Lesbians and the Inquisition

              The Christian Church in Spain had long been interested in the history of homosexual acts, dating back to a Church Council held from 305 to 306 in Elvira, modern day Granada, though the focus was almost exclusively on men. Among other issues, the council discussed the issue of sodomy. It was one of the first Church Councils to explicitly deal with regulating sexual behavior and showed a split in views with the Church in Europe’s east. While male homosexuality was condemned, women’s homosexuality was not mentioned at all. Instead, the focus for women’s sexuality was on acts of adultery and prostitution, with punishment for women as harsh as those against men committing sodomy. This focus by religious and later civil authorities on sodomy as being almost exclusively relevant to male sexual activity would continue for several hundred more years.[1]

              Civil authorities were also interested in sodomy. In 589, the Visigoth Kingdom’s leaders converted from Arianism to Catholicism, a switch the local population had already made resulting in the populace viewing Visigoth rulers as heretics. The change in state sanctioned religion resulted in a number of changes in laws. This included laws that resulted in the persecution of homosexuals and other groups, including Jews. Primarily though, these laws applying to homosexuality addressed male homosexuality, not female homosexuality, and included civil penalties like castration for those found guilty of committing sodomy while whipping and exile were used as punishments for those found guilty of violating ecclesiastical regulations related to sodomy. [2]

              By the time Liber Iudiciorum, the Visigoth Code promulgated by king Chindasuinth in 654, punishment for sodomy appeared to have become a concern for civil authorities and a concern that was exclusively related to men, where the idea of women having their own independent sexuality was not even contemplated as a possibility. These laws also modified earlier ones and no longer included religious references or Sodom as reason for the practice being outlawed, instead just describing the behavior as moral depravity. Later revisions to this law also supported castration on the part of civil authorities of all men found guilty of the practice, regardless of their class, and then handing them over to religious authorities for penance. Versions of these laws would later make their way into Spanish law in a Castillianized version called the Fuero Juzgo. New laws were passed in 693 by Egica at a Church Council in Toledo. These laws were the most virulently anti-homosexual in the whole of Christendom at the time, but they appeared to exclusively target men. The only sexual activity by women contemplated at this point by civil authorities worth punishing women over was prostitution; despite the fact that men could engage in prostitution, the law did not contemplate them in regard to that crime.[3]

              This early history of both religious and civil authorities helped to set the stage for some of the persecution of sodomy, both male and female, that went on to occur during the Inquisition as it helped to frame religious and civil approaches to prosecution of the practice.

              The unification of the Crowns of Castilla and Aragon through the marriage of Isabel and Fernando in 1469 and the formal start of the Inquisition eight years later, on 1 November 1478, saw the civil and religious legal systems largely become combined under the authority of the crown, with some specific jurisdictional quirks because of existing legal and governance structures in place in their respective kingdoms, especially as it related to sodomy. The two separate kingdoms of each monarch continued to function differently for some time. From 18 October 1509, male and female sodomy were both treated by the Crown of Castile as matters of secular justice, in an agreement reached with the Church. This contrasted with the Crown of Aragon where they were treated as matters belonging to the Inquisition. At the time, the Crown of Castile encompassed the Kingdom of Galicia, the Principality of Asturias, the Kingdom of León, the Kingdom of Castile, the Lordship of Biscay, the Kingdom of Toledo, the Kingdom of Sevilla, the Kingdom of Cordoba, the Kingdom of Jaen and the Kingdom of Murcia.[4]

              There were sometimes issues as to who had jurisdiction over what types of crimes in Spain during the Inquisition, with some being subjected to ecclesiastical courts and others by civil authorities. As it relates to lesbianism, Pope Clement VII granted secular jurisdiction over the issue of sodomy, including female sodomy, to the Crown of Aragon in 1524, but still expressly allowed Inquisitors to try cases of sodomy regardless of it being heretical in character or not. This papal bull expressly allowed Inquisitors to apply the death penalty for sodomy. Sodomy was already a civil offense in the area of the Crown of Castile at the time. This was later extended to other kingdoms and parts of in Spain. Despite Papal views, secular punishment for female sodomy tended to be harsher than ecclesiastical punishment. This was so widely known that those tried for the crime would sometimes try to get a change of jurisdiction to ecclesiastical courts to avoid the death penalty and ecclesiastical courts in Crown of Aragon regularly annulled the death penalty for sodomy applied by secular authorities.[5]

               One of the major changes in law from the Visigoth period was sodomy referred to both men and women, a status quo that would remain in place largely until the twentieth century. How much interest women, and lesbians more specifically, were to the Inquisition is a point that continues to be discussed as there is an overall absence of information about women’s sexuality and sexual activity in relation to the Inquisition. This could be because women were of less general interest to the authorities, because there were other processes that allowed men, like husbands or fathers, with authority over women to handle female sexual transgressions, because women were viewed as passive and of secondary importance in Spanish society or because women and lesbians specifically were not writing their own history in this period. Another change was the sodomy could mean a number of things including having sex with animals; the definition not just around homosexual intercourse. The punishment for sodomy also changed from the earlier period, with those found guilty now judicially and religiously being punished by being burned alive and having their property confiscated. While bestiality and homosexuality were often grouped together as similar sex type crimes, the punishment against bestiality often was much, much harsher even though the people found guilty of it were often described as being of lower intelligence. [6]

