Image of two men kissingHomosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton

A Defence of Homosexuality, 1718

NOTE: The following trial is notable for one man's justification of his actions when he was called a buggerer: "What's that to you, can't I make use of my own Body? I have done nothing but what I will do again." Ownership and control over one’s own body was an integral part of Enlightenment philosophy, and the views of John Locke that "every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself" was something that could be asserted even by ordinary homosexuals.

Trial of John Bowes and Hugh Ryly

John Bowes, and Hugh Ryly, of St. Pauls Covent Garden, were indicted for that they not having God before their Eyes, did the former commit that horrible and detestable Sin called Buggery, and did against nature carnally know Hugh Ryly, the 27th of November last, and the latter suffer the same to be committed on him. The Evidence for the King was Gerard Fitzgerald, who deposed that having been in company with one William Burridge, and going late home between 1 and 2 a Clock in the Morning, being in Covent Garden, William Burridge said to him do you see the sport going on, shewing him as they thought (being at a distance) a Man kissing a Woman against the Church Rails, upon which he said let's go see what for a Madam he has got there, but being answer'd no, since we make no sport dont let's spoil any, they staid a little while till they thought they had done, then making up to them found the two Persons Mr. Ryley undermost and Mr. Bowes upon him, Mr. Bowes Breeches being down about his Heeles, but Mr. Ryley being nimbler had made a shift to shuffle his Breeches up by that time they got to them; that Rallying them for so vile a practice Mr. Bowes reply'd Sirrah what's that to you, cant I make use of my own Body? I have done nothing but what I will do again, that Ryley hearing him call Fitzgerald, spoke to him in Irish, thinking him an Irishman by his name, but he did not understand him, not being so. That Ryley persuading them not to expose them offer'd to give them a Note of 10 l. to forbear, and said that Bowes should make it up Twenty; that he being unexperienc'd, and not thinking of delivering them up at the Round-House, did go with them to a Womans House near Charing-Cross, whom Mr. Bowes knew, where he asking the Woman if she knew him, she reply'd yes, and had for these Twenty Years, upon which he requir'd her to trust him half a Crowns worth of Drink to make him and the other Person drink, but she refusing to do it, two Pots were call'd for, which the Prisoners neither of them having money they were forc'd to pay for it themselves, that from thence they went to Mr. Vickers a Constable at the Angel and Crown in Hedge-Lane, where there was some offers to make it up, and the other Person Burridge, inclining to it, he did hearken to their Proposals, but being dubious in his mind did not, and that there being an offer of 10l. Ryley call'd for Pen Ink and Paper, and began to draw a Note, but in about half an Hours time they were carried away, Mr. Bowes to the Gate-House, he telling the Constable he was a Housekeeper, and Ryley to the Round-House, and the next Morning before a Justice, who not caring to Act in the Case without assistance of some of his Brother Justices order'd them to be kept till the Morrow, when several Justices meeting at a Vestry they were committed; that William Burridge was with him at Hicks's Hall in order to find the Bill against them, and since had not appear'd he supposing him to have been brib'd to absent himself. A Surgeon depos'd that he being sent by the Justice to examine Mr. Ryleys Posteriers, did so, and found the Spincter [sphincter] Muscle more Lax and Dilated than usual in a Person of his Age, which in Young Persons is generally more close and contracted, but how it might come, he would not take upon him to determine. Mr. Bowes in his defence deny'd they were in Covent-Garden at all, he said that an acquaintance of his having newly set up a Tavern in the Strand, he went thither to drink a Pint or two of Wine with a Friend, and staid there till almost 2 a Clock, this was confirm'd by the Drawer, who added he saw no immodesty acted by them there, and as he and Mr. Ryley, were coming home going toward Charing-Cross, two Men came up to them and charged them with being Sodomites, and called them abundance of names, and follow'd them to one Mrs. Jacksons Cellar at Charing-Cross, that indeed he had no Money about him having spent it, but that he was formerly a Woollen-Draper in Pall-Mall but had left it off, and now liv'd in Salisbury Street in the Strand. He called a Kinswoman who deposed that she heard the Prosecutors demand 3 Guineas in Money and a Note to make it up 15l. But call'd none to his Reputation. Fitzgerald did not deny but Burridge did say to him, they offer 10l. let us insist upon 15l. but he did not directly agree, being suspicious of the Justice and safety of doing it. Hugh Ryley pleaded in his defence that he was going home to his Lodging about 11 a Clock and met Mr. Bowes coming out of the Tavern in the Strand, who call'd him Mr. Nugent , that he reply'd his name was not Nugent, to which Mr. Bowes, made answer that let his name be what it would he would give him a Quart of Wine, that he did go in with him, and they staid there till 1 or 2 a Clock, and as they were going along the Prosecutor and Burridge came to them, and said they were Buggerers, and were responsible Men, and they would have Money of us, and Collaring of us carried us away. He called an Evidence who deposed that when they were at the Constables House at the Angle and Crown in Hedge-Lane, be hearkened at the Window, and heard them talking of a Note, and heard Fitzgerald telling one of them he had not spell'd his name right, and there was a talk of drawing the Note favourable. He call'd some Persons that had lain with him, and deposed they never had known him attempt any thing that was immodest, and that he had been Servant to Collonel Paget, and was a Person of good character and fair and honest in his dealings. He added that as to what the Surgeon had said be had been under an indisposition and taken Physick, which might cause that Laxness in his Body the Surgeon had spoken of; and added that he himself desir'd a Surgeon might search him, and called the Justice to prove it, which he did. Upon hearing the whole matter the Jury acquitted them.

SOURCE: The Proceedings on the King's Commission of the Peace, and Oyer and Terminer, and Goal-Delivery of Newgate, held for the City of London, and County of Middlesex, at Justice-Hall in the Old Bayly, on Friday, Saturday, and Monday, being the 5th, 6th, and 8th, of December, 1718. In the Fifth Year of His MAJESTY's Reign. 12. Decemb. 1718.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "A Defence of Homosexuality, 1718", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 4 January 2011 <>.

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