Image of two men kissingEssays on Gay History and Literature by Rictor Norton

Exiles and Outcasts

A Gay Heritage Guide to London's National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery, London

This article is based on a talk I gave on 5 February 2015 at the National Portrait Galley, London, as part of the Queer Perspectives Series hosted by the artist Sadie Lee. The subjects of the article are the Exiles and Outcasts whose portraits are represented in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. Specifically I'm going to focus on men who had to flee the country to avoid prosecution or punishment following scandalous revelations about their sexual relations with other men. The kind of behaviour that most of these men engaged in is no longer deemed to be illegal in England, but in their own day there was a real possibility that they could have been hanged, or at least would have had to stand in the pillory.

Sodomy had been a crime punishable by death since the Buggery Act of 1533, but it wasn't until the beginning of the 18th century that systematic prosecutions began. This was mainly due to the activities of a moral reform group called the Society for the Reformation of Manners. Prosecutions at this time were paid for by the victim or someone on their behalf, not by the government or the court of law. (This was true even for crimes such as highway robbery or murder.) Partly due to financial support from the Society for the Reformation of Manners, about 200 men were hanged in the 18th century, and several thousand were imprisoned, fined, and put in the pillory. We don't know the absolute figures, because statistics weren't kept until the 19th century.

Although most historians have focused on the dramatic and terrible incidents of men hanged for the felony of sodomy, in fact most prosecutions were for the misdemeanour of "attempted sodomy" – this involved any sort of indecent behaviour between men, including groping and kissing and solicitation of sex. The penalty was usually a short imprisonment, a fine, and to be stood in the pillory – which itself was dangerous, and many men were killed by the crowd while standing in the pillory. Of course the mere imputation of what were called "unnatural inclinations" was enough to destroy a gentleman's reputation.

Happily none of the men in my survey were hanged. I'm going to give a series of snapshots for three historical periods: the Late Stuart period, then the mid-Georgian period, then the Romantic or Regency period. I begin with the very first victim of entrapment, Captain Edward Rigby.

[ Edward Rigby by John Smith, after Thomas Murray, mezzotint, dated 1702 by NPG, 340 mm x 245 mm plate size, NPG D11705]

Captain Rigby was a fairly prominent naval commander because he had won a couple of prizes in naval battles with the French. The background of his portrait (above) shows the burning ship Soleil Royal that he captured at La Hogue in 1692.

In 1695 Rigby was made captain of the Dragon, a 40-gun man-of-war. The original oil portrait (not traced) was probably made around this time. The inscription on the mezzotint shows that he was from a gentry family in Lancashire, and bore a coat of arms. This is a wonderful "swagger" portrait #150; Rigby is mightily pleased with himself: he has achieved something.

Perhaps he is a bit pompous, but he has an amiable face, not arrogant – he is simply a strutting peacock. And a dandy – his full-bottomed wig is absolutely fabulous; he wears two rings, an index ring and a pinky ring, which show up on my gaydar.

Detail of the ring on Captain Rigby's finger
[The rings on Captain Rigby's right hand]

Rigby's downfall came in 1698, on Saturday the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes Night, while watching fireworks in St James's Park. Among the crowd, he noticed a 19-year-old lad named William Minton. He went up to Minton, kissed him, and placed the lad's hand on his erect penis. Minton, though startled, agreed to meet Rigby on Monday in a back room at St George's Tavern, Pall Mall.

When Minton returned home he told his master what had happened; the master was a friend of the head of the Society for the Reformation of Manners, and the Society arranged for four men to be stationed in an adjacent room at the tavern in order to capture Rigby in the act. (There is a possibility that the whole thing had actually been set up by the Society to entrap Rigby, who already had a bad reputation.)

After Minton came to the pub, Rigby began fondling him. To counter Minton's objections, Rigby said "it was no more than was done in our Forefathers' time". He claimed that great kings did it, that Jesus and John were lovers, and that he saw Czar Peter the Great making love to his carpenter boyfriend Prince Alexander when Peter visited the Deptford naval yard in Spring 1698.

Tired of talking, Rigby pulled Minton's breeches down, inserted a finger into his fundament, and got himself ready. At that point Minton shouted out the previously agreed-upon code word "Westminster!" – whereupon the men burst in from next door, and captured Rigby, who offered them money to let him go, but they refused.

