Toleration without Tolerance: Negotiating Illicit Sex in Bourbon Quito

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:50 PM
Madison Room A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Chad T. Black, University of Tennessee at Knoxville
During the period 1765-1795, city magistrates in the Audiencia of Quito made priority finding and prosecuting illicit sexual relationships in the city’s barrios. The so-called Bourbon reforms were, above all else, a centralizing move against custom and local practice. Not insignificantly, the frontal assault on the architecture of decentralism included an attack on lax sexual morality, resulting in an avalanche of sexual crime litigation. This litigation allows us to catch glimpses the countervailing popular sexual norms that were under attack by the centralizing Bourbon state. These “norms” are important because they represent the custom and practice of sexual behavior that was long tolerated, even if not accepted in the barrios of Quito. Under judicial scrutiny, accused parties mounted passionate defenses of their actions, going so far as to destabilize the meaning of marriage-as-practice. This paper will argue that prosecutions of concubinage and adultery that started “hace muchos años” reveal concepts like public and notorious scandal, custom, practice, and marriage itself were all negotiable. The phrase, hace muchos años (many years ago) is a recurring trope of these cases, as an accusation. As aggrieved spouses and judicial authorities deployed it against defendants, the durability of illicit relationships ultimately testified to their toleration amongst the city’s popular sectors.