Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sodomy: Last Chapter

This post is concerned with how sodomy in 17th c. New England. I used this topic in my thesis as a comparative view and I'm sure I was docked points for once again violating the parameters that I set. The source that I consulted was an article by Robert F. Oaks titled "Things Fearful to Name: Sodomy and Buggery in 17th Century New England." It was my only source on this matter, and it was a pleasant read for once. It can be accessed on UNCC's JSTOR, and in short, I am merely summarizing this article.

Puritan New England was known for its harsh moral codes. Rather than adopting England's laws to serve the colonies, they turned to another source- the Old Testament. Although individuals were rarely prosecuted for this crime in England, it did warrant capital punishment. How differently would sodomites and buggers be treated in a society that was ruled by an even harsher code than Europe's? Oakes' findings may contradict your initial assumptions.

The first finding that would shake the foundation of your beliefs regarding Puritan New England was that homosexual acts of sodomy was quites widespread, but prosecution was rare and punishments in turn were light. This struck me as peculiar as the crime was punishable by death yet most of the guilty parties faced whipping, burning, public shaming and banishment instead. Mirroring the trends of England, there were initially no laws that prohibited same sex acts between women. Laws were implemented at one point only to be repealed shortly after. 

Despite the fact that few were prosecuted, same-sex acts between men were thought to be very common in Puritan New England. A fact that Governor Bradford lamented. This may not make sense at the moment: the prevalence of male homosexual acts, religious fervor yet a small amount of defendants and light sentences. According to Oakes, it was a matter of Manpower. As prevalent as these acts were perceived to be, along with the legal punishment of the crime (execution), many men would have died. Mass executions would significantly burden and hamper the colonies' economic state as they would be bereft a multitude of workers.

Makes sense now, doesn't it? However, where one crime lacks enforcement, a tremendous zeal can be found in another. It was stated before that although the terms buggery and sodomy were often interchangeable, bugger was more often associated with bestiality. Puritan New England was enthusiastic in punishing these criminals, even when evidence was far from substantial: a far cry from their treatment of sodomites. Considering the circumstances, was buggery a greater evil than sodomy?

Yes. Oakes listed a handful of reasons why, but perhaps the most important one was a misconception that many in the time period held: That man and beast could conceive. The fear of what resulted from a union between man and beast must have struck fear among the masses. Oakes adds that humans with physical deformities were thought to have been a result of this unnatural union. 

The procedure of execution is also consistent with those of Europe. The accomplice in the crime (the animal) would be beheaded in front of its human "counterpart" and burned. Then the bugger would be executed.

That wraps up this series on sodomy, which was loosely based on my Senior thesis for History in the Fall of 2009. I thought I would share my findings with my loyal reader(s), and I can honestly say despite the grade I received, I was happy with my work. Speaking of grades, I'm not even sure what my grade on the paper was at all. I had a "B" average throughout the majority of the course and ended up with one at the end, so I'm sure it hovered around there. I usually like to incorporate images in my post, but the subject matter was racy enough already.

Monday, January 18, 2010

2nd Earl of Castlehaven

I am turning this post's attention to a high profile case of sodomy in the 17th century: the execution of Mervyn Touchet, the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven. The Earl's story was an integral part of my final paper because it was fairly well-known and the final verdict can be interpreted in different ways. 

Touchet's story was very strange and disturbing. He was beheaded for sodomy but also faced accusation of abetting in rape. Touchet was the first English noble in nearly a century to be executed for an act besides treason. He had relations with multiple servants, as well as forcing them to commit acts with his wife while he watched. I won't go in much more detail, but the house more resembled a brothel. In addition, the Earl funneled money to the servants he had relations with, taking them from his son's inheritance. I believe the inheritance issue was initially investigated, which then led to the discovery of the sex crimes. I might be wrong. But that's not that as important as the result.

At his trial, 26 of 27 jurors found him guilty for his actions and thus sentenced to the gallows. On the surface, it may seem that the punishment fit the crime-the punishment for sodomy did result in a hanging and his lewd acts alone warranted his fate. By executing the Earl, England's moral integrity was being protected and would prevent God's wrath.

