Buggery Act 1533

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Buggery Act 1533 [1]
Coat of Arms of Henry VIII of England (1509-1547).svg
Long title An Acte for the punishment of the vice of Buggerie
Citation 25 Hen. 8 c. 6
Other legislation
Repealed by Offences against the Person Act 1828 (9 Geo. 4 c. 31)
Status: Repealed

The Buggery Act 1533, formally An Acte for the punishment of the vice of Buggerie (25 Hen. 8 c. 6), was an Act of the Parliament of England that was passed during the reign of Henry VIII.

An act of parliament, also called primary legislation, are statutes passed by a parliament (legislature). Act of the Oireachtas is an equivalent term used in the Republic of Ireland where the legislature is commonly known by its Irish name, Oireachtas. It is also comparable to an Act of Congress in the United States.

Parliament of England historic legislature of the Kingdom of England

The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England, existing from the early 13th century until 1707, when it merged with the Parliament of Scotland to become the Parliament of Great Britain after the political union of England and Scotland created the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Henry VIII of England 16th-century King of England

Henry VIII was King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. Henry was the second Tudor monarch, succeeding his father, Henry VII. Henry is best known for his six marriages, in particular his efforts to have his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, annulled. His disagreement with the Pope on the question of such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority. He appointed himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, for which he was excommunicated. Henry is also known as "the father of the Royal Navy"; he invested heavily in the Navy, increasing its size greatly from a few to more than 50 ships.


It was the country's first civil sodomy law, such offences having previously been dealt with by the ecclesiastical courts.

A sodomy law is a law that defines certain sexual acts as crimes. The precise sexual acts meant by the term sodomy are rarely spelled out in the law, but are typically understood by courts to include any sexual act deemed to be "unnatural" or immoral. Sodomy typically includes anal sex, oral sex, and bestiality. In practice, sodomy laws have rarely been enforced against heterosexual couples, and have mostly been used to target homosexuals.

An ecclesiastical court, also called court Christian or court spiritual, is any of certain courts having jurisdiction mainly in spiritual or religious matters. In the Middle Ages these courts had much wider powers in many areas of Europe than before the development of nation states. They were experts in interpreting canon law, a basis of which was the Corpus Juris Civilis of Justinian which is considered the source of the civil law legal tradition.

The Act defined buggery as an unnatural sexual act against the will of God and man. This was later defined by the courts to include only anal penetration and bestiality. [2] The Act remained in force until it was repealed and replaced by the Offences against the Person Act 1828, and buggery would remain a capital offence until 1861.

The British English term buggery is very close in meaning to the term sodomy, often used interchangeably in sodomy law and popular speech. It may also be a specific common law offence encompassing both sodomy and bestiality.

Anal sex sexual practice

Anal sex or anal intercourse is generally the insertion and thrusting of the erect penis into a person's anus, or anus and rectum, for sexual pleasure. Other forms of anal sex include fingering, the use of sex toys for anal penetration, oral sex performed on the anus (anilingus), and pegging. Although anal sex most commonly means penile–anal penetration, sources sometimes use anal intercourse to exclusively denote penile–anal penetration, and anal sex to denote any form of anal sexual activity, especially between pairings as opposed to anal masturbation.

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is a government-sanctioned practice whereby a person is killed by the state as a punishment for a crime. The sentence that someone be punished in such a manner is referred to as a death sentence, whereas the act of carrying out the sentence is known as an execution. Crimes that are punishable by death are known as capital crimes or capital offences, and they commonly include offences such as murder, mass murder, terrorism, treason, espionage, offenses against the State, such as attempting to overthrow government, piracy, drug trafficking, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, but may include a wide range of offences depending on a country. Etymologically, the term capital in this context alluded to execution by beheading.


