In those days Holland was a calvinistic republic with hundreds of courts, but nowhere did "fundamentalist" judges go for their job in such a heavy-handed manner as in Faan. In those days torturing suspects was allowed, when they refused admitting their crimes, while other evidence of their guilt was available. On the torture rack of De Mepsche two prisoners died against whom, according to Boon, insufficient evidence had been raised. Ter Veld thinks this befits the times, but Boon points out the district chief clearly overstepped his mark. Ter Veld ends his book with the bold remark: "The district chief had no other choice than condemning the suspects to death.” Who has been reading Boon knows better.


Deadly sins


The story of Faan has been told more often. There’s a historical-legal thesis by Cohen Tervaart (he obtained his doctorate on the 190th birthday of the executions), a novel by Ab Visser, Rudolf de Mepse written in 1945, a good study by amateur-historian W.T.Vleer, Sterf sodomieten (Die, Sodomites) from 1972, and a movie. What Ter Veen, as some kind of novelty, adds to these and other studies is a hilarious, fictional diary of one of the survivors of the hell of De Mepsche. It’s a mystery why he protects the district chief and turns calvinistic fundamentalism, which nobody denied played an important role, into the bogeyman. He even tries to have us believe he’s come up with this argument all by himself.


This dark page from Dutch history deserves all our attention and it is good to realize once more that contemporary islamic fundamentalists are the very spit of their calvinistic brothers. From the documents bearing on the case, Boon concludes that most of the boys and men (the youngest convict was 13, the youngest executed 15) were not innocent of sodomy. Farmers and labourers in Faan and neighbouring villages didn’t have many scruples about having sex with each other and often didn’t have the slightest idea their behaviour was punishable. They didn’t connect the sermons Van Byler must have held against sodomy with their own sexual conduct. Arrest and conviction came as a complete surprise to them and only in jail they learned that their deeds were deadly sins for which most men in hindsight showed remorse.

Now it strikes us that so many men, of whom most will not have been homosexual (the older ones among them were perfectly married) did it with one another in such a small village.
From the remainders of the archives it’s hard to conclude what the sexual conduct actually was like. According to some scientists from that time all non-coitional sex - even onanism - was considered sodomy, while most courts only saw anal sex as a capital crime and considered other homosexual conduct as foreplay, which they punished less severely. How the judges in Faan saw the matter remains unclear. The terms seem to indicate they also sentenced men to death for mutual masturbation.



Great commotion


Since the men were part of close-knit local networks, different from most sodomites who were arrested in the bigger cities, great commotion arose in the province of Groningen. Wives and friends protested against the procedures and the helpers of De Mepsche obstructed the judicial process by giving away secrets or assisting in attempted escapes. While sodomy trials elsewhere rarely led to protests, in Groningen people plied each other with petitions and reports. These feuds, running high in 1731, led to an impasse in provincial government that was only resolved with the revolution of the House of Orange in 1748. That year also saw the release of the last prisoners who were kept in jail without trial since 1731. For De Mepsche things didn’t go well. His reputation was ruined.






The high costs of the trial and execution, which most of the time were billed to the convicts, now were mainly billed to him, which led to his bakruptcy. As an out and open Orangist, William IV made him bailiff of Wedde, where he died in 1754. For a long time afterwards, the population of Faan and Westerkwartier thought they saw the sky turn red on September 24: a monument to the persecuted and an indictment of the murderer, the preacher and their Reformed faith.



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The hunt for sodomites in the name of the Lord

by Gert Hekma in History & Politics , 20 april 2003

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar


In 1730 the Dutch Repblic witnessed a prosecution of sodomites unknown till then in the Netherlands and unequalled in its scale and its number of victims. It all began behind the Dom Tower in Utrecht and quickly spread to most of the other provinces. Absolute low was the execution by throttling of 21 men and boys near the Groningen townlet Faan on September 24, 1731. Almost one hundred sodomites were brought to trial on charges of anal sex. Historians have often pondered the possible explanations for this excessive prosecution in a small farming townlet.

An accusing finger generally points in the direction of the local preacher H.C. van Byler and Rudolf de Mepsche, district chief, who combined the functions of mayor, judge, officer of justice, chief of police and chief warder. For lack of possiblities of appeal this district chief was an absolute ruler who didn’t have to give account to anyone.


After the prosecution of sodomites was begun in Utrecht in 1730, governors started passing laws and preachers began publishing books in which sodomy was described as a deadly sin and offence. In March 1731 Van Byler added his Helsche boosheyt of grouwelyke zonde van sodomie... (Hellish wickedness or horrifying sin of sodomy) to the palette of tirades. He was a good friend of De Mepsche and this book must have been of some help to this district chief in tracking down local sodomites. In his latest book Protestants fundamentalisme in het Groningse Faan (Protestant fundamentalism in the Groningen Faan), Koert ter Veen searches for the cause of the mass execution in calvinist orthodoxy. Unfortunately Ter Veen’s book smells of amateurism, while he also deemss it necessary to tell us on the backcover there's a Mrs. Ter Veen.





