A Secret Between Gentlemen: a new biographical trilogy

Peter Jordaan's picture

This post is to flag some publications of potential interest, and scholarly opportunities.

My historical biographical trilogy A Secret Between Gentlemen is now available at Amazon. The first volume, A Secret Between Gentlemen: Lord Battersea's hidden scandal and the lives it changed forever, deals with an extraordinary scandal, involving the procurement of youths, that embroiled that gentleman and thirty of his friends. In a collision of wealth, power, privilege and policing, it was effectively smothered for 120 years. The late Victorian and Edwardian eras played host to a succession of at least five major homosexual scandals, of which four have been known: 

•    the Dublin Castle Scandal of 1883-85
•    the Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889-90
•    the Trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895 
•    the Irish Crown Jewels Theft of 1907. 

Now the Battersea Scandal can be added to this infamous roster. Given the recent Epstein case, the book seems even more current. 

The second volume, A Secret Between Gentlemen: Suspects, strays and guests, contains biographies of those I identified as suspects. Also included, thanks to the generosity of a descendant in whose possession it remains, is a transcription of the Visitor's Book of Lord Battersea's country estate, which provides a keyhole view into an Edwardian social powerhouse in its heyday. The third volume, A Secret Between Gentlemen: Faith & Desire, profiles a collection of wayward clerical figures I came across while researching the Battersea case. Also included in the third volume are two previously unpublished Victorian tracts on sexuality, which deserve to see the light of day. One of them only survives in a single copy, so when two academic journals turned down the opportunity to publish it (for unstated but guessable reasons), I felt I needed to step into the breach. Especially since the entire project was driven solely by personal curiosity – who were these people; what was their reality; how could this happen?

While writing for a general audience, throughout the books I endeavoured to flag opportunities for scholars that beg for further research. I'm genuinely surprised, for example that Oscar Browning's papers at Kings College haven't been further mined since Ian Anstruther's 1983 biography. 

Anstruther, a cosmopolitan baronet, was the perfect biographer for Browning. He also clearly considered that moral judgements and fatuous musings with regard to how someone as privileged as Browning could get away with what he did, would not only bore his educated readers, but be redundant, given they were likely English Public School educated, and knew the way of the world. I'm not sure the same situation would apply today.

However, since Anstruther put down his pen, Browning's papers – one of the world's best and totally uncensored collections of the private papers of an extraordinary gay figure – have been just sitting in the dark. I feature a few of the letters from them in my 1st and 2 volumes, but it's an opportunity begging for a sympathetic historian who is whip-smart, and can write plain English. And I say that because Browning is the last person on earth who should be subjected to the tortures of academic-ese or queer theory.

I also learnt that – unbelievable this – the papers of Edward Perry Warren have only recently been catalogued, while most of the papers of Charles Partridge at Ipswich Archives remain uncatalogued. I tried to prompt a crowd-transcription project for Lord Ronald Gower's diaries, only to receive pushback of the "it's all too hard at the present time" variety, which given the advent of services like Fromthepage.com, is ridiculous. Maybe others can step up to drive this. The 166 diary volumes of the Rev. R.C. Fillingham – previously unknown and untouched – can at least be sampled in the third volume, Faith & Desire. They include his remarkable first person account of being sent to trial.

One of the delights of the five years of research was falling into the hidden world that lies behind the writing of British history and biographies, where due to the fact so many of the primary sources are still held by aristocratic families, an enterprising author can become the recipient of tips and gossip from other scholars. Did I get turn-downs? What enterprising scholar doesn't? Including at Windsor Castle, of which I write. One has to negotiate with family archivists who need to square their loyalty with handing over potentially sticky material. Not many scholars share their research journeys, which I've always found fascinating, so I was keen to share mine, and do so with a degree of frankness, in Envoi in the first volume. Scholarship can be a lonely and doubting exercise at times, so hopefully some readers will find this account heartening.

As everyone is also aware, it's exceedingly easy to be misunderstood these days. One amusing recent incident was a prominent conservative historian writing to me: "I’m sorry you should take the view that all those gay toffs deserved imprisonment for buggery rather than being given the chance to flee to the Continent." I had to explain that, while not wishing to appear Bolshy, it was a wee bit unfair that others, not so privileged, broke stones on Dartmoor in all weathers for years for doing the very same deeds. In fairness he'd only sighted a single draft chapter, but the response was of genuine help, prompting me to return to the draft to reinforce the point.

The classical music magazine Van has just published a summary account from the book regarding one of Lord Battersea's procurers who semi-adopted a Berber boy, who became a noted composer. Interestingly, two prominent music editors elsewhere had baulked at it. You can read it here: https://van-magazine.com/mag/mohamed-iguerbouchene/ 

While the three books have been published, any further information on the Battersea case, or on figures associated with it is very welcome, as an updated edition is always a possibility. I can be reached through http://www.alchemiebooks.com