Buggery’s travels: Royal navy sodomy on ship and shore in the long eighteenth century
© 2015 The National Maritime Museum. Historians have long seen the navy as isolated from major developments in the history of homosexuality during the long eighteenth century. Indeed, some have argued that there was little discussion of the topic in naval circles altogether. This article shows that there was in fact deep engagement with, and a great deal of naval discourse about, contemporary thought regarding homoerotic practices and the men who engaged in them. It focuses on three sites in order to explore the dynamics of the circulation of sexual knowledge between naval and non-naval spaces. The naval courtroom reveals that men were conversant with stereotypes about sodomites and ideas that men could have homoerotic ‘inclinations’ or ‘propensities’. The navy’s ongoing commitment to prosecuting men for such sexual contact, meanwhile, required its legal actors to develop a robust body of knowledge and discourse about this topic, and connected them to the broader world of legal thought and practice regarding sodomy. Finally, the periodical press not only represented naval sodomy to readers and acted as a virtual witness for the public, but could also enter into more complex relationships with naval justice. Analysis of these sites shows that bringing naval history and the history of homosexuality into closer conversation enriches both fields.
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