New article on the history of buggery and the UK Parliament

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Parliamentary History have published my article "Buggery and Parliament, 1533-2017". The article provides an in-depth consideration of the making of statute law in the UK Parliament relating to buggery that reveals the dramatically changing attitudes of legislators towards this aspect of sexual conduct.

Understanding why legislators in the UK wanted to punish people, for nearly 500 years, for engaging in buggery is vital for understanding why legislators in some countries today want to inflict the same punishment. Millions of people around the world live in countries with criminal laws, still in force, that are traceable back to English buggery laws. 

My article can be downloaded here (if you cannot access it, please email me).

Below is a short history of some aspects of buggery law and the UK Parliament.


The Buggery Act 1533 ("An Acte for the punysshement of the vice of Buggerie"), enacted by the Parliament of England, brought the offence of buggery into English criminal law. Here's how the Act originated. 

On the 17th of January 1534, the House of Lords ordered that the judges prepare a Bill for the punishment of the sin of sodomy with death...


On the 19th of January 1534, the Bill was introduced into the House of Lords and given its first reading. The second reading quickly followed, on the 21st of January 1534...


The third reading of the Bill in the House of Lords was on the 22nd of January 1534 (just three days after the Bill had been introduced) and, having been agreed, it was delivered to the Solicitor-General and Clerk of the Crown to be sent to the House of Commons...


The Bill returned to the House of Lords on the 7th of February 1534, having been agreed to by the House of Commons ("per Communes expedita") and went on to receive Royal Assent...


The Buggery Act 1533 wasn't made as permanent legislation but was intended "to endure till the last day of the next Parliament". It would have expired if the next Parliament had not passed an Act to continue it. 

In 1536, Parliament did continue the Buggery Act 1533, twice (probably by accident). One Act of 1536 continued the Buggery Act 1533 alongside three other Acts, relating to beggars and vagabonds, the exporters of horses, and affrays by Welshman into neighbouring English counties. These offences were continued to the end of the next Parliament...

The other Act of 1536 also continued the Buggery Act 1533 until the end of the next Parliament, but also extended it to persons in "holy orders". The Act of 1533 had already removed "benefit of clergy" so this was probably to ensure that everyone in "holy orders" was covered.



The Buggery Act 1533 was again continued by Parliament in 1539 by an Act that continued a wide range of other offences, including those relating to exporting metal, cables and ropes, winding wools, and the killing of weanlings (cattle under the age of two years)...



In 1540, Parliament decided to make the Buggery Act 1533 perpetual. This meant that all of the provisions in the 1533 Act, including those relating to the punishment of death for anyone convicted, would now "continue and endure" and "be observed and kept for ever"...



When Parliament declared in 1540 that the offence of buggery would remain in force "for ever", this proved to be rather short lived and, in 1547, Parliament repealed the offence, along with all new felonies created under the reign of Henry VIII...



After abolishing the offence of buggery in 1547, Parliament again changed its mind and reinstated the offence in 1548. However, Parliament introduced limitations relating to, for example, the time in which a prosecution could be brought and who could give evidence...


Another change of opinion on buggery in 1553 saw Parliament abolish the offence again, along with several other felonies. This meant that, for the next decade, there was no criminal law relating to buggery and it ("sodomy") became, as before 1533, an ecclesiastical offence...


By an Act of 1562, Parliament revived the Buggery Act 1533, and buggery remained an offence in English law for over four centuries. The death penalty was removed in 1861, and acts committed in "private" were partially decriminalised between men (1967 in England and Wales; 1982 in Northern Ireland) and men/women (1994 in England and Wales; 2003 in Northern Ireland)...


Parliament abolished buggery in English law in 2003 and in Northern Irish law in 2008, created a scheme to "disregard" offences, and, in 2017, enabled people, living and dead, to be pardoned.


See here for a discussion of who received a pardon. 

The pardon process is incomplete and ongoing - see here for a discussion of our attempt to gain pardons for Army and Royal Marine personnel convicted of buggery under military law between 1688 and 1881. 


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