It was also one of the first anti-sodomy laws passed by any Germanic country. All Germanic codes up to this time ignored all sexual activities except adultery. The Act made buggery with man or beast punishable by hanging, a penalty not finally lifted until Some have suggested that bestiality was specifically included because of the fear of hybrid births. It is sometimes suggested that the Act was introduced as a measure against the clergy, since the Act was introduced following the separation of the Church of England from Rome, though there seems to be no firm evidence for this.
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The Buggery Act made sodomy a capital offence for the first time in English law and was subsequently exported to all of the British colonies, where some of the worst anti gay laws still exist today.
I have read a lot of the history of persecution of LGBT people and one thing seems clear. Apart from a few isolated periods of extreme persecution, same sex relationships were not just tolerated, but seem to have been largely accepted as normal until the reign of Henry VIII. Even the Bible overall is not overtly opposed to homosexuality. The few negative biblical references are vague at best, and in most instances the subject of fierce debate and largely a matter of interpretation.
And there are even strongly held views that some key biblical relationships such as those of David and Jonathan and Jesus and John appear to have been far more than simply male friendships.
The persecution of homosexuality in the UK appears to have begun in when Thomas Cromwell piloted through parliament the Buggery Act see Wikipedia entry for more details of the Act which made the act of anal penetration of a man or a woman buggery or any intercourse with an animal bestiality and offence punishable by hanging.
And that no person offending in any such offence shall be admitted to his Clergy. The penalties made this one of the most severe punishments in law and more importantly it was one of the few crimes for which a priest or monk could be put to death, and this is an important when we try to understand why Henry VIII put this law in place. It was reintroduced for another year twice before becoming a permanent law in However there are only a handful of instances on record of anyone being charged under this act during the next years.
The first man executed for buggery and the only execution in Tudor times was Walter Hungerford , who ironically was executed in on the same day as his patron Thomas Cromwell, the architect of the act. Like Cromwell he was charged with treason and heresy suspected of sympathising with the Pilgrimage of Grace who opposed the break with the Catholic Church.
It is believed that the Buggery Act charge was probably added both humiliate Hungerford and to enable the state to seize his assets. Nicholas Udall, cleric, playwrite and headmaster of Eton College, was charged under the Buggery Act in for sexually abusing pupils in his charge, which he admitted. He was unable to return to Eton mostly because he had admitted to the charge in a letter.
So if there is no evidence of a serious social or political issue with buggery before this act and few people charged after it was enacted, it begs the question, WHY was it enacted in the first place?
The clue to that is in the date. Catherine had been barred from court and Henry had secretly married Anne Boleyn who was now pregnant with his child, although in the eyes of the Catholic Church Henry was still married to Catherine. If the child was born out of wedlock it would be barred from succession. Anne Boleyn gave birth to a daughter Elizabeth in September The primary opposition to this came from the monasteries.
In all the Catholic Church was very powerful, owning around a third of Britain. Furthermore clerics were almost immune from prosecution. Two hundred years previously Philip V of France had used sodomy laws in France to torture and execute the Knights Templar and confiscate all their assets. The Buggery Act in particular gave him power to execute any cleric who confessed to buggery and to seize their assets.
Many monks were executed at this time. However despite numerous attempts she failed to produce an heir to the throne and on her death in Elizabeth 1 became queen.
She set about re-establishing the Church of England as separate from the Church of Rome and in reinstated the Buggery Act which then remained in force until when it was replaced by the Offenses Against the Person Act but the crime of buggery or sodomy remained a capital offense until the passing of the Offenses Against the Person Act It would be another hundred years before homosexuality was partially decriminalised in In the eighteenth and nineteenth century however the number of prosecutions substantially increased and lesser offenses of attempted buggery were introduced with severe penalties, including imprisonment and time in the pillory which I will explore in separate article.
The Buggery Act was not just significant in the UK. This period marked the start of the British Legal System as we know it and that legal system was the foundation for future legal systems in all the countries occupied by the British Empire in Africa, Asia Australia and North America.
Thomas Cromwell. Walter Hungerford. Nicholas Udall. Henry VIII. Mary 1 Bloody Mary. Elizabeth 1. Share this: Email. Print Share on Tumblr. Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by email.
The act did not explicitly target sex between men, as it also applied to sodomy between men and women and a person with an animal. Convictions between men for sodomy were by far the most common and well publicised. Convictions under the Buggery Act were punishable by death. And that the offenders being herof convict by verdicte, confession, or outlaurie, shall suffer suche peynes of dethe, and losses, and penalties of their goodes, cattals, dettes, londes, tenements, and heredytamentes, as felons benne accustomed to do accordynge to the order of the common lawes of this realme. And that no person offendynge in any suche offence, shalbe admitted to his clergye, And that justices of peace shall haue power and auttoritie within the limittes of theyr commissions and jurisdiction, to here and determyne the sayde offence, as they use to do in cases of other felonies. This acte to endure tyll the laste daye of the next parlyament. This article traces the journey of the LGBT community from to today, looking at the battles for equality that were fought and legislative changes made.
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The Buggery Act made sodomy a capital offence for the first time in English law and was subsequently exported to all of the British colonies, where some of the worst anti gay laws still exist today. I have read a lot of the history of persecution of LGBT people and one thing seems clear. Apart from a few isolated periods of extreme persecution, same sex relationships were not just tolerated, but seem to have been largely accepted as normal until the reign of Henry VIII. Even the Bible overall is not overtly opposed to homosexuality. The few negative biblical references are vague at best, and in most instances the subject of fierce debate and largely a matter of interpretation. And there are even strongly held views that some key biblical relationships such as those of David and Jonathan and Jesus and John appear to have been far more than simply male friendships.