research


Charles Dance stars as Jack Wolfenden in this drama by Julian Mitchell which tells the human story behind the so-called Wolfenden report.

Fifty years ago, a Home Office committee chaired by Wolfenden, then vice-chancellor of Reading University, recommended the decriminalization of homosexuality. But behind the scenes of what was to become a turning point in British social history, there was an even more extraordinary story. Jack’s son Jeremy, then a brilliant undergraduate at Oxford, was himself gay, something his father could not bring himself to acknowledge.

From the corridors of power in Whitehall to the squalid public toilets of a Reading park, this is a story of fathers and sons, ambition and prejudice, gentlemen and players. Also starring Sean Biggerstaff, Samantha Bond, Haydn Gwynne and Mel Smith.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b007y9gx/Consenting_Adults/ (sadly only available to the UK, but well worth seeking out on DVD.)

Consenting Adults is a BBC Production which was made in 2007, and for some reason I’ve completely missed until yesterday. Just over an hour long, it’s an absolute must for anyone who has any interest at all in gay history.

It’s a simple enough story–pretty much based entirely on true facts–which relates the reasons for the instigation of the famous “Wolfenden Report”  (more correctly known as “Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (1957″)

You’d think that a story of a dry committee, sitting for months and discussing this subject would be incredibly dry as televisual matter, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. As often happens, truth is stranger than fiction and the work done on the report is brought into sharp focus as we discover that Jeremy Wolfenden, the son of John Wolfenden who headed up the report, is homosexual. The relationship between father and son is hugely typical of that time and place – the young  man much more confident and striding (or at least on the outside) and desperate for father’s approval and attention–and neither man able even to touch each other in friendship. Wolfenden senior tells Jeremy that he’d better stay away from home while the enquiry is on.

I learned something too–like many many people I’d been pronouncing it homo (as in go go) when it should be pronounced homo (to rhyme with dom-oh) because it’s from the greek which means “same” and not the latin which means “man.” Coo, the things you learn off the telly, eh?

The Report had been commissioned to see if any changes in the law were required, not only in homosexual cases, but in the matter of prostitution, as street prostitution was increasing, causing more people to be arrested, which hit the newspapers, creating moral outrage. With homosexuality, more and more men were being arrested for sodomy, attempted sodomy, public indecency and other acts under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 –which had not been altered since the infamous Labouchere Amendment of 1885–making every homosexual act illegal, in private or no. The Labouchere Amendment had created “A Blackmailers Charter” and because men were turning each other in through fear, or, when they were arrested themselves, their phone books were finding many other men of the same inclination.

It seemed to the public at large that homosexuality was increasing in huge leaps and bounds, whereas it was simply the law, and enthusiastic police regimes which were causing the perceived growth. More and more public figures were thrown into the spotlight, having been arrested for “public indecency.”  Oscar Wilde was famously the first, but many others followed, and in the fifties, famous cases were splattered all over the headlines.

Sir John Gielgud

In 1953, Sir John Gielgud, was arrested after trying to pick up a man in a public toilet who turned out to be an undercover policeman. He was found guilty of “persistently importuning for immoral purposes.

In 1954, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, then a 28-year-old socialite and the youngest peer in the House of Lords, was jailed for a year, on a charge he has always denied. He was convicted along with the Daily Mail journalist Peter Wildeblood and the Dorset landowner Michael Pitt-Rivers in a sensational case that made headlines around the world. It is thought today that these three arrests, following on from Geilgud’s cottaging scandal,

Peter Wildeblood

brought about the instigation of the Report.

(For additional viewing, the tale of Peter Wildeblood and Lord Montagu’s trial is told in a 2007 Channel 4 drama-documentary, A Very British Sex Scandal.)

What I found fascinating was the people who were elected to be on the Report’s Committee.  Certainly at first glance, these people seem to be the very worst of those that could have been chosen. MPs, the leader of the Girl Guides, Church leaders, psychiatrists and doctors. If you’d asked me to bet (were I to live in that time) I would certainly have said that the law would have been strengthened, not lessened, but perhaps it goes to show that even I shouldn’t take things on face value.

