Monstrous acts: Bestiality in early modern England

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The writer examines a change in attitudes toward bestiality in England in the 16th century and how this encroached upon wider issues concerning human status. Following a 1533 statute, bestiality was a felony without benefit of clergy and punishable by death. The Reformation brought about a new interrogation of the self and a new emphasis on what it meant to be human, while the New Science led to bodies being explored in a way that compromised the distinction between human and animal. The status of humanity was coming under threat in various ways, and consequently bestiality was perceived as a danger that must be severely dealt with. A bestial relationship had the potential to disturb the highly fragile order of nature that placed humans at the top of the chain. Authors of the 16th and 17th centuries depicted cross-breeding not just as a supernatural warning but also as a natural possibility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-25
Number of pages5
JournalHistory Today
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2000


  • philosophical anthropology
  • bestiality
  • history
  • law


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