Husbands and Wives

Given the destruction of parish records during the Paris Commune, we cannot reconstruct demographic patterns and changes in the capital with much certitude. We know that the police arrested more married men in the first than in the second half of the eighteenth century, in part, perhaps, because more men who desired men did not marry as the century progressed? In any event, the database will identify all the married men identified as such (even if they did not identify themselves as such) in the documents. As the cases outlined in the following paragraphs indicate, some wives supported and others abandoned husbands accused of sodomy.

When a police decoy named Lacroix sighted postmaster Donot on the Half-Moon on 5 June 1724, he recalled that he had lodged with him in Melun two years before (AB 10255, ff. 203-203v). During the night Donot entered his room and “absolutely wanted to commit all the infamies of sodomy upon me.” Lacroix raised a ruckus, which awakened the postmaster’s wife. She acknowledged that her husband was an infâme and admitted that he had done the same thing when some “young folks” lodged with them. To appease Lacroix she begged his pardon on Donot’s behalf and assured him that her husband was “a great villain whom God will punish,” not then and there but someday.

On 29 June 1737 Louis Phélypeaux, 27, employed in the tobacco factory, exposed himself under the arches under rue Saint-Louis, accosted a decoy, and made a rendezvous with him for that afternoon in the courtyard of the Palais de Justice (AB 10258, ff. 191-93). The decoy led him past the residence of commissaire Delafosse,[1] who arrested Phélypeaux and consigned him to the Petit Châtelet. Françoise Thierry presented a different version of events when she petitioned the lieutenant general to release her husband. A stranger accosted him and asked him if he were single. Then two agents arrested him “on a false, premeditated pretext, accusing him of the crime of the cuff, saying wickedly to defame him that he had showed his rear end with frightful and hateful indecency.” Thierry insisted that Phélypeaux was a good Christian and a good husband, incapable of “such an enormous crime,” presumably meaning sodomy, not just exposure. His dossier indicates that he confessed after arrest but does not specify how long he spent in custody.

After six or seven years of marriage, Marguerite Baudoyer, her parents, and her siblings petitioned lieutenant general d’Ombreval, to punish her husband Pierre Hue, master glover, for his debauchery and dissolution (AB 10832, ff. 78-117). Commissaire Chauvin consulted the family and neighbors and reported that Hue, who had abandoned his wife and children, was “capable of all types of baseness.”[2] He frequented libertines and vagabonds. The police found him in bed with a soldier, arrested him, and consigned him to Bicêtre, at the end of April 1724. Hue’s father informed d’Ombreval that Baudoyer had “never loved her husband” and had accused him of sodomy several years before, without success, but d’Ombreval did not release the glover until April 1725. After soliciting a decoy on the Half-Moon on 23 October 1729, Hue, now in his forties, spent a year and a half in prison, even though his mother blamed the second arrest, like the first one, on his wife.

According to the author of an unsigned letter dated 16 January 1726, Pierre Brice, watchmaker, picked him up in the Luxembourg eighteen months before and took him to a tavern, where the latter proposed “foolishness and infamies on the subject of sodomy.” The unnamed man followed Brice to his place “to see just how far this infâme would push his infamies,” and Brice tried to molest him, front and back, during the night. Within weeks Marguerite Canterel petitioned d’Ombreval to punish Brice, her second husband, who mistreated her and impoverished the family (AB 10913, ff. 36-89). Commissaire Delafosse collected supporting evidence from neighbors and colleagues, and abbé Théru reported that Brice preferred “to sleep with boys and apprentices in an attic” rather than with his wife in their bed. This dossier contains more documentation about the husband’s defense than the one discussed in the preceding paragraph does. In 1719 or 1720, Brice, 21 or 22, married his former master’s widow, who was more than twice his age, after she exaggerated her assets. She tormented and persecuted him and accused him of “an abominable vice.” Commissaire Parent collected supporting evidence from neighbors and colleagues. In this case, like the last one, the parish priest defended the husband. Even so the watchmaker spent four months in custody.[3]

In these cases, as in so many others, we do not know for sure what happened because sodomites and witnesses did not always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Spouses and neighbors who provided evidence sometimes had agendas of their own.

Petitions of Baudoyer and Canterel

The database will identify more cases in which sodomy, or at least accusations about sodomy, played some role in complex conflicts between spouses. It will allow analysis of a wide range of familial, residential, vocational, professional relations (sources of support as well as friction) that linked sodomites and other Parisians: parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, spouses, children, in-laws, neighbors, employers, co-workers, customers, colleagues, and more. Did sexual connections between men interfere or simply coexist with other types of (legal, financial, emotional) connections?


[1] Sébastien Paul Delafosse, commissaire, 1723-28.

[2] Georges Hubert Chauvin, commissaire, 1722-33.

[3] Charles Jacques Etienne Parent, commissaire, 1723-50.


Author: Jeffrey Merrick