100 Heroes: William Lygon

The gay man who became a powerful politician but was blackmailed because of his sexuality.

100 Heroes: William Lygon

William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp, was a British Liberal politician.

He was Governor of New South Wales between 1899 and 1901, a member of the Liberal administrations of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and H. H. Asquith between 1905 and 1915, and leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords between 1924 and 1931.

When political enemies threatened to make public his homosexuality he resigned from office to go into exile.

Lord Beauchamp is often assumed to be the model for the character Lord Marchmain in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited.

Early life

Born in 1872, Beauchamp was educated at Eton College and Christ Church, University of Oxford.

Beauchamp succeeded his father in the earldom in 1891 at the age of 18.

Political career

Beauchamp was appointed to the post of Governor of New South Wales in May 1899. He returned to the UK in 1900.

In 1902, Beauchamp joined the Liberal Party.

When the Liberals came to power under Henry Campbell-Bannerman in December 1905, Beauchamp was appointed Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms and was sworn of the Privy Council in January 1906.

He was the Liberal leader in the House of Lords from 1924 to 1931.

While serving in Parliament, Beauchamp voiced his support for a range of progressive measures such as workmen’s compensation, an expansion in rural housing provision, an agricultural minimum wage, improved safety standards and reduced working hours for miners.

Sexuality and blackmail

In 1931, Beauchamp was “outed” as a homosexual.

Although Beauchamp’s homosexuality was an open secret in parts of high society and one that his political opponents had refrained from using against him despite its illegality.

He had numerous affairs at Madresfield and Walmer Castle, with his partners ranging from servants to socialites, including local men.

In 1930, while on a trip to Australia, it became common knowledge in London society that one of the men escorting him, Robert Bernays, a member of the Liberal Party, was a lover.

It was reported to King George V and Queen Mary by Beauchamp’s Tory brother-in-law, the Duke of Westminster, who hoped to ruin the Liberal Party through Beauchamp, as well as Beauchamp personally due his private dislike of Beauchamp.

The King had a personal interest in the case, as his sons Henry and George had visited Madresfield in the past.

After sufficient evidence had been gathered by the Duke, Beauchamp was made an offer to separate from his wife, retire on a pretence and then leave the country. Beauchamp accepted and left the country immediately, living a nomadic life in the global “gay” hotspots of the time. There was no public scandal, but Lord Beauchamp resigned all his offices.

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