This committee, despite most of them being revolted by homosexuality, voted almost unanimously (James Adair, former Procurator-Fiscal for Glasgow being the only objectee) to change the law in England and Wales, that as long as homosexual behaviour was behind closed doors, between Consenting Adults (over 21 at the time, although the age of consent was eventually lowered to today’s 16) then it should not be an offence.  The law did not take into account the Merchant Navy or the Armed Forces, an oversight that has caused much grief, and one that was only righted very recently.

Sadly, and Laird’s reaction was an omen of this, Scotland and Northern Ireland did not take the crime of homosexuality off their statute books until 1980 and 1982 respectively. And it has to be said – even England did not race to take on board the recommendations of the Report, and it took a good ten years for the recommendations in the Report to become law with the new Sexual Offences Act 1967.

Wolfenden’s son, Jeremy, was a startlingly intelligent young man and was approached for recruitment as a spy by the Secret Intelligence Service whilst he was doing his National Service. It is stated in the film that they knew he was “queer” – and it’s more than probable that they did. He eventually accepted their offer and went to Moscow, but his drinking eventually killed him. He was found dead in his bath at the age of 31. It is suspected that he died of suspicious causes, particularly as was playing a dangerous double game between MI6 and the KGB, that he became friends with Guy Burgess (infamous defector and fellow homosexual) whilst in Russia, and that he had been a victim of attempted blackmail after pictures were taken of him in bed with a Russian man.

What is particuarly poignant about the film is that it does not shy away from the fact that prosecutions continued vigourously up to and after the Report. Sodomy could result in life imprisonment, attempted sodomy in ten years. There are two particular stories in the film which show how sad and desperate men’s lives were in the era. Highly recommended.

China has a long history of tolerance towards homosexuality, beginning from the first references to same-sex relationships in the records of the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th centuries BC) and ending (after a rather shaky period from 1740 onwards) with the persecution of homosexuals during the Cultural Revolution. That’s over three thousand years of a society that occasionally celebrated same-sex love, occasionally denigrated it, but more often than not, just let people get on with it.

In typical elliptic style—because direct talk of sexual matters was considered unbelievably vulgar—Chinese literature referenced homosexual acts by means of phrases such as ‘cut sleeve’, ‘bitten peach’, or by name-dropping gay historical figures. The most famous stories are of Mi Zi Xia and his royal lover, Duke Ling of Wei, who shared a peach (yutao, ‘leftover peach’); and Emperor Ai, who cut off his sleeve to avoid disturbing his sleeping lover Dong Xian, which created a court trend whereby everyone went around cutting their sleeves (duanxiu, ‘breaking the sleeve’).

Qu Yuan, an admired poet of the Warring States period (340-278 BC), wrote poems to his lover, the King of Chu. Historical documents such as Sima Qian’s Memoirs of the Historian and the exhaustive dynastic records of the Han dynasty list scores of male favourites of the ruling monarchs. Throughout the Western Han dynasty (206 BC-23 AD), ten of the thirteen emperors took male lovers in addition to the necessary wives and concubines. Sima Qian wrote that the male favourites were often admired more for their skills in war, administration, or cultural pursuits than for their beauty.


My favourite of the Western Han emperors, Han WuDi (‘the Martial Emperor’)—or Liu Che, to give him his real name—was one of these ‘bisexual’ emperors. Liu Che liked to keep things within family units, too—his male lovers included an uncle and nephew, plus the famous musician Li Yan Nian and Yan Nian’s sister, Lady Li. My novella Fall of a State (available now from Dreamspinner Press) is a somewhat fluffy version of the relationship between Liu Che and his musician. Li Yan Nian is credited with writing the ‘Northern Beauty’ song (a version of which appears in the film House of Flying Daggers when Zhang ZiYi performs for Takeshi Kaneshiro), which—due to the Chinese language having no gender for its nouns and pronouns—means the Beauty could refer equally to a man or a woman. In my story, it does both.