The most important serious study of the Faan monster trial is "Dien godlosen hoop van menschen." Vervolging van homoseksuelen in de Republiek in de jaren dertig van de achttiende eeuw ("That godless hope of people," the prosecution of homosexuals in the Dutch Republic in the thirties of the eighteenth century; 1997) by the late Leo Boon, who in his book devotes two whole chapters to it. Unfortunately Ter Veen doesn’t know of this book. While he sees De Mepsche as a normal, albeit rigid judge, Boon points out there was lots wrong with the man.


In those days Holland was a calvinistic republic with hundreds of courts, but nowhere did "fundamentalist" judges go for their job in such a heavy-handed manner as in Faan. In those days torturing suspects was allowed, when they refused admitting their crimes, while other evidence of their guilt was available. On the torture rack of De Mepsche two prisoners died against whom, according to Boon, insufficient evidence had been raised. Ter Veld thinks this befits the times, but Boon points out the district chief clearly overstepped his mark. Ter Veld ends his book with the bold remark: "The district chief had no other choice than condemning the suspects to death.” Who has been reading Boon knows better.


Deadly sins


The story of Faan has been told more often. There’s a historical-legal thesis by Cohen Tervaart (he obtained his doctorate on the 190th birthday of the executions), a novel by Ab Visser, Rudolf de Mepse written in 1945, a good study by amateur-historian W.T.Vleer, Sterf sodomieten (Die, Sodomites) from 1972, and a movie. What Ter Veen, as some kind of novelty, adds to these and other studies is a hilarious, fictional diary of one of the survivors of the hell of De Mepsche. It’s a mystery why he protects the district chief and turns calvinistic fundamentalism, which nobody denied played an important role, into the bogeyman. He even tries to have us believe he’s come up with this argument all by himself.


This dark page from Dutch history deserves all our attention and it is good to realize once more that contemporary islamic fundamentalists are the very spit of their calvinistic brothers. From the documents bearing on the case, Boon concludes that most of the boys and men (the youngest convict was 13, the youngest executed 15) were not innocent of sodomy. Farmers and labourers in Faan and neighbouring villages didn’t have many scruples about having sex with each other and often didn’t have the slightest idea their behaviour was punishable. They didn’t connect the sermons Van Byler must have held against sodomy with their own sexual conduct. Arrest and conviction came as a complete surprise to them and only in jail they learned that their deeds were deadly sins for which most men in hindsight showed remorse.

Now it strikes us that so many men, of whom most will not have been homosexual (the older ones among them were perfectly married) did it with one another in such a small village.
From the remainders of the archives it’s hard to conclude what the sexual conduct actually was like. According to some scientists from that time all non-coitional sex - even onanism - was considered sodomy, while most courts only saw anal sex as a capital crime and considered other homosexual conduct as foreplay, which they punished less severely. How the judges in Faan saw the matter remains unclear. The terms seem to indicate they also sentenced men to death for mutual masturbation.



Great commotion


Since the men were part of close-knit local networks, different from most sodomites who were arrested in the bigger cities, great commotion arose in the province of Groningen. Wives and friends protested against the procedures and the helpers of De Mepsche obstructed the judicial process by giving away secrets or assisting in attempted escapes. While sodomy trials elsewhere rarely led to protests, in Groningen people plied each other with petitions and reports. These feuds, running high in 1731, led to an impasse in provincial government that was only resolved with the revolution of the House of Orange in 1748. That year also saw the release of the last prisoners who were kept in jail without trial since 1731. For De Mepsche things didn’t go well. His reputation was ruined.






The high costs of the trial and execution, which most of the time were billed to the convicts, now were mainly billed to him, which led to his bakruptcy. As an out and open Orangist, William IV made him bailiff of Wedde, where he died in 1754. For a long time afterwards, the population of Faan and Westerkwartier thought they saw the sky turn red on September 24: a monument to the persecuted and an indictment of the murderer, the preacher and their Reformed faith.



The victims


Scorched in the face, throttled and burned were Jan Beerents, 20, farm-hand; Gerrit Freriks, 48, farmer and Hendrik Beerents Liplander, 33, farmer. They were considered the instigators of evil.
Throttled and burned were Harm Arents, 41, farmer; Jan Herms Braaker, 37, farmer; Hendrick Cornelis, 21, farm-hand; Pieter Cornelis, 20, farm-hand; Jan Jacob van Dunderen, 30, farmer; Hans Engelbrecht, 18, farm-hand; Gerrit Harms, 16, farm-hand; Gosen Hendriks, 40, farmer; Jan Idses, 18, farm-hand; Thomas Jacobs, 16, farm-hand; Cornelis Jansz, 18, farm-hand; Eysse Jansz, 46, farmer; Jan Jansz, 18, farm-hand; Tamme Jansz, 15, farm-hand; Asinga Immes, 46, farmer; Hendrik Leeuwes, 19, farm-hand; Mindelt Jansz Rol, 36, farmer and Jan Wygers, 45, farmer.


Sicko Arents, 39, farmer, died on September 14 after being tortured in prison. His corpse was burned together with the corpses of the others. The 45-year old farmer Jan Claassen Pot eventually died in April 1732 in prison from the tortures De Mepsche had ordered. (The information is borrowed from Boon, pg. 384-6). Two boys, on consideration of their age (13), were sentenced to prison, while a dozen suspects were never brought to trial.
The last four were released in 1748.



 







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