Were William Compton and Thomas Tallis, and George Boleyn and Mark Smeaton lovers?

Posted By on April 2, 2021

Thank you so much to Omar from Leeds for the excellent questions regarding Showtime’s The Tudors series for my Fan Q&A series on YouTube.

Omar wanted to know if William Compton and Thomas Tallis, and George Boleyn and Mark Smeaton really had sexual relationships.

I consider whether these storylines were just fictional devices and look at whether there were any links between these men, and, if so, what the evidence is for them having relationships.

Article on George Boleyn – https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/george-boleyns-sexuality/

Other useful videos:

It’s Good Friday today and if you’d like to know how it was commemorated in Tudor times, you can find out here.

12 thoughts on “Were William Compton and Thomas Tallis, and George Boleyn and Mark Smeaton lovers?”

  1. Christine says:

    The Tudors whilst being highly entertaining, has to be taken with a very large dose of salt as there is no evidence whatsoever that George Boleyn Compton and the others were gay, that was just drama and possibly because homosexuality is legal now, the producer/ director thought it was a good idea to put in the series and spice it up a bit, there are so many drama series showing homosexual/ bisexual relationships that it found it’s way into Henry V111’s court as well, I think it’s odd that Warnicke who is an academic historian has a theory that the men who fell with Anne were all gay however, you cannot infer much from an execution speech, or from a childless marriage, but then she also credits Anne with giving birth to a deformed foetus, her very ‘reliable’ source being Nicholas Sander, a man with a grudge against her daughter whom he deemed a heretic, Cavendish in his poem has George saying he indulged in bestiality and ‘maidens I did deflower’, the term they used for taking a maidens virginity, he could well have been a bit of a rake there was temptation aplenty at court, and George was said to be very handsome, he did admit he had been overly proud which was considered a sin, but it’s being way of the mark to suggest he was gay, as Claire explains, Thomas Culpeper was also accused of bestiality by Cavendish and there is no proof there either of his sexuality, he had a romance with one lady at court which made the queen very jealous and then he became involved with her, no doubt there were other women before them both, and if it was the same one, as there was a relation with the same name, he could have been guilty of raping a gamekeepers wife, so it appears Culpeper like George was straight, we know nothing of George’s marriage, only there was no children, this did not mean they did not sleep together, or that he preferred his own kind, there could have been a number of reasons why Jane never had children, we know nothing of their married life so much of it is speculation, she could have had a medical problem or maybe George suffered from low fertility, he is said to have had a child born out of wedlock but evidence is scanty as to the child’s parentage, only that he had the same name as George, as the video explains there is few information on Jane so she could have had children, but sadly lost them, it is only in recent times that the suggestion that Anne’s alleged lovers could have been indulging in unnatural sex, has arisen due to Warnicke’s biography, yet personally I think it’s wide of the mark, earlier historians never suggested such a thing, and Thomas Wyatts grandson the first to write her biography, never mentioned it either, he drew his sources from the reminiscences of his grandfather, who knew Anne and the men who fell with her extremely well, some could say that Wyatt, not wishing to tarnish their memory would never speak of it, as buggery was a crime, but I think it’s highly unlikely that these poor man were anything but straight, Francis Weston was a young father and Henry Norris had two sons with his ex wife, he was engaged to Anne’s cousin, as for William Compton the sweat had claimed him when it was ravaging the country, there was no carrying on with Tallis like in the Tudors, maybe The Tudors did use Warnicke as a source for the story about Comptons and Tallis and George’s sexuality though? And also young Mark Smeaton, George was also seen raping poor Jane and being drunk a few times, the series really showed many of the characters in a rather poor light, the men were shown as dissolute and even Jane was having an affair with Culpeper, very entertaining drama though, sex always gets the ratings high and thrown in with some blood and guts it makes perfect viewing,people should not watch it though and think it’s actually true, it is currently showing on free view Thursday nights, a truly wonderful series for passion and drama love and adventure, but full of untruths and at times very silly, like it also sexualised Catherine Howard, the giggly queen was seen half naked most of the time and she was even dancing in the nude whilst in the Tower, it was February at the time of her incarceration and as we all know, February in England is often the most coldest wettest and miserable month of the year, no young woman would cavort about naked in her prison unless she was mad or on drugs, it trivialised this wretched queens sad story, she was seriously distressed at her predicament and it’s really a wonder she never had a mental breakdown like Jane did, the series also had Henry’s sister Margaret being wed to his close friend Charles Brandon, it was Mary who wed Brandon after her first husband the French King Louis died, Margaret in reality. was wed to King James of Scotland, it also showed Mary’s( called Margaret ) husband as being the King of Portugal and Margaret smothering him with his pillow, she later died of TB, all nonsense but yes have to admit hugely watchable.