              Spanish legislators were highly knowledgeable about illicit same-sex female desire compared to their peers in other Renaissance European countries. This knowledge of female sexuality also extended to Spain’s inquisitors and was published in materials to assist them in bringing charges. Confessors’ manuals listed female homosexuality, male homosexuality and bestiality alongside each other as mortal dangers. They sometimes contained detailed information on these practices. Inquisitors often would less severely punish lesbians and women suspected of sodomy compared to their male counterparts because women were not viewed as being able to independently pro-create, making their mutual female only sex acts less problematic. Female-female sex acts also benefited from a lack of scrutiny at times because they did not challenge Spain’s heteronormative society. This had a flow on effect of making women’s sexuality less visible and secondary in importance to male sexuality. Some jurists and moralists though were not willing to look the other way regarding female sodomy, with some sixteenth century jurists advocating women found guilty of this practice be burned alive. Antonio Gómez is notable because, unlike his contemporaries, he opposed this practice.[7] The Spanish monarch’s Real Pragmática de 1497 made it easier to bring Inquisition cases against sodomites, even if they had not consummated the act, and lesbians because among the barriers lowered was the lack of number of witnesses needed to initiate a prosecution. By 1530, the Superior Council of the Inquisition required only one witness, and that witness could be a minor or even an accomplice in the crime.[8]

              The turn of the century, from the fifteenth to the sixteenth, saw women’s independence quickly became much more limited. Women in Spain became subject to parental and marital authority, that defined a sexual division among roles in society with male authority figures sitting at the time. This power structure largely meant that women were viewed as weak, vulnerable and needing of male control to protect them from other men. The monarchy supported this through a modification of Roman legal principles and through the works of theologians like Saint Thomas Aquinas. This set up made it particularly difficult for lesbians as any rejection of male control was viewed as a form of rebellion, and women who did so could be punished inside their homes without the need to seek justice from the state. The focus for many women prior to this was day-to-day living, of surviving, of getting food for the next meal. Christianity, mixing with other religions, had become laxer and more tolerant of some sexual practices, including both male and female promiscuity, and children being born outside of marriage..[9]

              The Council of Trent in 1564 ushered in another era of civil and moral change for women in Christian Spain, where the moral principles introduced would later become a common issue of heresy during the Inquisition that was coming. The Council was focused on trying to address heresies, which had begun to develop as a result of the start of the Protestant Reformation. The decrees of the Council of Trent were ratified in Spain by Felipe II in 1566 where they did not infringe the royal prerogative.[10]

              As Hapsburg period progressed and the Inquisition gained more of a foothold, female sodomy began to be treated less seriously under the law and male sodomy was treated more severely as a result of the fact that female sodomy tended to avoid penetration and there was no semen involved. Lesbians, while rarely prosecuted compared to men, did not escape total state sanction and disapproval as they were sometimes brought up on other religious and civil charges, classed alongside witches, heretics and prostitution. Some of this was because, despite the legal realities, sex-based roles still made female homosexuality hard to comprehend and was akin to Spanish courts trying to deal with male prostitution, which was legislated against based on a female criminal legal perspective.[11]

              During confessionals in Spain and its American colonies in the Hapsburg period, priests would often ask women if they had sinned with other women and for details of their sexual acts if they had. This was in addition to asking women if they had sinned by engaging in sex with men. As the Inquisition progressed, such leading questioning was clamped down because it could lead to additional sins and the encouragement of immoral behavior.[12]

              Female masturbation, sometimes associated with female sodomy, was less of an issue and could be left off with a reprimand instead. It was penetrative acts between women which were the major issue, and all the acts around it were often recorded in Inquisition records. It was in those fine details that the punishment would be determined. Things like if money was given or received, if participants were passive during the act, if there was friendship, touching and kissing involved could all dictate the type of sentence. [13]

              The Royal Chancellery of Valladolid dealt with an appeal of a sentence by the secular courts of a woman accused of female sodomy by the mayor of San Sebastián in 1503. Her name was Catalina de Belunce and she was sexually linked to Mache de Oyarzun after allegedly having been found laying on top of her while kissing, touching and mounting them while naked. Catalina had been waterboarded to force her to confess. The Royal Chancellery acquitted her for lack of evidence and said she should be returned to San Sebastián. Her case was one of the first involving lesbians by the Inquisition following the publishing of Real Pragmática de 1497, which made it much easier for the Inquisition to justify prosecution of lesbians. Most of the previous cases had been dealt with by municipal governments on a very local level.[14]

During the early part of the Inquisition in the area of Navarra and La Rioja, a priest in Logroño told female penitents that it was okay to kiss and indecently handle other women; he said was not a sin so long as penetration did not occur. The priest was brought before the Inquisition and given some months to revoke his statements, which he did repeatedly. Despite that, he was ultimately treated as a heretic, sentenced to five years of galleys, followed by ten years of exile. It also included a perpetual deprivation of confessing.[15]

              The legal situation around female sodomy became much complex in the first few years of the century. Leyes de Toro de 1505 expanded upon the concept of crime against nature, and addressed female homosexuality saying that women engaging in such activity should be punished with death, being burned at the stake when they used an instrument that simulated the penis to engage in penetrative sex. This was justified by the fact that some nuns had been burned at the stake already, setting precedent for this type of punishment. When a phallic device was not used, women could be subjected to a lesser punishment with precedent cited involving two women found guilty in Granada who were whipped and then imprisoned. Another case cited by Antonio Gómez saw two women who used a phallus while pleasuring each other burned to death. Despite this a few years later, in 1509, the Consejo de la Suprema ordered in 1509 that no action was to be taken against homosexual activity unless there was heresy involved.[16]

              Compared to other Inquisitions taking place at the same time in Europe in places like Italy, Scotland and France, the Inquisition in Spain was very concerned with sexual practices like sodomy and bestiality, which were only handled by the Inquisition tribunals in the Crown of Aragon with 379 cases in Valencia, 453 in Barcelona and 791 cases in Zaragoza between 1540 and 1700. In most of these cases, the punishment tended to be flogging and banishment for two to three years, a punishment that mirrored the secular courts in the Kingdom of Castile. The only group of convicted sodomites who were regularly executed for the crime of sodomy were Moriscos.[17]