However, there are alternative theories that highlight transgressions beyond his sexually lewd acts. Scholars have argued that the Earl's disregard of social structures made him appear as a threat to his fellow nobility, and they were to make an example of him. These are among the Earl's social violations that I found in my research:

  1. He failed in carrying out the patriarchal duty of controlling his household. Family members and servants eventually turned on him.
  2. He was accused by individuals that were subodordinate to him: his wife, daughter (women), servants, footmen, etc. 
  3. Disregarded the tradition of inheritance- it was an important facet of the nobility's structure.
Reasons #2 and #3 especially disturbed the nobility. According to my sources, this instance shocked the very foundations of the nobility. This man cannot control his subordinates and is giving away his son's inheritance to lowly servants. He became an enemy of the nobility and the jury's nearly unanimous verdict reflected that. Oh the penalty for subverting societal norms.

Regardless, his sister pleaded with the King to spare his life, a power that the King possessed. The monarch was unmoved but did allow for a more humane execution (beheading) than hanging. Touchet's execution was also postponed for a month, allowing him to reflect and repent of his sins.

If you want to learn more about Touchet and correct me, I recommend Cynthia Herrup's book on the topic. Up next: 17th c. New England and their sodomy laws and procedures.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

England on a Budget Part VI

Day 6, the last full day in England for myself started out ambitious. We estimated that we would arrive back in London in the early afternoon, perhaps around 3ish. So we were up and ready hoping to make it back to Sheffield station to catch the earliest bus to London. It did not happen. Derbyshire was a mountainous region and the bus that was supposed to take us back to the main station broke down before it even reached our stop. We did not know this then, but learned of it later on. Consequently, we missed the bus to London, and the next one did not arrive until 3ish (the time we were supposed to arrive in London). Mind you, this is a four hour trip. So all the last minute things I hoped to do in London like seeing St. Peter's cathedral, marble arch, were now impossible and we were stuck in a bus station for 3 hours.

I did enjoy the scenery: Moorlands

We were finally underway at around 4 and by then gave up all hope on doing anything fun once we returned to London. And my iPod died 45 minutes into the trip. Once we returned to London, we had to hop back on the tube and find my final hostel of the trip. I forgot the name, but it was alot nicer than the first and just as lively. We checked in and went out for Indian cuisine then just relaxed for the rest of the night because I had a very early flight the next morning.

And we saw a fox while leaving our hostel to go to dinner. It was strange because we were in the middle of London. Nothing eventful happened the next day. Merely got up, hopped on the tube, waited in long lines at Heathrow and was homeward bound. Upon landing in GSO, I was greeted by the heat and humidity of North Carolina, something I did not miss whilst in England.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

England on a Budget Part V

On our second and only full day in Derbyshire, we had many attractions to visit and most of these were planned by my sister. Our first destination for the day was Chatsworth manor, the residence of the Duke of Devonshire and where the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice was filmed.

Looking backwards to the arched entrance

Visiting this manor made my sister very giddy and she was quite excited, I was merely looking for photo-ops and there were quite a few.

First view of inside

Manuscript written in BLOOD.

Keira Knightley wore this actual dress in Pride and Prejudice

Room of marble statues

Moving outdoors to the Cascade

Yours truly at the front of Chatsworth House

There were other tourists from abroad at Chatsworth and I found this comforting. It was far too quiet at that hostel in Hathersage, I guess I slept better when other tourists were rummaging about in the London hostel. We explored Chatsworth for a couple of hours. There was just as much to see outside than there was inside and the manor had beautiful gardens. However, I found the cascade to be the most impressive site outside. Probably because we didn't bother looking for the maze, we were far too tired from yesterday's hike. The next stop was Bakewell, another small town in Derbyshire. 

The main attraction here was the Rutland Arms Hotel, where Jane Austen had allegedly stayed in. We had afternoon tea, explored Bakewell, then headed back to the hostel. Of course, it wasn't that simple. It was almost a 2 hour journey back because we had to switch and wait on buses. We bought bacon and eggs from a convenience store the night before, for a cheap price might I add, even by US standards, and had breakfast for dinner. Again. We were on a budget, mainly because I lost my wallet.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

England on a Budget Part IV

The mess that was Day 3 still lingered onto Day 4. Sister and I were to catch a bus at 5 am back to London and slightly overslept. We literally had to rush out and jog (with small suitcases) to the bus stop on the outskirt of town. We made it. Barely. I sustained a painful blister, however the combination of drowsiness and exhaustion let both of us sleep for most of the way back to London. From London, we had a 4 hour bus trip north to the Derbyshire district.