During the period of disunion (265-589), in which six separate dynasties ruled and overlapped, the historians of the Liu Song dynasty record that homosexuality was as common as heterosexuality:

“All the gentlemen and officials esteemed it. All men in the realm followed this fashion to the extent that husbands and wives were estranged. Resentful unmarried women became jealous.”

Efforts were made during the Tang dynasty (618-907) to restore more of a ‘traditional’ moral order. Somewhat ironically, the first Crown Prince of the dynasty, Li Chen Qian, was gay. He was later removed from succession, though not for that reason.

By the time of the Song dynasty (960-1279), an increase in urbanisation and the introduction of paper money caused a growth in prostitution. A law was passed against male prostitution, but it seemed not to have been enforced with any rigour. The merchant classes, suddenly given a voice in the historical and literary records, had money to spend and lusts to fulfil. With their respectable wives raising families at home, the merchants went out partying with pretty young sing-song boys.

[Rest of the post cut because of explicit historical erotic images - NSFW!] (more…)

Published 1821 (this version) I think there were earlier ones.

Be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves.

AT GOOGLE BOOKS – full view – and available for download.

This is a quite fascinating book -and I love the idea that a parent would buy their son this book, shove it into his hands and probably consider that was their responsibility dealt with.

Here’s the contents. I don’t even know what some of this stuff MEANS.

GRAMMAR
Directions for Epistolary Correspondence…
HISTENOGRAPHY
ARITHMETIC
Reduction of Decimal Fractions
BOOKKEEPING
ALGEBRA
GEOMETRY and MENSURATION
DRAWING
GEOGRAPHY
CHRONOLOGY
IMPROVEMENT of the MEMORY
MISCELLANIES
Religion and Religious Sects
Behaviour and Manners
Heraldic Terms and English
Useful Receipts in Art
Miscellaneous Articles
I’m quite sure that there’s a wealth of inspiration to be found! Enjoy!
I was alerted to the book on the Inkspinners group, where one of the members, Joanna Waugh, converted some of the purchases to today’s money.  She says:

I took some time today and converted a few of the prices Kat shared with us from A Young Man’s Companion. I had to use 1830 values and a conversion date of 2008, but it still gives us an idea of the relative value of these items today. If I made any mistakes in the calculations, I apologize. I rechecked them before posting but I was never very good at math!

2 dozen of men’s 2-thread alted thread stockings…2. 8.0

£182.26/$338.02 or £7.60/$14.08 a pair

2 dozen of ditto 3-thread fine marble ditto… 4. 4.0

£318.95/$591.52 of £13.30/$24.65 a pair

9 six-thread superfine breeches, at 10s6d… 4.14.6

£358.82/$665.47 or approx £40/$74 a pair

6 four-thread superfine ditto, at 7s 6d…. 2. 5.0

£170.86/$316.88 or £28.48/$13.20 a pair

6 pair of silk ribbed stockings, stout at 14s… 4. 4.0

£318.95/$591.52 or £53.16/$98.59 a pair

6 pair of spun silk stockings at 5s6d…. 1.13

£125.30/$232.38 or £20.88/$38.73 a pair

15 yards of flowered ribband, at 2s…. 1.10.0

£113. 91/$211.26 or £7.59/$14.08 a yard

2 pair of chicken gloves, at 7s. 6d…. 0.15.0

£56.96/$105.64 or £28.48/$52.82 a pair

4 pair of fine lamb ditto, at 2s. 4d….. 0. 7.0

£26.58/$49.30 or £6.65/$12.33 a pair

2 fans, French mounts at 3s. 6d. …. 0. 7.0

£26.58/$49.30 or £13.29/$24.65 per fan

6 yards of Mechlin lace, at 12s …. 3.12.0

£273.38/$507.01 or £45.56/$84.50 per yard

1 Gauze cap and trimmings ….. 1. 2.0

£83.53/$154.91

TOP FACTS

* Sadly not yet published by Mills and Boon.
* Covers. Started naff – getting better all the time.

