Carl Lapp c. 1674 Swedish Sápmi
gouache on paper, 11 x 7 inches

Carl Lapp, a Sámi, died in 1694 in the Swedish parish of Hed. Upon preparation for burial his neighbors discovered that he had a female body.  They reported this to their local pastor and eventually the matter was brought all the way to the High Court. Court records show that it was unclear what kind of burial “the Lapp,” as he was known (a reference to the former name for the Sámi people, Laplanders), should receive. 

At the time of his death, Carl had been married to his second wife for thirteen years. She claimed that she did not know his sex, as they were elderly when they married and had never had sexual relations. However, he had a son with his first wife, both of whom had died. The court investigated the nature of his relationship with his wives and the existence of the child. They concluded that he was guilty of “participation in the sin of fornication that the former wife had carried on and kept it silent and hidden it, allowed the child to be baptized and recognized it as his own, and after his former wife’s death, continued in his evil intent and grave sin with continued contempt for God’s holy order.” The fact that he had deliberately “mutated” his sex combined with having repeatedly “abused the holy institution of marriage” warranted the death penalty under Swedish law. Therefore, he was ordered to be buried in the forest instead of in the consecrated ground of the churchyard. Ironically, burial in the forest had long been a Sámi practice opposed by Swedish Christian clergy.


Fur, Gunlög.  “Reading Margins: Colonial Encounters in Sápmi and Lenapehoking in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.” Feminist Studies  32.3 (Fall 2006): 491-521. 

Rupp, Leila J.  Sapphistries: A Global History of Love Between Women.  New York University Press, 2009.