How do the police deal with crossdressers

Two crossdressers shock Victorian England

  • From Erwin In het Panhuis
    April 28, 2020, 5:16 am, 5 comments

Fanny and Stella were the best-known stage names of two (presumably gay) crossdressers who were accused of homosexual acts in 1870 and acquitted in the subsequent trial. A small picture gallery on YouTube gives a good impression of the two young men who were in their early twenties at the time of their arrest. Your scandal is reminiscent of the trial of Oscar Wilde, who a quarter of a century later was also on trial in London for homosexual acts.

The biographies


A plaque in London's Wakefield Street commemorates "Stella & Fanny"

(Thomas) Ernest Boulton (1847-1904) loved to wear women's clothes as a child and was even encouraged by his mother in his imitations of maids and other women. He was urged by his father to take a job at a bank. Instead, however, he trained his extraordinary soprano voice and started a stage career as "Stella". With Arthur Clinton, to whom I will speak later, he lived together like a married couple at times.

Frederick William Park (1846-1881) was the child of a lawyer and initially worked for a London lawyer, but his great passion was also the theater. Boulton and Park quickly became friends - also because of their shared passion for dressing as women. They performed together under their stage names "Fanny and Stella" and enjoyed the attention they received. For several years they participated in London's social life in both women's and men's clothing. However, there were times when they were kicked out if they wore women's clothes, as in the Alhambra Theater. It seems possible that the stage name "Fanny" is based on the literary figure "Fanny Hill". Boulton and Park lived together on Wakefield Street for two years, which is now a plaque commemorating it.

The arrest on April 28, 1870

On the evening of April 28, 1870, Boulton and Park had arranged to meet other men at the Strand Theater in London. A policeman was watching them in front of the theater. When they later left the theater, she and one of her acquaintances, Hugh Alexander Mundell, were arrested. Other men escaped.

The next day they were brought to the Magistrates' Court on Bow Street. It is still one of the most famous courts in England today because in its 266-year history (1740-2006) many famous defendants such as Oscar Wilde had to appear there before their cases were then tried before other or higher courts.

When Boulton and Park appeared before this court on April 29th, they were still wearing the women's clothes from the previous day, which was described in detail in newspaper reports: Stella wore a very low-cut scarlet satin dress with a very full padded bosom ("very full padded bosom "), plus a white scarf, bracelets, a necklace, white gloves and a fan. The court found that both men had been under police surveillance for a year and that their home had also been observed for two weeks. Nearly 1,000 people are said to have gathered in front of the Bow Street court and the newspapers reported extensively on the scandal that was now beginning.


On April 29, 1870, a crowd watched Boulton and Park leave Bow Street court the morning after their arrest (Photo: The Illustrated Police News, undated)

After four months, Boulton and Park were provisionally released - pending trial, which was to take place a few months later. It is surprising that they did not use this time to flee because they were threatened with a prison term of several years. Similar to Oscar Wilde 25 years later, this can be interpreted as a sign of particular courage or particular naivety.

The main trial from May 9, 1871

On May 9, 1871, the trial began before the "High Court of Justice" (in the famous "Palace of Westminster"). The prosecution was led by the Attorney-General, which also reflects the importance of the trial. The indictment was initially directed against eight accused. In addition to Boulton and Park, these included Lord Arthur Clinton, Louis Hurt and John Fisk. Three other defendants had fled before the trial began. The lifestyle of Boulton and Park in particular attracted great interest in the newspapers; their confiscated women's clothes were used as evidence in court.

In England - as in Germany at that time - the criminality of homosexuality was largely restricted to the offense of anal intercourse, which made it extremely difficult to provide evidence. Since 1861 the sentence for this was no longer the death penalty, but a life sentence (for the "Offenses against the Person Act 1861" see Buggery Act). In order to get Fanny and Stella convicted, they had to be proven to have had anal intercourse, because wearing clothes of the opposite sex was not prohibited per se.