Rigby was tried at King's Bench in December; the prosecution was paid for by the Society for the Reformation of Manners. He was convicted of attempted sodomy and sentenced to stand in the pillory on three occasions, to be fined 1,000, and to be imprisoned for one year. When he stood in the pillory in Pall Mall the newspapers reported that "he appeared very gay".

Portrait of Captain Rigby
[Edward Rigby by John Smith, after Thomas Murray, mezzotint, dated 1702 by the NPG; NPG D31213]

This is another mezzotint copy of the Rigby portrait, but with the inscription erased from the plate. The National Portrait Gallery gives it the date c.1702, but I think it must be a copy of the mezzotint done before the trial, and then reissued after the trial in 1698, when it no longer had any saleable value because of the scandal, and the inscription was erased because Rigby's family in Lancashire would not want it to be identifiable. It was not totally discarded, because it still had some value as a sample of the engraver's/printer's skill.

Rigby served his prison sentence, plus another long period while he got together the money for the fine and sureties for his good behaviour. When he was released, he went to France, and joined the French navy. In 1711, the French man-of-war Toulouse was captured by the English, towed to Port Mahon, Menorca, and it was discovered that the second-in-command was none other than Captain Rigby. Rigby escaped on a ship bound for Genoa, and went on to continue working for the French. He was highly regarded for his naval skills, and very well paid, but he lived a very expensive lifestyle.

The story of Captain Rigby is of course very attractive for gay historians: (1) It has historical significance, because Rigby was possibly the first gay victim of entrapment; it reveals a gay man who is self-aware and sees himself as part of a gay tradition, and appeals to those of use who use the "Great Queens of History" justification; and lastly it is simply a sexy story with many comic elements, and doesn't end in tragedy.

The cover of The Ballad of Captain Rigby
[Front cover of "The Ballad of Captain Rigby"]

One result of this popularity is The Ballad of Captain Rigby, a booklet published in 2013, written by the poet Peter Daniels and illustrated by the artist Peter Forster. Peter Daniels was Queer Writer in Residence at London Metropolitan Archives in the winter of 2011/2012. There he studied the original documents in the archive, including Minton's deposition, and wrote up the story as a ballad, performed on many occasions since then.

Peter Forster occasionally provided illustrations for the fortnightly newspaper Gay News when I worked there in the 1970s . He provided the sexy and witty drawings for Peter Daniels' booklet in 2013. The cover makes use of the portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, and shows Minton gazing up at the fireworks. Peter Forster has exercised some artistic licence for this, as Minton isn't wearing any clothes!

Peter Forster was much impressed with Rigby's wig, which features in many of the drawings. If you look closely at this drawing (above) you will see that the magnificent cascading curls of the wig are made up of flaccid penises.

Peter Daniels' ballad is very saucy (Peter himself has called it "filthy") – let me quote just a few stanzas:

Come gentlemen of certain tastes
beware young men who'd trick ye,
for I will tell you all the tale
of Captain Edward Rigby.

* * * *

"I feared you'd fail to meet me
for you seemed a little coy.
Delighted we're together
for some pleasure, darling boy.

"Now let me show you evidence
you make my cock to stand,"
and deep inside his breeches thrust
the blushing William's hand.

"You raise my lust so highly
that my balls are fairly brimmin'."
"Oh sir," said William, "surely
you should raise your lust with women."

* * * * Now please excuse me gentlemen,
I must away and frig me,
while I recall the lustful ways
of saucy Captain Rigby.

I'm now going to jump ahead to the later 18th century.

Portrait of Samuel Foote
[Samuel Foote, by Jean François Colson, oil on canvas, 1769, 559 mm x 457 mm, NPG 4904]

This is a portrait of Samuel Foote in 1769, age about 49. At this time he was at the height of his fame. He was a very popular actor and playwright, especially of farces. He was called "The English Aristophanes" and the Father of Farce.

In 1749, Foote fled to France, possibly to avoid prosecution for a homosexual offence, and stayed there until 1752. Then he returned, and made a comeback in Dublin, then Edinburgh, then London, with several popular plays. He earned a lot of money and became the owner of the Haymarket Theatre.

He was now living entirely in a homosocial world; he engaged in riotous drunken parties, but was not known to have had any mistresses. He played the parts of Lord Foppington in a play by Vanbrugh, and Sir Novelty Fashion in a play by Colley Cibber. Foote was noted for creating female characters to be played by men, which he performed on the stage. For example, in one of his private theatricals he played the part of Miss Dorothy Midnight. These are the origins of the pantomime dame in British music-hall theatre.

