case is the city’s honor, as well as the difference between outsiders and locals. The foreignness of the witnesses was highlighted, but apparently did not discredit their testimony. In fact, the case was considered galling particularly because it was witnessed by these foreigners (“so ist doch die sach ëben ergerlich sonderlich wyls frömbde personen gsëhen”). The Reformation used prostitution and prostitutes as a polemic weapon against Catholic priests, claiming that celibacy was impossible and that therefore the priests were fornicators and prostitutes’ clients (See: Roper 1989, p. 104-107, among others). For instance, Zurich Reformer Heinrich Bullinger wrote in a letter to Johannes Zwick that those who forbade priests to marry furthered prostitution and fornicators: “qui vero sacerdotibus interdicunt coniugio, scortatores et scortationem promovent” (Heinrich Bullinger Briefwechsel, Letter 563). Having their own pastors visibly engaging with prostitutes clearly troubled the city authorities and even the witnesses: Benneradt explicitly named Göldi’s station in his censure, instead of condemning sex with prostitutes overall.
This case represents a transitional period in the history of prostitution in Zürich. Laws against extra- and premarital sex had already been enacted in the first half of the sixteenth century, but they were only beginning to be enforced in matters relating to prostitution during the 1580s. In the last decades of the sixteenth century, prostitutes mentioned in these cases usually remained anonymous, as did the woman in this case, while clients were punished. In contrast, in the seventeenth century, as will be illustrated in my next post, this trend was reversed: prostitutes were named, brought before court, and even punished more heavily punished than their clients.
For a full transcription of this court protocol, see the archival material page.