From Bugger to Homosexual: The English sodomite as criminally deviant (1533-1967) - Université Clermont Auvergne Access content directly
Journal Articles Revue française de civilisation britannique Year : 2014

From Bugger to Homosexual: The English sodomite as criminally deviant (1533-1967)


For almost 450 years, between the passing of the Buggery Act 1533 and the Sexual Offences Act 1967, the law of the realm forbade sodomy between men in England and Wales, even if carried out in private between two consenting adults . This paper will focus on this “penal period” to study the evolution of the labels used to express the sodomites’ deviance and exclusion from British society as a whole. The forbidding of sodomy had a lot to do with moral reasons (grounded in its strong and explicit Biblical condemnation), but also with social and political reasons, as it was intended to protect society from a vice seen as threatening its very fabric, notably because it dissociated sexuality from reproduction, thus defiling the sanctity of marriage, and seemed to pervert gender identities. However, the perception of the “bugger” was not uniform throughout our period: thus, in the XVIth and XVIIth centuries, “buggery” was mainly associated with political treason; when the XVIIIth and most of the XIXth century saw in the “sodomite” the symbol of irreligious libertinism, and in sodomy the pinnacle of debauchery. By contrast, from roughly the 1860s, under the influence of medical sciences, and especially of psychoanalysis, the “homosexual” came to be seen as either a sanitary threat to society or as the victim of a mental illness in need of a cure. We will see how these labels had in common the idea that sodomy was a deviant, “unnatural act”, and that practising sodomites could have no place in a Christian/civilized society, while at the same time paving the way to the birth of a “homosexual conscience” which indirectly led to toleration and decriminalization.


Law History
Fichier principal
Vignette du fichier
Article The Sodomite as Deviant.pdf (272.49 Ko) Télécharger le fichier
Origin : Files produced by the author(s)

Dates and versions

hal-01272782 , version 1 (11-02-2016)


Attribution - NonCommercial


  • HAL Id : hal-01272782 , version 1


Jérôme Grosclaude. From Bugger to Homosexual: The English sodomite as criminally deviant (1533-1967). Revue française de civilisation britannique, 2014, XIX (1), pp.31-46. ⟨hal-01272782⟩
1104 View
1729 Download


Gmail Facebook X LinkedIn More