* Many buttons
* Interesting lube possibilities
IN A NUTSHELL

* There’s not enough of it, for a start.
* Some Gay Historicals address the very real problems of being gay in a time when it wasn’t just unacceptable, it was reviled and illegal. (Basically after Christianity kicked in) However, there were times when man on man love wasn’t just acceptable, it was a normal part of everyday life. (Οι Έλληνες είχαν μια λέξη για το έργο)
* Thankfully, due to pronouns they are not called things like “The Mediterranean Tycoon’s Depraved Heiress” (With thanks to the Random Romance Title Generator)

THE HEROES

Not too different from the heroes in other historical romances. They are generally aristocratic (tall and handsome goes without saying – plus they are ALWAYS – always hung like horses, this is the law.)

So, create your character: Rich? check. Commanding? check. Handsome? check. Cock of unusual size?  Check and double check.
OK, you can stop checking now. Hello! Stop checking!

THE, er,  OTHER HEROES

Now here you can play around a little. You can either make your other hero a match for your arrogant alpha in every sense of the word (and sit back and watch those sparks fly and those buttons go flying (gotta have flying buttons, more later) OR you can create a sensitive little soul. A downtrodden artist, perhaps, or an impoverished tutor. A kidnapped sex slave or an abused and rescued young man. As long as you get a vast gulf between your alpha and your omega, it doesn’t really matter. Any excuse to make that boy cry his little heart out because the rough tough alpha doesn’t know how to handle him. Or rather – he doesn’t know how to handle his feelings – he knows how to handle him all right. (hur hur)

The important thing is the desecration of innocence™ – but don’t worry. No matter how nasty the alpha is, your sensitive soul will fall in love with him as he tops from the bottom.

THE BEST THING ABOUT WRITING GAY HISTORICALS
* Buttons. Oh GOD the buttons. I’ve coined the term breeches ripper before, but for me waistcoat ripping is far more exciting. Also cravats. You can have a LOT of fun with cravats.
* UST. (No, no, not there, Unresolved Sexual Tension. Buckets and buckets of it. “I’m homosexual!++ Argh! God he’s pretty. I wonder if he’s homosexual too? How can I let him know? What if he’s not? All right… so he is – he’s sleeping with Lord [Whossit] – how can I get him?”A writer of gay historicals have immense fun torturing her characters – making every glance count, and when one’s passing the port (to the left, of course) at dinner, fingertips are just bound to brush against each other.
* It’s much easier to get men together on a day-to-day basis. Whereas a hetero historical writer will have to write about dances, and chaperones and perhaps elopements men can simply hang out with each other, ride in each other’s carriages (and no, that’s not a euphemism!) without anyone fainting or ruining anyone’s reputation. Of course it’s pretty difficult to get them into sexual situation, but that’s another post…
*I think I may have already mentioned buttons…
THE BEST THING ABOUT READING GAY HISTORICALS

* Buttons! Ok, Is it just me and the buttons?
* Appreciating that the author knows exactly what the difference is between a sailor’s whipping and a double fisherman but that you don’t need to know anything as silly as long as the hero gets tied up.
* Sponge baths.
* Cocks! (sorry, but it did have to be said.) Lots of ‘em. Members, yards, rods, poles, perches, arbor vitae, gaying instrument. (yes, really.)

TOP TIP: beige…biscuit…blasé bleeding anachronisms

Check check check. You may think that it’s all right to say your hero’s breeches are beige but it wasn’t so and any eagle eyed reader will Mock You. They will, however realise if you are trying and make a small slip-up, but they won’t appreciate sloppy (or no) research, modern day speech patterns and contemporary men in fancy dress.

WHAT NOT TO SAY

* “Where’s the lube?”
* He climaxed, spunk spurting over his fingers.
* “I want to fuck his sweet hairy ass.”

WHAT TO SAY

* “Spit, and have done, man.” (other lubricants are available…)
* GOOD LORD, SHAG HIM ALREADY!
* I’m learning something! Oooo… cocks….

Over to you…

* What gay historicals would you like to see?
* What cliches are you sick of?
* Do you want better covers?
* Anything else?



++homosexual is also anachronistic until the early 20th century, too.