But one day he took his satire of real people too far, and this led to his downfall.

Drawing of Elizabeth Chudleigh as Iphegenia
Elizabeth Chudleigh, Countess of Bristol (or Duchess of Kingston), after an unknown artist, line engraving, 1749 or after, 202 mm x 126 mm plate size, NPG D1106]

In 1775 in one of his plays Foote viciously caricatured Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston, as Lady Kitty Crocodile. This formidable woman was noted for her outrageous and immoral behaviour. Most notoriously, she went to a masquerade ball dressed as Iphigenia in a gown of such thin gauze that she might as well have been naked – as portrayed in the above portrait. Even as an old lady she always wore see-through blouses, which became her signature.

She had secretly married a man who would become the Earl of Bristol, but the marriage didn't work, they separated, and she became first the mistress and then the wife of the Duke of Kingston. But she had neglected to get divorced from her first husband. At the time of Foote's ridicule of her, she was being prosecuted for bigamy by the nephew of the now-dead Duke of Kingston, who felt his rightful inheritance had been stolen by her. In April 1776 she was convicted of bigamy – and fled to the Continent. During her lifetime she was always called the Duchess of Kingston, though technically, because of the secret marriage, she was the Countess of Bristol.

The Duchess very much resented the ridicule that Foote had subjected her to, and she hired her private secretary, a journalist named William Jackson, to dig up the dirt from Foote's past life.

Title page of Sodom and Onan
[Title page of Sodom and Onan, 1776]

The result was a satirical pamphlet attacking Foote as a sodomite, published in May or June 1776, titled Sodom and Onan (as shown above). The biblical sin of Onan was "spilling his seed", and was basically a metaphor not just for masturbation but for all non-procreative sexuality, including homosexuality. The title page bears a copy of a portrait of Foote by Sir Joshua Reynolds, together with the image of a FOOT, and the name of a popular play by Foote, The Devil upon Two Sticks, in which Foote had satirized himself after a riding accident which resulted in the amputation of a leg.

In this scurrilous pamphlet, Foote and many of his contemporaries were exposed as sodomites, in language sometimes explicit, sometimes full of double-meanings. For example, Foote is called a "Master of Fundamental knowledge . . . whose extensive abilities are calculated for the deepest penetration" into "dark and difficult recesses". Foote is described as a man "whose inverted eye disdains objects of female softness".

Not content with this attack, Chudleigh in July paid the costs for a prosecution of Foote as a sodomite, which of course was very serious. He was arrested, and in December 1776 he was tried for making sexual advances and exposing himself to his footman. He denied it, but several witnesses supported the charges, and old rumours were brought up.

Foote was acquitted because it was recognized that it was part of a conspiracy to blacken his character, and there wasn't sufficient proof. But Foote's efforts to defend himself broke his health, and he realized he would never recover his reputation. In October 1777 he decided to go to France, allegedly "for a change of air", but possibly to avoid further prosecutions.

While waiting in Dover for a favourable crossing, Foote had a shivering fit and died. Hester Thrale, a friend of Doctor Samuel Johnson who had been friendly with Foote, observed that "Doctor Johnson was not aware that Foote broke his heart because of a hideous detection; he was trying to run away from England and from infamy, but death stopped him."

The treasurer of the Haymarket Theatre, who was allegedly Foote's boyfriend, arranged for Foote to be secretly buried by torchlight somewhere in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey.

More than a dozen men were exposed as Sodomites in Sodom and Onan, including George Germain, 1st Viscount Sackville, subject of the following portrait.

[George Sackville Germain, 1st Viscount Sackville, by Nathaniel Hone, watercolour and bodycolour on ivory, 1760, 35 mm x 29 mm oval, NPG 4910]

Sackville had been court-martialled in 1759 for refusing to obey orders for his troops to march into combat at the Battle of Minden, and he became a byword for cowardice. But in 1760 – the date of this portrait – he was favoured by George III, who became King that year. Eventually Germain became the Secretary of State for the American Colonies, and directed much of the British political strategy during the American War of Independence, though he had been stripped of any military posts. He lived in a ménage-à-trois with his wife and protégé, and was widely lampooned as "the pederastical American Secretary". Here is how Jackson describes him in Sodom and Onan:

Sackville, both coward and catamite, commands
Department honourable – and kisses hands,
With lips that oft' in blandishment obscene
Have been employed, yet now (oh shame!) he's seen
A haughty headstrong Minister of State,
Controlling men of minds immaculate.

