Spectator “sport” in Reformation Geneva


Of course we know that there were only two really good spectator activities in sixteenth-century Geneva: sermons and executions. Good a preacher as Pierre Viret may have been (he had the reputation of being the most eloquent preacher), it could not compare with the drama of a good execution. We know executions were popular because of complaints about overcrowding at the execution grounds (Champel) as we read in the minutes of the city council from 1559:

Champel. It is spoken here of Champel Square which is too small for the multitude of people who go watch when justice is done. Champel. Icy est parlé de la place de Champel
qui est trop petite pour la multitude des gens qui vont veoir quant on fait justice [RC 55, f. 26 (30 March 1559)].

But of course, you couldn’t always count on a good execution close to home, so you might have to go on a road trip in order to take in the spectacle. Thus in 1552, three people were reprimanded because they were in the habit of catcalling to passersby and the Consistory worried that fights would break out of they didn’t reign in the catcallers (“sont en custume de faire bruyt contre les passans et est dangier que pour cela il ne s’en engendre des desbas et scandalles”). The three accused admitted to the charges and said that they had, indeed, called to “Jacques-Nicolas [Vulliet] and others who were going a league away to Archamps to see a woman burn” (Jacques-Nycollas que à austres qu’estient aller voir une lieux loingt, assavoir Herchant, bruslé une femme) [R.Consist. 7, p. 118; 7 April 1552].

Nothing like a good bit of family entertainment to convince people to walk a league just for a bit of clean entertainment!

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