Tag Archives: Reformation

Prostitution and Witchcraft: The Case of Agatha Spörri

1606, Zurich.

By Adrina Schulz, 21.04.2021.

            For this case study I will turn to another subject that made Zurich authorities very nervous: magic. While the connection between prostitution and witchcraft, especially via love spells, has been well-researched for the Mediterranean world, the extensive literature on witchcraft in the German-speaking world has not paid much attention to this topic. But these two gendered crimes were deeply connected in the minds of Zurich’s inhabitants, as shown by the Zurich phrase “gehäxet und gehuret,” (witched and whored), which was used to describe women insulting each other. I will use the case of Agatha Spörri from 1606 to investigate this connection for the Zurich context and to assess the relative dangers of each accusation for the women involved. 

            The case of Agatha Spörri is labyrinthine, spanning over 100 pages and involving a number of interrelated crimes and a host of witnesses and defendants. The main charge against Spörri was that of repeated adultery. Her main partner or client was Ulrich Schilling, though she was also involved with other men. Both Spörri and Schilling were married, making the crime double adultery, which carried heavier penalties than adultery between a married person and an unmarried person or premarital fornication. There were also accusations against Spörri, her father Oswald Spörri, and her uncle Heinrich Spörri of blackmailing several of her partners or clients with the threat of exposure. Furthermore, the Spörri family had been tried several times throughout the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries for a variety of deceptions, scams, and thefts. Even worse, Agatha Spörri’s aunt, Anna Spörri, had been executed as a witch in 1598, following accusations of causing storms, taking abortifactants, stealing, and making a pact with the devil, among other claims. Thus, there are many facets to this case that could be explored in detail, but I will focus here on the connection between sex and magic. 

            In the depositions of Agatha Spörri and her various partners or clients, words for magic were never explicitly used. Instead, the court repeatedly questioned Spörri’s main partner or client, Ulrich Schilling, about the food and drink she had given him. They wanted to know whether or not these items had influenced his behavior, decisions, and movements, specifically whether or not they had caused him to follow Spörri around (“daß sy Spörin Ime Schillingen daß er Iro dergstalt nachgan müss, etwaß Zuoäßen. ald Zuotrincken geben haben wurde”). This repeated questioning reveals an unstated concern about the use of food-based love magic – food and drink being important tools of witches (Roper, Witch Craze, 17). Love magic was commonly used by prostitutes in the early modern period, as has been researched for various Mediterranean contexts by Daniella Hacke, Giulia Morosini, and Guido Ruggiero, among others. The goal of these spells was usually to attract clients and keep their attention, or conversely to prevent them from being sexually interested in others such as their wives, even to make them impotent. Thus, the Zurich court’s fears about the effects of love magic correlated with the concerns of authorities throughout early modern Europe.

            But in the Catholic, Mediterranean world, punishments for witchcraft were not as extreme as in Reformed areas such as Switzerland (Herzig, Witchcraft Persecutions in Italy, 4). Spörri’s aunt, as mentioned above, had been burned at the stake, and witchcraft was said to follow family lines (Roper, Witch Craze, 156). Thus, this accusation against Agatha Spörri, veiled as it was, was life-threatening. In fact, it was apparently more dangerous to be guilty of witchcraft than prostitution. Spörri readily stated that she had engaged in adultery solely due to poverty (“inn Ehebruch sich vergangen…dann sy ein solliches allein us grosser armut gethan”). Conversely, she staunchly refuted the implied charge of witchcraft and insisted that such accusations against her were unjust (“er gescheche Iro aber mit dem gezig…unrächt”). Thus, while both crimes carried the death penalty, witchcraft was apparently more important to deny and thus a greater threat. This contrasts with my previous case study, in which Anna Uster was executed for repeated adultery, the same crime that Spörri admitted to. These cases occurred in the same year, raising the question as to why Spörri was not frightened of an adultery charge. Perhaps the difference was that Spörri had one main partner, though she was also accused of adultery with other men. Or perhaps she hoped that once she was absolved of the crime of witchcraft, her sex crimes would be deemed less important. 

            Whatever the specific reason for Spörri’s defense strategy, it seems to have worked. She seems to have gotten off “lightly”: she kept to her story despite being tortured and was not executed. Her statements throughout the case show that she was aware of the different accusations against her, whether they were stated explicitly or implied, and that she knew how to defend herself against the worst possible outcome. She fought against the unspoken connection between adultery and magic, and between herself and her aunt. Her later fate remains a mystery, but in 1606 she was able to leave the Zurich court system alive. 

