Policing Male Heterosexuality: The Reformation of Manners Societies' Campaign Against the Brothels in Westminster, 1690-1720
Abstract

The societies for the reformation of manners, driven by volunteers' desires to eradicate immorality, operated in cities across England from the 1690s to the 1730s. This article uses a previously ignored source: the recognizance, to show that prostitutes' clients were targeted in their campaigns. Although the thousands of female prostitutes arrested have rightly absorbed historians' attention until now, their male clients also deserve notice. London's recognizances reveal that hundreds of elite and middling men were arrested for consorting with lewd women. This contradicts previous theories that the reformation of manners movement was an episode in policing the poor, and was concerned only with female sexuality. The evidence shows that prostitutes' clients were greatly disturbed by the campaigns, violently resisting arrest, attempting to bribe officials to spare them, or indulging in elaborate ruses to ensure that their whoring could remain undetected. These forms of opposition to the societies underscore the success of the moralists in infiltrating wealthier men's sex lives. The arrests of these men expose a key period in the history of sexuality: the transition from seeing prostitutes as sexual predators to perceiving them as victims, and the growing expectations of the middling sort for chastity in men as well as women.