  2. Banditqueen says:

    Yes, another great question and one which highlights a modern trend in drama to have to display every type of sexual desire, whether true or not. No doubt gay men and women served at Court as well as lived in the sixteenth century, but they did so at their peril, because it was about to be outlawed by Henry Viii. We also know that although the Bible has a lot to say about homosexuality being unnatural and condemned, in reality even in these highly religious times, sexuality was very fluid and books exist showing diversity in attitudes. Same sex relations was officially frowned upon but there are illustrations that show it was recognised as existing. Probably because it was generally illegal in most parts of Europe, men who were gay still married and had families as this was expected and lovers existed in secret. The Tudors went over board unfortunately to the extent of having virtually everyone sleeping with everyone else regardless of sexual preference. They also had the timings wrong and it was impossible for Thomas Tallis to have slept with William Compton because they were not around at the same time. There was no evidence anyway, but of course they would have met in secret anyway. The same is true with George Boleyn and Mark Smeaton and the latter’s rank may have made such a relationship implausible. Its a bit of a stretch taking odd verses to say that two men were lovers. But that’s the Tudors, highly entertaining, but hardly factual.

  3. Kathryn Matlack says:

    I’m thoroughly enjoying your Tudor Fan Q&A series. I have to confess, though, that I really am a bit depressed and disheartened that so many questions are about “The Tudors” television series. It exposes how truly awful historical period programs and movies have become in regards to any effort to be historically accurate and how so many are getting their “history” from these sources without bothering to do any further research themselves. 16th century England is such a fascinating historical period that it boggles my mind that instead of encouraging curiosity and a desire to know more that so many are willing to let scriptwriters who believe that there’s no such thing as history tell them a salacious, exciting version of what is their truth.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      I agree with you. The Tudors made no secret of the fact it was drama first, history second but its a great pity it also fell into the trap of sex with everything and the f word every second word. It toned it down but there’s another beef for me. Everyone was skinny with white shining teeth and nobody looked anything like how they should. Tudor ladies had plenty of money and were well made, a sign of wealth. They didn’t look as if they needed a good meal or that their dress was about to fall off. Where was Henry’s black trumpeter or anyone of ethnic minority, whowe know lived in Tudor London? Why did the entire cast have Irish accents? Yes I know the actors are Irish but you should be able to do and English accent or Italian one or French. Even Pope Clement is played by a white Irish actor. Now I thought Maria Kennedy Doyle is the greatest Katharine of Aragon yet but what colour hair did Katharine have? Red hair please. Natalie Dormer isn’t dark haired but she dyed it. A good red wig or dye colour could have been used. I may be picky but there are too many departures for it to be anything more than entertaining.

      1. Christine says:

        You could tell Natalie wasn’t a true brunette anyway because her blue eyes gave that away, in fact she said the show wanted her as a blonde Anne Boleyn and Dormer wanted her to look as History described her, she should have used a good wig I agree, and Kennedy’s Katherine I agree was nothing like the original, who was short red haired and in fact looked more English than Spanish, Kennedy on the other hand was tall slender and dark, Jane Seymour was a gorgeous blonde and whilst not being derogatory towards Henry’s third wife, the actress who played her looked more like a beauty queen than Henry’s original queen, who was described as nothing special very dull and haughty, the Holbein portrait bears this out, Princess Mary was dark haired to and too attractive to play Henry’s eldest daughter, The Tudors in fact was more like a 16th century Dallas, just full of sex in long dresses and breeches, yes their pearly whites was just not believable, we all know dentistry was not an art form in Tudor England and Elizabeth 1st had rotten teeth, it was the blacksmith who used to pull bad teeth out and it must have been horrendous without pain relief, the wealthier in society ate more sugar confections as sugar was very dear, and there were plenty at Henry’s banquets, Elizabeth 1st loved meringues, and there were marzipan delicacies as well, so the wealthier must have suffered more from bad teeth than the poor, they used wooden sticks to clean their teeth and a good deal of the population must have had yellow crooked teeth, the BBC drama series about Henry V111 and his wives was far superior in its authenticity and the way his wives and Henry V111 were portrayed to, the Tudors is nothing but a glossy overdone version of the truth, Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry was slim and dark and bore no likeness to the real king who was red haired bearded and as he age grew into a obese balding old man, Meyers as he portrayed the ageing king merely had a touch of silver round his hairline and walked with a stick, he certainly was not fat, today we would call Henry morbidly obese as towards the end of his life he had to be wheeled about his palaces, and had to be winched onto his horse, special armour was made for him and you can see how fat he had grown in the armoury section in the Tower of London, there is the slim armour of his youth and the ones when he had grown increasingly bigger, for authenticity The Six Wives Of Henry V111 filmed in the 1970’s with Keith Mitchell wins hands down.