The town we stayed in was called Hathersage and was a fairly quiet town in a foothill region. There were other tourists here also, although they were English and were on "holiday". So to me, it was a bit creepy and much too quiet. I wish we would've cut our time here in half. We had afternoon tea as soon as we arrived. Afternoon tea consists of more than just tea. It also consists of sandwiches and desserts. FYI.

However, I let my sister make travel plans and she wanted to come to Derbyshire to visit Chatsworth and to go Stanedge Edge and look for the rock that Keira Knightley stood on in the film Pride and Prejudice. So on our first afternoon in Heathersage, my sister and I set out to hike Stanedge Edge. It was an impromptu decision and she eventually coaxed me to go. We did not leave for the trail until after 5 pm and it was a race against time for this hike was several miles long and we did not want to be stuck in an unfamiliar, lonely trail. So this adrenaline rush convinced me to go.

The trail to Stanedge Edge ran alongside private manors, grazing pastures and as it went up in elevation, allowed for spectacular views. I was ill prepared for this hike though, and had my normal casual shoes on. Gladly, these shoes did not irritate the blisters contracted during the race to the Cambridge bus stop.

Coming upon a private manor

We would've reached the cliffs quicker had we not stopped for so many photos

As we reach the cliffs, the shadows began to creep

The ascent

And we're on top, with a great view of the English countryside

The Moors atop the edge made me feel like I was in a Lloyd Alexander or Tolkien book

Unfortunately, we couldn't find Keira's ledge

It was a great experience, and I'm glad that my sister and I was able to share it. Once we were happy with photos taken, we scuttled back into town and although it was dark by the time we returned, we did not encounter any difficulties. A day that started out plan awful turned out to be alright. This hike with my sister salvaged the trip. Plus earlier that afternoon we received a call from the Cambridge warden stating that he found my wallet. I'm such an idiot.

Friday, January 1, 2010

England on a Budget Part III

Day 3 was probably the worst days of the trip and of my life, period. Woke up way too early to catch a bus to Cambridge, where my sister was studying for the summer. Taking the rail would be much quicker, but the buses were much cheaper. The English countryside was beautiful and it was refreshing to see after two days in London. Arrived in Cambridge, saw my sister's cool but expensive living arrangements then walked around to take snapshots while getting hassled by "professional" punters.

My sister gave me a brief tour of the town/University and showed me the various different colleges and their notable alumni. My visit was during Cambridge's 800 year anniversary, and this was evident by the banners, posters etc. that was all over town. I graduated from a university that was barely 50 years old, its hard to fathom that it has been in existence for almost a millennium.

To get an authentic Oxbridge experience, we had to go punting on the Cam. My sister and her classmates from Davidson despite living there all summer, did not punt often so we were at times helpless out there. Running into willows, constantly colliding with other boats and causing traffic jams. The pros made it look so easy, but things never are. I tried it myself and there were many instances that I nearly fell in. Trying to maintain balance and exert enough force on the a pole while minding the direction is tough.

After punting, my sister and I toured more buildings and gardens of Cambridge, along the way, losing my wallet. Losing your wallet at home sucks. You have to get new IDs, and cards, but usually don't lose too much money because cash transactions are not that common anymore. Try losing it overseas. Anyways, it was a pain and ruined the day and night. I searched for hours, and it even began to rain. As I was walking back along the sidewalks back to the dorm, a car drove by and splashed me with water. It was that kind of day. Long story short, the warden found it the next day in the gardens. However, by that time, we were eight hours by bus away from Cambridge.

My lone night in Cambridge happened to be the last for the Davidson students and they capped off their summer studies by taking a leap into the Cam from a bridge. No photos available because I did not feel like going out in the rain because I was miserable about my wallet.