Bugger, Buggery

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Bugger, Buggery

For centuries the colloquial terms bugger and buggery have referred to homosexuals and homosexual activity, particularly anal intercourse. The term appears to have entered Western European usage in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in connection with various dualist heresies that had started in Bulgaria. Thus bugger, or the Old French bougre, may have evolved from Bulgar or, alternatively, from Bogomil, a heresy that developed in Bulgaria in the early tenth century. The Bogomils were dualists who believed that God had two offspring: Satan and Christ. Their beliefs can be linked back to the Manichean sects of late antiquity. By the mid-twelfth century, there were multiple heretical sects, similar to the dualist Bogomils, in Latin Europe, including the Albigensians and the Cathars. Christians, especially the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, related these heresies to sexual improprieties, especially sodomy. As early as the mid-eleventh century, in the Liber Gomorrhianus (Book of Gomorrah), Peter Damian had linked homosexual acts with heresy and the work of the devil. This conjunction ultimately extended to witchcraft and became increasingly prevalent throughout the Middle Ages and into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The connection between heresy and sex resulted in homosexual acts, especially anal penetration, being characterized as buggery. Church leaders, in particular, tried to slander the ascetic practices of heretical leaders. The Cathar perfecti, who were reputed to abstain from meat and marriage, were accused of practicing sodomy within their group, even though they abstained from sex with women. Thus the heretics, the bougres, were also sodomites. Variations of the words buggery and bugger, indicating anal intercourse and those who practice it, occur in romance languages, for example, buggerone in Italian and bugarón in Spanish. The Germanic languages contain the same conceptual relationships, for example, the German term for heretic, Ketzer, can also refer to sodomites.

Much of the rhetoric that linked heresy and sodomy was formal and formulaic. There is very little evidence to support the conclusion that heretics practiced sodomy or that men prosecuted for sodomy also held heretical beliefs. One example, however, is found in the inquisitorial registers of Bishop Jacques Fournier. In the 1320s, Fournier investigated the survival of Catharism in the area around Montaillou in southern France. One of the accused, Arnold of Verniolle, revealed that he had engaged in multiple sexual relationships with young men and boys. Arnold, however, carefully described acts of interfemoral rubbing and masturbation as opposed to anal penetration. Perhaps this explains why he was sentenced to life in prison rather than executed.

see also Homosexuality, Defined.


Boswell, John. 1980. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Goodich, Michael. 1979. The Unmentionable Vice: Homosexuality in the Later Medieval Period. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio.

Puff, Helmut. 2003. Sodomy in Reformation Germany and Switzerland 1400–1600. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rocke, Michael. 1996. Forbidden Friendships. Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence. New York: Oxford University Press.

                                           Jacqueline Murray