Thursday, March 31, 2011

April 28, 1870 --- "Gentlemen" in Female Attire

The Boulton-Park affair, which either amused or shocked England for over a year, begins with the arrest of two well-bred young men in women's clothing.

Ernie Boulton is wearing a cherry-colored silk gown while his companion Freddy Park wears a dark green satin dress, with low-cut bodice. As "Stella" and "Fanny," the two often appeared as women in lesser stage productions. Arrested in the Haymarket, an area rife with prostitutes, the two are suspected of blackmail or worse. They're taken to a nearby station house where a police surgeon examines them "for evidence of unnatural practices." Boulton, Park and four others are soon charged with "conspiring and enticing persons to commit an unnatural offence.''

The co-defendants included Lord Arthur Clinton, younger son of the Duke of Newcastle, who had appeared in public with Boulton as "Mr. and Mrs. Clinton." He died, an apparent suicide, before the trial. Also charged is the U.S. consul in Edinburgh, John Fiske, implicated by his many letters to Boulton. In one of them, Fiske professed "a heart full of love and longing."

The six-day trial was not held until May of 1871 and offered a titillating glimpse at life in the demi-monde. One of the beadles at Burlington Arcade provided some chuckles in his testimony about chasing the whores and perverts from his domain. An acquaintance of Boulton's shamefacedly admitted that he "kissed him, she, or it." Two days were devoted to intensely personal medical testimony; a defense doctor from the Royal Medical College stating that he could find no evidence of pedication in his examination of any of the defendants. Lawyers acting for Fiske concede he wrote the "execrable" letters but portray him as a moral young man who often "sought the society of ladies." Boulton and Park's attorneys depicted them as young men "out for a lark," foolish perhaps, but not criminal.

Despite Chief Justice Cockburn's outburst that cross-dressing is an "outrage" and suggesting time on the treadmill for its devotees, the jury took less than an hour to acquit them all. The Times, while not questioning the outcome, nonetheless worried that "the rising generation is more effeminate than its predecessors, and such degeneracy is wont to spread very rapidly."

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