On the morning of their arrest, on April 29, 1870, the two men had been discovered by the police doctor Dr. Paul has been examined. He was shocked and appalled by their allegedly gaping anuses and their deformed and elongated penises ("by the gaping anuses and the deformed and elongated penises"), which he regarded as a sign of frequent anal intercourse or of "sodomitic indulgence" ) (see Neil McKenna: Fanny and Stella. The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England, 2013, pp. 310-315, here p. 310). In the process, Dr. Paul claims that he obtained his knowledge of the possibility of verifying anal intercourse from the book by the French forensic doctor Ambroise Tardieu "Etude médico-légale sur les attentats aux mœurs" (1858; chapter "Pédérastie", pp. 111-174). Under the title "The offenses against morality in a state medical relationship" (1860; chapter "Pederasty" pp. 121-186) Tardieu's book has also been published in German and is available online.


The confiscated women's clothes as evidence in court

Boulton's relationship with Lord Arthur Clinton

The trial also examined Boulton's relationship with Lord Arthur Clinton (1840-1870), who was a member of the Liberal Party, son of the Duke of Newcastle and godson of Prime Minister William Gladstone. After Boulton's arrest on April 28, 1870, both Boulton and Clinton were charged with homosexual acts. During the trial it became clear that he and Boulton were considered lovers and that Boulton even had business cards with "Mrs. Clinton" printed on them. The letters between Clinton and Boulton were used as evidence in the trial.

Some of these love letters have now been published in the book "My Dear Boy. Gay love letters through the centuries" (1998). The editor Rictor Norton also quotes some of these letters on his homepage and reports that during the trial a whole day was spent reading more than 1,000 letters, most of which are still kept in archives. Lord Arthur Clinton died on June 18, 1870, the day after receiving his subpoena. Scarlet fever was given as the official cause of death, today suicide is assumed. Because the trial against Boulton and Park ended in an acquittal, Clinton would presumably have been acquitted as well. There was later speculation that he was not dead at all, but had fled abroad with the help of his political connections. However, one woman had pretended to be Lord Arthur Clinton and swindled a lot of money in what was known as a crossdressing fraud case.


Clinton (seated) with Boulton and Park

Two judgments and two acquittals

In the end, the prosecution was unable to prove that Boulton, Park and the other men had committed anal sex and thus committed an offense under the law of the time. The unreliability of some witnesses also worked in favor of the defendants. The court therefore endorsed the defense’s strategy of mistaking it all for a harmless disguise and a joke. The two men had not been seen having sex red-handed, but in a public place where they were dressed as women. The defenders had declared that this does not fit with the usual image of homosexuality, which shuns the light of day. After all, homosexuality is associated with shame, happens secretly and is an ugly thing in general. After several days of negotiations, the two men were acquitted (presumably on May 12, 1871).

The second court case - where it was "only" about wearing women's clothing and no longer about homosexual acts (presumably on June 12, 1871) - is said to have lasted only 53 minutes and also led to acquittals.


Excerpt from the police report with the notification of the court's decision

The Austrian newspapers on the arrest and interrogation (1870)

I have evaluated around 70 articles about Boulton and Park from the Austrian press. The articles shown here in a selection belong to the first attempts from the time of the k and k. Monarchy, at the same time as the founding of the German Empire, to address homosexuality in the press, and are therefore also interesting because of the language used. In addition, they can better than the existing secondary literature not only reflect the chronological processes, but also the moods in society and in court. In order to make both paragraphs clear, I have only linked the respective publication dates, which lead to the respective newspapers with one click. Many articles have been printed word for word in several newspapers.

The newspapers reported that Boulton and Park had been questioned in front of the Bow Street "Police Court" on charges of "fraudulent intent". A crowd of people gathered in front of the court, hoping that they would both "be presented in women's clothes" and were therefore "disappointed" (May 10, 1870). (This information contradicts the above drawing, which was published in "The Illustrated Police News"). Both men should have been released first because the police judge had "not been able to identify any criminal accusations", but they had remained in custody for the time being (May 17, 1870).