              Sodomites, both male and female, were rarely burned at the stake; this punishment tended to be reserved for people over the age of twenty-five. The Consejo de la Suprema sometimes commuted death sentences for sodomites in the 1500s and 1600s. Those arrested for male sodomy tended to disproportionally be young, with the punishment for them being whipped and sent to the galleys. Clergy were another group who tended to be arrested for sodomy, and they were often given more mild sentences than other parts of the population found guilty of the same offense.[18]

              Around 1550, a pair of lesbians were found guilty of carnal knowledge of other women and were consequently by being burned at the stake. [19]

In the edition of Las siete partidas with annotations by Gregorio López in 1555, he said that women could be charged with sodomy, “The same crime [sodomy] can be committed by women …. The women who commit said crime should be thrown into the fire, according to the royal decree of the Catholic kings.”[20][21][22] He also argued that women who used a dildo should be given death sentences. Elsewhere, López makes clear that female sodomy was less offensive in Spanish law and society than male sodomy. pecado nefando was the legal term of choice in these documents. Ostensibly referring only to anal sex, it was often used as legal shorthand for any form of male or female homosexuality. [23]

Santa Teresa de Ávila was a frequent target of the Spanish Inquisition during this time because of her family background including conversos and her suspected lesbianism. These attacks started around 1559 when Santa Teresa had her small library of books in the monastery taken by Inquisitors; her library contained the works of Fray Luis de Granada, San Juan de Avila and San Francisco de Borja. This was the first major attack on the future saint by Inquisitors.[24]

In Sevilla, three resentful nuns complained about Santa Teresa’s behavior, accusing her of engaging in orgies with the prioress in Sevilla and with a 30-year-old priest named Gracián. Had she been found guilty, she could have been burned at the stake. Instead, she was acquitted. She had appeared before them earlier in 1575 after being denounced by a woman expelled from the convent there. Her dialog with the Inquisitors convinced them of her innocence and she was also acquitted.[25]

Santa Teresa’s writings were also subjected to censorship by Inquisitors, including her book on love which had phrases like, “The important thing is to love yourself, even if it is with an imperfect love.” and “Love, if it really is love, it is impossible to hide.” This left both her and the nuns in convents she founded open to accusations of lesbianism.[26]

     Perhaps because of the scrutiny by the Inquisition but also in with the culture of the time, the convents founded by Santa Teresa had rules that forbade the possibility of any type of lesbian relationship between women. Teresa issued a set of directives on this topic in 1567 that said, “No Sister embraces another, or touches her face or hands, or has friendships in particular, but all love each other in general, as Jesus commands. Christ to his Apostles: since they are so few, it will be easy to do; try to look to her Husband, who gave his life for us. This loving each other in general is of great importance.”

The Inquisition Tribunal in Zaragoza was busy debating in May 1560 if women who rubbed each other’s genitals without the use of an instrument, like a dildo, should be prosecuted according to the 1524 papal brief by Clement VII, a brief that gave the Inquisition Court in Aragon permission to prosecute sodomy cases in its territory. Because of the nature of female sodomy, the Tribunal needed other words with which to apply to women having sex with women, opting for phrases like casi sodomía[27], sodomía imperfecta[28] or molicies instead. While most of the debate took place in Castilian, texts describing female on female genital contact switched to Latin.[29]

The issue arose because in 1560 in Zaragoza, the Inquisition condemned several women for engaging in sex with other women. To settle the matter of whether or not using a dildo was required, the Zaragoza based Inquisition consulted the Consejo de la Suprema in Madrid who told them not to prosecute those women. They were let off as the Consejo de la Suprema ruled that since no phallic device was used in their sexual activity, it did not constitute sodomy, a concept supported by secular juries at the time[30]

              The Nueva Recopilación de Leyes de Castilla de 1567 was published and officially sanctioned King Felipe II. This set of laws applied to all courts of justice in Spain, and was the result of a project by the Cortes de Madrid started in 1534 to put all the current provisions in Spanish law into a single volume and purge the law of defects observed by Ordenamiento de Montalvo. It mentioned crime against nature, delito nefando, which was a legal euphemism for sodomy and same-sex activity, saying, “We order that any person of any status, status, preeminence or dignity, who commits the nefarious crime against nature, being convinced by that form of proof that according to Law is enough to commit the crime of heresy or crime laesae Majestatis, that they be burned in flames of fire in the place, and by the Justice to whom the knowledge and punishment of such crime belongs […] and without any other declaration, all his assets, both movable and real estate; which since now we have confiscated and we consider confiscated and applied to our Chamber and treasury […].”[31] This was interpreted by jurists like Gregorio López as meaning that lesbians should not be punished with burning at the stake, since a more benign interpretation should prevail. Instead, López argued the code advocated for a punishment less than the death penalty for lesbians as there was no basis in human or divine law for such a punishment as sexual activity between women was not on the same level as virile sodomy, mostly because there was no penetration and semen being spilled.

              The Inquisition in Aragon was one of the kingdoms in Spain where both male and female homosexuals could be condemned to death for their activities. Sodomy cases could be brought against both homosexuals and heterosexuals engaging in anal sex, women engaging in any form of sex involving non-penial object penetration, and also included zoophilia. Male homosexuals were generally targeted for prosecution more than women, and of those, people under 25 years of age were more likely to be flogged and then sent to prison instead of being given a death sentence. Capital sentences were also frequently commuted for male clergy members and male nobles. The Aragon Inquisition also frequently targeted male clergy, foreigners, especially French and Italians, and young people. [32]

The issue of phallus usage between women did come up in the Inquisition, with a pair of women in Granada being found guilty committing a pecado nefando contra natura, a heinous sin against nature. The fact that they did not use a dildo meant their sentence was whipping and prison instead of a death sentence.[33]

