Public Attitudes

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Public attitudes towards lesbians or sapphites were ambiguous, as sex between women was not illegal, although sodomy or male homosexuality had been brutally supressed by law since the early fourteenth century. Classed as degrading, degenerate, bestial, immoral and unnatural, it was a serious criminal act for which men were hung, imprisoned, transported, whipped, branded and frequently pilloried.
In 1780 two convicted sodomites died at Richmond-on-Thames as a result of a mob attack during a public pillorying. Their deaths prompted Edmund Burke to give a speech in parliament proposing the abolition of the pillory. Burke was accused in the press of being a sodomite sympathiser and his proposal failed. (Pillorying was finally abolished in Ireland and England in 1837.) In 1790 the ladies sought advice from Burke, who had earlier visited Llangollen, about an article in the London General Evening Post that suggested the possibility of sapphism at Llangollen. Burke advised against pursuing their libel case, as it would be unlikely to succeed and would draw unwelcome publicity.


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