The Queer Death of the Hanged Dog

The 1677 Execution of Mary Higgs’ Mongrel

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Author:
Jennifer Lodine-Chaffey Assistant Professor, Montana State University Billings, Billings, MT j.lodinechaffey@msubillings.edu

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Abstract

Over the last forty years, scholars have interpreted the early modern public execution ritual variously as an affirmation of state power, a chance for victims to fashion a memorable identity on the scaffold, and a site of festivity for those gathered to witness. What, though, do we make of the public execution of a dog? This article considers the 1677 hanging of a dog and its female owner for the crime of bestiality, focusing on early modern English beliefs about animals, human sexuality, and punishment. In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, reasons for killing animals involved in bestiality found their basis in interpretations of biblical texts, anxieties about animal familiars, fears of crossbreeding, and a desire to maintain boundaries between beasts and humans. This dog's execution, which occurred publicly and was memorialized in print, complicates the usual understandings of public execution, effectively queering the ritual by destabilizing its meaning.

Contributor Notes

Jennifer Lodine-Chaffey is assistant professor of English at Montana State University Billings. Her peer-reviewed scholarship has appeared in The Ben Jonson Journal, Parergon, Quidditas, and The Journal of Marlowe Studies. Her monograph, A Weak Woman in a Strong Battle: Women and Public Execution in Early Modern England, part of the Strode Studies in Early Modern Literature and Culture, was published in 2022 (University of Alabama Press). ORCID: 0000-0003-2265-8631 Email: j.lodinechaffey@msubillings.edu

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