              Tribunals by the Inquisition in Aragon tended to treat sodomy charges the most severely in Spain, with the tribunal in Zaragoza charging over 100 men between 1571 and 1579 for homosexuality or bestiality related charges, with thirty-six of those cases resulting in the man found guilty being executed. Between 1570 and 1630, the tribunal in Zaragoza handed 543 sodomy cases which resulted in 102 men being executed. In contrast, the Inquisition tribunals in Barcelona and Valencia were less rigorous in seeking to prosecute and punish alleged sodomites. [34] These numbers would eventually drop to a fraction of those in the final days of the Inquisition in Aragon, with around one hundred sodomy cases being presented to the tribunal between 1780 and 1820, and almost none resulting in death.[35]

              The 1575 Examen de ingenios para las ciencias by physician Juan Huarte de San Juan provided an examination of causes for female same-sex sexual behavior using physiology, psychological and sexuality-based approaches. Huarte’s text suggest a relationship between same-sex desire and physical appearance, suggesting that more masculine women and more feminine men were destined to be born the other sex, but, “Many times Nature has made a female, and having been in the mother’s womb for one or two months, for some reason her genitals are overcome with heat and they come out and a male is created. To whom this transmutation occurs in the mother’s womb, it is clearly recognizable later by certain movements he has that are indecent for men: woman-like, effeminate, soft and mild of voice; and such men are inclined to behave like a woman, and they frequently fall prey to the sin of sodomy. On the other hand, often Nature has made a male with his genitals on the outside, and with an onset of coldness, they are transformed to the inside and a female is created. She is recognized after birth as having a masculine nature, in her speech as well as in all her movements and behavior.” [36]

              Surgeon, healer and fighter Elena de Céspedes married María del Caño in Yepes following a genital examination by King Felipe II’s surgeon Francisco Diaz; the doctor certified Céspedes was able to father children. Francisco Diaz believed that a large clitoris and labia minor were equivalent to a penis and testicles; this belief in how genitals worked was reinforced by his belief this happened when women had sexual interest in other women. Her marriage to del Caño was likely the first lesbian in Spain, though it was obtained via deception around her sex and eventually annulled. A year into the marriage, a former companion in arms denounced her to the inquisition, and Céspedes and del Caño were then arrested and tried in Ocaña. Inquisitors would eventually write over three hundred pages during her prosecution. Céspedes was charged with female sodomy, and eventually found guilty of bigamy and collusion with the devil. Céspedes would be tried twice, one with del Caño and once on her own receiving a punishment of two hundred public lashes and ten years in prison. During the 1587 trial, Céspedes changed her claims from being a man to being a hermaphrodite whose penis fell off because of a lot of horse rising. The doctors appointed to examine her by the Santo Oficio found she had a vaginal opening, menstrual blood and no scaring that would indicate a penis or testicles had ever been part of her body. The midwives who testified said de Céspedes only had female genitalia and that she was still a virgin, “She stuck the candle up her female sex, and it entered a bit, with difficulty, and this witness was suspicious, so she also introduced her finger, and it entered with difficulty, and the witness, therefore, does not think that a man has ever been with her”. Because of this finding in the preliminary hearing, the charges were changed to bigamy and the trial was moved to the Inquisition court in Toledo. Prison officials eventually had to remove her from prison because her story proved inspirational and courageous to other homosexuals found guilty by the Inquisition. Céspedes later died sometime after 1588.[37]

              Céspedes’s high profile case meant the Inquisition wanted to make an example out of her, which was part of the reason she had to appear before and auto-da-fé in Toledo wearing a mitre and sambenito[38], with the sambenito having an insignia on it showing that her crime was bigamy.[39]

In the late 1500s, there are records from the royal prison in Cristóbal de Cháves, Seville that said that two women were found guilty of sodomy. One was executed by hanging, and the other was whipped. A similar prison in the period between 1578 and 1616 in Seville saw all fifty men, representing a broad swath of Spanish male society, found guilty of sodomy being executed. Evidence from the period also suggested the existence of a homosexual male subculture present in southern Spain. Women were charged less frequently and were more likely to escape death sentences by civil authorities, and there is consequently much less evidence of an existing lesbian subculture in that area among the general female populace. [40]

              The risk to lesbians posted by Inquisition increased in 1592 as a result of a change in law by Felipe II that increased incentives for inquisitors by allowing them to confiscate the wealth of those found guilty and by only requiring witnesses to violations of religious law to be able to be found guilty. [41]

              Theologian Manuel Rodríguez in 1596 warned against the use of objects made of wood, glass and leather that emulated the penis and were designed to be used in sexual intercourse. The fear by Rodríguez and other theologians and jurists was that these could be used women in sexual activity, removing men from those acts and challenge the androcentric conception of sex by allowing women to define their own sexual desires.[42]

              Female sodomy was a feature of women’s prisons in Spain by the late 1500s, when women would use items like modern day strap-on dildos to have intercourse with other women. Motivations were as complicated then as they are now, with some women engaging in such sexual practices because of same-sex desire and others because they missed the sexual companionship of men.[43]

              In the 1600s, most of the language used to describe female homoerotic behavior was described in heterosexual terms and from the male point of view. Writing in language of this kind was very typical in Inquisition documents related to alleged female sodomites. [44]

              An example of such wording comes from Miguel Ochoa, the mayor of San Sebastián. Appearing as a witness before the Inquisition, he described what he saw between Catalina de Belunza and Mariche de Oyarzun saying, “They used one as a woman, lying on a bed naked and frolicking and kissing and fucking one to the other, climbing on top of their naked bellies, passing and facing one another with one positioned to know the other carnally.”[45]

