The Cleveland Street Scandal

Can you imagine a time when sex between two people of the same sex was illegal? There was such a time and, really, that time is still now. Over a hundred years ago the homo climate was much different, the point of view nearly the opposite: being gay was decisively not cool.

One story that I recently stumbled upon that is all sorts of le scandale was an 1889 London homo hullaballoo in which a Prince was involved with a male brothel. This was the Cleveland Street Scandal and the Prince involved was Albert, who was second in line to the English throne. He totally had gay face, too. Obviously this was a big deal because sex acts between men was a big no-no in Britain at the time—and a gay king was a decisive no.

The brothel apparently employed “telegraph messenger boys,” basically young, teenage mailmen who weren’t allowed to carry their own cash. When the cops found a boy with lots of money on him while investigating a theft, the boy confessed that he and other telegraph boys were involved in a gay brothel, hence all the money he had. Shit kind of blew up from there.

The reason why this story was so big and sticks out in history is because this was an apparently high end brothel with lots of high end clients who would escape for discrete sex with twinky mail boys. In addition to Prince Albert—who was never confirmed to have participated, an item that is seen as a political coverup even still—another royal relation was involved: Lord Arthur Somerset, who ran the royal stables. Somerset was deeply involved as was the Earl Of Euston, who apparently claimed that he thought the brothel had women and eventually sued press outlets for libel. (Euston’s claim of being “confused” have since been disputed by gay historians.) Oscar Wilde was also involved (Of course.) and he was eventually tried for gross indecency, independent of Cleveland. He did include allusion to all these goings on in The Picture Of Dorian Grey.

This scandal is just great. You’ve got royals, underage boys, the postal service, a popular writer, and denials, denials, denials. If you want to hear an extended play-by-play of what happened, I highly suggest you check out Max Barber‘s very well researched and very thorough mini-documentary on the subject below.

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