(Previously published on Lust Bites)

(This is a crossposting, at the suggestion of Erastes.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about researching locations for writing purposes ever since my visit to Los Angeles last month. I don’t believe you need to have been somewhere to write about it. When we write historical there’s only so much we can do to see an actual location. Even if we visit a place, the feel has changed. The look has changed. The people have changed. All the same, I think most authors would agree that, if at all possible, we want to see those places, whether we’re setting a story there in the past, present, or future.

Writing something set in a existing modern or historical geographic location, which we have never been to ourselves, creates many challenges. For me, it also creates a huge sense of inadequacy. I have this terrible, screechy voice in my mind telling me other people will see right through my shallow words to the nonsense underneath and know that I have never set foot in my own setting. If travel expenses were no issue, I would personally visit every place I have any interest in setting a story, and take detailed photos and notes. But this is not an option for me. As well as for a lot of writers.

On the other hand, making stuff up is what we do best. Authors do not need to have been somewhere to tell you what it was like. That’s one reason they’re authors.

My own sense of feeling frustrated that I cannot visit every location I wish was increased by the aforementioned trip to LA:

I was in LA for less than 24 hours, yet came away with a strong sense of the city that I will never forget, and which I could never have gained from just reading about the place. There is a universal theme in California, north (which I have much greater knowledge of, having lived there for some time) or south, of examining people.

Appearance is not just important in LA. It is you. Everywhere you go, everything you do, from the way you walk to the way you dress to what you order in a restaurant, is under intense, constant, and completely unabashed scrutiny. Not exactly the surprise of the decade, right? This is Hollywood after all. Yet, it was a surprise. Not the fact that everyone was image-obsessed in LA, but the feel of that obsession. There’s a thick, palpable cloud of stares and fleeting glances; eye contact and body-sweeping gazes; and the unceasing edginess of people who know they are being sized-up just as they are sizing you up.

For someone used to Seattle, where eye-contact with anyone you pass on the street, or in a coffee shop, is about as common as talking clams, this experience was pretty horrifying to me. It’s not something I could have ever imagined the intensity of without being in with it. The cool indifference of one human being to another based on snap visual assessments, and the instant decision of whether of not this person can do anything for them, cannot really be appreciated without going in person and feeling the force of this collective energy.

Then there are other things you wouldn’t learn about LA from a guide book: Cabs not stopping for red lights: Every car in the city being no more than two years old: The atmosphere of a pool-side party after dark: And the lying. As noted, I was there for a very brief time. But in that time, I was lied to often.

These kinds of details give us a feel for location that can be duplicated even if we have never really been there. It just makes writing about the place a whole lot easier and clearer in our own minds if we have been there.