Regula Bleuler: Sources

By Adrina Schulz, 5/1/2021.

Staatsarchiv des Kantons Zürich (STaZH) A.27.141, Case of Regula Bleuler.

(working transcription, there may be errors; thanks to Nicole Zellweger for her help with the transcription)

i.

Wie sie heiße?

Regula Bleuwler.

2.

Wo her?

Aus der Eyerbracht.

3.

Wie alt?

Etwann 25. jährig.

4.

Warum hier im Öetenbach im Verhaftt?

Es werde leider, Gott erbarm, Euch meiner gnädigen Herren wol bekannt seyn.

5.

Sie solle dermahlen einen richtigen Bescheid geben, warum sie eigentlich zugegen?

Sie habe einen kerli verschinen Frytag nach mittag ungefahr um i. uhren zu Seebach angetroffen, der mit Ihro nacher Eglisau gegangen; hernach aber außert Eglisauw hinder einer Scheür bey den arm gezehrt und gsagt, müß ihme zwillen werden und es ihro thun; und disem nach, schon sie sich deßen bestermußen gwehrt, bey ernannter Scheür am boden beschlafen.

6.

Ob sie aber zu vor mit selbigem nicht auch den einkehr gemacht, und trincken geholffen?

Ja, zu Bülach in einem Schenckhaus, sammt noch einem andern ihro unbekanten weibsbild.

7.

Wer aber diser manns Persohn eigentlich seye?

Habe geheißen sey ein Eglisauwer und verehlichet, jedoch selbigen zu vor niemahlen gesehen noch gekennt.

24.

Von wem sie den beyligenden brief her habe?

Von einen geistlichen Herren zu Rheinauw, zu dem sie 12. wochen lang gegangen, und bey ihme gelehrt habe.

was denn?

die  X. Gebott, und den Rosen-kranz

25.

Wer sie aber veranlaset, dahin zu gehen?

Niemand, sonder sey aus sich selbsten dahin gekehret.

26.

Ob sie ihmme auch gsagt, woher sie eigentlich seyn möchte?

Ja

27.

Ob aber auch, worum sie hinweg?

Ja, habe gesagt, sey deß Lands verwisen worden.

28

Was sie sonsten zu Rheinauw weiters thun müßen nachdem sie beschriben mäßen daselbst unterrichtet worden[?]

Sie habe zum Althar zum Mutter Gottes-bild knien müßen. Darbey sey diser pfaff, 1. männ und eine Frauw sammt dem Mesmer gewesen; und harauf ihre finger auf ein buch legen, jedoch kein wort reden müßen.

29.

Wie lang es sieth dem, daß diß alles beschehen?

Ungefahr ein 1/2 Jahr.

30.

Ob ihro aber auch etwas auß dem Closter gegeben worden?

Ein juppen, und 5 R. an gelt.

Sex Crimes and Religious Crimes: The Case of Regula Bleuler

1730, Zurich.

By Adrina Schulz, 04.12.2020.

 The deposition of Regula Bleuler from 1730 illustrates the intensity with which Reformed Zurich authorities investigated religious transgressions, even during trials of seemingly unrelated sexual crimes. In fact, the adultery and fornication accusations against Bleuler, as well as her allegations of sexual assault against Heinrich Wirth, were overshadowed by questions about her religious activities. This case took place two centuries after the initial phases of the Zurich Reformation, showing the continued and even increased relevance of confessional boundaries. 

Regula Bleuler was called before the Zurich court several times in November, 1730. She had already given birth to four children out of wedlock by this point, at least one of which had since died, and was pregnant with a fifth. She had been imprisoned three times for fornication (“hureyen”), including a stay in the stocks. After this latest punishment, she had been exiled and told that the next punishment would be physical, even the capital (“Leib und Leben”). She was caught in Eglisau, part of Zurich’s territory, and was officially imprisoned because of a new case of adultery, committed with Heinrich Wirth. Bleuler argued that the encounter had been a case of sexualized violence (for the difficulties inherent to using the modern definition of rape in the early modern period see, among others: Loetz 2015). Bleuler stated that Wirth had dragged her by the arm (“bey den arm gezehrt”) and had had sex with her (“beschlaffen”) even though she had defended herself (“gwehrt”). Wirth’s version of the story involves no force but simply states that he committed adultery with Bleuler (“die ehe gebrochen”). The court protocols do not record a conviction or punishment for either party, but from the court’s questioning, it seems that the authorities did not believe Bleuler’s version of events. Eventually, she also admitted to receiving a whore’s income (“2 1/2 t[al]er hurenlohn”) for the act, which, of course, does not mean that sexualized violence did not occur.

