Friday, December 30, 2011

Buggery - a brief history

The Buggery Act of 1533.

It has a nice rhythm to it. da DUDdily da, da DA da DA da DA.

Thought up by ‘Enery the Eighth, I am I am, apparently as a means of getting around the law that said you couldn’t execute monks and steal their property.

Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall as Henry and his Councillors sat around scheming a way around that limitation?

Henry: Damn Buggers. No way to get at ‘em.
Councillor: There’s got to be a way. Damn Buggers, indeed!
Henry: Right. What do the buggers do that we can get them for?
Councillor: Besides buggery, you mean?
Henry: That’s it! We’ll make it illegal for the buggers to be buggers!

So down came the Buggery Act of 1533, which reads:
...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....

That’s really got to smart. First you are sentenced to death. And on top of that you are not allowed to become a clergyman?

Seems Henry was not the first to come up with this. Two hundred years earlier, Philip IV of France (aka Philip le Bel, or Philip the Gorgeous) had pulled this trick on the Knights Templar, to whom he was deeply indebted.

One of the benefits of being king, obviously, is that if you are in over your head in debt to your bankers, you can have them executed.

With Henry, too, it was all about money, and not the story you get from the religious people, who would have you believe the act was a moment of righteousness, when evil was brought down a peg.

Now right away there’s something fishy about this law. Almost nobody seems to get prosecuted by it. The first case didn’t come about for seven years, when one of Henry’s squires, a man named Walter Hungerford lost his head for buggery. But the real reason seems to be that the man he was buggering (if indeed he was) was in cahoots with the enemies of Henry, a bunch of Catholic sympathizers in York.

Another man executed for buggery was John Atherton, the Anglican Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, in Ireland. In his case, it is likely he really was a bugger, although he would most likely have been left alone if he had not been a lawyer as well as a clergyman and sued to regain some of the land that once belonged to the Anglican Church in Ireland, thus pissing off the rich landlords who then conspired to zap him. To put icing on the cake, they charged him with incest and with sex with cattle, as well.

Then there is Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, executed for buggery in 1631. Poor fellow didn’t play it all that cool. He brought his chums to the dining table and handed his greedy wife and heirs, who feared disinheritance, a reason on a silver platter for offing him and laying claim to his wealth here and now. He was beheaded on orders of the Privy Council, once a kind of English Supreme Court.

The point is few people care a rat’s backside who or what you diddle with, unless, of course, your diddling can be used as a means of getting their hands on your wealth.

But I digress. Back to the Buggery Act of 1533. What I find so interesting about it is that it was repealed twenty years later by Queen Mary (“Bloody Mary” to her father’s Protestant friends), the Catholic daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and granddaughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, who were responsible for getting Columbus to America, where gays would one day drink Bloody Marys at their institutional meal, brunch, no doubt in honor of this repeal.

Not that it did much good. A mere ten years later, Elizabeth reinstituted the buggery law when she succeeded to the throne and had her Catholic half-sister beheaded. The fact that in the next hundred years fewer than 100 cases of buggery were prosecuted suggests there was no longer a whole lot to be gained by going after buggers.

And here is where homophobia begins to play a real role. While buggers didn’t get executed all that often, they did frequently end up in pillories, especially if they were Mollies (Molly was the Elizabethan word for nelly queens or female impersonators), where any thug could do them serious harm with stones or brickbats. It’s hard to make the case that the average Joe was out for blood. The law against buggery remained a capital offense until 1861, but the last execution took place twenty-five years earlier. In 1885, the law was expanded to include other sexual acts besides sodomy under the rubric of “gross indecency” not long after the word “homosexuality” came into being.

Most likely it remained on the books because of some deep-seated sense gay sex “per anum” was too yucky to let pass. Until 1967, that is, when all laws in Britain against such goings on among the buggers were finally repealed. Bugger at will.

Unless you’re a citizen of someplace which still conserves these British traditions, like Nigeria, which has been in the news lately over its harsh treatment of gays. At least one poor fellow is concerned that the gays are going to form churches and these churches are going to go to war with the anti-gay churches, and lordy, lordy, what will become of Nigeria?

Or Zimbabwe, where legislation against homosexuality was implemented only in 1995, thus causing terrible embarrassment to President Mugabe’s predecessor, the Reverend Canaan Banana, who went to jail for his buggery habits. Oh, and was kicked out of the priesthood, as well.

And lest we create the false impression in this terribly abbreviated history of buggery that only the Africans are caught in a time warp, consider too the current focus here and here on Ron Paul’s delight (at least his Iowa campaign manager’s delight) at getting the endorsement of that troglodyte preacher from Nebraska, Phillip Kayser, who still actively advocates the stoning to death of gays.

It really was all about greed, initially. If Henry had been able to keep his greed in check, or if he had come up with some other way to snatch what he wanted from those hapless helpless subjects of his, whose only fault was a desire to keep warm on English winter nights in those cold stone monasteries.

As inheritors of British traditions, here in the US of A, we’ve brought Henry VIII’s brilliant combo alive once more. It’s not just Ron Paul who’s willing to overlook a stone thrower when it is only buggers he’s throwing them at. Virtually the entire list of Republican Party candidates for the job of controlling nuclear weapons and the power to push the red button are outdoing each other going after buggers (nowadays they use the more cheerful term – gays – and they have added women and transgendered folk, who didn't register on Henry's radar, to their number of people to scapegoat with their anti-Buggery attitudes du Jour.

Rick Santorum is perhaps Homophobe-in-Chief. (And if you think the Flying Spaghetti Monster is letting him off scot free, google his name to see his own personal connection to buggery). Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus (you can call him Molly for short) are close seconds. I won’t mention the others, because, like Henry, it’s likely they have no personal animus, and are only on this trail for reasons of political expediency.

Whether you’re reading history and the fascinating machinations of Henry the Eighth, or tuning in to the Republican caucus race in Iowa, it’s clear the lust for power and wealth and the sanctimonious assumption of the role of Servant of the Lord on Earth is one of the most effective tools for getting ahead since the invention of the wheel.

Henry went for the Buggers. The Republicans go for the Gays.

It's just politics.

Don't worry your little head about it.


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