The Act was piloted through Parliament by Henry VIII's minister Thomas Cromwell and punished "the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with Mankind or Beast". "Buggery" was not further defined in the law. [3] According to the Act:

Thomas Cromwell English statesman and chief minister to King Henry VIII of England

Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, was an English lawyer and statesman who served as chief minister to King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540, when he was decapitated on orders of the king.

the offenders being hereof convicted by verdict confession or outlawry shall suffer such pains of death and losses and penalties of their good chattels debts lands tenements and hereditaments as felons do according to the Common Laws of this Realm. And that no person offending in any such offence shall be admitted to his Clergy ... [4]

This meant that a convicted sodomite’s possessions could be confiscated by the government, rather than going to their next of kin, and that even priests and monks could be executed for the offence—even though they could not be executed for murder. [4] Henry later used the law to execute monks and nuns (thanks to information his spies had gathered) and take their monastery lands—the same tactics had been used 200 years before by Philip IV of France against the Knights Templar. Henry may have had this in mind when he drafted the Act. [5]

Philip IV of France King of France 1285-1314

Philip IV, called Philip the Fair, was King of France from 1285 until his death. By virtue of his marriage with Joan I of Navarre, he was also King of Navarre as Philip I from 1284 to 1305, as well as Count of Champagne. Although Philip was known as handsome, hence the epithet le Bel, his rigid and inflexible personality gained him other nicknames, such as the Iron King. His fierce opponent Bernard Saisset, bishop of Pamiers, said of him: "he is neither man nor beast. He is a statue."

Knights Templar Western Christian military order; medieval Catholic military order

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, also known as the Order of Solomon's Temple, the Knights Templar or simply the Templars, were a Catholic military order recognised in 1139 by the papal bull Omne datum optimum. The order was founded in 1119 and was active until 1312 when it was perpetually suppressed by Pope Clement V by the bull Vox in excelso.

In July 1540 Walter Hungerford, 1st Baron Hungerford of Heytesbury was charged with treason for harbouring a known member of the Pilgrimage of Grace movement. Although he had been married three times, and had four children, he was also accused of buggery. Hungerford was beheaded at Tower Hill [6] , on 28 July 1540, the same day as Thomas Cromwell. [6]

Nicholas Udall, a cleric, playwright, and Headmaster of Eton College, was the first to be charged with violation of the Act alone in 1541, for sexually abusing his pupils. In his case, the sentence was commuted to imprisonment and he was released in less than a year. He went on to become headmaster of Westminster School.

16th-century repeal and re-enactment

The Act was repealed in 1553 on accession of the staunchly Catholic Queen Mary, who preferred such legal matters adjudicated in ecclesiastical courts. However, it was re-enacted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1563. Although "homosexual prosecutions throughout the sixteenth century [were] sparse" and "fewer than a dozen prosecutions are recorded up through 1660 ... this may reflect inadequate research into the subject, and a scarcity of extant legal records." [7] In 1631 Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven was beheaded because of his rank. Numerous prosecutions that resulted in a sentence of hanging are recorded in the 18th and early 19th centuries. [8]

Even if the charge of sodomy was reduced for lack of evidence to a charge of attempted buggery, the penalty was severe: imprisonment and some time on the pillory. "The lesser punishment—to be stood in the pillory—was by no means a lenient one, for the victims often had to fear for their lives at the hands of an enraged multitude armed with brickbats as well as filth and curses ... the victims in the pillory, male or female, found themselves at the centre of an orgy of brutality and mass hysteria, especially if the victim were a molly." [9] [10]

EXECUTION OUTSIDE NEWGATE Hangin outside Newgate Prison.jpg

Periodicals of the time sometimes casually named known sodomites, and at one point even suggested that sodomy was increasingly popular. This does not imply that sodomites necessarily lived in security.

In Rex v Samuel Jacobs (1817), it was concluded that fellatio between an adult man and an underage boy was not punishable under this Act. [11] The courts had previously established, in Rex v Richard Wiseman in 1716, that heterosexual sodomy was considered buggery under the meaning of the 1533 Act. [12]

In light of R v Jacobs, fellatio thus remained legal until the passage of Labouchere Amendment in 1885, which added the charge of gross indecency to the traditional term of sodomy.

