Image of two men kissingHomosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton

Reports on the Trial of Samuel Foote, 1776


NOTE: The following trial is interesting in demonstrating an early conception of sexual orientation: the footman says "had he imagined or heard [Foote] had been a man of such a sort, he would not have continued a second day in his service", or as Lord Mansfield rephrased it, "had he but known before his entering into the service of Mr. Foote, that he was of a disgraceful turn of inclination, he would not have lived with him for one hundred guineas a year". See also Sodom and Onan for a satirical attack on Foote.


Friday 13 December 1776

Yesterday morning Samuel Foote, Esq. was tried in the Court of King's Bench, Westminster, before the Earl of Mansfield and a special jury, on two indictments preferred against him by John Sangster, charging him with two several attempts to commit an unnatural crime upon the said Sangster on the 1st and 2d of May last. Mr. Howarth opened on the part of the prosecution with a degree of compactness and delicacy which did him great credit. He begged to be spared the unwelcome task of going through the evidence meant to be adduced in support of the indictments, trust that in a cause like that before the jury, they would be content with hearing it from the mouths of the witnesses, and resting perfectly assured that they would, after they had heard it, discharge the debt of justice where it was due. John Sangster was first sworn; he told, in a style of painful circumstantiality (painful at least to every hearer) a story the most inconsistent, offensive, and indecent, that ever was given in evidence in any court of justice. He stated the facts charged in the indictments to have been perpetrated (the 1st) on Wednesday the first of May, at Mr. Foote's dwelling-house in Suffolk-street, and (the 2d) on Thursday morning the second of May, in a stable at North-End. During the whole odious narration, not once did a sense of shame appear to penetrate his heart, nor a blush, for the indecent expressions which fell from him, once crimson his cheek. He gave his evidence, shocking as it was, with a settled arrangement of features, and a fluency of language, which astonished the whole court. As soon as his cross-examination was finished, John Williams, late coachman to Mr. Foote, was sworn, and he corroborated some parts of Sangster's testimony. Mr. Campbell and Dr. Fordyce (referred to by Sangster in his evidence), were next examined; they, however, could ascertain nothing relative to the charge, but only spoke generally to matters which proved nothing material to the cause before the court. Mr. Bond, and Sir John Fielding, were sworn touching the false date alledged in the information taken in Bow-street May the 6th. Mr. Bond swore that Sangster said Monday last, as it appeared in the information; and Sir John Fielding deposed, that he thought Sangster had said Monday May the 1st, mentioning that it was the day on which Mr. Foote annually met his Company.
          Mr. Wallace, on the part of Mr. Foote, denied every tittle of the charge, and undertook to prove, from indubitable testimony, that the whole was merely a trumped-up story, and that the prosecution was not only wickedly malicious and revengeful, but that it was supported by the most wicked of all possible means, those of palpable perjury. He denied that the witness Sangster had uttered one syllable of truth in his whole evidence, and to shew that he had even been weak enough to charge his fact in Suffolk street on a day when it could not happen, he produced a News-paper of Friday May 3d, containing an Advertisement, desiring the Performers of Mr. Foote's Theatre for the ensuing summer, to meet Mr. Foote at the said Theatre on Monday the sixth of May, and proved, by the clear and direct testimony of two of the pereformers (and he would have sworn many others, had not Lord Mansfield thought it unnecessary), that Mr. Foote did not meet the Company till that day,but that a great part of the Acts, &c. assembled at the Theatre on Wednesday the first day of May, when they received a message from Mr. Foote, informing them, that he could not come to town that day, but would meet them on Monday.
          This evidence was further supported by the testimony of Mr. and Mrs. Jewell, Miss Barker, and Louis Vallet, who severally proved that Mr. Foote was not in town the whole week, from the first of May to the sixth, and that Sangster, the evidence, so far from leaving Mr. Foote's service on account of any unnatural practice of Mr. Foote (as alledged in the indictments, and sworn to by Sangster in his evidence), had been discarded Mr. Foote's household in a moment of passion, for his insolence when drunk; and that he had afterwards, with great bitterness of complain, lamented his indiscretion, and the loss of the best of masters. The evidence on the part of the defendant, not only established a clear alibi, but went materially to contradict the greater part of Sangster's and Williams's testimony, proving the latter witness to have been discharged by Mr. Foote, merely on account of his connexions and intimacy with Sangster, after he had made the information before Sir John Fielding; and proving also, that he in a most solemn manner protested to Mr. Hickey (Mr. Foote's Attorney) that he never had heard from Sangster any such accusation as the indictments charted the defendant with, and which he (Williams) had himself in Court sworn he had heard.
          After Mr. Davenport had made his repy, which rather shewed the pleader's ingenuity than the strength of his plea, the Earl of Mansfield, in a most masterly manner, descanted on the name of the crime alledged, the consequences which would follow a conviction, and the care incumbent on the jury to protect the innocent from unjust accusations of such a dreadful nature. He then went into the evidence; with singular shrewdness pointed out the inconsistencies in Sangster's story, and shewed that several of the circumstances stated, were, if true, supportable by the testimony of various witnesses, not one of whom were called on the part of the prosecution. He examined the evidence of Williams with equal nicety, and as forcibly marked its palpable defects and contradictions. After fully arguing upon the face of the whole matter sworn in support of the prosecution, the Earl took a view of that given on the side of the defendant, and shewed its clearness, its close relation, and its great credibility, inferring from the whole, that if the evidence on the part of the deendant was to be believed, it was the most providential assistance to detect one of the foulest prosecutions that ever was set on foot, and which had been carried on in a manner uncommony oppressive; and which (if the jury adcquitted the defendant) must to every man's understanding appear to have been supported by premeditated perjury.
          The jury without hesitating a moment found the defendant not guilty. (Chester Chronicle)