However, the court quickly switched to another line of questioning, regarding Bleuler’s religious activities while in exile. Although she first claimed that she only received alms (“Allmosen”) at Rheinau abbey, she eventually admitted that she had also studied with a religious man (“geistlichen Herren,” later called a “pfaff,” a Reformed word for a Catholic Priest) there. She had learned the 10 Commandments (“X. Gebott”) and the rosary (“Rosen-kranz”) from him. She even declared that she had done this out of her own initiative, and that she had furthermore had to kneel before an altar to Mary (“Sie habe zum Althar zum Mutter Gottes-bild knien müßen”) and that she had put a finger on a book, but had not had to say anything (“ihre finger auf ein buch legen, jedoch kein wort reden müßen”). These actions seem to have troubled the Reformed Zurich authorities as much as, or even more than, her sexual activities, as their description takes up multiple pages of testimony. The court protocols are accompanied by letters in support of Bleuler, one of which even focuses solely on her possible conversion to the Catholic (“papistichen”) confession. This letter states that she knew little about either the Catholic or the Reformed faith and that she had erred out of ignorance (“unverstand”), closing with the plea that she be allowed to stay in Zurich rather than be exiled again.

Thus, Zurich authorities investigated confessional matters seriously and extensively. Sexual crimes were also punished severely, as shown in previous case studies, but in the trial of Regula Bleuler, they take a backseat to discussions of prayers, holy books, and conversion. On the other hand, this case also highlights how little many Zurich inhabitants knew about confessional differences and religious doctrine, or at least how little they claimed to know. Bleuler and those supporting her had good reason to portray her as ignorant and thus as less guilty, but their claims of ignorance seem to have been accepted by the court, meaning they were plausible. Although authorities were extremely concerned with religious doctrine and difference, ordinary men and women did not always follow suit.

The Pastor and the Prostitute: Part II: Sources.

By Adrina Schulz, 30/06/2020

Staatsarchiv des Kantons Zürich (STaZH) A 9.2, Nr. 9. 

(working transcription, there may be errors)

1.         Herr Hanns Ochßner Predicant an der Spanweyd zeigt an vor vier jarren er syner geshëfften wëgen zu Clootten gewëßen unnd wie er sëlbiger nacht thrungkner wyß das Niderdorffer Thor beshlossen gefunden er zu dem Oberdorffer Thor khert daselbsten er nit yngelassen worden unnd derhalben denn graben wider uf gangen sëlbiger zytten habe er inn genanndter Bumaninen huß lüth gespürt unnd er der ursachen auch zuo innen hin in ganngen nach ein maß wyn oder zwo thungken hëllffen unnd so bezëcht worden das er nit wüssen möge was personnen domalen an gemëltem ortt gewëßen doch sigen es keini burger nit gesyn unnd als die anndern hinweg ganngen habe gedachte Bumanin ime küssi Inn die stuben gebracht item nach dem er einen schlaaff gethan were sy nach inn der stuben gewëßen unnd er morgens gesëchen das ir eheman (denn er sëlbiger nacht Inn der kamer gespürt) mit der ax uß dem huß ganngen unnd diewyl nun er verstannde das sy inne sy beshlaaffen habe angegëben welle er dessen gichtig syn unnd sy nit laugnen wiewol er wëgen thrungkenheit unnd (reverenter zmelden) synes lybs bruch nit wüssen möge was er mit iren verrichtet haben möchte unnd habe er uff ir begëren erhalter ursachen wëgen unnd das die sachen vershwigen belybind Hanns Jacoben Ziegler dem pfister von irtwëgen fünff guldi bezahlt unnd der Edelman dritthalben guldi unnd acht shilling von ime empfanngen ob aber ir eheman der ime auch gëlt gehöüshet gewüsst was ursachen sy gedachte ansprach gethan könne er nit sagen

The Pastor and the Prostitute: Part II

1606, Zurich.