Then, according to newspaper reports, the preliminary investigation assumed a "more serious character"; it was now about an "offense of criminal acts of the worst nature" (May 24, 1870). A large article refers to the scandal, which has now been discussed for four weeks. A secret police had observed the two defendants for nine months and found that they lived in a hotel room, where they "received numerous men as visitors". Shortly before their arrest, they attended a ball with 20 men, ten of whom were dressed as women. The article ends with the sentence: "One can hardly imagine a more charming woman's face than Boulton's" (May 26, 1870).

According to the newspapers, the court was now about an "unspeakable crime" and more than 2,000 letters, most of which were addressed by Boulton to Clinton and signed with "Stella Clinton". Two doctors (in contrast to the above-mentioned Dr. Paul) had found "no abnormal condition" during the physical (rectal) examination. The organizer of a ball had rejected every "dirty imposition" (June 2, 1870). After the preliminary investigation, the men were charged with "unlawful association and lure to an unnatural crime." The court refused a deposit (June 3, 1870).

A large article even stressed that in the face of this scandal, "all questions of domestic and foreign politics would take a back seat". Boulton and Park are accused of wearing women's clothes for "criminal purposes" and of having "played the bad game" for some time (June 5, 1870). The process was extended to six other men in women's clothing (June 13, 1860). The co-defendant Lord Arthur Clinton died of scarlet fever at the age of 30, although the newspapers pointed out that he had previously stressed his innocence (June 24, 1870).

In July 1870, it was reported that the "more serious charge" had been withdrawn, the trial had been reassigned to a smaller court, and the two men released on bail (July 9, 1870), which according to other sources did not happen until after the first trial in May 1871. After that, the newspapers apparently found nothing to report on this trial for six months.

The Austrian newspapers on the two trials (1871)

After this break, the start of the trial, scheduled for February 1871, was reported (January 22, 1871) and later that the trial against the "pseudo-women" - which had started on May 9 - would be continued with a significant delay. The public interest declined sharply, even if the treatment of 16 silk dresses of the accused still led to general "cheerfulness" (May 15, 1871).

The interrogations of witnesses were also described in a large article. A suitor had given both men roses, but also emphasized that he had not considered either of them "decent ladies". Boulton and Clinton were considered a married couple in their environment and Boulton even had business cards as "Mrs. Clinton". When he kissed another man, Clinton reacted with "angry jealousy". Her letters were formulated ambiguously and in some of them they addressed each other with the most tender phrases such as "sweet heart" and "adored darling". Clinton's letters later disappeared from official custody. Even the public prosecutor had emphasized that it would be a relief if the "most terrible suspicion were unfounded". Because there is little evidence that the "criminal purpose was actually carried out", the verdict (probably from May 12th) was acquittal. The wearing of women's clothes would be the subject of a later trial (May 19, 1871).

The big article "Die Mannweiber" emphasizes that the two men were not guilty of a crime (in the sense of anal intercourse), but of a "shameful excess against public decency" (by wearing women's clothes). Because of the first-mentioned crime, an acquittal was obtained after six days of trial (May 28, 1871). Because Boulton and Park had admitted to the "lighter offense" of wearing women's clothes in the first trial, they were brought to trial again on June 6, 1871 and - apparently on the same day - were also acquitted. This ended a scandalous process "which for many months caused great excitement in London and all of England" (June 11, 1871). According to a report on June 7, the second acquittal was obtained because the defendants paid a "guarantee for their proper conduct for a period of two years" (June 13, 1871).

A year later, a newspaper reported that the life of Boulton and Park had found "applause and imitation" in Berlin: a blond, feminine man had "unabashedly" moved in public in women's clothes. The newspaper author said that maybe it was just about having fun in disguise, but maybe also about "criminal plans or inclinations". He was chased by several men, but managed to get to safety. The newspaper described this as a "crude lesson" which, however, "could not do him any harm" (August 19, 1872).

