Establishing Boundaries: Criminalization of Bestiality

A copy of the official record of The Buggery Act enacted by King Henry VIII.

In 1533, the Parliament of England passed the Buggery Act, England’s first sodomy law; previously matters of immorality were reserved for the ecclesiastical courts, but the felonious act of anal penetration, specifically bestiality, transformed into an issue for the civil court system. [1] It is easy to dismiss the transfer of bestiality as an ecclesiastical issue to a legal issue was the result of the Protestant Reformation regulating sexuality. However, as discussed, the issue of bestiality and the attempts to control it existed prior to the Protestant Reformation-- and had proven to be unsuccessful. The birthing of monsters was viewed as genuine threat that was an act against God and Nature; however, penances and excommunications were not enough to discourage or stop its practice. Bestiality transforming into a capital punishment was the result of centuries of null attempts to protect the sanctity of England (physically and spiritually).

An article describing a man

engaging in buggery with the

Mare of King Charles II.



The following trials are graphic in nature but as aforesaid on the pervious page, legal depositions were an important preventative tool for understanding the process of cross-breeding. In the winter of 1643, King Charles II enjoyed a Sunday morning with a visit to church. However, while he was away, the Prison Keeper was searching for a missing prisoner. While spying through a peephole located in the stables, he noticed a latter erected behind a horse and on top was the prisoner engaging in buggery. The offender pleaded guilty when tried by a court and the author of the article expresses their condolences towards King Charles II for the impending execution of the mare (as will be discussed on the following page, animals were not exempt from punishment under The Buggery Act).

The recorded trials of a woman and man accused of buggery, as well as a trial of a woman that poisoner her mother, a maid, and two other women.

The accusation of buggery was a difficult charge to condemn a party for and because it was extremely speculative for a crime of high severity so specific witness requirements were in place to deter false charge claims. In the summer of 1677, a married woman, described as "having not the fear of God before her eyes", was brought before the criminal court for crimes against nature. Through a hole in a wall, a surveyor had witnessed the woman engaged in “carnal copulation” with a dog. To which, the surveyor called forth two more witnesses to view the event unfolding through the peephole. During the court hearing, the witnesses had sworn they had watched the woman engage in osculation with the dog; to test the claims, the dog was brought to the stand to discuss the details of the event. Whether deliberate or inadvertent, nonetheless, the dog had solidified the woman’s guilt as it wagged its tale and “making motions as it were to kiss her…”[2] The transgressor was sentenced to death while the outcome for the dog in the trial is unknown. However, it is plausible to predict the likely outcome the dog was executed for its involvement based on England's history of executing animals as well as the aforementioned statute in Mercurius Aulicus.[3]

            The same year, a man was accused of engaging in sex with not one mare but finishing and engaging in sex with a new mare. The accused claimed that he did not commit any crimes and was only in the area seeking employment. The court deemed the man innocent of the crime as the witness’ testimony did not establish proof. According to the source, the witness was “threescore yards distant”; this distance is too far to be considered a credible and thus punishable. However, had the eyewitness evidence been stronger, the accuser would have certainly faced execution by the state; moreover, if the crime was lessened, it would be sentenced (at a minimum) to imprisonment and time in the pillory.[4]

[1] “The Buggery Act of 1533,” British Library, (July  10, 2020).

[2] L'Estrange, Roger, A True Narrative of the Proceedings at the Sessions-House in the Old-Bayly. Wherein is Contained the Tryal of the Woman from Committing that Odious Sin of Buggery with a Dog and Likewise of the Man for Buggering of Two Mares. with the Tryal of the Young Maid that Poysoned Her Mother, a Maid, and Two Gentlewomen. and all Other Considerable Transactions there. with the Number of those Condemned, Burn'd in the Hand, to be Transported and Whipt (London: 1677), 4.

[3] "News," Mercurius Aulicus, December 17th, 1643, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection, Z2000765619/BBCN?u=viva_gmu&sid=BBCN&xid=a63ebedd. Accessed 13 July 2020.

[4] L'Estrange, Roger, A True Narrative of the Proceedings at the Sessions-House in the Old-Bayly.