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social sciences

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Supervision of sexual matters remained a concern for the monarchs who succeeded Philip II. In accord with the recommendations of a report prepared for Philip IV (reigned 1622-65) by the Secretary of State Count Duke of Olivares (1587-1645), no locks were allowed on bedroom doors in the Royal Palace, so that inspectors could make sure that no homosexual acts were being committed by any of the hundreds of servants and bureaucrats living there. Local government officials and priests encouraged ordinary residents of Madrid to be equally vigilant in their homes. Thus, it is perhaps not surprising that many men were turned over to the police by parents, wives, and other relatives who had found evidence of their homosexual acts.

Further investigation is needed into the records of cases concerning sodomy in Madrid courts. However, on the basis of preliminary investigations, it is clear that several hundreds of men were convicted of sodomy in Madrid from the sixteenth through the early nineteenth centuries.

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Despite the directives of monarchs, judges were reluctant to impose the ultimate penalty for homosexual acts. The most common punishments were forced labor on galleys and imprisonment (often for the remainder of one's life). Those convicted of a first time offense sometimes were "let off" with a whipping. A variety of factors--including the number and character of the homosexual acts (anal intercourse being considered the most heinous), the degree of remorse expressed by the accused, social class, and ethnicity--seem to have influenced sentencing.

The various records relating to the prosecution of sodomy contain most of the concrete documentation available about the lives of men who engaged in sex with other men in early modern Madrid. Of course, this material provides at best an incomplete picture of the lives of these men. For one thing, court records have no information about individuals who were not arrested. Moreover, even testimony of the accused inevitably reflects the biases of the court.

Considering that it was widely known that sodomy would be punished harshly, one has to regard the prevalence of this "crime" in Madrid as remarkable. From the records of sodomy trials, it is apparent that homosexual activities in Madrid encompassed men of all social classes (from wealthy aristocrats to indentured servants and everyone in between), ages, nationalities, and races.

Approximately seventy percent of the accused had been caught while engaging in homosexual activities in secluded sections of parks or in public washrooms; most of the remainder had been accused by individuals who shared their living quarters. In reading court testimony, one gets the impression that a great deal of male-male sexual bonding must have been going on in parts of the Paseo del Prado and certain other public areas. From the legal records, it appears that men engaging in sex with other men sometimes formed tightly knit groups that transgressed conventional barriers of class and race.

Legal authorities conceptualized male-male sexual activity in terms of male-female relations. Thus, records concerning two men arrested together tended to characterize one (generally the older individual) as masculine and aggressive and the other as effeminate and passive. Nevertheless, at least twenty percent of the cases involved individuals born in approximately the same year. Younger partners frequently were costumed in women's clothing and makeup for their trials.

Many scholars have accepted the categories used by the courts as an accurate indication of how the accused men described themselves. However, men who boldly transgressed sexual conventions may have conceptualized themselves in ways that did not accord with standard legal thinking. In evaluating statements by the accused, we also have to keep in mind that they had a compelling incentive to describe their exploits in heterosexual terms. Virtually all of the individuals who escaped conviction had managed to convince the courts that they had suffered temporarily from "gender confusion" because they had been deluded by fantasies of being engaged in male-female intercourse.

Women Together in Early Modern Madrid

Writings by and about the novelist María de Zayas y Sotomayor (1590-1660) and the playwright and essayist Ana de Caro (active 1628-45) indicate that they established a loving home together in Madrid during the early seventeenth century. Although they have been overlooked by subsequent generations, both were highly regarded during their lifetimes. As a professional writer who supported herself through her publications, Zayas in particular gained the respect of her contemporaries.

Published commentaries by Alonso de Castillo Solórzano (1584-1648) and other writers of the era, as well as diaries and letters by various acquaintances, indicate that Zayas and Caro shared a house in Madrid. Furthermore, both Zayas and Caro included in their writings many references to the strength that they gathered from their shared love. As Maroto Camino has demonstrated, the relevant passages imply that their affection was expressed physically, as well as spiritually.

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