Pride and Fortunes

The Age of Exploration, and the Golden Age of art and literature, connected the world. The Age of Exploration made leaps in terms of scientific discoveries, transportation, and connecting various cultures that had previously had little interaction with the western world. Elizabethan literature created entirely new ideas, and creative processes, and artists, and writers. As with much of history, when one part of society moves forward, another part goes backward.

In 1533, the English parliament passed the Buggery Act, which established sodomy as a capital offence (yes, that’s really what it was called). The act was formally known as An Acte for the punnysshement of the vice of Buggerie (because no Oxford dictionary to make spelling rules). This was England’s first civil sodomy law. It defined “buggery” as a crime against nature, God and man. The Buggery Act, ostensibly, made all homosexual sex punishable by death. Attempted buggery was punishable by 2 years in prison. Sex acts defined at “indecent assault” or “gross indecency” had various degrees of punishment, depending on the court. Punishment often involved imprisonment and time on the pillory. Neither indecent assault nor gross indecency were never specifically defined. (which is a fact to remember, because it’ll be important once we hit Victorian England) The Buggery Act, officially, ran for one parliamentary session. Parliament re-enacted the laws three times between 1533 and 1541, when it was made permanent.

In 1542, the Laws in Wales Act extended the English legal system into Wales. The point of the Act was to create a single state and single judiciary for all of England and Wales. The Laws of Wales Act included the Buggery Act, making all homosexual acts illegal in both England and Wales. Scotland, being its own kingdom with its own parliament, had no laws banning sodomy until the Acts of Union of 1707, although sodomy was punishable in Scotland as buggery before 1707. (see: Commission For The Trial of Gavin Bell).

Edward VI’s ascension to the throne in 1547 after the death of Henry VIII saw the repeal of all of felonies passed during Henry’s rein. In 1548, the Buggery Act of 1533 was re-enstated, and given new force…with a few provisions. Although the penalty for buggery remained death, but families of those who were convicted were allowed to keep goods and lands, and the rights of wives and heirs were safe guarded. In 1553, upon Edward VI’s death, Mary Tudor repealed all acts passed during Edward’s rein. Between 1553 and 1558, there was no anti-sodomy law in England, although it was still punishable by death under a “moral convictions” law.

Between 1553 and 1558, England went through religious and political turmoil, which ended with Mary’s death and the ascension of her younger half sister Elizabeth I. Elizabeth re-instated the Buggery Act of 1533, not 1547. The irony that Elizabeth I, who is lauded for social change, improvements in the arts, and the exploration and colonisation of the late 16th century re-instituted laws against love.

By the end of the 16th century, every country in Europe had its own version of sodomy laws, ostensibly making homosexuality illegal. By the end of the 16th century, every country in Europe, sodomy carried the death penalty. Although each country had varying degrees of punishment for non-sodomy homosexual acts, every country in Europe had insisted laws prohibiting homosexual acts (although, technically, the idea of sexuality wasn’t yet in existence and ‘homosexual’ didn’t exist as a word). As European nations spread out across the Atlantic, so did their morality laws. By the end of the 16th century, as European nations colonised the world, the impact of Constantine’s morality laws became reality for more than just Europe.

[Tragic Love Story That Fits Nowhere: 

King James VI of Scotland ascended the throne at age 13 months, after his mother Mary Queen of Scots was made to abdicate. That story is unimportant for this particular telling. James IV would become James I of England, and unify the two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, although they’d keep their separate parliaments. Again, not important.

In 1580, James officially made his introduction to Edinburg society as King, although he wouldn’t gain full control of his Kingdom until 1583 (remember that date). In 1580, James also met a Franco-Scottish Lord, Esmé Stewart, 1st Duke of Lennox. Lennox, who was 24 years old than James, was a distant relative and father of 5 children. It didn’t matter. James and Lennox fell in love, Lennox becoming James’ favourite advice giver. A number of Scottish nobles noticed Lennox’s influence on James’ policies, and feeling left out or unhappy with James’ favouritism, decided Lennox needed to go. They invited James’ to Ruthven Castle as a guest, and then imprisoned him, agreeing to his release only upon Lennox’s banishment. James was imprisoned for 10 months before he acceded to their wishes. Lennox was banished to France, where he remained. James and Lennox stayed in secret contact, up until Lennox’s death in Paris in 1583. Upon Lennox’s death, a mutual friend, William Schaw, returned to Scotland with Lennox’s heart, giving it to James in a sealed box. Schaw told James that since Lennox’s heart belonged to him in life, it should also belong to him in death. Historical rumour says that when James died in 1625, Lennox’s heart was buried with him. After Lennox’s death, the regents guarding James’ throne agreed he was old enough to take full control, and he assumed full rights of rein in 1583. Coincidence?]

Part VI: Homosexuality, Politics, and the 17th Century


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