        1. Christine says:

          I am forgetting yes Mary was very attractive when young, she is said to have had a very fine complexion called olivastra, she was tiny and slender with clear grey eyes an upturned nose and the marvellous red hair of her Tudor ancestry, it’s true we do tend to go by the portraits of these people when they are older, and Mary’s portraits painted when she was queen and after, show a world weary woman with a tight mouth and frown lines around her eyes and mouth, it’s true her hair does look more chestnut than red, she spent all of her teenage years and as she entered into young womanhood battling illnesses that seem more stress related than any thing physical, due to her unhappy situation, she also suffered from very heavy periods and occasional toothache, the actress who played her in the BBC series was rather cannily like her, I wish in fact there would be another British made series about our most famous king because they are much more realistic, another great actor who plated Henry well is Robert Shaw in the film about Sir Thomas More, he was handsome broad shouldered and tall, and looked a most dazzling Henry V111, sadly Shaw is now dead but I always thought he was magnificent as Henry.

  4. Banditqueen says:

    While I agree, I do question one statement, that the actress who played Mary was too attractive. Mary was very beautiful as a young woman
    , more attractive than Elizabeth. She was praised as pretty and for her beauty and attraction. The problem is, most portraits show Mary in her later life, in her 30s when she had aged prematurely. Just why she lost her beauty is unknown but one theory is that the illnesses she suffered from her late teens onwards for many years ravished her as did her diet. I suppose its like smoking today, which causes the skin to tightened and wrinkle more and crack. It changes skin colour as well as cancer and other unfortunate physical issues and effects. If you are ill and depressed for many years your appearance will change quite dramatically. Mary’s hair also changed colour. It was still red but darker so looked more brown. The portrait we have of Mary as a sixteen year old girl is questioned as a likeness but it probably is. She was also painted in her 20s and was beautiful with curling hair and looked very attractive. I saw a very lovely portrait in Grimsphorpe which was particularly attractive. Its very rare. A drawing of her and a bust identified as Mary shows a very pretty child. This is the problem of iconic portraits. We forget that the people were once younger and looked different.

    For example, Henry is played by Jonathan Ryes Myers who looked nothing like Henry as he was middle height, thin and dark haired. Henry was fair and red haired, 6 foot 2 and in 1515, when the Tudors began, well built in muscle mass and still had a good figure. The two couldn’t be more different. However, what we do know is that Henry was slim for many years which is one thing JRM was. However there are surely good tall red haired actors around like Keith Michell in the Six Wives in the 1970s. He was perfect. JRM was a great Henry as an actor, his stage presence made him look bigger. However, he never put weight on in the 1540s set episodes. Not that I blame him because its hard to lose again and body suits are heavy. So they padded him out a bit and aged him. He was the same weight for nearly four seasons. The Holbein was done to look like JRM at the end. Of course with the changes they made some important historical characters were written out of history which is why the series stopped with Henry Viii.

    We forget that Henry Viii came to the throne when he was 17 and was slender, tall, handsome and athletic. The image is of the larger Henry, late middle aged, over weight, too tall, too wide, full faced, hands on hips, looking out from that powerful portrait which dominates the room. He is actually much taller in it because its stretched out and his legs are those of a young fit man, with a huge cod piece. The portrait is the most famous image of any monarch in our history. However, its unrealistic as its a later image and its how Henry wanted to look. His earlier portraits are almost of a different person. His portrait seems to mark the period when Henry started to turn into the tyrant of legend. This is the fearsome image of his own making. However, we see him as a young man and we can appreciate how and why women fell for him. He was gorgeous. He was extremely charming. He was a sports icon. That’s the Henry Viii we have forgotten. The same is true with Mary. We have lost the lovely young Lady who charmed all with her dancing and good manners. The actress in the Tudors was probably very close to the real Mary Tudor.