Saturday 14 December 1776

Substance of Mr. Foote's Trial at Westminster-Hall.
Yesterday came on before the Right Hon. Earl Mansfield, and a Special Jury, in the Court of King's-Bench, Westminster, the Trial of Samuel Foote, Esq; for an Assault with Intent to commit an Unnatural Crime. The Indictment was removed from the inferior Court by Certiorari, and stated a Variety of Facts unfit for Publication. The Prosecutor, John Sangster, deposed, that he had lived as a Coachman with Mr. Foote for a considerable Time before he went last to Ireland; and, that upon his last Journey to that Kingdom he changed his Station and became his Footman. That while he continued there, the Defendant once committed an Act of very great Indecency, and several Times amused himself with asking him obscene Questions. that he assaulted him at his House in Suffolk-Street on the First of May, and the two succeeding Days at North End, in the Stable; where, on the second Attempt, he offered him 20 or 30 Guineas; upon which (the Prosecutor) called him a ——, and struck him a Blow on the Head, which obliged him to desist. That he complained to the Coachman and the other Servants, and determined to quit the Service, which he accordingly did immediately. That he was very much dissatisfied with the Tretment he had received, and that upon his first Arrival in Town, he communicated the Affair first to his Brother, and then to Doctor Fordyce, with whom he had formerly lived; after which he gave his Information before Sir John Fielding, and procured the Warrant, upon which the Defendant was taken into Custody. Williams, the then Coachman, confirmed that Part of the above Testimony which respected him; and being asked, said he came a reluctant Witness. – It appeared, however, that few Days ago, this Witness applied to Mr. Jewell, telling him he was apprehensive of being called upon, and begging at the same Time a Character, Mr. Foote having always refused to give him one. The Prosecutor being asked, said, that two Gentlemen assisted him in the Prosecution.
          Doctor Fordyce confirmed the Testimony of the Prosecutor respecting his Applciation to him, and said, that he was extremely cautious in giving his Advice, but desired him, if he intended to prosecute, by all Means to apply to Sir John Fielding, of whose superior Judgment he had the highest Opinion.
          Mr. Bond, one of Sir John Fielding's Clerk, deposed, that he took the Information before Sir John, but could not speak positively touching the Day when the Fact in Suffolk-street was said to have been committed; for it was urged by Council for the Defendant, that, upon the first Examination in the Morning, the Prosecutor said, that the Fact was committed on the first Day of May, which he described to be on Monday, and that he did not change the Day until Evening, when by Means of a Declaration from the Defendant himself, he found out the Mistake, and altered the Charge to Wednesday, which was the Day upon which May began. – At this Stage of the Business it was thought necessary to send for Sir John Fielding, who did not however arrive in Court until Mr. Wallace was far advanced in his Defence. Sir John said, he only remembeed that there were two Facts charged, and that upon the Information of the Prosecutor he had granted his Warrant. – Mr. Wallace then continued his Defence, which he said he would support with Evidence of Facts, although he remarked, that the Prosecutors own Evidence was sufficient to convict him of the vilest and most malevolent Perjury.
          The two first Witnesses in Behalf of the Dcfendant were two of the Performers, who each deposed, that for a Number of Years, it was usual for the Players to meet at the Theatre on the first of May, in order to arrange Matters for the ensuing Season: That on the first Day of alst May they were all assembled there, when they received a Message from the Defendant, that he could not attend them until the Monday following: That he did not therefore come to Town until that Time. They were confirmed by Mr. Jewel and his Wife in this Particular, the former of whom further deposed, that the Prosecutor did not retire from his Master's Service, but was discharged for a Variety of Crimes, particularly Drunkenness, and abusive Language.
          Lord Mansfield,in delivering the Charge, remarked principally upon the Perjury, which was indisputably proved by the Alibi, and the Jury immediately pronounced the Defendant Not guilty.
          During the Whole of his disgustful Testimony, the Prosecutor did not evince the least Appearance of Shame, or apprehension for the infamous Falsehoods he was declaring. – Lord Mansfield said it was most providential that the Defendant could produce so clear a Refutation to one of the foulest and most offensive Prosecutions that ever came within his Observation. (Oxford Journal)

