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(1) Blackmailers' Charter

One of the more serious effects of social prejudice against homosexuals is that it makes them highly vulnerable to blackmail, particularly when the law itself supports such prejudice. Indeed, even the very existence of a subculture, however supportive in many ways, brought with it a disadvantageous visibility, at least to the eyes of another subculture, the criminal underworld. Before the nineteenth century, blackmail usually denoted extortion, that is, theft or robbery accompanied by a threat of physical harm. The phrase "black mail" or "black money" in the Middle Ages referred to payments coerced by threat to life, limb or property. Criminals, bandits, and highway robbers often banded together to practice this kind of extortion, taking advantage of the disruptions within medieval society, and even government officials and justices of the peace often blackmailed people by threatening to arrest them.

The Elizabethan Act of 1601 defined the offence as a form of robbery, reinforced in 1722 by the Waltham Black Act – notorious for enlarging the number of crimes punishable by death – which described "several ill-designing and disorderly persons [who] have of late associated themselves under the name of "Blacks" . . . and have sent letters in fictitious names, to several persons, demanding venison and money, and threatening some great violence, if such, their unlawful demands, should be refused". Prior to the Waltham Black Act, various statutes throughout the reigns of George I and George II had punished blackmailers with seven years' transportation; if the victim was threatened with murder, the blackmailer was to be sentenced to death. In all of the cases I have discovered during the period covered by this study, the extortions and punishments followed this pattern.

Before the passing of the 1967 Sexual Offenses Act, the law prohibiting homosexual intercourse was aptly described as a "Blackmailers' Charter", for very many – perhaps even most – blackmail attempts involved a threat to expose a man as a homosexual, whether or not he were in fact gay. This was equally true in the early eighteenth century. In 1735 an undoubtedly well-informed court recorder noted that "This charging of Men with Sodomy is grown a common Practice with such Villains [i.e., highway robbers], in order to keep the Person they design to rob, from crying out for help when they attack him, or from prosecuting him afterwards, for fear of being suspects of so detestable a Crime, or perhaps having it sworn against them". One of the reasons Jeremy Bentham gave for decriminalising homosexuality was to disarm blackmailers of one of their most powerful weapons, though Bentham never published his views for fear of being accused of the vice which he wished to defend. There is no way to estimate precisely how common this sodomitical ruse was practised by the blackmailers, but there are certainly enough recorded instances to indicate that it was a very serious problem – both for society at large and especially for the molly subculture. The following cases illustrate in more detail the extortioners' techniques, ranging from the very crude to the fairly ingenious; they also give some idea of the emotional turmoil experienced by the victims in the face of strong social norms regarding the necessity of maintaining a good reputation, and they throw some light on the interrelationship between the molly subculture and the criminal underworld.

In September or late August 1721, William Casey and Martin MacOwen assaulted Joseph Stone on the walk between the Mall and the Roan, near Whitehall. They knocked him down, and relieved him of his hat, wig, neckerchief and money. According to Stone, Casey "almost choak'd me with my Neckcloth, and told me, if I cry'd out, they'd swear Buggery against me". Stone was badly beaten. As his assailants fled, Casey bumped into a man named Mr Longueville and was thus caught. As a constable came rushing up, Casey swore that Longueville had buggered a man and killed him (i.e., Stone, whom he left for dead). The Court justly ignored this transparent lie, and Casey was found guilty, although MacOwen was acquitted. Casey was 20 years old and had been for four years a soldier, partly in Spain. He was hanged at Tyburn on Monday, 21 September 1721, but in his dying speech he maintained his innocence, and expressed his hopes "that the great Number of Sodomites, in and about this City and Suburbs, may not bring down the same Judgement from Heaven, as fell on Sodom and Gomorrah". He may very well have had a genuine hatred of homosexuals, and may have chosen them as victims for this reason as well as for their easy vulnerability – the walk where he assaulted Stone was a known gay cruising ground.

Fewer than two months later, on 5 November, his 18 year old brother John Casey assaulted Francis Godelard near the end of the Mall in St James's Park next to Buckingham House, and stole one shilling. In his attempt to steal Godelard's watch (though the latter had none), Casey dragged him towards the canal, beat him up, stuffed a handkerchief in his mouth, and began searching. He "ask'd me where my Watch was, I said, I had none. He swore I lyed, and with that he broke the Wastband of my Breeches to search me farther. I cry'd out Murder, and two Soldiers coming up, he told them I was a Sodomite. They ask'd him, How he knew that? and he answer'd, Why don't you see my Hand in his breeches?" One of the soldiers, Richard Allen, said that Casey actually "had hold of the Prosecutor's Privities", which was taken as some proof, however slight, for his defence that Godelard "wants to Bugger me; take him Prisoner". If Allen's observation was accurate, Godelard may have narrowly escaped some particularly sadistic act at Casey's hands. Casey's absurd defence was not believed, and he was brought to the gatehouse as an apprehended robber. But he was nevertheless acquitted at his trial in April for lack of specific evidence that a robbery had taken place.