  5. Banditqueen says:

    Retha Warnicke does her homework and the texts that she has studied are extremely academic but unfortunately lay people pick up on some of the themes that she works with and tangle them up. That’s the problem with authors who are not specialists in the same field and don’t understand the context or the historic setting in which the theory arose. I don’t agree with her ideas that the men around Anne Boleyn were homosexual and that they were targeted as suitable co conspirators because of their deviant lifestyles. In 1534 the Buggery Act was passed, making the practice of homosexuality punishable by death. Therefore if these men were an embarrassing set of deviants and causing scandal etc, if they were a threat to the establishment, then there was a legal remedy which Cromwell could use to destroy them. The full set of men around Anne whose closeness to the Queen put them in moral jeapardy as her potential lovers being gay is impossible. Yes, one or two, George Boleyn for example, Francis Weston, etc might have been womanisers, which was a thing for the Church to sort out, not the civil law, but that didn’t mean that they were sleeping together. We don’t know the incidents of homosexual relationships in Tudor England but the number would have been small because of the moral consequences it carried and the public as well as private shame it carried. Besides all of that, Professor Warnicke does not provide any evidence to back up her theory. That’s the problem here, evidence. This is history, not science and not economics. A hypothesis is very fine in both of those subjects but even then it has to be tested and it has to be proven or rejected. History is something different and interpretation can vary widely from one historian to another because the evidence is often sketchy, often debatable and when reading sources, many times the evidence is contradictory. However, we still have to make a decision as to what fits the facts, who is more reliable and that certainly isn’t clear cut. So we interrogate the sources, we ask questions to try and find a solution. We look at bias, we look at why and when the source was written and we look at how close to the event it was, if the person had personal bias, if there was political bias and what sort of source it is. These are some questions which help us make a decision on the reliability of the source. However, some historians use thesis to frame a theory and here Warnicke has looked at the moral writing of the day and her interpretation is based on the moral framework and sexual politics Anne and these men lived with. There isn’t any proof or evidence as such, but the sort of lives they lived, the opinion of others about them, such as rude lyrics and the last confession made by George Boleyn for example, these are used to infer such lifestyles.

    Professor Warnicke lays much emphasis on the writing of Father Nicholas Sander who wrote about the role of Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I in the tragic break from Rome. He was writing 60 years after Anne’s death, saw Elizabeth as most people in Europe did as an illegitimate heretic and he was defending the Catholics currently being persecuted in England. Amongst other things his work said Anne had a deformed baby which contradicted four contemporary sources which said merely that Anne miscarried a child which looked male, that Henry Viii was Anne’s father and that she was covered in moles. While Warnicke dismissed some of the more colourful elements she sees his work as authoritative and his sources as excellent. On the other hand she dismissed the on the spot reports of Eustace Chapuys as gossip, biased and foreign. While Chapuys was no fan of Anne Boleyn and we must bear that in mind, his work is accurate and were he gets things wrong he will correct it later on. His use of certain unflattering terms with regards to Anne and little Elizabeth are obviously things we must be aware of, but he is also often backed up by other people. He says nothing about any of these men being homosexual and therefore there cannot have been even any gossip about their sexual lives, but he does refer to the odd extra marital affair, not though with the Queen.

    We also know that not all of these men were even connected to each other. Francis Weston, for example, was only 25 in 1536 and not a member of the inner circle. Anne did joke with him one day as he had a crush on her, but we know very little else about his connection to the group brought down by Cromwell. Weston was only arrested when Anne mentioned him in the Tower. The others were targeted directly. Mark Smeaton was targeted for his access and low status, someone easy to terrorise, Norris was implicated, as was George Boleyn and William Brereton was targeted for political reasons. So the long and the short of it all is that these men were not rounded up for moral reasons but because they were convenient and had access to the King and Queen. Therefore Professor Warnicke’s theory falls flat.

