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« Sex and Marriage in the Mid to Late Medieval Times | Main | Getting Medieval on Your Teeth! »

Sex and Marriage During Tudor Times

By Madeline | March 20, 2008

One of the most breakthrough aspects of marriage during the Tudor era was the fight for clergy to wed.  In the past as I’ve detailed in previous articles, all clergy were to remain celibate.  However, time and time again, the clergy were driven to the point of sin by their overwhelming biological need for sex, which ultimately resulted in the use of prostitutes and even sodomy amongst one another.  During the Tudor era, there were three separate religious groups battling for and against the marriage of the clergy.  The Reformers and the Protestants were in favor of the marriage considering the wedded bed of a member of the church a far less sin than the sins created by the natural lust of man, while the Catholics were adamantly opposed to marriage stating that if such greats as Joshua and Daniel in the Bible could maintain celibate states then so could all men of God.  As the battle for marriage for the clergy ensued, some brave souls decided not to wait around for the outcome and married willing women.  However, in 1536 Henry VIII decided to put an end to the argument and declare marriage among his clergy illegal and had his bishops secretly discover who was wed.  These men were to be punished with death, however, the punishment was lessened to life imprisonment in most cases.  Some men who were married were forced to choose between their wives and death; the wives who were abandoned for the church were often left penniless and shamed and were any children produced in the union. 

Once Edward took the throne upon Henry’s death, he passed a law allowing the clergy to marry.  At least 1000 men took advantage of this during Edward’s brief control of the crown before he died.  Despite the legalization of marriage, many people looked down upon not only the clergy, but especially their wives and children, still considering the marriage invalid and sinful in Gods eyes.  Many wives were regarded as whores and many times refused the services of midwives leading to death.  Men who were allowed to marry were given the stipulation that if the wife were to perish, he would not be allowed to wed again, nor was he allowed to wed a woman how had been previously married or previously a prostitute.  Many men of the church who married were destitute as the church paid very little and what little was paid was never increased despite the growth of their families.  Additionally, the crown did not make any promises to assist the widows of clergy who were almost always left impoverished and owing massive debts which, of course, the crown still expected to be collected.  Once Queen Mary entered into power, marriage was again forbidden only to be brought back again by her more open minded sister, Elizabeth upon her succession of the crown.  However, the potential wives had to be approved by the bishops as well as have the approval of the woman’s parents.  Again, widows were not granted any rights and were often left penniless.

As with centuries before, the church placed significant restrictions on the actions of married couples behind closed doors. It was thought that a women committed a lesser offense to God to copulate with a male relative, even as close as a brother or father, than it was for her to practice any other sexual position with her husband aside from what was deemed appropriate by the church.  There was only one position the church approved of and that was the missionary position as it was thought to result in a higher chance of a boy being born, which was every woman’s ultimate goal.  Deformed children born were considered the result of a child produced by unauthorized fornication as God’s punishment for disobeying him.  As soon as children were born, every tiny little inch of them was looked over to ensure the child contained no birth defects caused by the sins of his or her parents. 

The biggest sexual crime of this period was sodomy, although not for what you may think.  I’m so excited because I found this utterly fascinating and totally unexpected.  During the Tudor era, a sudden fear of witchcraft became rampant.  Many men claimed to have been bewitched by their wives and forced into marriage or other ‘destructive’ acts and even blamed such ailments as erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation on witch craft.  Sodomy was the way the devil entered the body in order to communicate with his followers.  Therefore sodomy was one of the ultimate sexual sins one could make as it meant they were speaking to the devil.  Side by side to sodomy was bestiality for the reason that witches often took on the form of animals and to perform sex with an animal meant you were fornicating with a witch who was under control of the devil and the union could produce a hybrid being that was a tool for the devil to use against Christians.  Sodomy was considered such a vile sin against God that Henry VIII actually passed the Buggery Act of 1533.  Buggery was slang for sodomy, so now when someone tells you to Bugger Off, well, you know what they are really telling you to do…  ;)  The Buggery Act was to prohibit not only sodomy, but also bestiality in an effort to decrease the devil’s communication with his followers.  The punishment was death, although there are few reports of this actually being carried out and those that were often had additional political agendas.  The Buggery Act was repealed by Mary in 1553, which I find interesting considering she was the most vicious and God Fearing of most rulers during this era, and reinstated once more by Elizabeth in 1563, not to be lifted again until 1828. 

As with other previous eras in history, adultery and fornication were still frowned upon, especially upon women.  For centuries the church tried to get such acts punishable by law.  Their pleas were finally answered in 1650 when the Puritans finally convinced the crown to pass a law that made adultery punishable by death and fornication punishable by three months imprisonment.  In the late 1400’s and early 1500’s when the pox (syphilis - see my article for more details) was rampant, the church and all of its followers considered the disease as God’s punishment for lust and fornication.  Again, prostitution was frowned upon, not only by the church, but also by the crown.  In 1546, Henry VIII declared all brothels to close their doors.  Of course, this did not abolish prostitution (which aided significantly in the spread of the disease) and merely put the women on the streets rather than inside establishments.  Soldiers and scouts who were assigned to seek them out and destroy them were often bribed with money and ’services’ to turn their heads while the business ran as usual.  As I stated in my article on prostitution and brothels, brothels often times were well fortified buildings built with the goal in mind of keeping out intruders, primarily under the crown’s orders.  While the fortifications didn’t always prevent the establishment from being shut down, it often lent the women and their customers enough time to flee the building unscathed.

I hope you have all enjoyed the articles on sex and marriage that I’ve written.  I learned a lot of very interesting facts and thoroughly enjoyed writing and sharing all of my juicy finds with all of you.  Thanks for your patients in reading the articles too - I know they were a bit lengthy.  ;)  Hey, I don’t write often, I have to make it worthwhile when I do!

Topics: Tudor Era |

2 Responses to “Sex and Marriage During Tudor Times”

  1. Debi Turnbull Says:
    March 22nd, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    THIS COMMENT IS FOR MADELINE THE WRITER

    Dear Madeline, I enjoyed your article on Sex and Marriage during the Tudor times. I am a fan of The Tudors mini series on television and wondered if you could answer a question. In one scene last year it showed Jonathan (King Henry XIII) masturbating and having a servant holding a bowl and towel for him to apparently ejaculate into and then clean his hands. What happened to the semen? Was this a common practice or did it have to do with the King just “spilling” his semen without intercourse was not allowed due to religion or whatever? Just curious. Also loved your bio, I have 3 choc. labs and two parrots. You mentioned natural line of products you were producing. I have Multiple Sclerosis and lupus. Have you ever come across anything to help these diseases. Also my friends husband has rosea (sp,) and it is getting worse. Do you sell anything for that condition. Anyway, getting back to my original question I would appreciate if you have the answer you would reply. Love your writing. God bless, Debi

  2. Madeline Says:
    March 24th, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Debi,
    I’m so glad that you enjoyed my article! I found everything so fascinating and thoroughly enjoyed writing it.

    As for both of your questions, I will have to do some research and get back to you. The question you’ve posed about Henry VIII is a fascinating one and will deserve an entire article if I can find the answer!

    The line of products I create currently doesn’t contain anything for MS, Lupus or rosea. However, being the research freak and the experimental brewer when it comes to oils and butters, I will see what I can find.

    I’m excited to get started on everything for you!! Thank you so much for your interest in my hobbies!

    ~Madeline

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