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

Charge to the Grand Jury, 1754

NOTE: Every year Justices of the Peace addressed the Grand Jury in terms similar to those below. I haven't reproduced most of these speeches because they are so repetitious, but this one is interesting insofar as it demonstrates that by the 1750s the idea of homosexuality as a sin has been replaced by the idea of homosexuality as something unnatural, that is, the religious or Christian perspective has been replaced by a secular perspective. The Charge is also interesting in apparently referring to a rise in sodomitical crimes in the 1750s, and also referring to the severe punishment of sodomites in contemporary Holland. The Charge is also interesting for showing an awareness that indecent sexual behaviour between men excluding anal intercourse was clearly understood as a category of crime, the misdemeanour called "Sodomitical Practices" – contrary to the claim by many modern queer history theorists that prior to the nineteenth century only anal intercourse was recognized in law.

To the Crimes I have already mentioned, as subject to capital Punishment, I am to add that horrible Offence, a Rape; and that detestable Crime called Sodomy.

Of the Enormity of the First, every Man is a Judge, who has a Daughter, a Wife or a Relation that he loves; or who does but know the chaste and honourable Regard the modest Women of our Country pay to Innocence.

Of the latter, we can form no Judgment; but Abhorrence naturally arises at the Thought of it. It is, Gentlemen, degrading the Human Nature. Other Crimes set us often upon a Level with the Beasts; but this sinks us beneath them! There is not one of them descends to it; their Faults are Natural.

GENTLEMAN, You cannot be ignorant that this Crime has of late been a Reproach [p.21] to the English Name: I doubt not but You reverence the Severity of the Laws of Holland against it. I grieve that those of England (severe enough, for it is capital) are so seldom put into Execution against a Vice so common.

I INTREAT You, Gentleman; but what are my Intreaties: I adjure you by the Oath that You have taken, that you inquire into every Offence of this Kind strictly, not only in respect to the accomplished Crime itself, but of those lesser Offences of the same Nature with it, and tending to it, called Sodomitical Practices.

I CONJURE You, Gentleman, as You respect the Honour of Your Country, and the Dignity of Human Nature itself, that whenever the least Offence of this Stamp is brought to Your Notice, You do present it without Fear or Favour; respecting no Age, Function, Rank or Character. [p.22]

SOURCE: A Charge Delivered to the Grand Jury, at the Sessions of the Peace held for the City and liberty of Westminster, On Wednesday the 16th of October, 1754, by Thomas Lediard, Esq; Chairman of the said Sessions. London, 1754.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Charge to the Grand Jury, 1754", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 2 March 2015 <>.

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