    The events in the Tudors do not even make any sense as two of the men portrayed as gay could never have met. You can’t take the words of George Cavendish literally as they reflect gossip but what kind of sexual deviance he is reporting isn’t clear. The same can be said of George Boleyn and his death speech, he was preaching and he was saying things which reflect his reformed faith. Everyone is a sinner and he wanted to make a good end. He was never denounced as gay, there is no mention of it by Chapuys, it is merely modern misinterpretation of some very vague historical information. Of course there is a chance he was, but that indeed is very ironic, given the charges of incest against him. That two men signed their name in a book they shared ten years apart, a satire on marriage, is proof that they are gay, is a huge leap. Misogynistic maybe, gay no.

  6. Christine says:

    Chapyus did call Anne the concubine or the lady and he called Elizabeth the little bastard, but babies soften the hardest of hearts and he admitted she was a pretty child, one can just hear him say that, ‘I saw the little bastard today with the king but I must say, she is a pretty child’, Elizabeth probably had curly hair and her eyes inherited from her mother, must have stared around the court, she was so fair when she was born everyone commented on the contrast to her mother, who skin was significantly of a much darker hue, yes Chapyus is the best source of information we have, why Warnicke prefers to believe the biased opinions which are after all, only mud slinging at Elizabeth of Nicholas Sander instead of the ambassador is strange, iv come to the conclusion that Retha Warnicke academician and professor she undoubtedly is, is not a very good historian, I have always considered that same opinion why these men fell, was because they had access to the queen and were therefore, an easy target, yes Anne implicated young Weston through babbling in the Tower, one does babble become hysterical when your nerves are stretched to the limit, she did not wish to bring ruin to Weston but she did, Norris she had flirted with harmlessly, he visited her household often because he was engaged to her cousin, the courtly love banter was acceptable but Anne overstepped the mark when she dared to speak of the kings death, poor Anne her tongue often ran away with her, the king must have heard about it, and there was that angry scene in the garden that was witnessed by Alexander Aless, maybe Anne had been drinking a bit too much because drink makes you over bold, but it was treason to speak of the kings death, even if in jest and poor Norris was taken aside by the king, he tried to get him to confess in exchange for a pardon, he refused and so became another victim for power in the struggle between Anne and Cromwell, we know why George was chosen, just because Anne had to be made to look as sexually corrupt as possible, so brother and sister were both stained with not only adultery but the unnatural crime of incest, Smeaton, poor a servant and of no consequence was interrogated by Cromwell, he became the scapegoat that was needed to bring down the queen, in reward he had an easy death, one can imagine the terror this poor lad must have felt, you are going to die but you can have the easy way out if you co operate, Anne and the men were trapped in a spiders web woven by Cromwell the master spider, he pulled it of and he got rid of the queen, for his reward he was made a Baron, but he had enemies himself who were waiting in the wings, and who were only waiting for the day they could pounce and drag him down….

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Yes, Chapuys liked to call Anne a concubine because he didn’t recognise her as being Henry’s wife and Queen and she was living with him so the term is correct. He didn’t use the term as often as we think apparently but it stands out. The use of the term little bastard isn’t very nice when speaking of a two year old child. Its not her fault if Anne and Henry aren’t legally married. Now of course they were because Henry had the marriage declared so at Dunstable and Parliament confirmed it. Anne and Henry may have been married twice, but he was still married to Katharine at the time. The Catholic Church never recognised Anne as his wife so Chapuys being a devoted Catholic and supporter of Katharine is never going to accept Anne as Queen, not unless he was tricked. He does indeed call Anne the lady or la Anna quite a lot as well. In fact there are times when Chapuys is actually sympathetic towards her as well as very critical and he also has some harsh words for Henry. He even called him a tyrant in a fit of grief when he fell of his horse.

      Chapuys is also in a bind really. He is representing a government which is becoming more and more contentious towards Henry and which is considering enforcement of the Pope’s Bill of Excommunication against Henry. There is a lot of concern about Mary who is marginalised and ill treated and denied her rights. He is also concerned about the health of Queen Katharine. Although Charles V is still open to maintaining good relationships with Henry, his patience is wearing thin. Chapuys sends very detailed reports to his master and his friends and he is also quite good at his job as a diplomatic person with Henry as well. He has a good relationship with Cromwell, Norfolk and Suffolk. He often dines with them and he has a good rapport developing with Cromwell that allows him to propose new peace proposals. Mary is also the focus of those proposals, to support her reinstatement at Court.

