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Buggery Act

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Buggery Act

Buggery Act 1533[1]
Long title An Acte for the punysshement of the vice of Buggerie
Chapter 25 Hen. 8 c. 6
Other legislation
Repealing legislation 9 Geo. 4 c. 31[2]
Status: Repealed

The Buggery Act 1533, formally An Acte for the punysshement 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. It was the country's first civil sodomy law, such offences having previously been dealt with by the ecclesiastical courts.

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later defined by the courts to include only anal penetration and bestiality.[3] The Act remained in force until it was repealed and replaced by the Offences against the Person Act 1828, and buggery would remain a capital offence until 1861.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 Act was piloted through Parliament by Thomas Cromwell. The Act established punishment of buggery by hanging, a penalty lifted in 1861.

According to the Act:

...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. It is likely that Henry had this in mind when he drafted the Act.[4]

The first conviction took place in July 1540: On trumped up charges of treason and of convicted of being in contravention of the Act, Walter Hungerford, 1st Baron Hungerford of Heytesbury (who married three times, and had four children) became the first person executed under the statute[dubious ], although it was probably the treason that cost him his life. 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.

The Act was repealed in 1553 on the accession of Queen Mary. 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."[5] 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.[6]

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."[7][8]

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.

The last two Englishmen that were hanged for sodomy were executed in 1835. John Pratt and John Smith died in front of the Newgate Prison in London on the 27th of November of that year.[9][10]

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.

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:


External links

  • The law in England, 1290-1885, concerning homosexual conduct
  • Michael Kirby, The sodomy offence: England's least lovely criminal law export?, "Journal of Commonwealth Criminal Law", I 2011, pp. 22-43.
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