Part 1: "A Noble Soul I Knew and Loved"

King Karl.jpg

King Karl


On October 24, 1888, the sensation-mongering New York Herald republished a dispatch from its European edition. It was the first report of a "scandal" in Württemberg, a state in southwest Germany, involving Karl Friedrich Alexander, the third King of Württemberg.

Three American male "adventurers" and "spiritualists" were said to be "lavishly" disposing of the monarch's money.[1]

"The story is so sensational that it reminds one of the late unfortunate Bavarian King Ludwig," said the Herald, a hint at the sexual character of King Karl's relationship with the Americans.

Ludwig, who had been declared insane before drowning mysteriously in 1886, just two years earlier, had never married and had spent a fortune on his beloved Richard Wagner. Gossip about Ludwig's interest in men was much discussed privately and hinted at publicly.

In the third year of Ludwig's reign, on August 29, 1867, just before Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was to publicly defend the love of "Urnings" (men who had sex with men) before the Association of German Jurists, the president of that group had spontaneously interjected: "May the King of Bavaria [Ludwig II] soon enjoy marital bliss, because it is the ultimate happiness of men." This interruption may have been no irony of fate -- if the president had gotten wind of Ulrichs' upcoming request, the jurist was implicitly associating Ludwig and Urnings.[2]

Continuing its 1888 report, The Herald added: an American named Jackson is "one of the three gentlemen ... now playing Piers Gaveston parts in Germany" -- another euphemism, obvious to those who knew their English history.

Gaveston had been loved by England's King Edward II, as Christopher Marlowe's play about the monarch recalled. King Edward had been slain in 1327, as a contemporary reported, "with a hot brooche [stake] put through the secret place posteriale [his anus]," a punishment designed to fit his crime.[3] Taken literally, Americans "playing Piers Gaveston parts" with King Karl were performing the insertive role in anal intercourse.

"'There are certain things ... difficult to discuss in the columns of a newspaper, '" said The Herald on October 27, quoting a German paper's complaint: though "stories 'are bandied about from one mouth to another,' to 'see them in black and white all people are afraid.'"

Strict restrictions determined what could be printed in Germany about the King of Württemberg. But that nation's newspapers, and the American papers, said a great deal by innuendo. Their allusions constituted a language of indirection, a particular, coded way of speaking, as much as a way of silencing.[4]


Ludwig II, King of Bavaria

The same Herald focused on the "strange stories" circulating in Germany about King Karl and "spiritualistic seances" presided over by the upstart "Baron Von Jackson, of Steubenville, Ohio." The rise of Richard Mason Jackson from poor, humble origins in Ohio to the aristocratic "Baron Von" in Germany, can be pieced together from the American newspapers, which quote his relatives, friends, and acquaintances.[5] Other sources confirm many details.

Jackson's father, reportedly a cousin of General Stonewall Jackson, had died "at the very moment of his son's birth," in 1846.[6] Raised by his widowed mother on a farm in East Springfield, Ohio, Jackson, at age twelve, had moved with her to nearby Steubenville, and there studied the piano, developing an "ardent desire to become a great musician."

At sixteen, unable to finish his courses at Mount Union College, in Alliance, Ohio, Jackson returned to Steubenville, and taught music at Beatty's Seminary.[7] He tuned pianos, became organist in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and traveled often to the Pittsburgh opera. "There was not a grand opera" that Jackson "did not come over to attend," a nephew recalled. Jackson formed a friendship with another Steubenville youth, a popular tenor, Will H. MacDonald, and, subsidized by relatives, traveled with MacDonald to Germany, to study at the Stuttgart Conservatory of Music.[8]

When Jackson injured his arm he was forced to give up piano, and took a job, in August 1876, as assistant to the American Consul in Stuttgart, a Vice-Consul position he held for five years, until May 1881.[9]

Richard M. Jackson.jpeg

The "handsome, young American, with his pleasant smile and winsome manner," reported The Herald, while walking daily through a Stuttgart park, "soon attracted the notice of the King," also a daily stroller. The "acquaintance thus formed grew into a friendship of the most intimate character."[10]

The intimacies of men with men began to exude, in these late-nineteenth-century reports, a nasty odor of gold digging, exploitation, and, sometimes, an illicit eros. In the late-nineteenth-century sex was beginning to occupy a new, prominent place in modern lives and minds.

The Herald continued: The monarch had asked Jackson, in 1881, to join his household as a "confidential friend and companion," the American had accepted, renounced his United States citizenship, and had been made a Baron. He had added "Von" to his last name, and become "a favorite of the King of Württemberg."

A large apartment in the palace, adjoining the royal residence, had been assigned to Jackson, and "a private entrance" was "constructed connecting directly with the royal apartments." A "handsome income" and "gorgeous" gifts were "bestowed upon him." The King had also added the American to his will, "so that should his benefactor die Jackson will still be immensely rich."