Casey, however, did not learn to be more cautious, and on 24 April 1722, he and Arthur Hughes and John Levee, alias Junks, assaulted and robbed Michael Honeybourne in the Pimlico area. There is no evidence that he used the sodomy ruse this time. He was found guilty and hanged at Tyburn on Monday 24 September 1722. The prison guard recorded that John Casey was a typical rogue, that he often quarrelled with his master and his father and kept loose company, and that he had been a highway robber for the past year, following in the footsteps of his brother Will.

In addition to the St James's Park area used by the Casey brothers, another of the gay cruising grounds frequented equally by robbers and extortionists was Moorfields Gardens. There on 8 November 1724, Richard Wise was "standing to make Water" near Bear-Key, when John Bollan came up to him and thrust his hand into his breeches – whereupon Benjamin Goddard and Samuel Axtell appeared from behind some hogsheads and started shouting "Now by God we have got him! A Sodomite! A Sodomite!" They threatened to carry Wise before a Justice and swear that he was readying himself to commit sodomy with Bollan. Wise was "terrified at the Thoughts of coming under such a Scandal" and asked what he could do to placate them. He gave Goddard his two crystal buttons and promised to get them some money. They followed him home, but all he could give them was two lottery tickets each worth 30 shillings. They returned twice and got 15 shillings more. On 17 December they caught up with him in Gutter-Lane and demanded more; he gave them 10 shillings. On 19 December they went again to his home and demanded yet more, and he gave them a diamond ring off his finger.

But Wise was exasperated with himself for giving them the ring, and he rushed after them to retrieve it. He caught up with them at an alehouse, where Goddard was having a drink with Richard Rustead, alias Rusty. When he began arguing to get his ring back, an alehouse boy came into the room and asked what was the matter. The boy recognised one of them: "I know one of these Fellows, his Name is Rustead, he uses the Sodomite's Walk in Moorfields", whereupon Rustead and Goddard fled the scene. They were later captured when one of their accomplices attempted to pawn the ring at the same goldsmith's where it was originally purchased. The man, to save himself, led the constables to the Farthing Pye-House near Moorfields, where Rustead and Goddard were captured by Constable Richard Bailey. Eventually Axtell and Bollan were also apprehended. At the January trial of the entire gang, Goddard and Rustead insisted that Wise had confessed to them to having twice committed sodomy with Bollan. Whether or not that was true, all of the extortioners were found guilty, and sentenced to pay fines of twenty pounds each, to suffer six months' imprisonment, and to stand in twice in the pillory, once on Tower Hill and once at Cheapside Conduit.

It is not unknown for one homosexual to blackmail another (indeed, that was commonplace until quite recent times). Although the blatant extortion is self-evident in the cases above, it is possible that some of the victims were gay: none of them protested that they were married. Some of the extortioners may also have been gay: Richard Rustead, for example, may well have used the Sodomites' Walk in Moorfields for pleasure as well as profit. In any case there are some instances in which it is certain that the extortioner was himself homosexual. We have earlier noted how, in July 1725, George Kedger was solicited by the 18 year old hustler Ned Courtney, and how Ned threatened to swear George's life away if he would not give him money, and how he followed up that threat in court.

One of the better-planned extortion attempts occurred on 7 November 1730, when John Jones took John Battle to the Castle in Mark Lane. There they met John Lewis, "a Bridewell-Boy", leaning on a broomstick in a state of misery or at least discomfort. Jones said to Battle that "The poor Fellow is very ill, he has got a Fistula: I have carried him to a Friend of mine, a Surgeon, who says it came by Buggery; and Lewis tells me that you have been concern'd with him. The Surgeon will have Ten Guineas for curing him, and insists upon Six Guineas loan; and if you don't pay the Money directly, we'll expose you". Direct and to the point and probably untrue, but Battle, "being in great Confusion, at having such a Crime charged upon me, for fear it should come to the Ears of my Neighbours, and blast my Reputation", gave them half a guinea and promised more. On 7 November they promised to go to Holland and trouble him no more if he would give them an additional twenty guineas. Battle agreed, but arranged for their capture when they came to collect. They begged for mercy and confessed, but were sentenced to stand in the pillory, once at the Exchange and once at Crutchet Friars, to suffer one year's imprisonment, and to give security for their good behaviour for three years following their release.