By Adrina Schulz, 30/06/2020

Protagonists: Pastor Hans Ochsner, tavernkeeper and prostitute Anna Berger, Berger’s husband Hans Buman

Citation: Staatsarchiv des Kantons Zürich (STaZH) A 9.2, Nr. 9. 

            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.

A Note of Terminology: Prostitutes or Sex Workers?

By Adrina Schulz, 01/05/2020

The word Prostitution in German is anachronistic: it does not appear in the medieval or early modern Zurich sources, although Peter Schuster did find it in a Nurnberg source in the sixteenth century (Schuster 1992, p. 19). The words used instead were numerous, context-dependent, and variable. In fact, almost any word meaning woman could be used to denote a prostitute when combined with certain adjectives. For example, in the case of Kaspar Bleuler from 1566, the term weib or woman was used to discuss prostitutes – “gmein wyber” –and to speak sympathetically of a wife – “wyb unnd kindt” (STaZH A 8.1, Nr. 93). Furthermore, words that today are strongly associated with prostitution, such as Dirne, could be used for different kinds of women, from a maid to a prostitute to a woman in general. Thus, there is a terminology problem. Some scholars have stuck with modern terms such as prostitute (Schuster 1992, among others). Others have used contemporary terms such as the German Dirne or the English whore to highlight these ambiguities (Schuster 1995; Karras 1996). This project will examine the various source words using historical semantics in order to differentiate them and track their changes over time, but will use the word prostitution as an umbrella term in order not to blur these differences.

The modern, self-chosen term for a prostitute is sex-worker (see for instance the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, among many others). However, even the concept of prostitution or sex work cannot be applied one-to-one to the medieval and early modern periods, as contemporary theologians and law-makers focused far more on a woman’s promiscuity – how many men she had sex with – than whether she was paid. Thus, since the word sex worker emphasizes aspects of labor and money, it does not fit with these conceptions of prostitution, as well as the women’s legal status: they were punished for adultery or fornication, as there was no specific charge of prostitution. Thus, this project will continue to use prostitute and prostitution for now, although I am of course open for comments and suggestions.

The Pastor and the Prostitute: Part I: Sources.

By Adrina Schulz, 01/05/2020

Staatsarchiv des Kantons Zürich (STaZH) A 9.2, Nr. 3.

(working transcription, there may be errors)

27. herr Hans Göldi pfarers zu Mur ärgewöhnisches a{uo}fführen, mit einer dirn auf dem helmhauß 1587

den 19 te [Septem]bris 1587

wyßunng

herr Hannsen Gölldi pfharherr z{uo} Mhur belanngende wiewol man gloubt es syge mit den werchen nündt thattlichs vergangen so ist doch die sach ëben ergerlich sonderlich wyls frömbde personen gsëhen derhalben soll er Göldi bis jezt donstag inn Wellenberg gelegt und ein march silbers zeb{uo}s gëben und soll im mit erntst undersagt werden das er mit bishar gebruchten sachen nit mehr komen, dann dise das letst syn sölle, Anen Mentags den 25ten Septembris Ano 87

pitten herr Kambli und beid reth

edlenn vestenn fromen fürsichtigen eersamen und wyßenn innsonnders gönnstigenn gnnedigem liebenn herren nachdem unns fürkomen unnd verstänndigot wordenn wie das herr Hanns Gölldi pfharherr zu Mhur sich Inn jetz letst halltenndem jarmergkt nachts unnder dem hällmhuß mit unnd gägenn einer gmeinen mätzenn etlicher gstallt gar argwönnisch erzeigt unnd das etlich wälltsche kremer erzellter maßen inne funnden haben söllenn deßhalben haben wir nachbemällte personnen für unns beschigkenn unnd innen söliches fürhallten lassen ob doch demsëlbigenn allso sige oder nit daruff sy unns (wie hernnach vermälldot wirt) allso berichtet erstlichenn 

Moritz Benneradtein kremer vonn Urburg. Alls er mit annderen meer kremeren verschinner mittwuchenn zu nacht um acht alld zwüschendt nün unnd achten uß dem wirtzhuß keerdt unnd unnder das hällmhuß zu irenn stännden alld bädenn mit liecht ganngen hete er inn dem sch{uo}macher winngkell ein gemeine gesächen hinnder deren were herr Hanns Gölldi sitzen gewäßenn denn sy also staannd mit irer büppen tegkenn unnd das liecht ablöschenn wellenn das er aber gesächenn das er etwas tadtlichs alld lybliche werch mit iren volbracht könne er nit sagenn alleinn aber habe er zu ime gesagt das zime synnem stannd gar nit hiemit er inn zornn gëgenn ime erwachßen allso das er mit tadtlicher hannd gëgen ime gefharenn er sige aber mit ime zufridenn unnd überkhomenn