Inés de Santa Cruz and Catalina Ledesma were lesbians living in Valladolid at the beginning of the 1600s. Popularly, they are known in Spanish history as “Las Cañitas”. The pair came from very different social classes, with Inés upper class and having connections to the Chancillería de Valladolid. She also served as prioress at a convent, though did not appear to be a nun herself. A native of Valladolid, at the time she faced charges before the Inquisition, she was probably 30 to 35 years old. In contrast, Catalina, who was roughly the same age, was born in Ciudad Rodrigo, came from a working-class background and lived with her husband and parents for about nine months in León. After those nine months, she moved to Salamanca with her parents while her husband moved to his native Oviedo. Catalina was illiterate and worked as a servant. [46]

The couple met at Iglesia de Santa María La Antigua, where Inés was living. To hide their relationship, Inés claimed to be Catalina’s aunt. A civil case was registered in June 1603 in Salamanca against the couple, at a time when Inés had been living in the house of Catalina as a domestic partner. The civil case saw the pair arrested and accused of female sodomy and prostitution. Part of the document containing the allegations said, “they treated each other with a reed device in the shape of a man’s nature.” Court papers went into detail with the accusations, saying of Inés, “With her hands, nature opened her to said Catalina until she spilled the seeds of her body into the nature of the other, which is why they called them Las Cañitas and this is public and notorious among those who know them.” The civil case rested largely on the testimony of neighbors who claimed to have heard sounds like sex and floorboards creaking like from a night of passion through a shared wall. It was the second time the couple had been before the civil courts of the Inquisition. They had faced similar accusations in Valladolid in 1601. Following the trial, the couple returned to Valladolid and were before the Inquisition there again in 1606. The court document about these three cases is 142 pages and is one of the largest documents about lesbianism in this period in Europe. As a result of these trials, Catalina and Inés were flogged and sentences to exile. Years later, in 1625, the women received a royal pardon. It did not happen soon enough as the couple were forced apart following the third trial. The courts again said Catalina should return to her husband, but it is unclear if she did so. The available documents say she was living in her hometown in 1611. Inés, who had been protected some by family in 1606 trial, fled the city with the assistance of a cousin who worked for the Inquisition and another cousin who was a Franciscan following her sentencing. She first went to Barcelona, and then went to Madrid. In 1609, the Inquisition discovered her in Madrid, and returned her to Valladolid for trial. She was given 400 lashes, six years in prison and banished from Castile forever. By 1625, she was living in Miranda da Douro in Portugal.[47]

Angela Jerónima is a woman who was involved in the relationship between Inés de Santa Cruz and Catalina Ledesma. She lived in the convent in Valladolid, and started a relationship with Inés, with Inés having the intention to use the relationship to make Catalina jealous. She said of her relationship with Inés, why she wanted to deal with men, that she could not see them because women became pregnant having access to them and that having a woman with another they enjoyed themselves.” Angela found herself before the Inquisition as a result of the relationship, and was imprisoned in the Cárcel Real de Valladolid in 1609. She had testified against both women in 1606. [48]

              Despite cases involving de Santa Cruz and Ledesma and a few others in the 1600s, prosecutions for both male and female sodomy had largely disappeared by the end of the sixteenth century, even as elsewhere in Europe in countries like the Netherlands, France, Prussia and England, renewed prosecutions against both took place as a result of a growing middle class demanding societal reforms.[49]

              Juan Calvo in 1626, and Diego Antonio de Robledo and Juan Estiche in 1651 began putting forth the idea that women were capable of producing their own semen, were capable of ejaculating and were thus able to commit sodomy with each other. While their ideas were not universally adopted, they were taken up by others such as Enrique Villalobos in 1668, Tomás Sánchez and theologian Martín de Torrecilla in 1696. These writers were bothered by the idea of women distributing seminal fluid between themselves, and because it potentially encouraged women to engage in non-procreative sex.

              Gabriel de Maqueda argued in 1622’s Invectiva en forma de discurso, contra el uso de las casas publicas de las mugeres rameras that female homosexuality and prostitution were linked together. The author believed that lesbians working as prostitutes converted male patrons into male homosexuals.

              Starting around 1650, the practice of public executions by the Inquisition in Spain largely stopped. European tastes in general, and in Spain in particular, no longer looked at such events as worthy of being a public spectacle and celebration. Consequently, legal punishments for homosexuals condemned by the Inquisition largely changed to be that of auto-da-fé, a ritual involving the performing of public penance, followed by punishments decided by civil authorities that could include fines, torture, flogging, forced labor, imprisonment or exile and less likely to include execution or being burned at the stake. This system of punishment, like the one preceding it, overwhelming focused on male sodomites instead of female sodomites and lesbians.[50]

28-year-old widow Ana Aller and 22-year-old laundress Mariana López were prosecuted by the Inquisition in Aragón in 1656 for committing female sodomy with each other. They had been reported to the Inquisition by their neighbors who claimed to have witnessed them hugging and kissing, with one saying that Ana “would put her hands under Mariana´s skirts and touch her genitals. The two of them would make each other jealous and then swear their loyalty to each other by God and make other promises. If one didn’t eat, then the other wouldn’t either, and they would follow each other around.” The witnesses also suggested that Ana had had sex with another woman from Zaragoza. Additional witness statements that suggested Mariana paid Ana to have sex with her.[51]

The special order allowing the Inquisition in Aragon to prosecute sodomy did not apply to the Inquisition in Majorca, with the commissioner in Ibiza trying to get Inquisitor Francisco Gregorio to try Jamie Gallestria for it in 1644, but to no avail as Gregorio said he had no jurisdiction in the case of sodomy. [52]

              By the late 1600s, Spanish doctors like Fabricio Aqua Pendente recommended ablation of the clitoris and labia to prevent female sodomy or male like sex behavior because large clitorises and labia effectively made women into men based on their sexual behavior, especially if coupled with those women dressing in masculine attire. This ability for women to turn into men effectively created a loophole allowing same-sex marriage such as occurred in the Elana de Céspedes case, where a priest determined she was a man and allowed her to marry. Other church authorities disagreed, and Elana de Céspedes eventually found herself before the Inquisition. Ablation of these organs would prevent such events from occurring. This loophole of sorts was small, narrow and relatively short lived. It did nothing to encourage lesbian behavior in Spain, and was likely not very well known at the time.