One of the sillier blackmail attempts also took place that same year. Henry Thompson was walking along Chancery Lane and stopped to ask Williamson Goodman for directions; Goodman invited him to his quarters in St Mary le Strand, and once there, he began talking to Thompson about sodomitical practices. He "told me of great Persons that us'd that way, and offer'd it to me so far as to undo his Breeches". But Thompson was not interested in the proffered bum, so Goodman shifted to a new tack and said "if I did not give him my Money, he would swear Sodomy against me". Thompson was not going to allow himself to be blackmailed either, so as a last resort Goodman "then seiz'd me by the Collar, and told me, 'twas in vain to resist, and took my Money from me by Force". A few days later Goodman appeared at Thompson's lodgings with a pretended constable, threatening to take him up for sodomy, but his accomplice lost courage and ran away. The incompetent would-be sodomite-cum-blackmailer was arrested and taken to the Round House; he broke out of prison, but was recaptured, and subsequently found guilty of assaulting Thompson, putting him in fear and stealing money from him, and was sentenced to death.

Some of the early blackmailers may have been inspired by the publicity attendant upon the raids on the molly houses. In 1727 William March was fined ten guineas for extorting his master by threatening to swear sodomy against him. Also in 1727 Joseph Lee was fined twenty marks, pilloried, and imprisoned for so extorting an unnamed person. In 1734 Nicholas Cales, alias Thomas Rogers, sent a malicious letter to John Reby, a servant to Mr Waldo who kept The Fountain in Bartholomew Lane, threatening to charge Reby with sodomitical practices if he did not supply him with one guinea. At his trial for the misdemeanour of sending a malicious letter, Cales claimed that he was merely trying to help Reby, as he knew several members of a blackmail gang who were going to swear sodomy against Reby, and he just wanted to warn him to save his reputation by showing him a letter written by one of this gang. The jury acquitted Cales because he could not be proven as the author of the letter.

Joseph Powis, an experienced criminal and professional locksmith who was convicted of breaking and entering, and who was hanged at Tyburn on 9 October 1732, may also have been a blackmailer. In his confession and dying words which were published by the Ordinary of Newgate, he said that he once broke into the Chancery Office in Chancery Lane, where he picked open the locked drawer of the great table in the Masters' office, and discovered, among some silver and gold coins, three letters of an extraordinary nature, belonging to the Clerk of the Masters, in a leather letter case garnished with silver and bearing his name. Two were written in a hand he recognised, signed Molly Soft-buttocks, and one was anonymous. One was addressed to Dear Miss Sukey Tooke, and appointed an assignation under the Piazza in Covent Garden. We do know from other evidence throughout the century that the mollies frequently wrote to one another, and even used messenger boys for the purpose. If such letters came into Powis' hands, I do not doubt that he attempted to make some money out of this discovery. On the other hand, his story may be a complete fabrication, though on the eve of his execution Powis would have little to gain by such an accusation except revenge. He may have had private reasons for blackening the character of the Clerk of the Masters of Chancery. Even if false, it is still interesting evidence that criminals knew about the habits of mollies, their cruising grounds and use of pick-up names.

(2) Blackmail Rings

Well organised blackmail rings were not uncommon, and one of the more famous victims of such a conspiracy was the Hon Edward Walpole, brother of Horace Walpole. Walpole refused to give in to their demands, and the blackmailers carried out their threat of exposure to the extent that in 1751 Walpole was in fact indicted for buggering John Cather, an unemployed servant, after beating him up. But the bill of indictment was removed by writ of certiorari into the Court of Kings Bench, where a verdict of not guilty was reached. Walpole then prosecuted three of the men for conspiring to extort money from him by falsely charging him with sodomy; a fourth member of the ring absconded and was not tried. Walpole had been trying to find a place for Cather for some time, and was frequently seen together with him, Walpole’s defence argued that the charge against Walpole was completely groundless. One of the conspirators said that previous similar extortions practised by him had been successful, and another said they were planning similar conspiracies specifically focusing upon doctors, surgeons, and men-midwives. Three men were found guilty of extortion and sentenced to stand in the pillory and to suffer imprisonment for two to four years. Two more men were found guilty of forging a bond in Walpole's name; one man was whipped and imprisoned, while the other was hanged. The modern historian Netta Murray Goldsmith has studied the case very carefully (The Worst of Crimes, 1997) and concluded that most of the men in this blackmail "ring" didn’t know one another; all the evidence against them came from witnesses paid by Walpole; unscrupulous means were used to persuade Cather to make a "confession", which the jury were not told he had retracted. Goldsmith suggests that justice was not done, for the real conspiracy was that organised by Edward Walpole.