Because of his intimacy with King Karl, honors were reportedly showered on Jackson by the kings of Holland and Saxony, the Emperor of Austria, the Czar of Russia, and, even, the Pope, with whom he had an audience. After Jackson saved the lives of three men whose boat had overturned, King Karl made him a "Privy Councilor," and Jackson was called "'Excellency,' an honor seldom attained by any but the royal blood, and then late in life."

"Ugly Revelations"
The American's appointment to court had finally caused a "political furor," reported the Herald, and in October 1888, a Munich paper had first daringly published a story headed "Ugly Revelations" -- about upstart Americans in King Karl's court. But, "safely entrenched in the King's favor," said the Herald of the Ohio-born Jackson, "the Buckeye boy withstood the shock of adverse criticism."

An account of Jackson's intimacy with King Karl, headed "His American Favorite," published in the New York Sun, denied that King Karl was "a second mad Louis of Bavaria" (another Ludwig reference), that Jackson was a "spiritualist" and "adventurer," and that he and the two other Americans were "male Dis Debars" (a misprint for "Dis Paters," gods of the underworld).[11] The Ohioan, stressed the Sun, was the "son of a poor farmer" and "has become a noble of the German empire" -- the American rags-to-riches fantasy -- with a twist.

Jackson "has acquired over the King a marvelous influence," added the Sun, and was also rumored to be "deeply in love with the Grand Duchess Vera," who was said to "warmly" reciprocate his love. Jackson's influence with King and Duchess caused no hint of surprise -- the paper still expected no exclusive love interest in one sex or another.[12]

The relation between Jackson and Vera amounted to a "definite liaison," said the Sun, their apartments were near each other, "and the two lovers are often seen together," although "marriage between them would be out of the question" due to their different class origins. And, though King Karl could raise Jackson to Vera's rank, he "realizes that the marriage would separate the Baron from him, and to this he will not consent." Jackson had also pledged not to marry "in the King's lifetime." The love triangle hinted vaguely at a proper order of intimacy contravened.

Jackson's elevation to "Vice Consul," explained the Sun, was due to the same personal characteristics, which "lifted him into kingly favor, almost as in a fairy tale." The first known use of "fairy" (in reference, specifically, to one effeminate male prostitute) occurred four years later, in 1892, so the Sun's use may be a double entendre.[13] But "fairy tale" did also name this paper's narrative, a fable of rising from obscure to famous and, in this case, infamous.

An "American lady" who lived in Stuttgart reportedly recalled Jackson as "the life of the American colony," and "the funniest man I ever knew," with a "quaint," "droll" way of talking. She added: "Men and women and particularly children liked him."

Jackson had been appointed "Reader to the King," added the Sun, which, it explained, is "something of a euphemism. It means ... the King's companion, one whom he can meet in ordinary human intercourse without formalities." That intercourse had led the King to bestow on Jackson "rare works of art," and to give him diamonds, and the American was "the man who has the most influence with the King."

Dr. Morrison's Defense
Another New York paper, The Star, quoted a defense of Richard Mason Jackson offered by a nephew, Dr. Morrison, of Steubenville: "It has been sneeringly said 'the King of Wurttemberg fell in love with Jackson.' I don't see very well how he could help doing that. Mace was of the kindliest disposition that you could imagine, gentle almost as a girl, but so manly in bearing as to claim the admiration of all who carne in contact with him. His weakness used to be his love for flowers."[14]

Calling the manly but flower-loving Jackson "gentle as a girl," the doctor had no sense, apparently, that he was casting suspicion on his nephew's love life. Gentle Jackson's deviation from the manly then carried no obvious hint of deviation in sexuality. For the Ohio doctor a whiff of gender nonconformity carried no scent of sexual transgression, though it may have for the big-city reporter and some urban readers.

Jackson had saved the King from snowballs thrown by some intoxicated students, added Dr. Morrison, and the monarch had then become "perfectly infatuated with Mace." When the King heard Jackson play the piano "his infatuation ... became complete." The King had then insisted that Jackson "consent to assist him in managing the realm." Neither the King's "infatuation," nor the Ohio pianist's call to manage a kingdom was considered odd by his trusting relative.

The King called Jackson "'My dear bosom friend, Jack, '" the Ohioan had written home to relatives, and Dr. Morrison was sure that his nephew could not help it if the King did fall in love with him. Falling in love, for the doctor, included no connotation of eros--love was still one thing, sex another, a dominant nineteenth-century conception.

It was Woodcock, another of the Americans in Stuttgart, who was causing Jackson “all this trouble,” declared Dr. Morrison, probably echoing his nephew. In a recent letter Jackson had mentioned the schemes of "jealous Americans."




This article was written as a chapter for Katz's book Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality [2001] but was deleted to reduce the book's size. It is an example of original scholarship published for the first time on OutHistory. We hope that other scholars will contribute unpublished and out-print historical articles and book sections.

