Piracy and Sodomy; No Trial; Guilty by Accusation

A friend told me today that in England, in long-ago days (1600’s? 1700’s?) that if someone raised an accusation against someone of either piracy or of sodomy, that was all it took. The suspect was hauled off and hanged, with no waste of time for a trial.

This doesn’t sound right to me! I know that court procedures were a lot sketchier in those days than today. (The courtroom scene in the book Captain Blood is, perhaps, an example of how due process could be abridged to the point of virtual non-existence.) But was it really the case? “He’s a pirate!” Or “Those two were engaged in unnatural acts of forbidden lust!” And off they go to the gallows with never a trial?

Trials of pirates were common and many were acquitted:

Magna Carta (1215) Clause 29:

  1. NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.

And here’s the charmingly named “Buggery act 1533”.


Punishment for Sodomy was death by hanging, but apparently the charge was often changed to “attempted buggery” because of lack of evidence.

Trials were still carried out.

I thought it sounded suspicious. Load of bull, then? Lor’ bless the English; a toast to Runnymede, and confusion to all tyrants.

Thank you!