It may have been the notoriety of the Walpole case which prompted Tobias Smollett in his novel Peregrine Pickle (1751) to observed that a group of adventurers in London employed agents throughout England and particularly in the vicinity of Bath to cheat people of money by various kinds of gambling and fraud, one class of whom would "extort money, by prostituting themselves to the embraces of their own sex, and then threatening their admirers with prosecution".

On 25 June 1759 Samuel Scrimshaw and James Ross stood in the pillory at Cheapside after being convicted – on evidence of their accomplice Peter Parry – of attempting to extort money from Humphrey Morrice of Dover Street by threatening to accuse him of buggery. They, with one Richardson, now absconded, had kept an intelligence office in Fleet Market. Perry was a friend of one Gosling, groom to Mr Morrice, and heard Gosling's wife call her husband a Buggerer. Parry related this to Scrimshaw. "Scrimshaw no sooner heard the word Buggerer, but his fertile brain suggested a scheme to get money, and putting his finger to his nose, he said, " Thus the conspiracy began. They were sentenced to three years in Newgate, but also to stand a second time in the pillory in Fleet Street, where they were severely pelted by the populace. One of the sheriff's officers set upon the crowd with drawn sword, whereupon the mob diverted their fury upon him and forced him to retreat into an alley, where he made his escape.

And so the cases continue unabated throughout the century. Actual trials for extortion are not particularly frequent, but threat of exposure as a sodomite is the basis of more than half of them (another common threat was to burn someone's house down unless they pay up). A careful reading of the fully detailed accounts of trials for highway robbery in the Proceedings at the Old Bailey will reveal that in one out of every seven or eight incidents, the robber "puts his victim in fear" by threatening to accuse him of sodomy if he prosecutes. Nevertheless, the cases we can cite are probably only the tip of an iceberg, for most extortion attempts never came to the attention of the courts because they were successful, and many victims of highway robbery probably did not prosecute for fear of blasting their reputation.

This pattern continued with little change for the next half century. W.H.D. Winder notes that near the end of the eighteenth century "the definition of robbery was relaxed to make it include the obtaining of a chattel as an immediate consequence of a present threat to accuse of unnatural crime".1 In the case of "R Vs Jones" in 1776, the judges determined that a threatened accusation of sodomy constituted robbery in itself because it also involved a threat to use physical force. But a slightly different definition of extortion emerged in the case of James Donally. On 16 February 1779 the Irishman was brought before the magistrate Sir John Fielding by Lord Fielding, eldest son of the Earl of Denbigh, and charged with twice attempting to extort money by threatening to accuse Lord Fielding of unnatural crimes, and once attempting the same with the Hon Mr Fielding, younger son of Lord Denbigh. Mr Fielding gave Donally half a guinea, then again another half a guinea later.

Donally was found guilty of "highway robbery" at the Old Bailey on 19 February, and was capitally convicted, but the sentence was postponed while the judges tried to determine the legal points. On 29 March they met and decided that his threat was equivalent to, though not identical with, robbery with violence. "Lord Mansfield with great energy observed, that it was a specious mode of robbery of late grown very common, invented by fraud to evade the law". One cannot help but feel that the curious twisting of definitions in this case was influenced both by the rank of the blackmail victim and by the fact that he was related to the magistrate. The lawyer Robert Holloway, writing thirty years later, claimed that Donally, an attorney's clerk, was importuned by the 18 year old son of Lord Denbigh ("the son of a noble earl"), and regularly received money for his friendship; the event came to light because Donally mistook him for his younger brother one dark night in Berkeley Square; according to Holloway, Denbigh made an enquiry into both of his sons' conduct, and wrote to King George III, who granted Donally a pardon less than a week before his proposed execution. The younger son soon went to live abroad, and died unmarried.

