History

​The Buggery act:1533 

The Origins of a Tudor Law used against gay men globally today.

In early Tudor times a new law came into power that even to this day affects some countries of the world. It originally was called An Acte for the punishment of the vice of Buggerie.

So what were the reasons behind the Act in the first place? 

Was it political, or something that was truly required at the time?

There is nothing to suggest that prior to the 1533 Act, there were many issues with same-sex relationships in society. The issues appear to be more about power or revenge. There were few incidences, mainly because of religious dogma, however, generally same-sex relationships were “tolerated” or people simply turned a blind eye. This begs the question, why instate such a parliamentary Act?

When first instated it was not so much homophobic, but targeted all forms of sodomy, man, woman, or beast. Bestiality was later removed from this Act. Any offenders who were convicted would be put to death, lose any possessions to pass onto their benefactors, and would not be allowed access to clergy.

The Act also states that no one would be exempted including priests and monks. This was unusual at this point in history.

It was first instated on a one year temporary basis, being brought back in 1536, 1539 and 1541 until it was made a permanent law in 1541.In 1542 the Act was extended to Wales. However, within Tudor times it was hardly used and there are only a handful of instances on record of anyone being charged under this Act during the next 100 years.

This wasn’t the first of its kind. Other acts had been used elsewhere in Europe, often to seize the accused assets and to bring humiliation on the accuser’s enemy. The Knights Templar were known to be tortured by King Philip of France using a similar act 200 years previous, something that would have been known by the Tudor king.

Henry 8th desperately wished to break away from the Catholic Church. In the eyes of the church he was still married to Catherine of Aragon. The Pope refused the marriage to be annulled, however he had secretly married Anne Boleyn who was about to give birth to Henry’s second child, Elizabeth.

If the unborn child was born out of wedlock it would not have a legitimate entitlement to the crown. It is easy to understand that Henry needed to act quickly, forming The Church of England.

Separating from Rome was not that easy, many opposed it, and so Henry’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell was given the ruthless task of Reformation, imposing Henry’s power over Rome on England. It is suggested by some historians that by using Thomas Cromwell to pilot the Buggery Act 1533 it could be used as a tool to humiliate Henry’s political opposition if required.

As they had so much power the monasteries were Henry’s biggest problem. The Catholic Church owned thirty percent of land in England. Cromwell also acted on this. Many monks are known to have been tortured with forced “confessions” made, and ultimately executed. Henry sold off the monasteries to the wealthy for a profitable income. 

It wasn’t until 28 July 1540 when the first man was executed for buggery; Walter Hungerford. He was in favour of the Catholic resistance.

The buggery charge was probably added to the list of crimes for humiliation, also to seize his assets warding off other sympathizers, like previously with the Knights Templar. 

Thomas Cromwell was also executed on the very same day for treason and heresy. 

Furthermore, many believe the Act was political as the headmaster of Eton College, Nicholas Udall, admitted to abusing his students. He was sentenced to execution, yet later it was reduced to imprisonment, after his release he became headmaster at Westminster school.

There was no law for age of consent at this time. The only law that was in existence for sexual conduct was for adultery. When laws were placed much later it was twelve years old for consensual heterosexual intercourse. 

After Henry’s death the Crown was passed over to his ten year old son Edward 6th. Immediately he repealed all the felonies created by Henry. However in 1548 Edward reinstated the law, with an amendment that stated the defendant’s property would not be forfeited.

After Edwards’s death, his older sister Mary 1st, the daughter of Catholic Catherine of Aragon revoked all laws that she deemed “anti-Catholic” and began to crush the protestant church in England. When Mary died, Queen Elizabeth 1st ascended to the throne. Elizabeth reinstated the 1533 Act with no amendments. Elizabeth had been raised as a part of a Protestant household.

There is little written evidence to suggest that the Act was used much until Georgian times. Between 1806 and 1861 until the death sentence was lifted over 400 men had been sentenced. This Act was implemented into the law of all British Colonies, affecting a third of the world, making it recognizable why most of the world’s anti-gay laws exist in The British Commonwealth.

Even if you are still unsure that the intention of the original Act was for nothing more than political gain, one thing is for certain, this law is responsible for many homophobic regulations that are still around globally to this today.

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