      When you think that this is where Chapuys is coming from his attitude towards Anne and Elizabeth makes more sense. I too think he sees Elizabeth as a pretty child and probably doesn’t have anything personal against her. At the end of the day she is only a child. However, he does emphasise whom he accepts as Henry’s true heir, Mary.

      I dont disagree that Professor Warnicke lacks the finer points of being a good historian, in that her theory stands out as very odd. She doesn’t believe Anne was guilty but I think she gets too bogged down in the sexual politics around the Court which is the basis of her research. It makes no sense to believe Anne had a deformed baby when the information is from sixty years afterwards and an alien source. Because some theologians wrote that a deformed child was the result of living a depraved life Professor Warnicke takes the view that this was believed at the time of Anne’s miscarriage and therefore these men were seen as her lovers because of their own deviant lifestyles. However, this was not a general teaching at the time and is only based on a few publications in 1536 and 1552. I feel that the Professor is trying to bring unconnected strands together to fit her thesis rather than closely looking at the contemporary evidence. The contemporary evidence shows that Anne didn’t have anything more than a natural miscarriage and four sources concur. There was nothing at the time about Anne leading a wild life while pregnant or about a group of men in her service leading deviant lives and as her lovers causing her to miscarry a deformed child. Nor is there anything to support the theory that Anne was charged with witchcraft because of this miscarriage and sexual outrage. Its all very disjointed as a theory and the contemporary evidence renders it null and void.

      Henry does not want to be rid of Anne permanently until mid April and three months is a long time to think about it. If Henry was going to use accusations of witchcraft based on her killing her son as well as her alleged sexual misconduct, he only had to wait a bit longer to charge her under a new Witchcraft Act. However, Anne wasn’t tried for this and so again the theory falls flat. No we have to look to more conventional research for why these men came under suspicion.

      As you said, Christine, Smeaton was taken as someone Cromwell could question for information and get a confession out of using threats. He then named others as one might expect and Norris was probably under suspicion anyway as he had been involved in careless and treasonous talk with Anne. I think Henry realised this was nothing because in the end it wasn’t in the list of Indictments. If you want to make Anne look capable of anything, that is plotting to kill the King with her many lovers, you need something so shocking that she will be hated by everyone. This was the charge of incest and George was often in Anne’s rooms so that made sense. If Anne was shown to be capable of this black crime, this scandalous and shocking behaviour, then she was out of control and capable of every evil going. You might as well add the odd political rival and get rid of them, thus William Brereton was targeted by Cromwell and Francis Weston was a convenient accident to add to the list. It was dark and sinister by Henry to give the order and darker still by Cromwell to make this happen with such great effects. There may be many reasons why these particular men ended up in the net but certainly revenge and because it made sense are far more convincing reasons than them being sexually undesirable and therefore disposable.

      For one thing what did Cromwell care if these men were deviants? We have no information whatsoever about his feelings on such things although they were probably conventional. No, any group of lovers would do. The men had to be connected to Anne and the King, have regular access to Anne in particular at night and be reasonably easy to frame or put themselves in the frame. So talk which crossed the line of courtly love such as the wirds between Anne and Norris gave this fake case some credibility. It was witnessed as well so even better and others named Norris. Smeaton was there all the time as well so yes he must be up to no good and he was terrified into a confession. Anne’s free ways of expression, her natural and flirtatious behavior was easy to mistake for encouraging her lovers. Gifts given for service became bribes or rewards for illicit love making and for plotting to kill her husband. You didn’t need anything else. All you needed then was a list of dates and places and a King who wouldn’t look too closely at the impossible events Cromwell has made up. You certainly didn’t need an anti gay purge to bring the Queen down.

  7. Banditqueen says:

    For those of you out there wanting to read more about homosexuality during the Tudor and other periods here are some recommendations from the Tudor Society website.