Here’s to lots of research trips down the road. :-)

~~~

You can find Jordan at http://www.jordantaylorbooks.com

We have to acknowledge that in this day and age – as it has forever been – beauty matters. Our definition of beauty is based on the media saturation which we are bombarded with on a daily basis. For instance, the idea of tanned = gorgeous has only appeared recently — it would stand to reason that with all the lead-based paints and powder that was used, pale was beautiful as it indicated that you had no need to stand about in the sun all day. As a society, we perceive people who have traits which we consider admirable: self restraint, indefatigable dedication to an idea, sacrifice to epitomise the current standards of beauty – mirrored so closely in the way we view the working world. So we end up with the size zero models and body-builders with ripped stomachs and veined arms as a societal idea.

Personally, all that leaves me completely cold. I find the rabid insistence in gay stories – but most especially gay historical – that people should conform to the current societal archetype of beauty slightly mad. Let’s be honest, it is not ALL that likely we see the majority of people conform to this ideal – if we did, it would be damn unlikely to be an aspiration! I like to see real people in books – be they consumptive clerks with weak arms and eyes from peering over the books all day, be they well-upholstered married aristocrats whose only exercise is taken between the front door and the handsome cab. While a cavalry solider would have a fantastic rear-end and muscled thighs, and depending on his weapons a certain amount of muscular development in the shoulders and back (Medieval knights looked like Props in rugby – muscle upon muscle with a massive amount of shoulder and neck development to support all the armour and thick solid waists to enable them both to shift and move and to take the impact of a swords’-blow).

black-knight

why yes, that is a plastic knigget on a my little pony

Of course, lacking a tardis, I can’t go back in time and drag examples of said bodies to parade before you. And – as any artist knows – when one is being painted, one likes to be flattered – so I can’t really tell you that the painted historical record holds true of anything other than the upper-class archetypical view (think of today, you’d think we’re all size 0 if you believed Cosmo), but what it can do, with a bit of extrapolation, is provide a basis for what was revered, and the obvious counterpoint of what was the norm.

For the time periods, I’m shamelessly nicking the structure of “The List” from Speak Its Name. If perchance you’re a new Macaroni (fresh-mac? mini-mac?) you may want to go and check out this fantastic and pretty exhaustive list of MM fiction here: http://speakitsname.com/the-list/

By virtue of available and accessible historical documentation, a lot of this going to be western-centric. Note that this is a VERY ROUGH OVERVIEW and is taking the overarching concept rather than the nitty details.

CAVEAT: This deals with beauty in the ideal form, and what was admired as can be extrapolated through art. This therefore, while based in fact, does have a certain amount of interpretation, so feel free to discuss. However (as always) discussion should pertain to the point of this, which is a holistic overview of beauty rather than the detailed nuances. If people find this interesting, I may do a post on how jobs/circumstances affected musculature which would have changed how people were actually built and how they would have looked — as Alex Beecroft pointed out — sailors for instance would have had amazing upper body strength but relatively undeveloped lower bodies from all their wandering up and down the rigging (I am sure there is a technical term for that).

ANCIENT WORLD

2006IMG_2813a

A youth - Roman Statue from Tripoli

Statue of Hermes with Dionysus -- Greek

In the ancient world, transport and war were both pursuits carried out predominantly on foot and with an emphasis on speed. Between this and the idealisation of young men, it is therefore relatively obvious that the idealised young man would be one who was lightly muscled, had low body fat, and was developed in an equal fashion across his body. He had only light armour — if any — and so did not require a heavy shoulder musculature to keep weighty armour up. The advent of the Olympics as a trial for men (as well as the ‘unspeakable vice of the Greeks’) fed into this perception of male beauty. Note that while these statues are both lightly defined, there are no striations or veins that would be the hallmark of a body builder. Instead the physique is of someone who improves themselves through normal pursuits.

DARK AGES

rugby-player-cameron-6-742x1024Shoulder musculature – really.

Plate Armour

Now, besides this being a post for me to wave about half-dressed rugby players (YAY!) and write the word “Knigget”, there is a serious point on the musculature of people who wore plate or chain mail armour, as did the Knights in the Dark Ages. The weight of the armour hung about the neck, as illustrated above. Now, while they were on a horse, this was probably not so much of a problem, but just think about moving around in that weight, in that heat, swinging a clunking great sword with all that pulling down on your shoulders. No bloody wonder a knight needed pages — they were built like – if you pardon my French – a brick shithouse, and had the same ability to move!