              A text about lesbians from the Inquisition in Llerena said, “The crime for a woman consisted: in the way of behaving like a man with a woman, and there being many women who want to be like men than what nature gave them, they have punished many who have become cocks in jail with a valdres made in the shape of a man’s nature, which they tied with their ribbons and they have taken two hundred lashes for this.”[53][54]

              Lesbians were targeted by the Inquisition in Extremadura for behaving like men by having sex with other women. Some of the women prosecuted by the Inquisition were found guilty because they had dildos. Punishments faced by women found guilty of female sodomy included auto-da-fe, a form of public penance, along with getting two hundred to four hundred lashes, or being forced into exile for a period of a few years to into perpetuity. Exile was the mildest form of punishment, and normally was just exile from her village but on occasion involved exile from the entire inquisitorial district. Exile often included herself, her immediate family and any descendants she may have had. [55]

              Priests denounced male and female sodomites from the pulpit, saying they would face the wrath of God. One Extremadura priest is quoted as saying in A.H.N. Inquisición. Legajo 559, “It is the sin of sodomy so heinous and execrable, that by it, our Lord, sends earthquakes, pestilences, famine and other great punishments in the provinces and parts where they commit.” The Church’s condemnation was intense, and they encouraged the faithful to inform on suspected gays and lesbians in order to protect everyone else from the wrath of God on earth.

              The Inquisition was its most aggressive in the whole of Spain in Llerena, where auto-de-fe became one of the primary features. Coupled with the expulsion of the Jews and Moors who moved through the area and faced the Inquisition on their way to exile, the locals were terrified by the process as it found witches, bigamists, sodomites, petitioner priests and other heretics. These victims sometimes disappeared by secret courts, burned alive at the stake, had their property confiscated, were tortured in front of family, and had their relatives punished as a result of their alleged crimes. The harshness of the Inquisitorial District was known throughout Spain.

Slave women were sometimes found guilty by the Inquisition in Extremadura of having sex with other women. Given the culture of the time, responsibility to their masters likely included not just housework but likely sex work, with many female slaves having two or three children where all of their baptismal records said the father was unknown. This process of siring children on female slaves allowed masters to have a new generation of slaves without having to pay for them. Further, if found guilty by the Inquisition, a master could easily dispose of the slave to avoid the dishonor of having a heretic in his household. When the female slave was banished, the master often accompanied her to the edge of town and then further flogged her and then put her up for sale so he could try to recover the cost of the slave. Her new master would often then use her the same way, for housework and for sexual activity.[56]

One such slave women found guilty of female sodomy was a woman named Francisa. The 30-year-old slave woman from Salvatierra de los Barros went before the Inquisition for having sex with two women. She had thought it was a minor, venial sin and not a huge deal as the priest she saw for confession only asked about sexual relations with men. She was given two hundred lashes in Salvatierra de los Barros as she committed the crime there, given another two hundred lashes in Llerena where the Inquisitorial District was based. Francisca faced further punishment of perpetual and her master could further punish her as he saw fit.[57]

              The Santo Tribunal de Llerena referred to same-sex sexual activities in their records as vicio nefando and sodomía. The court understood sodomy as the physical act of two people of the same sex having sexual intercourse, and included both women having sex with men and women having sex with women. There was often a struggle in this period as to who had competency to try sodomy related charges brought before the Inquisition, with both the civil and ecclesiastical courts claiming jurisdiction.

              The Inquisition in Extremadura would ultimately see 3,500 people killed by the state for their alleged crimes. Of these 3,500 victims, only around 20 were male or female homosexuals. Nine of those sodomites were killed between 1500 and 1700, the period where the Inquisition was at its most aggressive point. Families of those who died were often destroyed as a result, with the death heavily impacting their ability to exist normally in Extremadura society.

              The Spanish Enlightenment period from 1700 to 1810 saw some changes for women and lesbians in particular. The brunt of the Inquisition was behind them, but old challenges remained, and new opportunities presented themselves to Spanish lesbians. Sex segregation was common in society, with men and women often living completely separate lives from each other. Consequently, women in women only facilities often had an easier time of finding emotional and physical intimacy with other women. Women living together in this period were also much less suspect than men of being homosexuals.

              The 1739 edition of the the Diccionario de autoridades, which had a dictionary Catholic flavor in some of its definitions as they related to Catholic heresy, defined sodomía as, “Concúbito entre personas de un mismo sexo, ò en vaso indebido.” In this context, Concúbito can be either masculine or neuter, which the edition of people of the same sex clearly indicates the latter. The dictionary definition of sodomy included two women being able to lay with each other. This matched earlier Catholic practices from the Inquisition which allowed women to be charged with sodomy for having sex with other women. The definition remained unchanged in editions of the DRAE issues between 1780 and 1803. The 1787 diccionario Terreros y Pando, which rejected Freemasonry in its approach to definitions but maintains its Catholic orthodoxy in describing the world, varied greatly from the DRAE in defining sodomy, saying it was a, “Dishonest sin against nature, which took its name from the City of Sodom that ended for him with fire from Heaven”.