Moritz Gydonnis ouch ein kremer von Lucernn er habe nüdt annders gesëchenn dann das ein gemeinne dirnn herr Hannß Gölldi mit irer Büppen degkenn wellenn

Wilhälm Schomal ouch ein kremer uß dem Augstall er habe gesëchenn das herr Hanns Gölldi hinnder der mätzenn gewäßenn aber mit irenn nützit ußgericht allein hab sy inne wellenn vertegkenn unnd das liecht ablöschenn

unnd letstlich bezüget Gabriel Laba auch ein kremer unnd uß dem Augstal glych wie oberzellterr Schomal unnd Gydonniß

nach wellicher Jetzverschribnner personnen sagen wir (vom wëgen unnsërs thragennden ampts unnd habennden befelchs) genannten herr Hannsen Gölldi für unns citierenn unnd beschrybenn lassen. (der dann ganntz gehormsamlich komen unnd erschinnen) da wir ime mit allem ernnst dißers (wie jetzgehördt) fürhallten lassenn der daruff diserenn bescheid allso gëb:en er habe etlicher sachenn halber alhei by sonnderbarenn personnen z{uo}th{uo}n gehept unnd nnachgänntz einnen thrunngk mit einannderen gethan unnd (leider) zimlich thrunngken ouch nachts unnd sonnders vonn einem synner g{uo}ten gönneren das er by ime über nacht belybe gepëtenn wordenn das er ime abgeschlagen unnd willenns gewäßenn zu synnen töchterenn so alhie wohnnende z{uo}kherenn hiemit über die ober bruggen ganngnenn unnder das hällmhuß komenn unnd etliche kremer glychfhalls ouch da were ein gmeine dirnn gewäßenn unnd er vonn etlichen kremerenn mit worthenn zimlich Ruch sam er etwas bößes inn synnem fürnëmen habe angefharenn ouch angeredt allso das es ime unlydennlich gewäßenn hiemit die gemein dirnn für inne gestannden (unnd villicht vermeinndt vor etwas unnfhalls zu synn) sonnst hab er annders fürnëmens nit sonnders allein heim zu kherenn im sinn gehept bezüge es ouch so hoch unnd thür by synner sälligkeit unnd ehren das er mit vermällter dirnnen nützit weder vennig nach vill z{uo}schaffenn alld inn dem sinn ußz{uo}richtenn gehept pitte deßhalbenn Gott denn allmächtigenn unnd unns ganntz unnderthennig unnd zum aller höchstenn wir welltinnd doch ime söliches ganntz genedennklich verzychenn unnd nit zu dem höchstenn rächnenn unnd achtenn dann er glych (wie {zuo}vor) nachmalen bezüge das er mit gesagter gemeinen dirnnen ganntz nützit ußgericht nnach {zuo}schaffenn gehept werde es ouch kein eerlicher mann vonn Ime nit sagenn alld redenn können er wann nun wir disers alles (wie harinnen vergriffenn) gehördt unnd verstannden habennd wir unns diser sachenn halber wyter nit annëmen alld beladenn können sonnders habennd alle unnd ganntze hanndlunng geschrifftlichenn versfassenn

unnd sölliche E. E. Wten. übergëben unnd z{uo}gestellt was nun diesëlbig harinnen hanndlot unnd fürnimpt wellennd wir Unns gantz unnderthennigklich gefallenn lassenn acten iii 

zynnstags denn 19 ten herpstmonnat Ao 1587

E. E. Wten

unnderthennige burger unnd dienner an dem Eegricht

The Pastor and the Prostitute: Part I

1587, Zurich.

By Adrina Schulz, 30/04/2020

Protagonists: Pastor Johannes Göldi, an anonymous prostitute, foreign peddlers Moritz Benneradt, Moritz Gydonnis, Wilhälm Schomal, and Gabriel Laba

Citation: Staatsarchiv des Kantons Zürich (STaZH) A 9.2, Nr. 3.

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.