As it happens, Sackville did not flee abroad, but many of the men satirized in Sodom and Onan, had "for safety flown to soft Italia's shore, Where Britain's cast-outs revel uncontrolled, And dissipate estates in foreign climes." Unfortunately most of them are not represented by portraits in the NPG.


After the French Revolution, in 1791 the laws were reformed and homosexual acts were no longer declared illegal in France. Later, other countries adopted the French laws after Napoleon came to power. In any case people on the Continent were much more relaxed about sexuality than the British. During the Romantic and then the Regency periods it became increasingly common for men involved in homosexual scandals to fly abroad and live on the Continent, where they were less subject to harassment or insult, or at least had less fear of prosecution.

One of England's most prominent outcasts was William Beckford. This is a portrait of him by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1782, when Beckford was 22 years old.

Portrait of William Beckford
William (Thomas) Beckford, by Sir Joshua Reynolds; oil on canvas, 1782, (727 mm x 584 mm); NPG 5340

Beckford was the richest man in England. His father, the former Lord Mayor of London, died when Beckford was only 9 years old, leaving him sugar plantations in Jamaica and much else. Beckford inherited capital worth 120 million in today's money, and eventually had an income equivalent to a million pounds a month (rather like that of a modern hedge fund manager!).

In 1779, during a tour of English country houses, Beckford visited Powderham Castle in Devon, and fell madly in love with the Honourable William Courtenay, a beautiful 11 year old boy, nicknamed "Kitty", who would become Viscount Courtenay and eventually the 9th Earl of Devon. Beckford was 19 years old at the time. Beckford's mother tried to distract her wayward son by sending him on a Grand Tour.

Portrait of William Courteney While abroad, he wrote Vathek, an oriental Gothic novel that can perhaps be described as a pederastic sadomasochistic semi-autobiographical fantasy, which features luscious descriptions of Courteney in the guise of Prince Gulchenrouz. It also contains a satirical portrait of his own mother, as a witch who is always mixing the powder of Egyptian mummies with frogs' warts and casting evil spells, much as she did in real life.

When Beckford returned to England, he had not lost his infatuation, and by early 1783 his mother more or less forced him to get married, and packed him off to Switzerland for a long honeymoon – during which time Beckford sent passionate love letters to Kitty. But the Beckfords were back home at Fonthill in Wiltshire by early 1784, and in June Beckford paid a fateful visit to Powderham Castle.

Beckford was now 24 and Courtenay was now 16. One night a servant heard strange sounds coming from Courtenay's bedroom, and peeked through the keyhole and saw Courtenay and Beckford in a compromising situation. Courtenay's uncle Lord Loughborough, who hated Beckford, vindictively spread the report, and soon the newspapers were full of rumours about the affair.

Beckford braved it out for a while, but his wife advised flight, and they retired to Switzerland, where in 1786 his wife died in childbirth. Even that was attacked in the newspapers, who viciously suggested she had died because of her husband's ill-treatment of her.

By 1787 Beckford was living in Portugal, with a large retinue of servants. He thought about living there permanently. He was feted by the local Portuguese, but he was shunned by the English society there. The Marquis of Marialva had plans for Beckford to marry his daughter – little knowing that his son was already on kissing terms with Beckford – but that marriage could not happen unless Beckford was presented at the royal Court in Lisbon, and that could not happen because the British charge d'affaires refused to present him to court or to invite him to any functions of the English colony in Lisbon. Very similar situations arose later when he went to Madrid for six months, and then when he went to Paris for six months. He was an untouchable.

Miniature of William Courteney
William Courtenay, Viscount Courtenay, miniature, watercolour on ivory by Richard Cosway, c. 1792, Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter. There is a lock of hair on the back. "Kitty", whjo was about 25 at the time of the portrait, seems to have lost the bloom of boyhood.

Courtenay's father died in 1788 and Beckford returned to England in 1789 because the threat of legal prosecution had passed. But he continued to be thoroughly ostracized by society, and though he lived mostly in England, he would spend a total of 18 years of his life living abroad.

Instead of taking part in wider society, Beckford directed his passions to building and collecting. He said "Some people drink to forget their unhappiness; I do not drink, I build." He began to rebuild his house as Fonthill Abbey, a veritable Gothic cathedral by James Wyatt, a sublimely extravagant building whose central octagon rose 300 feet into air – competing with nearby Salisbury Cathedral – and with an uninterrupted 300-foot enfilade of state rooms, decorated in Tudor style, with crimson curtains and dark blue carpets, ebony furniture, stained glass, and gilded heraldic shields on the ceilings.