  1. "A Stuttgart Scandal," New York Herald, October 24, 1888, 7:2. For help with research on this essay Jonathan Ned Katz is deeply grateful to Günter Dworek, Manfred Herzer, Hubert Kennedy, James Steakley, and the late Joel Honig. Garde's Jonathan to Gide, 617-19, drew Katz's attention to this tale, along with one of his sources: Mayne, Intersexes, 239. Garde also lists Hirschfeld's Homosexualität, 665. 665. Clearly, several generations of queer researchers have helped unearth this amazing tale.
  2. On Ludwig II, see Kennedy, Life, 106, 110, 179, 209-10; and Garde, 619-21, for an early popular account.
  3. On Edward II and Piers Gaveston see the entry on Marlowe by Summers, in Summers, ed., Gay, 465-66; Hyde, Love, 36; Garde, 205-10.
  4. "Prince and Parvenu," New York Herald, October 27, 1888, 7:1. A very rough Google translation of the entry in the German Wikipedia on King Karl I has a section on his homosexuality which mentions a first "intimate", "heart friendship" with his adjutant general, Baron Wilhelm von Spitzemberg, and the intimacy with Richard Jackson. It also mentions the king's intimacy with Charles Woodcock and his friend Donald Hendry, and a later intimacy with "the machinist of the Court Theatre", William George, a relationship that lasted until the death of the king. See:
  5. Jackson's life is detailed in: "Prince and Parvenu," Herald, October 27, 1888, 7:1; that story also quotes an earlier, similar story about Jackson and King Charles, from the Herald of August 28, 1881; and from a correspondent of the Boston Herald, in 1882. Information about Jackson also appears in the New York Herald on October 31, 1888, 7:1. The most detailed stories about Jackson appear in the New York Sun, November 4, 1888, 4:5 and the New York Star, November 12, 1888, 5:1. The Steubenville Weekly Gazette, November 9, 1888, mentions Jackson and having published a story about him on November 3, 1888, from the Cincinnati Enquirer; it also reproduced a story from the New York World of November 4, 1888. A copy of the Steubenville Gazette story was sent to Katz by Sandy Day, Local Historian, Schiappa Library, Steubenville, Ohio, for which he is grateful.
  6. The story of Jackson's father's death at the moment of Jackson's birth was presented as a curiosity, with no special implications; see "Story of Jackson's Life," in "Prince and Parvenu, New York Herald, October 27, 1888. Jackson's year of birth is indicated by the 1850 United States Census of Jefferson County, Ohio, which lists Richard M. Jackson, age four, and Matilda Jackson, age 19, as two of the five children of Elizabeth Jackson. If Jackson was four in 1850, he was born in 1846; if Matilda was 19 in 1850, she was born in 1831. The 1870 U.S. Census of Jefferson County, Ohio, lists Mason Jackson, Music Teacher, age 24, and Matilda Jackson, age 37. If Richard Mason was 24 in 1870, he was born in 1846 (confirming the earlier census); if Matilda was 37 in 1870, she was born in 1833 (disconfirming the earlier census). For copies of the censuses, Katz thanks Sandy Day, Local Historian, Schiappa Library, Steubenville, Ohio.
  7. In 1829, the Reverend Charles C. Beatty and his wife Hetty Elizabeth Davis Beatty opened "the first seminary for young ladies in what had been known as the Northwest Territory"; quoted from 20th Century History, 390-91, data sent to Katz by Sandy Day, Local Historian, Schiappa Library, Steubenville, Ohio.
  8. Jackson and William H. MacDonald, a noted singer, are mentioned in Sinclair, Pioneer, 131. This is a series of sketches of early Steubenville and Jefferson County families, written in the 1930s and published by The Steubenville Herald-Star. It was sent to Katz by Sandy Day, Local Historian, Schiappa Library, Steubenville, Ohio.
  9. "Lists of U.S. Consular Officers by Post, 1879-1939," Vol. 21 of 23, NARS A-i, Entry 801, Stuttgart, Württemberg," RG 59 General Records of the U.S. Department of State; information sent to Katz by Kenneth Heger, Archivist, National Archives, College Park, Maryland, October 15, 1997.
  10. "Prince and Parvenu," New York Herald, October 27, 1888, dispatch from Pittsburgh, dated October 26.
  11. "His American Favorite," New York Sun, November 4, 1888, 7:5.
  12. Is Vera deployed in this story to save Jackson from suspicion of illicit intimacy with the King? It's not clear.
  13. An effeminate male prostitute called the "Fairy" is identified in 1892 testimony about The Slide, in New York City (see chapter 20 of Jonathan Ned Katz's Love Stories), but "Fairy" is used there as the name of one individual, not as a general name for effeminate men who have sex with men. For an 1896 use of "fairy" referring to effeminate men who have sex with men, see Katz, Gay American History, 44, 575, n48, quoting Scott, "Sex and Art" (1896), 216. Lighter, I, 718, following the Oxford English Dictionary, incorrectly gives the year of Scott's publication as 1895.
  14. New York Star, November 12, 1888, 5:1.