              María Vitoria was a tall, dark, attractive 30-year-old mulatto woman who lived in a plazuela in front of a school in Valencia. She had a maid from Mallorca named Catalina, with whom she undressed and was naked with and engaged in other lesbian behavior with. She went before the Inquisition and Tomás Vicente Tosca in 1709. Ultimately, Vitoria was set free on 18 February 1709, with only banishment from the city of Valencia as punishment.[58]

              The number of male sodomites killed by the Spanish inquisition, which formally got underway in 1478, would later exceed the number executed for being Protestants, only around 200, by the end of the seventeenth century with over 1,600 men charged with sodomy or bestiality, with around twenty percent being given the death penalty. The number of female sodomites killed by the inquisition was lower than Protestant totals.[59]

              Female sodomy, never a huge concern of the Inquisition, became even less of one in dying days of the Inquisition. Civil authorities, who had often tended to be one of the direct prosecutors of female sodomy, had other, more pressing concerns. Religious authorities were also distracted by anti-clerical sentiments inside the country and by internal divisions wrought by implications of having implemented the decrees of the Council of Trent. The three cases brought by the Inquisition against Francisca García, two in Valencia and one in Madrid, between 1725 and 1750 is among the last known persecution of a lesbian by the Inquisition, and her case, it was less about engaging in sexual activity with other women than it was about in the heresy of saying this behavior was morally acceptable. For lesbians, the always limited threat of the Inquisition just slowly disappeared.[60]

              While the Inquisition formally disappeared by 1835 across the whole of Spain, its impact would be briefly felt again almost 100 years later. The criminalization of same-sex sexual acts occurred in Spain, with the introduction of the 1928 Penal Code, Article 616, Paragraph X after having been absent since 1822. Applying to both men and women, it read, “Those who routinely or with scandal, commit acts contrary to modesty with persons of the same sex, will be punished with a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 pesetas and special disqualification for public office from six to twelve years.”[61] Lesbians were explicitly dealt with in Article 613 that said, “In cases of crimes of indecency without publicity or scandal among the females, the denunciation of one of them would have been enough, but if carried out with advertising or produced scandal, by any person. For cases committed by men we will proceed automatically.” Article 601 resulted in two to twelve years in prison for people engaging in dishonest abuses of people of the same sex. The punishments for these acts, not homosexuality as understood as a sexual orientation, largely meant that rich, affluent male and female homosexuals could avoid prison by paying a fine while poor homosexuals were forced to serve prison sentences. This practice of unequal treatment of lesbians and gay men based on societal status mirrored earlier patterns of tolerance towards homosexuality in Spain. The law would remain on the books for only four years, and came about as a result of Miguel Primo de Rivera’s disgust towards homosexuals in the Spanish military. In making the practice illegal in the Spain’s criminal code, Primo de Rivera sought justification in Spain’s Roman Catholic past, in the period right after Reconquista and during the Inquisition where homosexuals were punished by both civil and religious authorities. Some of these ideas, specifically around using Catholicism as a tool for the building of a nationalist identity and national morality, would be adopted by the Franco regime. Their implementation though as it related to female sexual activity would be, in its own way, completely different from the Inquisition as understanding of female sexuality and medical treatment had altered the perspective on how to approach what the regime saw as a problem. Nonetheless, the consequences of the Inquisition and its early roots lived on through the regime’s attitude and general treatment towards lesbians.

[1] (Fone, 2001)

[2] (Book III: Concerning Marriage, 2003; Fone, 2001)

[3] (Book III: Concerning Marriage, 2003; Fone, 2001; Velasco, 2011; Boletín Oficial del Estado, 2015; Grandon, 1994)

[4] (Soyer, 2012; Haggerty & Zimmerman, 2003; Zimmerman, 1999; Escudero López, La Inquisición española, 2007; Torquemada, Homosexualidad femenina y masculina en relación con el delito delito desortilegios, 2014)

[5] (Torquemada, Homosexualidad femenina y masculina en relación con el delito delito desortilegios, 2014)

[6] (Soyer, 2012; Haggerty & Zimmerman, 2003; Zimmerman, 1999; Pérez, 2005; Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, A Historical Revision, 1998)

[7] He is quoted as saying in Ley LXXX de Toro, “if any woman acts the part of a man with another woman . . . both are said to commit the crime of Sodom against nature and must be punished with the prescribed penalty”. (Crompton, The Myth of Lesbian Impunity Capital Laws from 1270 to 1791, 1980/81; Tomás y Valiente, 1990)

[8] (Velasco, 2011; Soyer, 2012; Bernabéu Albert, 2010; Torres & Perpetusa-Seva, 2003)

[9] (Velasco, 2011; Iziz Elarre & Iziz Elarre, 2021)

[10] (Meyer, 1962; Iziz Elarre & Iziz Elarre, 2021)

[11] (Soyer, 2012; Haggerty & Zimmerman, 2003; Zimmerman, 1999)

[12] (Velasco, 2011; Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, A Historical Revision, 1998)

[13] (Velasco, 2011)

[14] (Solórzano Telechea, 2015)

[15] (Lea, 1907)

[16] (Tomás y Valiente, 1990; Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, A Historical Revision, 1998)

[17] (Parker, 1982; Bowen, 2022)

[18] (Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, A Historical Revision, 1998)

[19] (Haggerty & Zimmerman, 2003; Zimmerman, 1999)

[20] The reference to the decree Catholic Monarchs was based on their 1497 statement.

[21] Full quote: The same with regard to women, if a female acts against nature with another, or the male with the female against nature […] women who sin in this way must be punished with the penalty of flames, according to the pragmatics of the Catholic Monarchs, which orders this crime against nature to be punished with said penalty, especially so that said pragmatics is not restricted to men, but is applied to any person of any condition who practices intercourse against the natural order; […] But when it is verified that women sin as has been expressed, […] since this intercourse of woman with woman is not punished by divine or human law […] although it is a serious sin, it is not so serious as the sodomitic vice of male with male, because the disturbance of the natural order is greater in the sodomite than in this one (of women) […] Second, because in the former (sodomitic vice), coitus is perfected, and the image of God is damaged: however […] it is pollution between women is impossible, because only their will is damaged, since they consent to the libidinous act and pursue it with vehement desire; but they can’t do it, and they know they can’t do it. In the third place, because the sodomy vice is more repugnant to the intentions of nature […] from which it must be interpreted that these criminal women should not be punished with death in the flames as for the sodomy vice, but with other lower arbitrary penalties to the death penalty, penalties that will be more severe when virginity is violated by means of some instrument […].

