I never heard that she had any other Name than the Princess Seraphina.
August 3, 2011 2:04 AM   Subscribe

Princess Seraphina was an 18th Century cross-dresser who brought a thief to court for stealing her clothes. Her trial provides a brief glimpse into the life of queer men in 18th-Century England.
posted by Mooseli (31 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Fascinating. Great post.
posted by timshel at 2:06 AM on August 3, 2011

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:30 AM on August 3, 2011

I shall stick a feather in my cap and call it macaroni.
posted by spicynuts at 2:55 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

What does cross-dressing have to do with homosexuality?
posted by Poagao at 3:00 AM on August 3, 2011

What does cross-dressing have to do with homosexuality?

Are you asking about now or in the 18th Century?
posted by spicynuts at 3:06 AM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Or in mid-20th Century America?

The answer in both cases, apparently, was often quite a bit.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:15 AM on August 3, 2011

Molly houses — pubs and clubs where gay men met, especially on Sunday nights — were very popular in the 1720s in London.

Let me guess...NFL night.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:17 AM on August 3, 2011

He told the Justice that I put my Yard into his Hand twice; and says the Justice, "You had a long Knife, it seems, why did you not cut it off? I would have done so."

Sassy Justice!
posted by robself at 3:59 AM on August 3, 2011

Nice post. There's a good introduction to homosexuality in the Old Bailey Proceedings here.
posted by mattn at 4:08 AM on August 3, 2011

What does cross-dressing have to do with homosexuality?

In this context the term "queer" is used to describe a far greater range of behaviours and identities than just homosexuality. It's a rough equivalent to "person of colour".
posted by wwwwwhatt at 4:10 AM on August 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Lesbians did not appear in court as lesbianism was not against the law

I'm curious, what position in society did lesbians occupy? Were there lesbian households, as such, where the sexuality of the couple was accepted, or was it "they're just great friends" with a wink and a nod? (Damn, the term "_______ marriage" has escaped from my increasingly smooth cerebral cortex--used to describe two older women living together as a household.)
posted by maxwelton at 4:11 AM on August 3, 2011

Boston marriage.
posted by FunkyHelix at 4:13 AM on August 3, 2011

Yes, Boston marriage.

Anyway, if this program is on my BBC Player iPhone app, I am so listening to it as I bake this afternoon. Fascinating!
posted by Kitteh at 4:16 AM on August 3, 2011

I saw 2 Men a stripping among some Trees; I thought they were going to fight

Kinda a Jerry Springer moment there.
posted by Houstonian at 4:25 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is awesome stuff. Thanks, Mooseli.
posted by mediareport at 5:16 AM on August 3, 2011

What does cross-dressing have to do with homosexuality?
Oh, don't be coy. Cross-dressing and homosexuality have a great deal to do with each other, especially when we're talking about popular attitudes about queerness in 18th-Century England (or today, for that matter). Are you so naive about the common conflation of the two that you are actually confused as to why they'd be mentioned in the same breath, or are you trying to make a point?
posted by MrMoonPie at 5:30 AM on August 3, 2011

maxwelton - you can't make generalisations from individuals, but you might want to read about Anne Lister as an example of an independent landowner who was a lesbian.
posted by Coobeastie at 6:20 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Treating gender, sexuality and style of dress as independent of one another is useful in the same sense that telling young children things like "air is weightless" can be useful. Most people can't really be expected to think deeply about the issue, and simple conceits like this short-circuit some of the more damaging beliefs that could otherwise form in their minds.

Yes, guess what. These concepts are inter-related in various ways, some of them far from obvious. Much like everything else. Surprise!
posted by tigrrrlily at 6:28 AM on August 3, 2011

Sorry, that sounded way snarkier than I meant it to. I was feeling a headache coming on at the prospect of another sexuality/gender 101 derail. I find the FPP (and the wider subject it explores) fascinating.
posted by tigrrrlily at 6:42 AM on August 3, 2011

This is so interesting! I really wish they taught this in history class. I would have actually learned things. I hated history class and it was years after formal education before I found out I love the subject.
posted by spec80 at 6:49 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Then across the channel there's the Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:52 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

This kind of thing is why I loved looking through the legal records when I was in grad school. You never know what you'll find.
posted by immlass at 7:02 AM on August 3, 2011

I thought teh gays didn't exist until the 20th century?
posted by BenS at 7:11 AM on August 3, 2011

Then across the channel there's the Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont.

Yeah...mentioned in the very first link even of this post, even!
posted by spicynuts at 7:13 AM on August 3, 2011

Boston marriage

You know, if other states hadn't been so quick to allow gay marriage, the term "Boston marriage" could have had a second career.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:26 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's a fun BBC historical drama relating to this, "City of Vice" (bbc)(amazon). It tells the story of the Bow Street Runners, London's first police force, set up by the author Henry Fielding in 1749. One of the episodes is about the Mollies.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:00 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Diana Gabaldon's Lord John Grey series is very well-researched when it comes to the lifestyles and habits of Britain's 18th century queers, lords and otherwise. (For instance, in her notes she lists the sources for the first Miss Thing, a cross-dresser in 18th-century London.)

Oh yeah, and they're good reads.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:01 AM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah...mentioned in the very first link even of this post, even!

The description of the Chevalier in the first link is a poor one that does very little to truly describe the interesting features of hir life. I usually don't like using those weird pronouns, particularly when it's about someone who was born hundreds of years before 'transgender' was a term, but the Chevalier's history makes it very difficult for me to decide which pronoun would be correct.
posted by winna at 9:18 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

When we're discussing situations that existed well before modern conceptions of them existed, and especially when we're talking about identities, it can be a terminological minefield.

Still, if we're going to discuss those situations, we're probably going to do it using modern language. And if we're going to do that, we'll probably have to apply modern conceptions to those situations, even though those terms aren't 100% accurate. That means that terms like "queer", "transgender", "gay" and many others are equally fraught with regard to these histories. The only way to proceed, I think, is to do so carefully.

As the "Princess Seraphina" link shows, her life didn't clearly map onto any of the modern terms: drag queen, transsexual woman, gay. How would she have lived and viewed herself had she lived in our era? The question is kind of pointless to ask, I think. Personally, being trans, I view her as trans, but I can see how there are other ways of construing her life. Like I said, the way to proceed is... carefully.
posted by jiawen at 2:57 PM on August 3, 2011

Actually, Princess Seraphina was pretty clear about how she wanted to live her life, and, coming from San Francisco, I used to interact with self-proclaimed drag queens on a daily basis. These were men by birth who would choose to take on a female persona with a female name - but usually not every waking moment. If you read the transcripts carefully, you will notice that Princess Seraphina was John Cooper at the moment of the theft (the thief stole his breeches, not her petticoat). So while it may be inaccurate to apply modern terminology to a centuries-old situation (since we don't live in their context, it may in fact be impossible not to do so), we should acknowledge that the whole "drag" concept is certainly not a new one, and that the Molly House ladies were dedicated to a lot of the camp that we associate with it. Just listen to the BBC program, they address the issue of camp rather intelligently.
posted by Mooseli at 2:43 AM on August 4, 2011

Yeah...mentioned in the very first link even of this post, even!

Fair cop. In my defense, I read them in reverse order and stopped just before reaching the first. That said, I find the Frenchy more interesting.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:53 PM on August 4, 2011

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