    Ruth Goodman in How to Be a Tudor has explained some of the views on sex and sexuality from that time. To put it mildly it didn’t exist officially. There wasn’t a concept of gay and straight and the terminology we use would have just produced blank looks. Basically it was a case of being chaste, inside and outside of marriage and sex was for marriage and the production of children and nothing else. Of course to conceive a woman had to enjoy sex so there’s a plus. Rape was prosecuted but didn’t exist within marriage until the late 20th century R v R. Marriage was supposed to be on consent of both parties but tgat didn’t exclude a number of high born ladies and girls being abducted and married for their money and land. By Tudor times this was far less of course as fewer men spent time abroad fighting the 100 years war or the Crusades or each other. Legal intervention in Parliament had also brought in more protection by this time as well. Legal action, however, shows that widows still had problems obtaining their jointure and other financial settlement from their late husband. Marriage gave men and women legal adult status and unmarried men and women were not fully recognised as such. Therefore any activities outside of marriage was frowned upon by the Church and society as a whole.

    All types of sex outside of marriage was unchaste and noted as deviant. The Church regulated all sexual activities and homosexual sex was sinful, but so was adultery, sex outside and before marriage and sex with beasts. The Church only allowed sex in marriage on certain days and it was forbidden during Lent, during Advent, on Friday, Sunday, Wednesday etc. However, marriage had no formal ceremony. If you and your lady promised to live as man and wife and then had sex, you were married. Although a cleric and witnesses were preferred for legal reasons, you didn’t need them. However, if one partner later denied the marriage and ran off or married again in more formal circumstances, it was a question of proving it and Church Courts spent most of their time untangling these canon law weddings. More important families had a contract drawn up and betrothals arranged, followed by ceremonies and then the marriage at the church door and Mass inside and a large community celebration. Either way these marriages were binding and you were supposed to be faithful for life.

    Sexual relations between men was of course seen as a sin and various punishments were available. The same attitude though was made towards sex outside of marriage between those of the opposite sex. The Church Court would issue fines or a flogging or penance such as walking barefoot with a candle in public or kneeling before the congregation and asking forgiveness. Sinners were formally received back and people moved on. However, in some places secular laws were introduced against what they termed sodomy or Buggery. This also covered a number of sexual sins including incest. In Italy the penalty was either castration or death or long term imprisonment and penance. In some states you could denounce a man secretly. A number of famous painters were actually denounced several times as homosexual, such as Cavaggio and it is certainly accepted now that he had several male lovers. Female same sex relations were never even acknowledged. They did exist and a convent in the fourteenth century was closed after an investigation exposed lesbianism among several of its members. Despite claims during the Dissolution of the Monasteries that several monks and nuns practiced same sex relations, the fact is, it was actually very rare. This was merely an option that Henry ordered the investigation team to use in order to intimidate the friars. Several instances were recorded but again it was a standard way of reporting in order to excuse the closure of these religious houses and justification for taking their wealth.

    In 1534 in England the so called Buggery Act was passed and the death penalty was introduced for homosexual practice and a number of other illicit sexual behaviours or choices. The idea of sexuality outside of marriage was not developed at this time. All sorts of sexual enjoyments were seen as unnatural and the Buggery Act covered a variety of sins. The death penalty for homosexual sex lated until 1835 but imprisonment followed and it only became legal in the 1970s. Gay marriage was only allowed during the last decade. The first person actually executed under the law was Lord Walter Hungerford who was beheaded on the same day and same scaffold as Lord Thomas Cromwell in July 1540. He was accused of incest and rape of his daughter and unnatural relations with various men. In the eighteenth century Molly Houses opened in London in areas known for brothels such as Covent Garden but were fronted by other businesses in order to protect those forced to work in them because of poverty. Many were frequented by the nobility but if they were caught it was often the male prostitutes who were punished as it was the nobles who made the law.

    The Buggery Act was briefly abolished in 1553 by Queen Mary I for the five years of her reign but was reinstated by Elizabeth I and remained there until the nineteenth century. Below, as mentioned first are some references for further reading.

    Bray, A, ‘Homosexuality and the signs of Male Friendship in Elizabethan England’ in History Workshop, No. 29 (Spring, 1990), pp. 1-19.
    Bray, A, Homosexuality in Renaissance England, 1st ed. (Gay Men’s Press, 1982).
    Goldberg, J (ed.), Queering the Renaissance, 2nd ed. (Duke University Press, 1994)
    Spencer, C, Homosexuality: A History, 2nd ed. (Fourth Estate, 1995), pp.149-168
    Warnicke, R. M, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, 1st ed. (Cambridge University Press, 1989)

  8. Christine says:

    Sounds very interesting Bq, thanks for that piece of information.

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