Engraving of Fonthill Abbey

Beckford was the archetypal collector. He filled his home with 20,000 books; paintings by Titian, Bronzino, Raphael, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Canaletto (20 of the paintings he owned now hang in the National Gallery); ebony furniture and a table whose centre consisted of the largest onyx in the world (now at Charlecote Park, Avon); exquisite French furniture acquired during the turmoil of the French Revolution (some of which is now in the Wallace Collection); the largest collection of Japanese lacquer in the world (some of which is now in the Victoria and Albert museum); and thousands of objects of porcelain and bronze, and objects in silver and gold which he designed himself in the neo-Renaissance taste.

Since Society had rejected him, Beckford took his revenge by rejecting Society. He would not allow Society to see the wonder he had created. He planted a million trees and surrounded the inner part of his estate with an 8-mile-long, 12-feet-high wall topped with iron spikes. Behind these walls he assembled a virtual harem of youths, whom he imported from Portugal and France and Albania. Admiral Lord Nelson and his mistress Emma Lady Hamilton stayed at Fonthill on Christmas in 1800 – they were the kind of people who could ignore the conventions of respectability. But practically the only other people he invited to have dinner with him were artists and art dealers and book dealers and journalists, persons who had no position in high society.

Despite the magnificent setting, the overriding impression we have is that of Beckford sitting alone in his lofty tower in a kind of internal self-exile.


Portrait of William Courteney Now, what about Beckford's former boyfriend? William Courtenay never married, and neighbours would not visit because of rumours about his homosexuality. He had to abandon his plans to build a summer residence in Torquay when the locals objected.

In 1811 an Essex magistrate had collected enough evidence about Courtenay's relations with soldiers to prepare a warrant for his arrest. Courtenay took the first ship leaving England and fled to New York. He bought a mansion on the Hudson River, where he lived for four years.

Then he went to France and bought a chateau outside of Paris, where he lived for the rest of his life. He shipped his library to France and sold the contents of Powderham Castle in 1824.

Courtenay was loved by his tenants in Devon: it was said that "he was so humane and charitable, that all the poor in the neighbourhood of Exeter lament his absence."

Throughout his exile, the British newspapers regularly reported all his activities, and never let anyone forget the scandal of 1784. For example, when he became 9th Earl of Devon in 1831, they taunted him for not returning to England to reclaim his seat in the House of Lords.

Courtenay died in 1835 in a mansion near the Place Vendome in Paris. In his will, he left a full year's wages to each of his servants who had been with him for at least a year, and he left a large legacy to his coachman.

Beckford regularly read the newspaper reports about his former boyfriend. Beckford kept newspaper clippings and compiled scrapbooks of press reports: anything that interested him, aristocratic social occasions, sales of art collections, obituaries, reviews of travel books, amusing stories and oddities. The cuttings were wrapped in thick gilt-edged writing paper which he labelled, and organized before putting them into scrapbooks. Thousands survive at the Bodleian Library. It is clear that clipping articles from newspapers was a very active pastime for Beckford. Beckford spent much of his life in England as a social outcast, very rarely entertaining others. I have the impression that he had a lot of spare time on his hands, which he spent cutting up newspapers as well as making notes on all the books he read.

Very interestingly, he cut out stories about homosexual scandals and put together scrap albums devoted largely to homosexual themes: law reports, blackmail cases, courts martial, hangings, cases of cross-dressing, raids on male brothels.

He also collected reports about scandals which forced men to flee the country. Here is a selection of those whose portraits are in the National Portrait Gallery:

Miniature of George Ferrars Townshend
George Ferrars Townshend, 3rd Marquess of Townshend after unknown artist, stipple engraving printed in colours, late 18th century, 94 mm 76 mm, NPG D9074

This is a miniature of George Ferrars Townshend, Viscount Townshend, as a boy. He was usually called Lord Leicester. In 1808, when Leicester was about 30 years old, the Morning Herald newspaper published a rumour that Lady Leicester had separated from her husband because he was a sodomite. Leicester unwisely prosecuted the newspaper for libel.

