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Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury (1661-1723)

Lord Cornbury

New York Historical Society. Portrait, once said to be Lord Cornbury in female dress, but that assertion is questionable since almost nothing is known about the origins or subject of the picture.

"that peculiar but detestable magot"

Edward Hyde, 3rd Earl of Clarendon (November 28, 1661 – March 31, 1723), styled Viscount Cornbury between 1674 and 1709, was Governor of New York and New Jersey between 1701 and 1708. He is known for the claims that he dressed in women's clothes while serving as Governor (allegations that are contested by historians).

Three American colonists, all members of a faction opposed to Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, wrote four letters between 1707 and 1709 discussing a rumor that Cornbury wore women's clothes.(1)

One of the colonists, Lewis Morris, a bitter political foe of Cornbury, wrote to New York's secretary of state. Morris noted that Governor Cornbury had acquired the habit of dressing in women's clothes, and testified to the good character of a suggested replacement.(2)

Here is what Morris actually wrote on February 9, 1707 of Cornbury's suggested replacement:

He is an honest man and the reverse of my Lord Cornbury; of whom I must say something which perhaps nobody will think worth their while to tell, and that is, his dressing publicly in woman's clothes every day, and putting a stop to all public business while he is pleasing himself with that peculiar but detestable magot [caprice].

Interpretation

Morris, significantly, made no mention of sodomy or any other sexual practice in his accusation against Cornbury. There is no known document suggesting that American colonists associated cross-dressing, effeminacy, and male-male sodomy, though in some English cities at the time such a link was beginning to be made.Citation Needed

Since Cornbury was apparently one of the most corrupt and hated English colonial officials it would seem that, given his cross-dressing, a hint of sodomy would have soon clouded his name-if such an association had occurred to his many American enemies.

Other Contemporary Quotations about Cornbury?

Please add quotations and full citations.

Cornbury is said to have delivered a "flowery panegyric on his wife's ears" after which he invited every gentleman present to feel precisely how shell-like they were; to have misappropriated £1500 meant for the defense of New York Harbor, and, scandalously, to have dressed in women's clothing and lurked "behind trees to pounce, shrieking with laughter, on his victims".(3)


Cornbury is also reported to have opened the 1702 New York Assembly clad in a hooped gown and an elaborate headdress and carrying a fan, imitative of the style of Queen Anne. When his choice of clothing was questioned, he replied, "You are all very stupid people not to see the propriety of it all. In this place and occasion, I represent a woman (the Queen), and in all respects I ought to represent her as faithfully as I can." Citation Needed


It is also said that in August, 1707, when his wife Lady Cornbury died, His High Mightiness (as he preferred to be called) attended the funeral again dressed as a woman. It was shortly after this that mounting complaints from colonists prompted the Queen to remove Cornbury from office.(4)

Historians Discuss Cornbury

Nineteenth century historian George Bancroft said that Cornbury illustrated the worst form of the English aristocracy's "arrogance, joined to intellectual imbecility". Citation Needed

Later historians characterize him as a "degenerate and pervert who is said to have spent half of his time dressed in women's clothes", a "fop and a wastrel". Citation Needed

In 1901, H. G. Ashmead wrote of Cornbury's cross-dressing:

When maudlingly drunk it was a common pastime with his lordship— forgetful of his age and the office he held—to attire himself in quilted petticoats, panier hoopes and the other accessories of dress then worn by women of fashion, and thus arrayed to premenade Broadway. Woe betide the unfortunate watchman who placed his hand upon the sacred person of the Governor, who reeled along the sidewalk, believing that he was then satirizing the extravagances and absurdities in dress of the other sex. Certain it is, he afforded amusement for the children, who trooped after him, until his lordship would return to the fort and be shut in from the gaze of the vulgar herd.(5)

In 2000, Patricia U. Bonomi re-examined the assertions about Cornbury's cross-dressing, and found them to be based on very little evidence. Three colonials, all members of a faction opposed to Cornbury, wrote four letters between 1707 and 1709 discussing a rumor that Lord Cornbury wore women's clothes. There are also some early documents that might be cited to support charges of having taken bribes or misappropriated government funds, but there the contemporary evidence ends.(6)

 

References

  1. Patricia U. Bonomi, Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in British America (Durham, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000). Jonathan Ned Katz would like this OutHistory entry to quote all four references between 1707 and 1709, and to provide citations for them. Citation Needed "Cornbury: The Queen's Governor, a play by William M. Hoffman and Anthony Holland, opened at the Hudson Guild Theater, in New York City, on January 29, 2009. Under the heading, "The Man Who Would Be Queen," it was reviewed in the New York Times by Charles Isherwood on January 30, 2009, pages C1, C3.
  2. Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), p. 125-27, citing Edmund B. O'Callaghan, ed., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York (Albany: Weed, Parsons, 1855), vol. 5, pp. 38; Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (NY: Crowell, 1976), p. 570 n.23. Since Katz's two works were published more research has been published about Cornbury. See, principally: Bonomi, Patricia U. Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in British America (Durham, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000) ISBN-10: 0807848697. Also see: Ross, Shelley, Fall From Grace (NY: Random House, 1988). ISBN-10: 0517198304. A biography of Lord Cornbury appears on Wikipedia: Edward Hyde, 3rd Earl of Clarendo, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Hyde,_3rd_Earl_of_Clarendon#Reputation
  3. Shelley, Ross, Fall From Grace (NY: Random House, 1988), p.4. What is the original evidence for all the quotes? Let's quote the originals on OutHistory. Citation Needed
  4. Ross, p.4-7.
  5. H. G. Ashmead, "The Man in Leather Stockings [Cornbury]." Proceedings of the Meeting of the Delaware County Historical Society, Held in Media, February 7, 1901, pages 172-174.
  6. Patricia U. Bonomi, Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in British America (Durham, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000). Let's quote all four references between 1707 and 1709. Citation Needed

 

Bibliography

Ashmead, H. G. "The Man in Leather Stockings [Cornbury]." Proceedings o the Meeting of the Delaware County Historical Society, Held in Media, February 7, 1901, pages 172-174.

Bonomi, Patricia U. Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in British America (Durham, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

O'Callaghan, Edmund B. ed. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York (Albany: Weed, Parsons, 1855), vol. 5, pp. 38.

Ross, Shelly. Fall From Grace (NY: Random House, 1988).