The punishment for this redefined crime was the same as that for robbery; thus on 6 December 1779, John Staples, found guilty of extorting money from Thomas Harris Crosby by threatening to charge him with an "abominable crime", was hanged at Tyburn. In 1784, in the case of "R Vs Hickman", Justice Ashurst gave the opinion that "a threat to accuse a man of having committed the greatest of all crimes" was "sufficient force to constitute the crime of robbery by putting in fear". He added: "To most men, the idea of losing their fame and reputation is equally, if not more terrific than the dread of personal injury". And in the case of "R Vs Knewland" in 1796 Justice Ashurst further refined this opinion: "Terror is of two kinds; namely, a terror which leads the minds of the party to apprehend an injury to his person, or a terror which leads him to apprehend an injury to his character". Thus it was specifically the homosexual accusations that led to the development of more adequate laws against blackmail.

More cases were now brought under this new idea that blackmail need not be a form of robbery involving the threat of physical harm, though we still find blackmail rings, as when four men – Ramsey, Clarke, Goff, and Hill – at the Clerkenwell Sessions of 17 July 1810 were found guilty of extorting money from T. Fitzhugh by threatening to charge him with sodomy. And the old pattern involving actual robbery would never entirely disappear. For example, on Friday 6 July 1810 William Cane, a 36 year old Sergeant of the Guards, accosted William Price, an Assistant Purveyor of Medicines to the Medicinal Board, York Hospital, Chelsea, in Eaton Street in Upper Eaton Street, opposite Lower Grosvenor Place, hit him, grabbed his watch, then looked him very hard in the face and said "I have seen you somewhere before in Parliament-street [a known cruising area], and I know you to be a b[ugge]r, if you do not promise to behave to me as a gentleman I will have you in the pillory in less than a week for sodomy". He demanded to be given £5 the next morning, but Price did not keep the meeting. Cane went to the York Hospital, Chelsea, where Price's brother worked, and arranged another meeting with Price. When they met on 11 July Cane said "Sir, have you seen the newspapers in which there is an account of several persons having been taken up for a certain crime?" He was clearly inspired by the raid on the White Swan at Vere Street that year. There followed a series of meetings, in which Cane demanded another £5, then £50 (so he could procure his discharge from the Guards), then £100 (so he would never trouble Price again). Price realised this blackmail would never end, and he finally told his brother about it, and arrangements were made for two police officers to be present at the next meeting, when Cane was arrested.

At the trial, Cane said Price regularly walked with him, and took him into the Five Fields, near the Chapel, Chelsea, where "he asked me if I was large, as Irishmen were in general; . . . he unbuttoned my small clothes and took my penis out in his hand; . . . he said, say nothing about it, now my life is in your hands, now I will ever be a friend to you as long as I live". Cane, age 36, was found guilty of extortion, and sentenced to death. At his last meeting just before his capture, he asked Price "if he had heard of a certain nobleman who had paid £1,000 for concealment". Almost certainly this will have been one of the noblemen who had visited Vere Street; Cane revealed the name in court, but it is omitted from the records. (It may not be relevant, but the Rector of the wealthy Chapel, Five Fields, was Rev Parson Sandelands, a notorious drunkard and villain. He solicited alms for the poor and appropriated them for his own use; as head of a philanthropic annuity office, he swindled hundreds out of their money. A frequenter of brothels and gin shops, he was "found committing a nameless offence" around 1822–1823, and decamped to France at the moment a warrant was issued for his arrest.)

The crime of blackmail is inseparably linked with the legal and social attitudes specifically against homosexuality. The largest percentage of all blackmail crimes involved the "sodomitical accusation". For the past two and a half centuries the ideal blackmail victim has been the homosexual, and the second best candidate is the heterosexual man who fears being accused of homosexuality; since this encompasses a good many men, such an accusation is the ideal ruse. There are several obvious reasons: homosexuality is viewed by society and the law as the greatest of all possible crimes, though in later years blackmail itself nearly usurped its place as the worst public nuisance; and once made public, the charge is virtually impossible to refute, and one is never really able to remove the stain, though this is now somewhat alleviated by the guaranteed anonymity of the victim in court proceedings; finally, homosexuality is the very antithesis of that which the typical blackmail victim treasures most: his reputation.

There is also a deeper psychological reason, arising from the nearly atavistic identification of a man's reputation, the public mask which he presents to the world, with his virility, his penis. "A man's reputation was . . . the tenderest, most vulnerable part of his anatomy", observed John Mortimer QC in The Guardian, 23 March 1972, with reference to the Victorians, but the observation is equally applicable to gentlemen in all ages. To have that reputation destroyed is tantamount to castration. There is no more effective way to destroy a man's reputation than to call him a queer, or a molly, or a pouf: a creature who, in the view of society at large, has been unmanned, a eunuch. In English culture, be it in the early eighteenth century or the mid-twentieth century, virility and effeminacy are at the opposite poles of the hierarchy along which one's reputation either rises or falls.

