Prostitution in Seventeenth Century Europe

Essay by VidkunQuislingUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, May 2006

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Prostitution, from its earliest inceptions, has carried a rather unflattering connotation. A majority of the population attaches pejorative labels such as "slut" or "whore" to its practitioners, and deem the institution in general as a taboo subject not mentioned in polite conversation. Regardless of its negative stereotypes, prostitution has become an omnipresent reality even in today's modern world. This essay looks at prostitution in three European countries- Italy, The Netherlands, and England. It will examine how most people viewed such an establishment, the various methods of regulation (if such means existed), and the resulting consequences on seventeenth century society.

Most of Europe viewed prostitution in the seventeenth century as a degrading and disreputable means of making a living. This was especially true in Italy, particularly in the city of Florence, which had been transformed by the Renaissance into the cultural and artistic center of the country. As a result, many prostitutes flocked to Florence due to the potential for lavish financial gains.

Most of these women of ill repute migrated from the northern countries of Germany, The Netherlands, and Belgium. Only around fifteen percent of Florentine prostitutes came from Italian origins.

As John Brackett describes in his article "The Florentine Onesta and the Control of Prostitution, 1403-1680", several of the citizens of Florence regarded prostitution as immoral and viewed it with suspicion. The prevailing thought was that women should not flaunt their libidinous intentions even in the most clandestine settings, and certainly not advertise themselves in public. However, many also realized that lasciviousness was, at the time, a necessity which would be difficult to eradicate altogether. Therefore, the Italian government created the Onesta (Office of Decency) to regulate the practice of prostitution.

Instead, the Onesta became a device of exploitation and completely ostacized prostitutes from tyhe rest of...