Fun facts

A fascinating look inside London’s secret gay past

Obviously, gay people have existed since the beginning of time. But little is known about just what it was like to be homosexual 100 or 300 or 500 or 1000+ years ago. Until now.

Peter Ackroyd’s latest book Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day offers up some surprising revelations about London’s secret gay past dating all the way back to the Roman age.

Some surprising tidbits of information:

  • After Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 and 54 BC during the Gallic Wars, Roman men raped defeated British soldiers with vegetables. According to Ackroyd, “The defeated were sometimes penetrated by radishes; that may not sound too painful but in fact the long white icicle radish has always been grown in southern England to a length of just under six inches.”
  • Restoration “boy player” actor Edward Kynaston was rumored to have an “arse [that] knows its own buggerer,” meanwhile the poet Earl of Rochester once bragged about an argument he had with his mistress about “whether the boy f*cked you, or I the boy.”
  • Male rape was not uncommon throughout London’s history. Ackroyd talks at length about the case of Captain Edward Rigby, who prosecuted in 1698 after asking a naive 19-year-old man named William Minton, “Should I f*ck you?” When Minton replied, “How can that be?” Rigby proceeded to demonstrate and was quickly arrested.
  • In 1822, the Bishop of Clogher solicited a soldier named John Moverley for sex. He was arrested, posted bail, then hightailed it off to France and ended up living incognito in Edinburgh until he died 21 years later.

According to Ackroyd, in the 16th century, gay men were referred to as “the loathsome Ganymede,” while lesbians were called “rubsters,” and people had some pretty bizarro ideas about how these mysterious beings behaved.

For instance, in 1709, a man named Ned Ward wrote about “sodomitical wretches” (a.k.a. gay men) who referred to one another as “sisters” and “husbands,” and who “speak, walk, tattle, curtsy, cry and scold…[like] lewd women.” According to Ward, they worse strange clothes, not dissimilar to that of mummies, and would prance through the streets mimicking “the wry faces of a groaning woman” giving birth to wooden dolls.

Of course, no salacious book about London would be complete without some dirt on the royals. Ackroyd’s delves into all the allegedly gay monarchs, including William Rufus, Edward II, Richard II, James I, and William III and what they called their “favorites” (a.k.a. male tricks). If ever one needed evidence of the gay gene, they need look no further than the Royal Family.

Related: Oscar Wilde’s House, Five Other Sites Recognized For Significance To Gay History

h/t: The Spectator

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  • broadshoulder

    So Peter Ackroyds got a new book. . A few years it was dramatised by C4. They showed men giving birth

    The heterosexual persenters acting with incredulity to these men giving birth

    But we know they were taking the piss

  • Chris

    Silly me. Here I thought that rape is all about power. Hence, to argue that male-on-male rape is part of being gay is akin to arguing that male-on-female rape during war is part of being straight. Um, no. With all due lack-of-respect, this simply shows that London’s (England, actually) has an equal-opportunity violent past.

    • Lvng1Tor


  • Herman75

    Ackroyd is straight, right? Likely has no gay friends. I’m just guessing though.
    I just get the sense he is one more British homophobe that knows how to report crap.

    • Jack Meoff

      He is actually gay but I agree that some of what he has written that appeared in this article did seem to be a bit uninformed.

  • Sluggo2007

    Gee. Another journalistic masterpiece from Queerty.

  • OzJosh

    Queerty’s sub-editor needs to to another scan for typos. Also, the bit about “bizarro” idea about behaviour is followed by a paragraph in which everything is actually true – even the bit about giving birth to wooden dolls. Granted, it doesn’t make much sense stripped of all context. But anyone who has read about the period (or seen the play Mother Clapp’s Molly House) will understand the reference.

  • ErikO

    > If ever one needed evidence of the gay gene, they need look no further than the Royal Family.<
    They were not all related, and a lot of times the supposed father of the prince, was not the biological father.

  • He BGB

    Sex is consensual. Rape is a violent act. Disgusting calling rape of men sex. Has the writer ever been raped or had a loved one who has? It aint sex.

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