Saturday 14 December 1776

[The same report as in the Chester Chronicle for 13 December, followed by:]
          We are assured, upon the most impartial scrutiny, it appears that the Duchess of Kingston was not in any respect concerned in the prosecution of Mr. Foote; but that the evidence to criminate him was encouraged and supported by 3 other persons, against whom he is taking the legal methods to do himself justice. (Ipswich Journal)

Monday 16 December 1776

Monday Morning Mr. Foote was tried in the Court of King's-Bench, Westminster, beforee the Earl of Mansfield and a Special Jury, on two Indictments, preferred against him by John Sangster, charging him with two several Attempts to commit an unnatural Crime on the said Sangster, on the 1st and 2d of May last. The Jury, without quitting the Box, in about two Minutes Consultation, returned their Verdict of Not Guilty. The Trial lasted seven Hours. (Northampton Mercury)

Thursday 19 December 1776

Particulars of the trial of Mr. FOOTE, on Monday last, before Earl Mansfield, and a special Jury, in the Court of King's Bench.
JOHN SANGSTER charged Mr. FOOTE in two indictments with having attempted to commit an unnatural crime upon his person at Mr. Foote's town-house, in Suffolk-street, on Wednesday, the 1st day of May last, and the next morning in a stable, at his country house at North end.
          It being agreed by the Counselon both sides, to let the issue of the two indictments depend on the event of one trial, Mr. Howarth opened (as leading counsel for the prosecution) with lamenting, that, in the absence of Mr. Mansfield and Mr. Davenport, the unwelcome task of informing the Jury of the nature of the cause, had devolved to him; a task the more unwelcome, as the indictments, which would be the subject of the court's investigation, alledged a crime of a most disgraceful nature, against a gentleman whose eminent talents had, for many years, very deservedly rendered him the object of public esteem. He hoped, however, that the Jury would spare him the disagreeable circumstance of stating the matter, which, he was instructed to say, would be laid before them in evidence, and would think it sufficient to collect it from the mouths of the witnesses. He ended his speech, which, considering the subject, was remarkably pertinent and polite, with a compliment to the Jury, who, he doubted not, would impartially consider the whole case, and discharge the debt of justice where they thought it due.
          John Sangster was the first witness sworn. He began his evidence with an account of his being hired to Mr. Foote, in November last, and stated his going with him to Dublin, in the course of the winter, and his return to England in the month of February. After this he went directly to the charge in the first indictment, and swore positively that Mr. Foote was in town on Wednesday the 1st of May, when he met him, the witness, in his passage from the Play-house to his dwelling-house; that the witness told him a person called to see Mrs. Gardener, whom he was going to seek; that Mr. Foote went with him to the fore door, and bid the party who called, go through the common passage of the theatre, adn enquire for Mrs. Gardener, as he never suffered any person to pass the stage through his dwelling-house; that he afterwards rang for him to come up stairs, led him into a back-room, the door of which he locked, and there behaved to him in a manner shockingly indecent.
          Sangster farther swore, that he not only treated his master with the most ungoverned abuse, during their conference, but declared that he said, "had he imagined or heard he had been a man of such a sort, he would not have continued a second day in his service, even if he would have given him one hundred guineas a year." He farther said that he told Nanny, the house-maid, something distantly relative to the matter, on his return to the kitchen. To this evidence, he added, that his master and he had a conversation shortly after, in a ground floor parlour, and that Mr. Foote persuaded him to stay in his service till morning, and he would then pay him his wages; that in consequence of this promise, he accompanied him that afternoon to North-End, and that in the morning his master saw him in the grove or orchard in hs grounds, and desired him to go in the stable to shew him a new horse; that he obeyed his commands, and his master followed him, and again attempted indecencies with him, but that he gave him a severe blow, and obliged him to let him quit the stable, when he publickly called him abusive names, and went to Mr. Campbell, a neighbouring publican, and told him he was about to leave the Defendant's service, and he would soon know for what reason.