Boulton and Park in "The Sin of Sodom" (1881)

The anonymously published book "The Sins of the Cities of the Plain" (1881) is one of the first works of homosexual pornographic literature. A meritorious German edition appeared under the title "The Sin of Sodom. Memories of a Victorian Strichers" in 1995 in the series "Bibliothek rosa Winkel". I quote from this edition below.

In this novel, the real characters Boulton, Park and Clinton appear as fictional characters. The first-person narrator Jack Saul, who calls himself "Miss Eveline", tells how he met Boulton ("Miss Laura") and Park dressed as women at a ball in Haxell's Hotel and later had orgies with them. Boulton is dressed as a "lady" at this ball, and Jack Saul "saw that Lord Arthur was very fond of her". During the ball, Boulton and Lord Arthur retreat to private apartments and the narrator reports how he sees and hears everything through a keyhole to a connecting room. Clinton undresses Boulton and asks him if he is a hermaphrodite. Then oral sex and rimming are described. Clinton "started a real ass fuck and they both indicated they were enjoying it very much".

Only later, when everyone is back in the ballroom, will the first-person narrator Boulton be introduced personally. They arrange to meet for the next day and there is SM games and sex with Boulton and Park (p. 50-68). At a later orgy with newly hired pages, Clinton is excused for another date.The foreplay consists of three naked and sexually aroused young pages leapfrogging who are described as "Adonisse". At the end, the narrator emphasizes that he was "never before and never after" (pp. 73-80).

In the afterword, the translator and editor Wolfram Setz rightly points out that the book is not only pornographic literature, but also a "narrative source from which we learn how homosexual desire was lived in Victorian England in the 1870s" (p 119). Wolfram Setz also goes into the passages on Boulton (pp. 121-130), in which the pornographic novel describes in detail the actions that the court could not prove the two men did in reality.

Further reading: "Fanny and Stella" (2013)


Neil McKenna's book "Fanny and Stella" (2013)

Neil McKenna's book "Fanny and Stella. The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England" (2013), which is only available in English, goes into much more detail than my article on the background to the scandal process. On the back cover you can see the police picture (see above) of the arrest on April 28, 1870, while the blurb outlines the scandal that built on it. The promotional text states that the book, with its politicians, prostitutes, drag queens, doctors and detectives, is "a Victorian peep show that reveals the astounding underbelly of 19th-century London. [The book is] tragic and comical, meticulously researched and colorfully written ".

Unfortunately, sometimes the book is really just a "peep show". This can be seen, for example, in the title of the chapter "Monstrous erections" (p. 88-101), which actually only deals with the updos of Fanny and Stella - that is, the monstrous structure of colored and false hair ("monstrous erections of dyed and false hair ", p. 96). I find the chapter "Lord Arthur's Wife" (pp. 138-147), in which the author describes how Stella fell in love with and moved to Lord Arthur Clinton, much more convincing. Unfortunately, the course of action can rarely be clearly dated using this book.

An exception to this is an excerpt from the opening speech of the public prosecutor's office on May 9, 1871, through which the defendants were to be discredited by stating that they powdered their necks and made up their faces ("powdering their necks, painting their faces", p . 295). For his research, Neil McKenna evaluated contemporary British newspaper reports and also viewed the trial files and letters (p. 361). Neil McKenna describes in two interviews on Youtube what particularly appealed to him about this story (8:49 min .; 3:53 min.).

The theater adaptations by Lewton (2008) and Chandler (2015)

The story of Boulton and Park has not yet been implemented on film, but has been staged at least three times for the theater. The first play, entitled "Lord Arthur's Bed", is by the English playwright Martin Lewton (premiered May 14, 2008), who interweaves the story of a civil partnership in 2008 with Stella's "marriage" to Lord Arthur Clinton in 1868. The headline of a Brighton newspaper, "Sexually Explicit Play to be Staged in Church," appears to have sold out the piece throughout its life.

