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England's Culture WarsPuritan Reformation and its Enemies in the Interregnum, 1649-1660$
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Bernard Capp

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199641789

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199641789.001.0001

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Puritans and Sex

Puritans and Sex

(p.132) 7 Puritans and Sex
England's Culture Wars

Bernard Capp

Oxford University Press

Puritan reformers had long called for the strict punishment of sexual immorality, but many cotemporaries and modern scholars have dismissed the notorious 1650 Adultery Act as wholly ineffective. This chapter surveys prosecutions under the act, both in London and the provinces, and examines how magistrates determined to impose harsh punishments turned to other mechanisms when they found the act unsatisfactory. The chapter assesses popular attitudes in this new climate, from resentment and fear to evidence of public support for stern moral values and of neighbours’ readiness to report sexual offenders. It surveys adultery, fornication, illegitimacy, rape, sodomy, incest, and prostitution. It also examines the consequences of resentment and confusion over the marriage law of 1653, which prohibited church weddings.

Keywords:   puritans, sex, adultery, London, marriage, immorality

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