Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

To say that we hear little of homosexuality does not mean that it did not exist, but rather that it was not a source of neurotic anxiety. Dramatists would occasionally laugh at it, as at other humours, such as pride or hypocrisy. When James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne, already notorious for his relationships with Lennox, Daubigny and others, and soon to be still more notorious for his favours to Robert Carr, the popular joke was: “Rex Elizabeth fuit, nunc Jacobus regina est.” Incest, on the other hand, being related to deeply repressed elements of the personality, most generally found during this period, could never receive a jocular treatment, but was, on the contrary, broached in an atmosphere of tension and horror.

On the Continent, where the matrist movement had started earlier, and had now proceeded to the extreme of general licence, to the point where Alfonso d’Este could be called “the virtuous” because he confined himself to buying girls from their mothers for seduction instead of just seducing them, homosexuality was being erected into a virtue, as we may judge from the appearance of a work entitled “De laudibus, sodomiae seu pederastiae“, written by the Archbishop della Casa. Lithgow, in his travels throughout Europe, is careful to report the occurrence of homosexuality whenever he finds it. Thus of Padua, which he calls the most melancholy city in Europe, on account of the narrow streets, overhung with long galleries supported by dark ranges of pillars, he writes:

The Schollers here in the night commit many murthers against their privat adversaries, and too often executed upon the stranger and innocent, and all with gun-shot or else stilettoes: for beastly Sodomy, it is rife here as in Rome. Naples, Florence, Bullogna, Venice, Ferrara, Genoa. Parma not being exempted, nor yet the smallest Village of, Italy: A monstrous filthinesse, and yet to them a pleasant pastime, making songs and singing Sonets of the beauty and; pleasure of their Bardassi, or buggerd boyes.

The interest of this passage for us lies in the fact that Lithgow, a shrewd Scot, thought such matters worth reporting; this argues both that homosexuality was still sufficiently rare in England for the continental behaviour to be worth remarking on, and also that the subject was felt to possess a certain interests and was not felt to be almost too shocking to mention, as would have been the case in strongly patrist periods. Lithgow’s book, among the most enchanting of all travel books, appeared in 1632, in the reign of Charles I, himself a homosexual, and this only thirty years before the great flowering of homosexuality in the time of the Restoration. It may, I think, be regarded as a pointer to it.