          He swore fartherm, that he went to town the next morning with the coach-man, who took the chariot and horses with him; that they had a glass of rum together, the corner of Suffolk-street, and that while they were drinking, Mr. and Mrs. Jewell passed by in a hackney-coach. That he went to Dr. Fordyce's, intending to ask his advice respecting the behaviour of his master; that the doctor was not at ome, and that when he returned to North End, he in the kitchen abused his master, Mr. Jewell, and all the family, as a parcel of unnatural beings; that Mr. Jewell accidentally overheard him, and instantly called him to an acocunt. He also stated, that he abused his master to his face, before the servants, and especially the gardener and coachman; that he settled with his master on Saturday morning, the 4th of May, and reluctantly took an even share of a parcel of cast-off cloaths, which his master had set apart for him.
          On his cross examination he owned, that he had been assisted and supported by two persons, during the progress of the prosecution, and that one of them had been one of the parties who had accompanied him to Hicks's-Hall, on his preferring the second bill ofindictment. He said they were, as well as the attorney, strangers to him previous to his having made the information, and that he knew nothing of the person, who supported the prosecution, till the 23d of May. He farhter said he had in Dublin been indecently treated by his master, that he had there complained of the matter to Louis Vallett, and in England he had complained to John Williams, the coachman.
          On hs being questioned respecting his having changed the day on which he charged the first allegation from the Monday to the Wednesday, he said it was a mere mistake of the day of the week; that he had all along said it was Monday, the 1st of May, having heard from the servants of Mr. Foote, that he always met his company on that day. He swore positively, that he did not sign his information, and that it was not read once over to him.
          Mr. Bond, one of Sir John Fielding's clerks, being sworn to this circumstance, deposed, that when Sangster called in the morning, to lay the information, he introduced him to Sir John Fielding in an inner apartment; that after sir John had conversed with him on the cause of his complaint, he dictated the words of the information, which he, the witness, copied, and that then Sangster said nothing about the first of May, but only mentioned the words Monday last. Mr. Bond produced the original information, with Sangster's name signed in his own hand writing, which Bond solemnly deposed he saw him write; he further added, that the information was read over to him.
          Sir John Fielding was sent for to confirm or disannul this testimony.
          John Williams corroborated Sangster in those parts of his testimony, in which he declared he had complained tohim of his master's conduct, and had abused him before Williams and the gardener. He owned, on his cross examination, that he had within these few days called on Mr. Jewell, and said that he was subpoena'd on the part of the Plaintiff, and wished to go into the country, but wished his master would afterwards give him a character: that Mr. Jewell bid him by all means stay, and give evidence in favour of his friend Sangster.
          John Campbell, who in May last was master of a public house facing Mr. Foot'e coach yard gate at North end, confirmed Sangster in his declaratio, that he informed him he should immediately quit his master's service, and that he would soon know the reason. The witness would not ascertain the day when, contenting himself with saying, it was a day or two before Sangster left Mr. Foote.
          Dr. Fordyce deposed, that Sangster lived with him nearly five years; that he came to him in May last, and informed him, with tears in his eyes, of what had happened, telling him he was exceeding unhappy, and asked his advice. The Doctor said, the subject was of all others on which he wished to hear the least; that he must consult his own feelings on the occasion; that if the like had happened to him, he certainly wouldhave endeavoured to punish the offender, but he referred Sangster to Sir John Fielding, as a magistrate most convesant in such matters, and therefore most capable of giving him good advice. Doctor fordyce could not recollect the day, nor the day of the week on which Sangster called upon him for his advice in the business, but said it was sometime in May.