[22] Original Latin: Idem in mulieribus, si una foemina cum alia agat contra naturam, vel masculus cum foemina contra naturam…quod foeminae in hoc peccantes poena flammarum puniuntur, secundum pragmaticam Catholicorum Regum, jubentem hoc crimen contra naturam puniri tali poena, praesertim cum dicta pragmática non se restringat ad viros, sed disponat de persona cujuscumque conditionis contra ordinem naturalem coeunte; quod cum verificetur in foeminis sic peccantibus ut dictum est…quod iste coitus foeminae cum foemina non reperitur punitus lege divina, neque humana …quod licet hoc sit peccatum grave, non tamen ita grave sicut vitium sodomiticum viri ad virum, nam major est permutatio ordinis naturae in sodomitico, quam in isto; …Secundo quia in illo perficitur coitus, et imago Dei deturpatur: in isto autem, secundum eum, impossibile est foeminas ipsas polluere, sed solum deordinatur voluntas earum, quia consentiunt in libidinem, et vehementissimo Desiderio illam prosequuntur; non possunt tamen eam consequi, et ipsae scint quod non consequentur. Tertio, quia per sodomiticum magis repugnatur intentioni naturae…unde cum in poenis mitior debeat fieri interpretatio forte non venirent puniendae istae foeminae in hoc delinquentes poena flammarum pro ut vitium sodomiticum, sed poena alia arbitraria citra mortem, quae erit gravior, quando mediante aliquo instrumento virginitas violetur…”

[23] (Velasco, 2011; Soyer, 2012; Fone, 2001; Torquemada, Homosexualidad femenina y masculina en relación con el delito delito desortilegios, 2014)

[24] (Turismo Ávila, 2020; Vidal, 2004)

[25] (Toledano, 2015; Vidal, 2004)

[26] (Toledano, 2015)

[27] English: almost sodomy

[28] English: imperfect sodomy

[29] (Velasco, 2011; AHN: Inquisición, libro 962, Aragón Inquisition inquiry to the Suprema, May 1560)

[30] (Crompton, 2003; Kamen, <La> Inquisición española : una revisión histórica, 2011)

[31] Spanish: Mandamos que cualquier persona de cualquier estado, condición preeminencia o dignidad que sea, que cometiere el delito nefando contra naturam seyendo en el convencido por aquella manera de prueba que según Derecho es bastante para robar el delito de heregia o crimen laesae Majestatis, que sea quemado en llamas de fuego en el lugar, y por la Justicia a quien pertenesciere el conoscimiento y punición del tal delito […] y sin otra declaración alguna, todos sus bienes asi muebles como raíces; los quales desde agora confiscamos y habemos por confiscados y aplicados a nuestra Camara y fisco […].

[32] (Crompton, 2003; Kamen, <La> Inquisición española : una revisión histórica, 2011)

[33] (Tomás y Valiente, 1990; Velasco, 2011)

[34] (Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, A Historical Revision, 1998)

[35] (Escudero López, La Inquisición española, 2007)

[36] (Velasco, 2011)

[37] (Lea, 1907; Rodríguez & Delgado, 2017; Kagan & Dyer, 2011; Velasco, 2011; Burshatin, 1996)

[38] This is a type of ceremonial robe.

[39] (Velasco, 2011; Burshatin, 1996)

[40] (Haggerty & Zimmerman, 2003; Zimmerman, 1999; Fone, 2001)

[41] (Llorente, 1826 )

[42] (Velasco, 2011)

[43] (Velasco, 2011)

[44] Spanish: usavan en uno como onbre e mujer, echandose en una cama desnudas e retoçandose e besándose e cavalgandose la una a la otra e la otra a la otra, subyendose ençima de sus vientres desnudos, pasando e fazyendo autos que onbre con muger devian fazer carnalmente.

[45] Spanish: usavan en uno como onbre e mujer, echandose en una cama desnudas e retoçandose e besándose e cavalgandose la una a la otra e la otra a la otra, subyendose ençima de sus vientres desnudos, pasando e fazyendo autos que onbre con muger devian fazer carnalmente.

[46] (Velasco, 2011; Garza Carvajal, 2012)

[47] (Velasco, 2011; Garza Carvajal, 2012)

[48] (Velasco, 2011; Garza Carvajal, 2012)

[49] (Fone, 2001)

[50] (Perry & Cruz, 1991)

[51] (Velasco, 2011; Molina, 2016)

[52] (Lea, 1907)

[53] Spanish: “El delito para una mujer consistía: en la forma de comportarse como un hombre con una mujer, y habiendo muchas mujeres que quieren ser más hombres que lo que la naturaleza les dio, se han castigado a muchas que en la cárcel se han hecho gallos con un valdres hecho en forma de natura de hombre, que atado con sus cintas se lo ponían y han llevado por esto doscientos azotes.

[54] (A.H.N. Inquisición)

[55] (Mayorga Huertas, 2018; A.H.N. Inquisición)

[56] (Mayorga Huertas, 2018; A.H.N. Inquisición)

[57] (Mayorga Huertas, 2018; A.H.N. Inquisición)

[58] (Moya, 2016)

[59] (Crompton, Homosexuality & civilization, 2003; Fone, 2001)

[60] (Torquemada, Homosexualidad femenina y masculina en relación con el delito delito desortilegios, 2014; Torquemada, Fuera de la ley: Prostitución y homosexualidad femenina en el Madrid del siglo xviii, 2018)

[61] Spanish: Artículo 616. El que, habitualmente o con escándalo, cometiere actos contrarios al pudor con personas del mismo sexo, será castigadio con multa de 1.000 a 10.000 pésetas e inhabilitación especial pará cargos públicos de seis a doce años.

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