At the trial, evidence was given showing that many years earlier Leicester had regularly had a weekly rendezvous with an Italian waiter named Neri at the Cocoa-Nut Coffee House. In fact, when Leicester entered Trinity College, Neri lived with him as his servant. Leicester generally wore a pink gown and ladies' shoes laced with pink ribbons, and was called Miss Leicester. It was said that "Neri was a musical character" and that he and Leicester "often played duets together", with Neri playing on the guitar. Later, the two men travelled together and then lived together at Leicester's house in Westbourne Place, Paddington, while Lady Leicester lived separately at their house in Gloucester Place.

Evidence was also produced to show that Leicester was in the habit of giving gold watches to handsome privates in the Guards. It became clear that the Morning Herald could not further damage the reputation of a man who was already notorious. Leicester was awarded damages of only 1,000, rather than the 20,000 he had sued for.

But Leicester wasn't present in court to hear the derisory judgment. He had already fled to Paris, with Neri, where he lived until 1823. Then they took a villa in Genoa, Italy, where Leicester lived under the assumed name George Compton. The family disinherited him. He died in Genoa in 1855 at the age of 77. The report of his death acknowledged that "he subscribed to every charity in London".


Another exile whose scandalous behaviour was noted by Beckford is shown in this large group portrait of the Death of Sir Ralph Abercrombie.

Painting of the Death of Gen. Sir Ralph Abercrombie
The Death of Gen. Sir Ralph Abercrombie by Giovanni Vendramini, printed by J. Matthews, published by John Peter Thompson, after Sir Robert Ker Porter, stipple engraving, published 4 June 1804, 640 mm x 959 mm, NPG D13764

This painting illustrates a famous battle against Napoleon, in Alexandria, Egypt in 1801. The British were victorious, although Abercrombie died in the battle.

Detail showing Gen. Sir Eyre Coote My interest is in the man leaning against the cannon on the right. This is General Sir Eyre Coote, a respectable and highly honoured military commander.

Coote was fond of spanking, and being spanked by, schoolboys. He regularly went to the Christ's Hospital School in London, which had been set up to provide education to children of poor families or orphans, and more specifically he went to its Mathematical School, which taught older boys, aged 14 to 17 years old, destined for service at sea. There he would offer them money to let him spank them and feel between their legs, and then he would let down his own breeches and ask them to whip him.

Cartoon showing Sir Eyre Coote being flogged by schoolboys

One day in 1816 Coote was caught in this situation by the resident Nurse. In this caricature by George Cruickshank one boy is saying: "Flog away Bob, you have not had two shillings' worth yet!" – I'm not quite sure why Coote is portrayed as a pig here, though it's probably linked to the nurse's exclamation: "Here's the curious beast."

An enquiry was set up, Coote pleaded temporary insanity, and fled the country. He was stripped of all his military honours, but he gave a donation of 1,000 to the school and all criminal proceedings against him were dropped. But he never returned to the country he had served so well. He died in 1823


Another scandal that Beckford took note of involved Richard Heber. Like Beckford, Heber was an obsessive book collector – as perhaps is suggested in this pencil drawing. He once said "No gentleman can be without three copies of a book, one for show, one for use, and one for borrowers."

Pencil portrait of Richard Heber
Richard Heber by John Harris, pencil, circa 1830, 226 mm x 171 mm, NPG 4886

When Heber filled one house with books, he would buy another house which he then filled up with books, and so on, to a total of 8 or 9 houses, filled with 145,000 books and manuscripts.

There were rumours about Heber's private life, and in 1825 he abruptly resigned his seat as an MP and left the country. Soon afterwards, a newspaper reported: "Mr Heber will not return to this country for some time – the backwardness of the seasons renders the Continent more congenial to some constitutions." Sir Walter Scott privately said that Heber fled to Brussels after being warned by a friend of Lord Byron that a warrant was being prepared for his arrest on charges of sodomy.

The newspaper went on to say "We understand that Mr Heber's complaint, for which he has been recommended to travel upon the Continent, is an over-addiction to Hartshorn." Hartshorn is a reviving smelling salt derived from a distillation of ammonia and deers' horn – but it also identifies the object of Heber's desire: Charles Henry Hartshorn, a budding young antiquary who since his graduation from the University of Cambridge had been a frequent visitor to Heber's house, often staying overnight, and their intimate friendship gave rise to rumours.

One of the cuttings that Beckford clipped from the newspapers was especially poignant, for it reported that "Mr Heber left England for much the same reason that my Lord Courtenay, and many others, have deemed it expedient to emigrate to foreign climes." This of course is a reference to Beckford's boyfriend from ages past.

