Occasionally I pick up a book with a different lifestyle featured. A book about gay men (mm) for instance, or a ménage (three people in a relationship together). I enjoy them if they’re done well, and the way the characters cope with their dilemma. They make a change. But I’ve seen these books called anachronistic when they have a historical setting.
They might be, but the premise is not.
There have always been people who need something different. However, right up until the Georgian era, homosexuality, or to be more precise, sodomy, was illegal, punishable by death.
There were prosecutions, but most of them weren’t for the “crime” itself, but for something else, like creating trouble, and in a fascinating series of prosecutions and executions in the 1720’s, they were associated with a Jacobite spy ring. At the time the Jacobites were closely allied with the French, who were happy to use the exiled royals as pawns in a bigger game. And there was a faction in British, or more precisely, the English, who distrusted and disliked the French.
When I revised “Tom Jones” last year I was careful not to add too much French language to my revisions, because Fielding was a Tory, a member of the French-distrusting group. So “unnatural practices” were associated with the French, as can be seen in some of the slang of the period. However the French referred to corporal punishment for sexual titillation as “The English Disease,” so the feeling seems to have been mutual!
Back to the gays. They always existed, but when the punishment was to be hanged, there was little to be gained in “coming out.” So they married, had children, but also had boyfriends, or they went to houses where they could meet with others of the same inclination. Unfortunately, driving them underground put them in the same bracket as true criminals in many people’s eyes, and thus the confusion with spying and even murder.
Here’s the most famous case from this time, Mother Clap. A window into the past.
“Margaret Clap was indicted for keeping a House in which she procur'd and encourag'd Persons to commit Sodomy , on the 10th of December last and before and after.
Samuel Stevens thus depos'd. On Sunday Night the 14th of November. I went to the Prisoners House in Field-Lane, Holbourn . I found near Men Fifty there, making Love to one another as they call'd it. Sometimes they'd sit in one anothers Laps, use their Hands indecently Dance and make Curtsies and mimick the Language of Women - O Sir! - Pray Sir! - Dear Sir! Lord how can ye serve me so! - Ah ye little dear Toad! Then they'd go by Couples, into a Room on the same Floor to be marry'd as they call'd it. The Door at that Room was kept by - Ecclestone to prevent any body from balking their Diversions. - When they came out, they used to brag in plain Terms, of what they had been doing, and the Prisoner was present all the Time, except when she went out to fetch Liquors. There was - Griffin among them, who was since hang'd for Sodomy. - And Derwin who had been carried before Sir George Martins for Sodomitical Practices with a Link Boy, he brag'd how he had baffled the Link Boy's Evidence and the Prisoner boasted that what she had said before Sir George, in Derwin's Favour, was a great Means of bringing him off. - I went thither 2 or 3 Sundays following, and found much the same Practices as before. They talk'd all manner of the and most vile Obscenity in her Presence, and she appear'd wonderfully pleas'd with it.
Joseph Sellers depos'd to the same Purpose and added he believ'd there were above 40 Sodomies commited that Night.
The Prisoner in her Defence, said that Darwin was taken up only for a Quarrel and that it ought to be considered, that she was a Woman, and therefore it could not be thought that she would ever be concern'd in such abonsinable Practices. But the Evidence being full and positive, the Jury found her Guilty .”
Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.