The second play, entitled "Fanny and Stella", was written by the Scottish writer Glenn Chandler (world premiere: May 15, 2015). Chandler has prepared the story of Boulton and Park on the basis of court files and contemporary reports and staged it as a musical comedy, with which he playfully mocks the hypocrisy of Victorian society. Three different short excerpts (Youtube: 3:04; 3:10 and 2:43) give a good impression of this musical comedy.


Impression of the play by Glenn Chandler (2015)

Bartlett's theater adaptation (2016)

The third play called "Stella" is by Neil Bartlett (world premiere: May 28, 2016), who had previously published several pages on Boulton and Park in a book about Oscar Wilde (Neil Bartlett: Who was that man ?, 1988/1993, pp. XV, 128-143). There are several interviews on YouTube that can give an impression of the theater rehearsals and how up-to-date Bartlett is watching the play (YouTube: 2:32 min., 2:33 min. And 1:01 min.). In another interview he tries to trace the line of radical drag performers from the Victorian era to the present day (Youtube: 4:34 min.). The Guardian (May 18, 2016) gave Bartlett an interview under the heading "Gender is a journey, not a destination" (= "Gender is a journey, not a destination"). According to Bartlett, we consider gender fluidity a modern issue, but the Boulton documents in particular remind him that humans have always had the courage to view gender as an experiment. Boulton therefore - so Bartlett - challenged not only Victorian values, but also our own contemporary ideas about gender determination.

What remains

While researching the trial against Boulton and Park, I came across some contradictions, including the dating. These inconsistencies in details do not change how exciting the sources on the court case are. I was not aware that even before Oscar Wilde's conviction for homosexuality, the newspapers discussed homosexuality indirectly but in detail. Much can be learned from this scandal about how society and the newspapers handled a lawsuit when they were presented with a perfect scandal in the Victorian era.

Spontaneously, the acquittal would probably be interpreted as a happy ending, which, however, would not be enough. In contrast to Oscar Wilde, the men were not convicted, but their previous social life in London was destroyed in one fell swoop. Park moved to the USA with his brother Harry and died there in 1881. From then on Boulton called himself "Ernest Byne" and was able to build on old successes as a female impersonator in New York. The other defendants also had to give up their previous social lives. Some of them fled abroad before the trial, and Lord Arthur Clinton presumably even killed himself. With a slightly different evidence, Boulton and Park would have been jailed for the rest of their lives. Even with the acquittal in court, the trial of 1871 is not a success story, just a small piece of the mosaic in a terrible story of persecution.

However, the surviving sources also speak of self-confidence and courage, which pleasantly sets this criminal case apart from other criminal cases. I think it's absolutely right to celebrate the two men as "drag pioneers" today; However, to call them "early advocates of gay rights" is a bit incongruous and overpowering (on both aspects, see the online article "Celebrating Ernest 'Stella' Boulton: Victorian Drag Pioneer", 2016).

The story of Boulton and Park offers different forms of access: anyone interested in their biographies historically has to relate them to London's male-homosexual subculture. The feminine element plays a special role and is in the tradition of the "Molly Houses", a term that described meeting places for homosexual men in England in the 18th and 19th centuries and was a special phenomenon of London's homosexual subculture.

Some see a direct line here to the two fictional characters Emily and Florence from the British sketch show "Little Britain", who, as British transvestites in historical-looking costumes, constantly shout "I am a lady".


Emily Howard and Florence in "Little Britain"

Since the search for self-realization is timeless, it is easy to find a personal approach and ask yourself what the biography of Boulton and Park means to you after 150 years. Neil Bartlett has found a comprehensible private approach, who emphasizes in the interview with the Guardian (May 18, 2016) cited above that he sees parallels between Stella’s life and his own because he too had to learn how disregarding rules can be dangerous. Thirty years ago, he put on a dress, took to the streets, and received a death threat. That night he created his play "Stella".

A word on my own behalf
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