Bringing great shame upon this city: sodomy, the courts and the civic idiom in south west England, 1720-1820
Sodomy -- England -- History Trials (Sodomy) -- England -- History Σοδομία -- Αγγλία -- Ιστορία Δίκες (Σοδομία) -- Αγγλία -- Ιστορία
This paper, examines the relationship between national statute laws governing 'unnatural' expressions of male sexuality and the politics of their implementation at local level. The frequency with which sodomy was prosecuted in eighteenth century Bristol was proportionately far greater than at Bath, Gloucester, Exeter, Portsmouth, Salisbury, Southampton or Winchester. Although the provincial press commonly regarded sodomy as a threat to civic cohesion and ascribed its prevalence to the influence of 'outsiders', the preoccupation of the Bristolian public sphere with sodomite 'conspiracies' became acute in the 1730s and had a lasting influence on popular attitudes towards sexuality in the city. This paper considers social, cultural and economic factors underlying that preoccupation, and discusses its expression within a locally nuanced 'civic idiom', in which the 'unmasking' and presentation of deviance and masquerade play a central role. All previous research into the legal enforcement of what Randolph Trumbach has termed the 'new heterosexuality' of the 18th century has been drawn from London sources. In shifting the focus to the English provinces, this paper argues that the nature and extent of masculinity's remodelling was as dependent upon regionally variable as universal or national terms of reference.
Paper presented at Seventh International Conference on Urban History: European City in Comparative Perspective, Panteion University, Athens - Piraeus, Greece, 27-30 October 2004, Session: Urban stability and civic liberties: two fundamental concepts and the practice of crime control in early modern european cities (1400-1800)