Monday, November 25, 2013

Question from Sasha - Punishment for adultery in 16th century

Was adultery punishable by death in the 16th century, particularly in the time of King Henry VIII? Was it different for men and woman? Specifically, for a queen?

[See previous related threads linked below. - Lara]


  1. Adultry was a common if unsactioned practice for men without conquence unless of course it resulted in disease or if the partner in crime was also married to someone of importance. In the instance of Henry VIII, both wives accused of adultry and their accomplances were guilty of crimes against the kings majesty ie treason . At that time it was also considered treason to even casually discuss the kings death which was also punishable by execution For women of the period it could be a great boon in the case of Henry VIII mistresses or a great risk for other ladies that might loose everything, home children etc...if caught

  2. George Whetstone's 1577 play Promos and Cassandra, the source for Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, has women convicted of fornication (sex before marriage) being forced to wear a blue dress (like the scarlet letter) to show the world their guilt. Men convicted of the same crime were considered rapists (no matter whether their partners consented) and were put to death. This same dual standard appears in Shakespeare's play.

    Of course sleeping with the King's wife or being the King's wife and sleeping with someone else was a death sentence as Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard and their putative lovers found. But both Henry VI's and Edward II's Queens had generally acknowledged lovers and their husbands (both pretty weak kings) did nothing about it.


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