There may be another side to this coin, the possibility that a gay man will do whatever is necessary to protect his reputation, including falsely accusing someone of blackmailing him. This at least is the theory presented by the lawyer Holloway, who claims that many blackmailers of homosexuals have been convicted of extortion, and even deported or sentenced to death, because homosexuals will go to any length to clear their names. There are several known instances of this practice, which would support Holloway's own experience. For example, around 1824 Thomas Allison, a butler, was arrested for soliciting the favours of a young man in Hyde Park; the youth was so far implicated that he was also charged. Allison tried to cut his own throat with a piece of window glass, but failed in the attempt, and recovered sufficient to face trial. At his trial it came out that he had prosecuted a man named Arnold four years earlier for extorting him by means of a false charge of buggery, and Arnold had been executed for this crime. The Magistrate at the examination said to Allison "that he hoped he felt some compunction for having been the cause of a man's being executed some years ago. The prisoner said, that he had nothing to regret on that head".

But Holloway in the Phoenix of Sodom (1813) goes too far when he claims that homosexuals will use blackmail in reverse in order to achieve their desires: "It seems to have come to this, that if a young man will not submit to Sodomy and hold his tongue, he must be hanged". I think this view is nonsense: it was far too risky a technique of seduction, nor is it supported by any real evidence. The reality is that extortioners often worked in gangs and they were by no means the helpless and innocent victims of wicked sodomites. Holloway himself cites cases in which the blackmailer was successful precisely because his charge was true. He was informed by his client Sir Francis Vincent of Stoke, for example, that "about the year 1781 the late Felix Macarty, of no slender notoriety, was attacked by the son of a noble Lord of the County of Surrey, on the staircase leading to the great room at the Royal Academy. Macarty, Irishman-like, did not much approve of any caresses connected with breeches; and was no way solicitous of keeping the affair secret: of course, the transaction made some noise. The prejudice against an Irish adventurer, as Macarty was termed, gave the transaction an interpretation that conveyed an idea that his intention was to extort money from the nobleman". However, after some serious investigation with Sir Francis and the father of the nobleman, "the young gentleman confessed the truth of Macarty's charge, and was thereupon sent abroad". Macarty was given five hundred guineas to let the matter rest.

Though no one was safe from blackmail, men who were in fact gay were much more vulnerable, and not very likely to bring charges against their blackmailers unless their demands became utterly impossible to bear. The most typical practice was that of Sukey Hawes, a highway robber cum pickpocket who in 1728 became an intimate member of the molly subculture, "and where he found one that he could bully, he frequently made an Advantage of them". In particular, he was once picked up by a tailor in the Covent Garden Piazzas, and, "in the Way of his Trade, made the Taylor give him a broad Piece, and Three-Half-Crowns, otherwise he threatened to expose him".

Such practices were not limited to London. In Bedminster, in April 1795 William Tyler, a yeoman, claimed that William Mason, a 21 year old labourer from Bristol, had falsely charged him with attempting to bugger him so as to extort money; Mason and his accomplice Samuel Davis were prosecuted for extortion, but Tyler was nevertheless convicted of attempted buggery (blackmail is properly a criminal offense even if the blackmailer's allegations are true). It will be noted that the gay blackmail victims were more often tradesmen than aristocrats, though they valued their honour as much as anyone. An exhaustive search of sessions records and defamation of honour suits in the ecclesiastical courts of Bath and Wells from 1740 to 1850 brings to light the predominantly lower and lower-middle class occupations of those whose activities were brought to public attention. A total of 42 sodomites are named in the indictments and informations, including only one gentleman (Sir Thomas Swymmer Champneys, who successfully brought a case against his blackmailer in 1821, but who was indicted himself in 1826, though no true bill was found), six clergymen, six yeomen, one apothecary, four tradesmen (a victualler, a brewer, a corndealer, and a clothier), one tailor, and twelve labourers. There were fewer than six indictments per decade except during 1800–1829, when there were 21 indictments, though only six or seven convictions. But there was no real subculture in Somerset, either in Bath or its surrounding rural hinterland. All of the homosexual cases are isolated incidents, which came to light because of ill-judged sexual advances.

1. W.H.D. Winder, "The Development of Blackmail", Modern Law Review, Vol IV (1941).

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