MIDDLE AGES

carvaggio1

A youth by Caravaggio

clip carvaggio

Detail of Doubting Thomas by Caravaggio

This was a time when there was little to eat, the peasants were being pushed on all sides –by their Lords and their Churches, who needed their tithes, and to support the great peregrinations such as those of Henry VIII (such as the Field of the Cloth of Gold) and with the massed court that travelled with them. Between this and the incessant feudal and national wars meant that the average person was unlikely to be very well nourished. One therefore finds that the style of masculine beauty tends to an almost angelically clear and smooth skin, with a slight fleshiness that belies poverty.

RENAISSANCE

Hand of Michaelangelo's David, Florence4

Detail of David's Hand - Michaelanglo

Michaelangelo_David_1

David - Michaelangelo

The renaissance was — as the name suggests — an obvious return to classical ideals. Great founts of knowledge were springing up, and the old Greco-Roman notions of patronage and taking someone under your wing (with all that entailed) reared up again. There was a near-worship for creation, for genesis. This ideal of young, male beauty was pulled to the fore, both because it suited classical ideals, and because some of the easiest models for a master artist to get their hands on were their young male apprentices. We can see from the statue to the side, though, that while there is greater definition than in the Middle Ages, it is nothing that someone who was able to do a great deal of physical labour would not have. Note the lack of striae on David’s stomach, and then contrast that with the detail of his hand — it is not that there was an accepted fluidity in the portrayal that allowed details to be glossed over. Rather, the six-pack did not exist in the idea of fundamental male beauty.

17th CENTURY

17th century dress a

17th Century Dress

dyn005_original_664_918_pjpeg_2544134_52fe42fd9b6f9d0b34eb8cab1af213aa

Louis XIV

We now move onto the 17th century where it became one’s duty is to look prosperous and well fleshed in clothing. Observe the way the coats on the 17th Century dress patterns are strained. It is quite difficult to find 17th century statues without clothing — this was the era of empire building , and the idea of nudity became associated not with the cleanliness of the Renaissance, but with the savages of the new world. There was a duty in the western world — promoted both by church and state — to show one’s superiority, which was greatly fetishized in the ridiculous accoutrements which denoted statues (see sumptuary laws). One’s body appears to have become wither a tool, or something shameful. This is one of those periods in history where you’d be more likely to consider the fact that someone is well fleshed as a positive thing.

18th CENTURY

macaroni_uwm_edu

Macaroni!

costumefamily_regency

Regency Family

The eighteenth century was very much a continuation of the same morals and ideas promulgated in the 17th, as the scope and vastness of the empires grew, but the essential avariciousness behind them didn’t. A Highly formalised pragmatism came to be seen in male dress, while women were very much idealised as ethereal virgins. In response to the growing middle class being able to ape the fashions of the elite, the dress of some members of society who were able do the Grand Tour took to aping the more outlandish continental fashions of the day. Contemporary sources cite the macaronis as being those completely jaded by life — it sounds like Pratchett got it right when he parodied it as The Grand Sneer. From a physical point of view, as the paintings show, there was still an appreciation of people being well fleshed to indicate prosperity.

19th CENTURY

brummel

Beau Brummel

dandy

Another Dandy

The 19th century was dominated by the rise of the middle class. A differentiation both in dress and in physical characteristics was therefore required. Enter the concept of the dandy — a much more subdued offshoot of the macaronis. With the idea of being beautiful for beauty’s sake, the ideals of the dandy went back to those of the renaissance. But *grin* with a little bit of help, it was in this century that the Cumberland corset etc. became common wear for men to create that pinched-waisted look that was so prized and the mark of a man who had to do nothing for his money but exist. The men shown epitomise this physical aspect, it is almost effete and feminine, which would mean they’d have little time to build muscle — that was the preserve of those who had to work for a living.

In the spirit (no pun intended) of the spooky dark nights drawing in here in the UK, I decided to do a post about William of Newburgh’s medieval stories about English vampires. Now these aren’t your usual bloodsucking beasties with fangs, capes, and a dodgy Transylvanian accent – in fact, they’re revenants, close kin to the Balkan and Greek vrykolakas, created from sin and used in a didactic manner by the historian who recorded these tales.

William of Newburgh (1136-1198) was an Augustinian canon at Newburgh Priory in Yorkshire. His work Historia rerum Anglicarum (otherwise known as the Chronicles) was written in the latter years of William’s life and is a philosophical history of England from 1066 until 1198. Modelling himself on the Venerable Bede and pouring scorn on chroniclers like Geoffrey of Monmouth (“he lies in almost everything,” William rants in his preface), William nevertheless includes several accounts of men rising from the grave and wreaking havoc amongst the living.