          Mr. Wallace, leading counsel for Mr. Foote, was beginnng to open the case of the defendant, when Sir John Fielding came into Court, and being sworn, he declared that he perfectly recollected what had passed previous to his taking the information, but that he did not entirely recollect all that passed at the time of taking it.
          On being strongly urged by the court, to give a precise account, he said he thought Sangster mentioned something of the day in which Mr. Foote met his company, and talked of the first of May.
          This piece of evidence turned out so much to the satisfaction of the gentlemen concerned for the prosecution, they asked Sir John no more questions, he therefore left the court.
          Mr. Wallace then resumed the thread of his argument, and after having in general terms challenged the probability of Sangster's story, urging the contradictory face now out on it by the witness, who had essentially differed, both in point of words and fact from his first information, as a sufficient reason for the Jury to acquit the defendant; He entered more minutely into the defendant's case, and he not only declared that every tittle of Sangster's evidence was false but also undertook to prove that the whole charge was a scandalous lie, originating in the foulest malice, and supported by the most wicked and wilful perjury. He gave up the point respecting the change of the day from Monday to Wednesday, (nevertheless declaring, that even on that ground the matter ought to turn in his client's favour) and pledged himself to prove, that so far from Mr. Foote's being at Suffolk-street, on the 1st of May, he had not been in town the whole week in which that day occurred. – In fine, from the evidence he meant to lay before the Jury, he said, he did not doubt but he should convince them that there was not a word of truth in Sangster's evidence; that the whole charge was merely a trumped up story, and that the defendant was totally innocent.
          In order to prove what he had stated, he produced a news-paper of Friday, May the 3d, in which there was a paragraph, dated from Mr. Foote's theatre, acquainting th eperformers who expected to be of the summer company, that a meeting would be held on Monday the 6th instant.
          He also called —— Pearce, and Thomas Davies, who severally deposed, that most of Mr. Foote's actors assembled at the Theatre on Wednesday the first of May, (expecting according to annual custom, that Mr. Foote would meet them) and that Mr. Foote did not come to the house, a message being received from him about two o'clock, informing them, that he could not come to town that day, but would meet them on Monday.
          Mr. Wallace was about to call a number of other actors, but Lord Mansfield perceiving they were only called to corroborate the same fact, thought it unnecessary.
          Mr. Jewell deposed, that Sangster came to North End drunk, on Friday morning the 3d, of May. That he heard him calling both Mr. Foote and himself names in the kitchen. that he took him to task on the subject, and found Sangster had suspected, that he had told Mr. Foote of having seen him in London in the morning with Williams, and the chariot at an alehouse door. Mr. Jewell declared he had not given Mr. Foote the least hint of such his conduct, till after his abuse. That he did immediately afterward, tell Mr. Foote, who put down his cup and tea, and instantly discharged Sangster his service. That Sangster on Saturday morning came to Mr. Jewell's house at Brompton, begged to speak with him, asked his pardon for his having offended him the preceding day, and weeping bitterly, lamented his having lost the best of masters through his folly. Mr. Jewell positively declared, that Mr. Foote was not in town the first of May; and he gave a very different account of the partition of the cloaths from that given by Sangster.
          Mrs. Jewell corroborated her husband's testimony in every particular.
          The counsel for the prosecution called Williams again, in order to interrogate him, whether he had not driven his master to town the first of May. The witness said he had, but could not tell whether his master dined in town that day or not, or at what hour he returned to North End, but said he recollected it was on the first of May because he saw a garland in Piccadilly.
