Gay History

Gay History – January 22: The Hunky Gothic Lord Byron and Sir Francis Bacon Was A Slut

 

January 22nd.

1561 – Sir Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626) was born in London. He is best known for his philosophical works concerning the acquisition of knowledge; Novum Organum and The Advancement of Learning. Bacon had a preference for young Welsh serving-men. The roll of attendants for Bacon’s household in 1618 lists a total of 75 attendants, of whom some 25 were gentlemen waiters. There was Francis Edney, who, upon Bacon’s death in 1626, received “£200 and my rich gown”; young Thomas Meautys, who was to become Bacon’s secretary-in-chief; a Mr Bushell, “gent. usher,” who came to the household in 1608 as a lad of fifteen, and who remained until Bacon’s death; Edward Sherburn, groom of the chamber; and, above all, young Tobie Matthew, who was left only a ring to the value of £30, but who had become Sir Tobie through Bacon’s efforts, and who was well able to care for himself..

Bacon’s mother wrote him a letter, which still survives, complaining about the long list of “servants and envoys” who find their way to his bed. She refers to a gay Spanish envoy as “that bloody Perez and bed companion of my son.” We don’t know what she wrote to her other son, Roger, who was also gay.

1788 – George Gordon, Lord Byron, was born in 1788. His memoir My Life and Adventures was burned being considered too scandalous for publication. But, bits of his private life have been pieced together. A champion of freedom and an enemy of hypocrisy he had a ravenous sexual appetite.

Byron’s attraction to adolescent boys had first become evident at Harrow, where he referred to his entourage of adoring younger pupils as his Theban band. At Cambridge, Byron fell in with a sophisticated group of like-minded friends fascinated by the theory and practice of sodomy. Their hero was William Beckford, author of the libidinous eastern dream novel The Caliph Vathek, who had been forced to flee the country rather than face possible criminal charges related to a homosexual scandal. They called themselves by the codename Methodists. In autumn 1805, when he was 17, Byron met and fell in love with John Edleston, a Trinity College chorister, and wrote some of his most beautiful lyrics of lament to his “musical protégé”, using the deceptive female name of Thyrza, after Edleston died young.

It is clear from Byron’s correspondence of this period that one of his main motives in setting out on extended travels in 1809-10 was his hope of homosexual experience. In Greece and Turkey, sex with boys was more or less accepted as the norm and he found willing partners. There was Eusthathius Georgiou, the volatile Greek boy with “ambrosial curls” whose parasol, carried to protect his complexion from the sun, made Byron’s valet cringe. There was the Franco-Greek Nicolo Giraud, with his limpid eyes, who taught Byron Italian in Athens, taking a whole day to conjugate the verb “to embrace”. By the end of Byron’s stay in Greece he was boasting to his Methodist friends that he had achieved more than 200 “pl and opt Cs”, their code for unlimited sexual intercourse, taken from Petronius’s Satyricon “coitum plenum et optabilem”.

When Byron arrived back in England in summer 1811, prejudice against homosexuals was on the increase after a police raid on the White Swan tavern in Vere Street, London. Of the men charged with “assault with the intention to commit sodomy”, six were sentenced to be pilloried in the Haymarket, where they were pelted with mud and excrement by a savage crowd. Byron was lectured about the need for caution by Hobhouse, who had already persuaded him to burn his early journal, which presumably included an account of his love for the choirboy Edleston. Byron later said the loss of this manuscript was “irreparable”.

From 1812 to 1815, Byron’s “curl’d darling” years of literary fame, he was swept up in the whirl of London social activity. For its readers in that period of moral and political uncertainty, two decades after the upheavals of the French revolution, the subversive energy of Byron’s Childe Harold had struck an extraordinary chord. Its success was entwined with the mysterious persona of its author, the 24-year-old Lord Byron, the handsome, lame young aristocrat recently returned from the east. 

His sexual conflicts impelled Byron into wild behavior. Due to the hostile climate of homosexuality Lord Byron’s relationships with women needed the extreme, the risqué, to fan them into life. Cross-dressing was a feature of these complicated sex games. The arousing innuendos of his summer with “blue-eyed Caroline”, a prostitute passed off in Brighton as Byron’s brother Gordon, were recreated on a more sophisticated level in his perilously public affair with Lady Caroline Lamb. The gamine, crop-haired Caro was already a page-fancier and needed no encouragement to dress in page’s uniform for Byron’s delectation, their increasingly hysterical liaison being sustained by a creaky assortment of Gothic props.

It was actually Lady Caroline who doomed Byron. Early in 1815 Byron had made an unenthusiastic marriage to Caro’s husband’s cousin, Annabella Milbanke. Caro had predicted that he would “never be able to pull with a woman who went to church punctually, understood statistics and had a bad figure”. The claustrophobia of conventional married life in Piccadilly Terrace prompted Byron to behave badly with a thoroughness only he could have achieved, flaunting his relations with Augusta, throwing out dark hints of his homosexual past and  shooting the tops off his soda-water bottles while his wife was in labor in the room upstairs.

On January 15 1816 Annabella and their infant daughter left London, taking refuge at her parents’ country house in Leicestershire. Three weeks later her father, Sir Ralph Milbanke, wrote formally to Byron to request a separation. Rumors of marital violence, adultery with actresses and his incest with his sister began to circulate. In early February the “villainous intriguante” Lady Caroline began spreading her own version of these stories, perpetrating the worst possible revenge of the woman scorned. “Accused B of – poor fellow, the plot thickens against him,” reported Hobhouse. The dash in his diary stands for sodomy. Byron’s sexual predilections, up to then known only to his confidential inner circle, were becoming public property. On February 12, Hobhouse brought Byron the alarming news of what he had been hearing “in the streets” that day.

Shortly after nine in the morning of April 25 1816, the poet George Gordon Lord Byron left England for the continent never to return.

 

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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