Prince Eddy and the Homosexual Underworld by Theo Aronson (2013). A review by John Cook

Prince Eddy 1

 

I decided to tackle this offering as I knew that Jack Saul would be ‘on the menu’ for this meeting and I seem to have read my fair share on late Victorian homosexual scandals over the years (whether that term applies at that time is debatable). I must say that I think that the Jack Saul book gives a far better insight in the daily lives of homosexual men at that time – and there lies the rub. I think it is very difficult for we contemporaries to put themselves into the life space of those times. Apart from trial records and occasional crumbs found in personal correspondences of the times, there is very little to go on. Even then, I can see problems. Given the then taste for romanticism and the strange patterns of child raising that saw boys often closeted in exclusively male contexts for much of their youth and adolescence, it is little wonder that evidence of ‘crushes’ can be found even the lives of apparent Public School hearties who went on to marriage and careers. Likewise, given the prevalence of ‘homosexual’ behavior in young working class men, their availability (telegram boys) at Cleveland Street is hardly surprising. Even the references to past ‘homosexual’ kings have little relevance.

 

Into this mix goes two other available topics. Prince Eddy was an ultimate high flyer who was clearly somewhat odd (different) in his manner and behavior which was bound to attract public interest and some comment. I am almost inclined to pity the poor child born into such expectations. Add to this the classic Victorian murder mystery of Jack the Ripper and the stage is set for some extraordinarily wild accusations to be made. The one good thing about this book, is its systematic demolition of any connection between the two. The only problem is that the author is much less effective in dealing with the twin issues of the sexuality of the Prince and his involvement in the Cleveland Street affair.

 

Given the fluidity of human sexuality (Aronson goes all Freudian on this), I would conclude that Eddy may have had some leanings in the direction of male-male sexuality. There are plenty of background possibilities especially in his University period (the Apostles) but much of what else is raised has absolutely no material evidence to support it. The author makes much of the known sexuality of important persons in his milieu but again this is largely guilt by association. Even Eddy’s no doubt well-intentioned interest in improving the life and welfare of boys is seen as open to interpretation as being potentially unhealthy. What should he have shown an interest in? – the welfare of caterpillars?

 

I note his birth condition and the possibility of slow development exacerbated by his upbringing by a pleasant yet very protective mother (pace Freud) where a range of conditions were disinclined to promote more outward social growth. He was clearly inclined to seek pleasantries in social discourse without being particularly productive (he writes a good standard Victorian letter assuming that they were all his own work). Much is made of his appearance and physique which I regard as rubbish along with his interest in clothing (pace Beau Brummel and George IV neither of whom came up short in the womanizing department). Once again, consider the clothing interests of the well-to-do in Victorian and our own times – I don’t really see much difference.

 

Was Eddy somewhat homosexual in orientation? – quite possibly. Was he the reason for the apparent shut-down of the Cleveland Street brothel case? Just possibly but rather unlikely. I believe there were plenty of other reasons for the clamp down – involvement of others, desire to shut down something that might spread to higher up government personages or nobility. I just don’t see that anything like a strong case was made for Eddy’s direct involvement.

 

I have visited his tomb in the Albert Chapel at Windsor with its over the top high Victorian décor (brilliant technically, though) and his (again) technically superb funerary image and my inclination is to let the poor sod rest.

 

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