William Beckford

milkboys History & People 8 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

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Comments 8

  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.

    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.

  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.”


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