Le Vampire by R de Moraine, 1864

In Buckingham (Chronicles V.22), a man died and was buried but later returned from the grave and got into bed with his wife. This continued for three nights, until the wife stayed up late with her friends in order to drive away the revenant, who then went wandering around harassing anyone it could find. Interestingly, William states that the revenant walked about in daylight, yet only appeared visible to one or two people even if a group was aware of its presence – thus making the revenant seem to fit with modern ideas of a ghost.

The desperate villagers appealed to the church to put an end to the random perambulations of the revenant, and the matter came to the attention of the Bishop of Lincoln. His Grace asked his learned colleagues for advice, and was told that the corpse should be exhumed and burned. The bishop found this idea “indecent and improper”, and instead wrote a letter of absolution. The villagers opened the dead man’s coffin and placed the letter upon the corpse, and the revenant wandered no more.

This, the first of William’s revenant tales, is perhaps the most striking because the dead man has no reason to rise from the grave. As we shall see, revenants usually return to deal with unfinished business, or because they were thoroughly unpleasant types during their lifetime. The Buckinghamshire revenant seems to be more like a confused spirit, unaware that he’s died and trying to continue with his daily life. The letter of absolution also underlines the fact that the dead man was harmless – as the Bishop of Lincoln was told, evil revenants were exhumed, hacked to pieces, and burned.

William follows this tale with another three examples of similar events. A rich man in Berwick (V.23), described as “a great rogue”, returned from the grave and strode about accompanied by a pack of barking dogs. The townsfolk hired ten young men to dig up the corpse, chop it to bits, and throw it on the fire.

Melrose Abbey

In Melrose (V.24.2), a chaplain who was rather too secular in his living came back as a revenant, haunting the monastery walls and terrifying the noblewoman to whom he’d been a confessor. The lady appealed for help, and a group of men sat in the graveyard and waited for the shambling monster. Midnight came and went, and three of the men decided it was too cold to hang around any longer. As soon as the last man was left alone, the revenant awoke. But the man attacked it with an axe, driving the creature away. Later, the chaplain’s corpse was exhumed and a gaping wound was discovered in the body. With the chaplain’s evil proved beyond all doubt, the corpse was burned and the ashes scattered.

Finally, a man of “evil conduct” from York (V.24.4) fled the city to a place called Anantis (either Annan in Dumfries & Galloway, or possibly Alnwick), where he continued his nefarious doings. He married a local woman and soon became convinced she was having an affair. Pretending to go away for a few days, he hid amongst the roof-beams of his bedroom and spied on his wife, and sure enough caught her in bed with a neighbour. The shock was so great he fell from the roof and became ill. His wife told him he was mistaken in what he’d seen, and when a priest urged the man to confess and receive the Eucharist, the wife convinced her husband not to do so. The man died that very night and became a revenant, bringing with it a pestilence. The locals dug up the corpse and tore it to pieces, ripping out its heart before setting fire to the remains.

In these three tales, the revenant is a sinner during life, and his sin follows him even beyond the grave. Since each of the men had escaped punishment for their wickedness while they lived, becoming a revenant was the ultimate penalty. These men were effectively denied a Christian burial, and more than that, they were denied their human form when their corpses were exhumed, divided, and burned. A revenant was cast out of the Church and therefore out of society, and without a body and a grave, these evildoers would be permanently locked out of Heaven on the Day of Judgement – and in the twelfth century, this was a terrifying thought.

What’s also interesting is the geographic bias shown in the stories. The revenant from Buckingham is non-threatening and settles into its grave after Church intervention. Surely it’s no coincidence that the three troublesome and evil revenants are all to be found within the Scottish Borders – Berwick, Melrose, and Alnwick. William was fully aware of Henry II’s skirmishes against the Scots in 1174 (II.32-34), when the English won a decisive victory at Alnwick, of all places.

The didactic theme of William of Newburgh’s revenant stories is clear enough. As William himself remarks (V.24.1), such events are “not easy to believe” due to their “amazing and horrible” nature, but he adds that if he were to record all such examples of these stories, “the undertaking would be beyond measure laborious and troublesome”, and so he contents himself with these few tales “as a warning to posterity.”

While the lack of revenants wandering down your local high street today is no doubt due to the rise in popularity of cremation, in places such as the Greek islands where it’s customary to inter the dead, the belief in revenants rising at dusk to stalk through the night still persists…

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