          Louis Vallett directly contradicted all that Sangster had sworn, respecting his having complained to him either in Ireland orEngland, of the defendant's indecent behaviour. He also concurred with Mr. Jewell in declaring that Mr. Foote was not in town that day.
          Mrs. Barker said the same, and contradicted what Williams and Sangster had sworn relative to the conversation in the kitchen between Mr. Foote and Sangster, before her, the gardener, and the coachman.
          Mr. Hickey swore positively that Williams, the coachman, had, on being solemnly questioned by him, (a few days after the first breaking out of the affair,) whether Sangster had ever told him any thing relative to the matter alledged against Mr. Foote in the information made before Sir John Fielding, declared positively that he had not.
          Mr. Davenport shewed great ingenuity in his reply, considering how very little ground he had for fair argument. He said the Jury must determine which side was supported by perjury, but that one was, could not be questioned. He endeavoured to do away the force of the objections made byi the counsel for the defendant to Sangster's evidence, and to establish its credibility, urging it as a matter impossible for any man, however depraved, to invent a story so black in its nature, so replete with a variety of circumstances, and those so clearly connected as that sworn to by the evidence, Sangster.
          Early Mansfield judiciously summed up the evidence on both sides, the substance of which was as follows:
          "The facts sworn to have been committed on the Wednesday and Thursday, the first and second May, – Sangster declared, had he but known before his entering into the service of Mr. Foote, that he was of a disgraceful turn of inclination, he would not have lived with him for one hundred guineas a year, and yet it comes out afterwards, that he staid after the first attempt, which he swears to have been made in Ireland in January, down to the first or second of May, in England, without a single complaint to any of the servants. – And here a man takes up the prosecution, who is a stranger to the prosecutor, does not know him, and never meddled with the affair till the 23d of May. – What is that man? Is he a friend to justice, or an enemy to Mr. Foote? – I expected to have heard of the real person, who acts behind the curtain. – It must here be observed too, that there are two indictments, two special Juries, in order to aggravate the cost, and prepossess the minds of the people with the guilt of the defendant, when the circumstances were all connected in one fact. – It was expensive, it was cruel – The indictments appear founded on conspiracy. Williams swears first that he had a subpoena, then he heard he was to have one, and applies to Jewell for a character, and promised to go out of the way if he could obtain one from Mr. F—— What does Jewell say to him "As you are an acquaintance of his by all means stay," and this he repeated to him three times, Williams even confesses he was very unwilling to become an evidence. His application to Mr. J—— was a trap in order to have it in his power to inform the court, he was offered a bribe to keep out of the way.
          "The providence of God intereposes for the prosecutor to fix on such a day as Mr. Foote did not go to town though he had done it for many years back, – and in such cases it can only be by providential means, or the Prosecutor's contradicting himself in evidence, that the innocent escape the ruin of their reputation and welfare. – Gentlemen, I say this more for the sake of the audience, than for you; you are in possession of the evidence, you are masters of the whole matter, and will, I do not doubt, do your duty."
          The Jury, without hesitating a moment, found the defendant, Not Guilty.
          The Counsel for the prosecution were, Mr. Davenport, Mr. Howarth, and Mr Cooper; Attorney, Mr. Naylor. For Mr. Foote, Mr. Wallace, Mr. Murphy, and Mr. Buller; Attornies, Messrs. Hickey. (Derby Mercury)


CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Reports on the Trial of Samuel Foote, 1776", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 7 September 2014 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1776foot.htm>.


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