‘He moved his backside and body as mankind do when in copulation with womankind’ Bestiality in eighteenth-century Wales

**Content warning: this post contains details of a sexual nature which some readers may find offensive or upsetting**

In keeping with last week’s raunchy theme, I thought I’d write about a court case relating to a far more extreme form of sexually deviance. I bring to you the tale of John Hughes, a farm labourer in Denbighshire in the eighteenth century, who was allegedly caught ‘in the act’, as it were, with one of his father’s cows.

The account, as recalled by neighbour Morris Edwards, a farmer, was recorded in a pre-trial witness deposition and can be found in the Court of Great Sessions gaol files held at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Here’s a Full Transcription of Morris’s witness statement.

On a June morning in 1772, Morris visited his neighbour David Hughes (the accused’s father) to see if one of his sheep had strayed into David’s flock. As Morris searched the neighbourhood for his missing sheep, he spied John herding three cows through his father’s field.

And that’s when things start to get a bit strange. Morris claimed he saw John chase after two of the cows, but neither would cooperate. The third cow, a medium sized red brindle cow, proved more docile, and John was able to get her into position. Morris said he then saw John drop his breeches, wrap his arms around the hindquarters of the cow and, move ‘his backside and body as mankind do when in copulation with womankind’ for about a quarter of an hour or so. All this time the cow apparently stood there still, with her head hung low.

When he was finished, John pulled up his trousers, and that was that. Crucially, Morris testified that he didn’t actually see John penetrate the cow. Morris never confronted John, and only confessed what he saw to a neighbour several months later in the autumn of that year. He was formally examined by a justice of the peace two years later. However, John wasn’t indicted for the crime of bestiality, and the case was dropped.

Morris’s testimony is interesting for a number of reasons, and not only because it appears to capture what was intended to be a private, deviant sexual act. However, it is possible that John Hughes never actually engaged in a sex act with this poor cow. Morris may have spun this rather salacious story to tarnish the reputation of his neighbour, who he believed stole one of his sheep. John wasn’t tried for the crime, which was likely due to a lack of evidence. Proof of penetration would have been required as evidence that, ‘the detestable crime of bestiality with a cow’ actually took place, but Morris said outright that he did not actually see Morris penetrate the cow. Despite the fact that this case never made it to trial, John’s neighbours undoubtedly knew about the accusations, and the stigma of this alleged event would have hung over John’s head for some time.

Another interesting feature of this, and most bestiality trials from Wales in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, are the profiles of the accused and their victims. In total, between 1730 and 1830, twenty-one men were accused of bestiality across Wales. These included servants, yeoman, labourers, mariners, farmers and an earthenware seller named William Shakespeare (I’m not making this up). So, all were from relatively lower down the socioeconomic ladder. Only one man – and eighteen-year-old servant – was actually convicted of the crime, but the reasons for this aren’t clear.

In addition, in all but two cases, the sex of the animal is given, and in all of these the animals are female. So, despite the fact that these men were allegedly engaging in sexual activity with animals, they still opted for the ‘appropriate’ sex (by eighteenth century standards, that is).

The last observation from all of these records challenges a long-standing derogatory assumption about Welshmen. Out of twenty-one alleged instances of bestiality in Wales, not a single case involved a sheep.

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Wait, that’s not a prayer! When parish records turn raunchy

Anyone who’s spent countless hours researching in the archives knows the feeling of elation that comes over you when you find that proverbial needle in the haystack. Whether it’s a letter, a diary, a parish register entry, or a court deposition, locating those bits of evidence that fill gaps in your research makes all the dusty, eye straining, physically uncomfortable effort worthwhile.

This post isn’t about that. This post is about those times you come across seemingly out of place random miscellany that reminds you that the past isn’t really all that foreign after all. When you’ve spent several days searching and photographing the same sorts of material – some of which can be quite grim – over and over these little gems can bring some much needed comic relief. Especially when the file you’re digging through looks like this.

Meifod WTF (2)

Meifod parish records, held by Powys Archives Office (photo: Angela Muir)

These are some of the parish documents dating from the middle of the eighteenth century for the parish of Meifod, formerly in the county of Montgomeryshire, now held by Powys Archives Office. Tucked away in one of these folders was a small, modern envelope with, ‘’PRAYERS’ CAREFUL! LOOSE PAPERS’ written on it in felt marker. Inside that envelope was this acrostic little gem:

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Powys Archives Office M/EP/41/O/RT/1 (photo: Angela Muir)

A knight delights in deeds of armes,

Perhaps a Lady loves sweet musicks charms

Ritch men in store of wealth delighted be

Infants love dangling on their mothers knee

Coy maids love something, nothing I’ll express

Know the first letters of these lines and guess

 

A PRICK

Yes, dear readers, this is a raunchy, eighteenth-century riddle about a penis carefully filed away in church records. The identity of the writer, and how and why this little scrap ended up tucked away with prayers for ailing parishioners is a mystery. The idea that this could have been a cheeky parishioner sneaking a bit of smutty poetry into the prayer box to shock an unpopular and over-serious church official is both amusing and appealing, but that’s speculative at best.

Regardless of this bawdy little poem’s provenance, it is clear that having a dirty mind is not a modern invention.

 

Do you have your own archival randoms? Please share in the comments.