The Scottish Law against Sodomy


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          I shall now close this part of the catalogue, with mention of those shameful and unnatural lusts, which are known by the names of Sodomy and Bestiality; and which, by our law, like that of most other countries in Europe, justly expose the offender to be punished with death, as one whose very presence is a pollution to the society of his fellow-creatures.

          Suffice it to say with respect to the first, that the crime is only mentioned twice in the course of our records. On the 1st of September 1570, John Swan and John Litster, are convicted "of the wilde, filthie, execrabill, detestabill, and unnatural sin of sodomy, otherwise named bougarie, abusand of their bodies withutheris, in contrare the lawes of God, and all other human lawes." They are doomed to be strangled at a stake, and their bodies to be cast into a fire, and burned to ashes. The other instance, is the case of Michael Erskine, "delated (as the record has it, April 2, 1630), of diverse points of witchcraft and filthy sodomy." He was convicted "of the haill crimes, contained in his dittay," with exception of a single act of sorcery, and had sentence "to be worried at ane staik while he be dead, and thereafter his body to be burnt to ashes."

There have been more frequent instances of prosecution for bestiality: as in the following cases among others, where the trial issued in sentence of death; which was ordered to be carried into execution in some unusual way. James Mitchell (Mar. 1, 1675) had sentence to be drowned in the North Loch of Edinburgh, between four and five in the morning; in order that the public eye might not be offended by the spectacle of the death of so vile a criminal. Andrew Love, 17th April 1662; Major Weir in April 1670; Thomas Fotheringham, November 11, 1702; and George Robertson, December 14, 1719; were severally condemned to be strangled at a stake; and, (that no vestige of them might be committed to our common parent), their bodies were ordered to be burned to ashes. In the case of David Oliphant, (Feb. 4, 1734) the attempt to commit this crime was found relevant to infer an arbitrary punishment, and the complete act to infer death. but this pannel was not convicted.

SOURCE: David Hume, Commentaries on the Law of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1797, Vol. 2, pp. 335-336.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Scottish Law against Sodomy", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 13 May 2008 <>.

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