William Beckford: A queer hedonist

milkboys History & People 19 Comments

Few men attained greater celebrity during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries than William Beckford (1760—1844), the wealthiest man in England.

With enormous wealth as his Aladdin’s lamp, he decided to make his Arabian dreams come true. By the time he died at the venerable age of 84, he had built the loftiest domestic residence in the world, had assembled a virtual harem of boys, had his own militia to protect his Fonthill estate of 6,000 acres, had written the first Oriental-Gothic horror novel in English literature, and had become the most scandalous connoisseur of hedonism in the modern world. His society bemusedly tolerated most eccentrics — even nouveau riche ones — but they chose to ostracize this remarkable personality, dubbing him “The Fool of Fonthill.”

Beckford’s father, twice Lord Mayor of London, was the richest man in England, with extensive holdings in the cloth industry, property, government bonds, and sugar plantations. As a result, Beckford received a brilliant education, and was widely learned in French, Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, philosophy, law, literature and physics by the age of 17.

His private piano teacher was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — at least that is the legend, too romantic to be discouraged. He was being brought up as an empire builder, but his father died when Beckford was only ten, leaving him with no political ambition, and a millionaire’s taste for pleasure

Read on…

Comments 19

  1. Rank has its privileges, it seems. The web site for Fonthill deals with Beckford in a single line as ‘scandalous’. Powderham has but a short paragraph on Courtney. He was barely mentioned in the guided tour last time I visited Powderham.

    Nineteen and Ten seem an awkward age for a relationship.

    1. Yes, but in a world where being gay makes you an evil monster worthy of being put to death, you take whatever comfort, safety, and happiness you can get in life.

  2. A facinating biography about very brave men living out their needs and impulses.

    The fact that they were together long and both continued to keep same sex relationships I think vindicates the age development gap. remember different times, when an heir to the throne could be made king/queen at an early age and be married off.

    1. I’m not condoning older with underage and I know it is difficult for some/many people to understand, but there are young people who very much know what they want. I know it is a mine field of abuse and not saying to support it, just that it does work for some people all through history.
      I know a couple who met when one was 17 and the other in their thirties, they are still a happy couple some thirty years later. It has worked for them.

      1. If we discount the societal morality of today and understand that there was no such thing as an age for consent in those days, we have to rely on the inbuilt morality of the protagonists.

        Childhood itself was not really a concept back then, with kids being put to work in dangerous occupations as soon as they were capable of earning the smallest sum of money.

        This means we need to frame the relationship in the habits of the era in which it existed.

      2. This topic (age difference) used to be sporadically discussed on Milkboys. That was way back when Milkboys had discussions worthy of the name. Ages ago….
        Anyway, all that got confirmed was that most people are conditioned when growing up by being told time and again what’s right and what’s wrong. Never mind what they’re being told is itself wrong.

        Meanwhile, I embraced my ‘gayness’ at a very late age (50s) and in the course of dipping into gay society I was at first shocked at the number of much much younger guys (late teens) who were more than willing to hookup time and again. After a while it was clear to me that for guys attracted to younger guys there are just as many younger guys attracted to older. I also heard quite a few stories from guys about their experiences when they were growing up. Some shocking although not regretted but if ever made public then lurid tabloid headlines would surely follow much to everyone’s loss.

        So, out of all that…..
        Be good. Be nice. Be respectful and kind. Do your best to treat everyone well.
        Don’t be a total arse because you do already know in your heart what is right and what is wrong. There’s no forgiveness if trying to find justification for behaving like a selfish prick.

    2. “remember different times, when an heir to the throne could be made king/queen at an early age and be married off.”

      Throughout the world in history — and most definitely in the USA as well — “children” were very commonly married off easily under the age of 16-15, even down to around 12 (mostly, girls were the younger, of course as long as they were menstruating [which may have been the primary biological purpose for females to enter puberty at noticeably younger ages than males]). This in a time where the average lifespan could well have been only 35-45 — many much younger.

      1. I actually looked up historical life expectancy a while back and found the world-wide average didn’t get above 48 until the 1950s. Mostly it was Africa and Asia dragging the average down for the 50 years before that, but even in the US and Europe it didn’t get above 40 until the end of the 1800’s

  3. “When this self-styled Caliph was 19, he fell in love with the Hon William Courtenay, later 3rd Viscount and 9th Earl of Devon, then ten years old and regarded as one of the most beautiful boys in England, borne out by paintings of him.”


  4. Today the guided tour at Powderham Castle makes far more mention of the scandals than it used to, perhaps a sign of more enlightened times. Indeed both Beckford and Courtenay are given a decent coverage

  5. Not “queer” by anyone’s definition of the word today, but a lover of boys who was otherwise heterosexual and married to a woman.

    1. True, he was a MAP. “Queer” usually only encompasses politically correct things, i e it’s a term used by leftist conservatives.

  6. Ever since I first read the work of Rictor Norton I have been a great admirer of his research and writing. It is a pity we don’t have more people like him!

  7. — The 10 times males try to rape this one is from this’s age from 8 yo to 14 yo. They all fail. One of a threesome says that this boy is not kosher, so, no rape attempt. The others are all of males of various ages up to 45 & include both brothers. YES.
    — NAMBLA does not exist with out the male love / like of boys. This guy’s first love is William Smith and his body and his ass in 5th grade … way before sexual understanding / dick appreciating. Now do the cops create a cop version of NAMBLA.
    DO THE LGBTQT+ make an issue of this ????? Not on your life. They hate NAMBLA, the original. HATE. [ The cop version they say nothing about. ]
    — boys bois boyz boiz … but the officials of the various male gay organizers do read do assert 18+. OW OW Pants on FIRE.

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