In 1827 Charles Hartshorn sued the newspaper for libel, and won the case, arguing that everything arose from the misapprehension of a servant, who had peered into the library and saw Heber leaning over Hartshorn while they were examining a rare book on the desk.

But Heber refused to return to England to support the libel case. He eventually returned in 1831 to sort out his affairs, and died in 1833. Beckford took a clipping of his obituary.


The last exile covered in Beckford's cuttings is William Bankes, MP.

Sketch of William Bankes
William John Bankes by Henry Bone, after George Sanders (Saunders), pen and ink, (1812), 191 mm x 154 mm, NPG D17608

Bankes was a school friend of Lord Byron, a scholar, and an explorer – especially to sites in the Middle East. He was one of the first Europeans to see the temple at Petra and the city of Palmyra. He was adventurous – as a young man he had disguised himself as a labourer and climbed over the wall to see Beckford's Fonthill Abbey.

Bankes was a noted Egyptologist and copyist of hieroglyphics, a fine draughtsman and watercolourist. We would not be aware of some inscriptions today were it not for the records he made during some of his excavations. He shipped an obelisk from the Temple of Philae to adorn the lawn at his country house, Kingston Lacy in Dorset – where his archeological finds and drawings are exhibited today.

The drawing above is a preparatory sketch for a miniature, modelled on this painting, which is at Kingston Lacy, and was painted in 1812 when Bankes was about 26.

Miniature portrait of William Bankes

But in 1833 Bankes was arrested for engaging in indecent behaviour with a soldier in a urinal outside the Houses of Parliament. He said his actions had been misconstrued and denied the charges. Many noblemen, including the Duke of Wellington, testified to his good character. When the principal witness set sail for America and failed to appear, Bankes was acquitted. Beckford took a cutting of the report on the trial.

Bankes retired from public life, and concentrated on renovating Kingston Lacy. Everything went well until 1841, when Bankes was again arrested for having sex with a guardsman, this time in Green Park. On this occasion Bankes forfeited a 5,000 bond of recognisance and fled the country. Beckford took another cutting describing this case, and wrote on the wrapper "The case of the soldierly Mr. Bankes".

Bankes was officially declared an outlaw, but before that came into effect he signed over all his property to his relatives, mainly a younger brother, so his estate could not be forfeited to the crown. Bankes first went to France, and then settled down in Italy, and lived mainly in Venice, where he died in 1855.

During these long years of exile he continued to embellish his wonderful country house at Kingston Lacy, sending home many objects of art, paintings, and commissioning bronze sculptures and decorative painting schemes for the interiors. He made detailed designs for furnishing and arranging the rooms, and directed major projects such as building the grand staircase without even seeing it.

Photograph of Kingston Lacy

It is believed that he surreptitiously returned to England only once, the year before he died, when he slipped into the country through Poole, and secretly visited Kingston Lacy to see the object of beauty to which he had devoted his life, and to make sure everything was perfect.

Today Kingston Lacy is one of the treasure houses owned by the National Trust – and to their credit they give prominent publicity to Bankes's exile. Just as Beckford has become the archetype of the ostracized outcast, so Bankes has gone down to history under the label "the exiled collector". In 2017 the National Trust arranged an installation in the house, as part of their "Prejudice and Pride" celebration, partly based upon data gathered from my website. As visitors entered the house, they encountered 51 ropes hanging from the ceiling, representing the 51 men who were hanged under laws that criminalised same-sex acts during Bankes's life, reminding us of the brutality of the times and the context of his actions. Two other parts of the installation made connections between Bankes's story and the ongoing persecution of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people.

Bankes's modern biographer Anne Sebba, observed that "many people have said to me that it's a poignant story, but I've always seen it as a triumphant story born of something quite sad. I really liked him in that he survived in adversity."

I will conclude on this point, because a major theme of this talk has been this triumph in adversity. Many of the exiles and outcasts I've mentioned were not completely broken by their experience, but made a life for themselves in a kind of defiance of the condemnation of their English countrymen. I'm thinking of Captain Rigby, William Beckford, William Courtenay, Lord Leicester, and William Bankes – and not to forget the Duchess of Kingston!

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following form of citation:
Rictor Norton, "Exiles and Outcasts: A Gay Heritage Guide to London's National Portrait Gallery", Gay History and Literature, 9 January 2018 <>.

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