Trial for Attempted Sodomy

  • Matthew J. Kinservik
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Ever since John Sangster’s first appearance before Sir John Fielding, many leading aristocrats had rallied to Foote’s defense. The grand jury’s double indictment did nothing to diminish their support. According to an early biographer, the more dire Foote’s situation seemed, the more his noble friends consoled and encouraged him:

Our hero was so far from being abandoned, that his house, from the first moment of the charge being preferred against him, to the close of the trial, exhibited a continual assemblage of rank, learning, fashion, and friendship. Among the two former classes particularly, are to be numbered two royal Dukes, the late Duke of Roxburgh, the Marquis of Townshend, Mr. Dunning (afterwards Lord Ashburton), Mr. [Edmund] Burke, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. [William] Fitzherbert, beside several foreign noblemen, and a group of other persons of the very first respectability.1

Jackson was beginning to learn what some of Foote’s other detractors had learned earlier. Nine years earlier, when Foote was denounced in a satirical poem called Momus, one writer explained to the poem’s author: “Here you only betray the most consummate assurance, but an absolute ignorance of your subject. I say ignorance, for it is known to all who do not breathe in total obscurity, that Mr. F—te is actually caressed by the brightest geniuses, and persons of the most exalted stations in the kingdom.”2 And now that included the king and queen.


Defense Lawyer Grand Jury Libel Suit Exalted Station Public Ledger 
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Chapter 11

  1. 11.
    All quotations to this scene are from the censor’s manuscript copy of The Capuchin, preserved in the Larpent Collection of plays in the Henry E. Huntington Library, MS no. 413, ff. 51–52. For a complete transcription of the scene, see Matthew J. Kinservik, “Satire, Censorship, and Sodomy in Samuel Foote’s The Capuchin (1776)” Review of English Studies 54 (2003): 639–660, esp. 651–652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 15.
    J. S. Cockburn and Thomas A. Green, Twelve Good Men and True: The Criminal Trial Jury in England, 1200–1800 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), 322n15.Google Scholar
  3. 17.
    William Hawkins, Pleas of the Crown, 2: 400; quoted in J. M. Beattie, Crime and the Courts in England, 1660–1800 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), 356.Google Scholar
  4. 19.
    All trial testimony is derived from Mansfield’s manuscript notes, found in James Oldham, The Mansfield Manuscripts and the Growth of English Law in the Eighteenth Century, 2 vols. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 2: 1004–1007. Because Mansfield’s notes are sketchy, I have taken some liberties with punctuation and paragraphing in reproducing them here. However, I have neither added words nor altered the order of speeches.Google Scholar
  5. 20.
    For instance, see Randolph Trumbach, ed., Sodomy Trials, Seven Documents (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1986).Google Scholar

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© Matthew J. Kinservik 2007

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  • Matthew J. Kinservik

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