The last two Englishmen who were hanged for sodomy were executed in 1835, when James Pratt and John Smith died in front of the Newgate Prison in London on 27 November. [13] [14]

Repeal in 1828

The Act was repealed by section 1 of the Offences against the Person Act 1828 (9 Geo.4 c.31) and by section 125 of the Criminal Law (India) Act 1828 (c.74). It was replaced by section 15 of the Offences against the Person Act 1828, and section 63 of the Criminal Law (India) Act 1828, which provided that buggery would continue to be a capital offence. The new Act expressly specified that conviction of buggery no longer required proof of completion ("emission of seed") and evidence of penetration was sufficient for conviction. [15]

Buggery remained a capital offence in England and Wales until the enactment of the Offences against the Person Act 1861.

The United Kingdom Parliament repealed buggery laws for England and Wales in 1967 (in so far as they related to consensual homosexual acts in private), ten years after the Wolfenden report. Legal statutes in many former colonies have retained them, such as in the Anglophone Caribbean.

See also

Notable convictions under the Act:

Related Research Articles

Molly house

Molly-house was a term used in 18th- and 19th-century England for a meeting place for homosexual men. These meeting places were generally taverns, public houses, coffeehouses or even private rooms where men could either socialize or meet possible sexual partners.

Gross indecency is a crime in some parts of the English-speaking world, originally used to criminalize sexual activity between men that fell short of sodomy, which required penetration. The term was first used in British law in a statute of the British Parliament in 1885 and was carried forward in other statutes throughout the British Empire. The offense was never actually defined in any of the statutes which used it, which left the scope of the offense to be defined by court decisions. The concept of gross indecency as a criminal offense is reflective of Victorian-era morality.

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Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, commonly known as the Labouchere Amendment, made "gross indecency" a crime in the United Kingdom. In practice, the law was used broadly to prosecute male homosexuals where actual sodomy could not be proven. The penalty of life imprisonment for sodomy was also so harsh that successful prosecutions were rare. The new law was much more enforceable. It was also meant to raise the age of consent for heterosexual intercourse. Section 11 was repealed and re-enacted by section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, which in turn was repealed by the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which partially decriminalized homosexual behaviour.

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  1. This is only a conventional short title for this Act.
  2. R v Jacobs (1817) Russ & Ry 331 confirmed that buggery related only to intercourse per anum by a man with a man or woman, or intercourse per anum or per vaginam by either a man or a woman with an animal. Other forms of "unnatural intercourse" may amount to indecent assault or gross indecency, but do not constitute buggery (see generally: Smith & Hogan, Criminal Law (10th ed.) ISBN   0-406-94801-1)
  3. Raithby, John, ed. (1811). The Statutes at Large, of England and Great Britain. 3. London: Eyre and Strahan. p. 145. hdl:2027/njp.32101075729275.
  4. 1 2 Hamish (25 July 2007). "Reflections on BNA, part 6: British Law". The Drummer's Revenge. Retrieved 3 February 2010.
  5. Crompton, Louis (2003-01-01). Homosexuality and Civilization. Harvard University Press. ISBN   978-0-674-03006-0.
  6. 1 2 "Walter Hungerford and the 'Buggery Act' | English Heritage". www.english-heritage.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-03-20.
  7. Norton, Rictor. "5 The Medieval Basis of Modern Law". A History of Homophobia. Gay History and Literature.
  8. Norton, Rictor. "Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England". Gay History and Literature.
  9. Norton, Rictor. "Popular Rage (Homophobia)". Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England. Gay History and Literature.
  10. Gilbert, Creighton (1995). Caravaggio and his two cardinals. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 221. ISBN   978-0-271-01312-1.
  11. Sir William Oldnall Russell (1825). Crown Cases Reserved for Consideration: And Decided by the Twelve Judges of England, from the Year 1799 to the Year 1824. p. 331.
  12. "Another Kind of Love "d0e1110"". publishing.cdlib.org.
  13. "A history of London's Newgate prison". www.capitalpunishmentuk.org.
  14. Alternative date April 8, 1835, See "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-11-20. Retrieved 2012-08-01.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) seen 2012
  15. 9 Geo.4 c.31, section XVIII