Comparing Punishments for Sodomy: England and the English Navy
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In the Bible the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were said to be destroyed by the Lord with brimstone and fire on account of the wicked and sinful natures of the men who resided in the cities. The wicked and sinful part of their nature is that the men of Sodom would rather have sex with other men than with the virginal daughters that Lot had offered them. This is where the word sodomy comes from and it is defined as a person given to the sin of Sodom, in other words someone who engages in homosexual acts (Norton, 2013). To combat this kind of “detestable” and “unnatural” behavior the English government created laws which strictly prohibited homosexual acts between men and also women. Although it should be noted that the church already viewed sodomy as a sin before the English judicial system did.
Sodomy was a capital offense in eighteenth century England (Greene, 204). A capital offense simply means it is a charge which carries the death penalty. Between 1700 and 1800 many cases involving sodomitical acts came before the English criminal courts, and while the majority were cases of assault with sodomitical intent, there were a few cases of sodomy. The individuals convicted of sodomy were sentenced to be hanged at Tyburn.
Just as there were laws against sodomy on land so were there on the sea. Specifically Article 29 of the 1749 Articles of War which stated:
If any person in the fleet shall commit the unnatural and detestable sin of buggery, of sodomy with man or beast, he shall be punished with death by the sentence of a Court Martial. (Gilbert, 79)
Although Article 29 is very clear about the expected punishment for a sailor convicted of sodomy the king had the power to pardon any sailor found guilty of a capital crime. According...
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Asal, Victor, Paul G. Harwood, and Udi Sommer. "Original Sin: A Cross National Study of the Legality of Homosexual Acts ." Comparative Political Studies. no. 3 (2012): 320-351. http://www.sagepublications.com/ (accessed November 24, 2013).
Greene, Jody . "Public Secrets: Sodomy and the Pillory in the Eighteenth Century and Beyond." Eighteenth Century: Theory & Interpretation. no. 2/3 (2003): 203-232.
Gilbert, Arthur N. . "Buggery and the British Navy, 1700-1861." Journal of Social History. no. 1 (1976): 72 98.
Norton, Rictor. Mother Clap's Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830. Gloucestershire: The Chalford Press, 2006.
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Homosexual Terms in 18th-century Dictionaries", Homosexuality in Eighteenth Century England: A Sourcebook, 13 May 2008, updated 15 July 2013 .