Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Today in 1640: John Atherton and John Childe Executed for Buggery

John Atherton was born in 1598 in Somerset, England. He studied at Oxford University and joined the ranks of the Anglican clergy. In 1634 he became Bishop of Waterford and Lismore in the Church of Ireland. 

In 1640 Atherton was accused of buggery with a man, John Childe, his steward and tithe proctor. They were tried under a law that Atherton himself had helped to institute. They were both condemned to death, and Atherton was executed in Stephen's Green, Dublin. 

Reportedly, Atherton confessed to the crime immediately before his execution, although he had proclaimed his innocence before that. 

More recently, some historical evidence has been developed that shows Atherton might have been a victim of a conspiracy to discredit him and his patrons. This was attributable to Atherton's status as an astute lawyer, who sought to recover lost land for the relatively weak Protestant Church of Ireland during the 1630s. Unfortunately for Atherton, this alienated him from large landowners, who then allegedly used his sexuality to discredit him.

English Puritan, Congregationalist, and Independent activists, as well as English and Scottish Presbyterian activists, contemporaneously campaigned to abolish Episcopacy (bishops) within the embattled Church of England, Church of Scotland, and Church of Ireland; notionally expediting the political interest in Atherton's downfall.

Posthumous accusations of sexual wrongdoing also include allegations of "incest" with his sister-in-law, and infanticide of the resultant child, as well as zoophilia with cattle. However, these allegations began to be circulated several months after his death in an anonymous pamphlet, and may have been intended to further discredit the bishop's campaign to restore the finances of the Church of Ireland.

This was the second pair of men executed for sodomy in UK history (the first men executed for sodomy were Lord Audley, Earl of Castlehaven and his two menservants, in 1631.

1 comment:

Raybeard said...

And still, four centuries after this, whatever the underlying motives for framing these two were, there are many, TOO many, countries around the globe whose attitudes are precisely the same as they were in these shameful British dark ages.