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social sciences

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United Kingdom I: The Middle Ages through the Nineteenth Century  
 
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With the exception of a small group of intimate friends, his contemporaries did not realize that he was bisexual and that his homosexual relationships often predominated over his heterosexual commitments. While at school, Byron developed strong attachments to other students, notably John Edleston, to whom he dedicated "Cornelian" and other poems. Distressed by Edleston's death, he commemorated his friend in "To Thyrza" (1811), though he disguised the identity of the subject by utilizing female pronouns.

On his first trip to Greece in 1809, Byron enjoyed numerous homosexual liaisons and established an intense relationship with Nicolo Giraud, whom he made his heir when he returned home.

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The initial publication of Childe Harold in 1812 established Byron's reputation as a poet, and he was immediately lionized by British society. Thereupon, he undertook a series of tumultuous affairs with women, including Lady Caroline Lamb and his married half-sister, Annabella Leigh. In 1815, he married Anna Milbanke, who sought a separation from him in less than year. Compounding the scandal produced by the collapse of the marriage, Lady Caroline spread rumors about Byron's homosexuality.

Shunned by society and publicly insulted, Byron left England permanently in April 1816. Settling in Venice in 1819, he wrote Don Juan, which satirized British prudery. In 1823, he traveled to Greece, where he met and fell deeply in love with the fifteen-year-old Lukas Chalandroutsanos. In poems written during the final months of his life, Byron lamented the circumstance that the person whom he loved did not reciprocate his feelings, and he declared his intention to devote his energies to the liberation of Greece. Contracting a fever on Missolonghi, Bryon died there in 1824.

Cambridge Apostles

Founded in 1820, the Cambridge Conversazione Society provided an intellectual and social refuge from the pervasive homophobia of nineteenth-century Britain. Founded by twelve evangelical students, the secret society generally has been known by the nickname Cambridge Apostles.

Initially, the society was intended to foster discussion of topics that were overlooked by the Cambridge curriculum, and it quickly became an important forum for the consideration of progressive and controversial ideas. Meetings involved presentation of a paper, followed by intensive discussion.

Members, who were selected by secret ballot, included many individuals who went on to make significant contributions in a wide range of fields, including literature, politics, sciences, and economics. Among the numerous gay members of the organization during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were Oscar Browning, Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

The society was not explicitly or solely homosexual, but it created an environment in which could flourish for a variety of reasons. Until 1970, the organization excluded women. The goals and activities of the society often were described in terms derived from Plato; thus, the emotional and intellectual fellowship of the members was characterized as "Higher Sodomy." Within the rarefied environment of the society, many members came to believe that they possessed a superior morality, distinct from that of the rest of British society. This belief, combined with the intimacy of the society, could encourage sexual experimentation among the members.

Because proceedings of the meetings were kept secret, members felt empowered to present papers on homosexual love and other potentially controversial themes. Among the members who are known to have presented notable essays defending same-sex love were Arthur Hallam (1831), J. M. E. McTaggart (1885), and Lytton Strachey (1901, 1904).

The election of Strachey to the society has been credited with initiating an era of open, even aggressive homosexuality in the society. Strachey, Forster, and Keynes were among the numerous Apostles who became part of the Bloomsbury circle, which shared the society's commitment to friendship, honesty, and intellectual inquiry.

Between 1979 and 1982, it was revealed that Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, and several other Apostles had been members of a Communist spy ring. In the ensuing scandal, the Apostles were denounced as a sort of homosexual mafia. Nevertheless, the society is still in existence, although little is known about its current activities.

Legal Developments in the Later Nineteenth Century

In the intensely homophobic atmosphere of the nineteenth century, any indications of deviance from gender expression or sexual behavior could lead to police harassment and even an indictment for sodomy. On the basis of their cross-dressing, Ernest Boulton and Frederick William Park, for example, were arrested in 1870 for sodomy. Denied bail because they supposedly constituted a threat to society, they were held in jail for several months before finally being tried in May 1871. Although the prosecution attempted to utilize affectionate letters to other men as "evidence," they were unable to establish that Boulton and Park committed any homosexual acts.

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