Part I: the claims
Part II: the actual evidence
The only detailed biography of Edward Hyde is:
- Patricia U. Bonomi. The Lord Cornbury Scandal The Politics of Reputation
in British America. The University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
She had earlier published articles that became part of the book: in The
William and Mary Quarterly
and in the Times literary Supplement
What is the actual evidence, or what passes as such from the 18th
During Edward Hyde’s governorship, three colonists wrote letters that alleged
that the governor did transvest.
returned to Albany County, New York in 1706 after
three years in London. He wrote to the Treasury office the next year that he had
heard such extraordinary stories
“that I durst not attempt to give your honour
an account of them as not being possible to be believed … Tis said that he is
wholly addicted to his pleasure … his dressing himself in womens Cloths Commonly
[every] morning is so unaccountable that if hundreds of spectators did not dayly
see him it would be incredible.” (p158)
a political nemesis of Hyde, wrote two letters of
The first, dated from internal evidence to 1707:
“the Scandal of his life is
… he rarely fails of being dresst in Women’s Cloaths every day, and almost half
his time is spent that day, and seldome misses it on a Sacrament day, was in
that Garb when his dead Lady was carried out of the Fort, and this not privately
but in the face of the Sun and sight of the Town”.
And dated 9 February 1708:
“of whom I must say something which perhaps no
boddy will think their while to tell, and that is his dressing publiqly on
womans Cloaths Every day and putting a Stop to all publique business while he is
pleasing himself with that peculiar but detestable maggot”. (p159-160)
, a catechist, writing just after Hyde’s public dispute with
two Anglican ministers:
“My Lord Cornbury has and dos still make use of an
unfortunate Custom of dressing himself in Womens Cloaths and of exposing himself
in that Garb upon the Ramparts to the view of the public; in that dress he draws
a World of Spectators about him and consequently as many Censures, especially
for exposing himself un such a manner all the great Holy days and even in an
hour or two after going to the Communion.” (p161)
Who painted the portrait and when, exactly, is unknown. It was discovered in
England, not in New York. It was found in the family collection of the Pakington
family in Worcestershire ( a family not associated by either marriage or blood
with the Hyde family).
After almost a century the rumours about Hyde had died down, and been
forgotten. In 1796, the writer – and lover of gossip, Horace
(himself given to occasional transvesting), and a fellow gossip, Gilly Williams
, Lord Glenbervie. They talked of the society beauty, Catherine
(1701-1777), Duchess of Queensbury by marriage, the daughter of Henry
, Edward’s cousin, who became the 4th
Earl of Clarendon. From
there the conversation drifted to Edward.
As Douglas recorded in his diary:
Walpole repeated the rumour that Edward Hyde in New York had dressed to
represent his queen. Williams added extra, otherwise unrecorded, and not
repeated by later writers. His father
“told him that he had done business with
him [Hyde] in woman’s clothes. He used to sit at the open window so dressed, to
the great amusement of the neighbours. He employed always the most fashionable
milliner, shoemaker, staymaker, etc. Mr Williams has seen a picture of him at
Sir Herbert Packingington’s in Worcestershire, in a gown, stays, tucker, long
ruffles, cap, etc.”
The very next year, 1796, a letter to an art cataloguer from the son of Lord
Sandys of Worcestershire described one of the paintings as “The Second E. of
Clarendeon in womens’ cloaths”. Edward Hyde was of course the 3rd
Earl. His father Henry was the 2nd
1795-6 was a time was transvesting was topical in that Charlotte D’Eon having
returned to England, was living as female and giving exhibition fencing matches.
There was no further claim of a painting of any Earl of Clarendon
transvesting until 1867 when the painting that we now know was publically
displayed in an exhibition of national portraits at the South Kensington Museum
(now known as the Victoria and Albert Museum). For the occasion, a label was
attached. However it was not a usual art curator’s description, but a quotation
(see Part I) from Agnes Strickland. Strickland, in her books, Lives of the
Queens of England
, had given only one source [also not repeated in later
claims], a letter written in Hanover in 1714 by German diplomat Hans Caspar von
who was the Hanoverian representative at the court of Queen Anne.
Bothmer supposedly repeated a rumour that Hyde, while in ‘the Indies” dressed to
represent his queen. This letter is unknown other than for Strickland’s claim.
The New York Daily Tribune
reported on the exhibition. It discussed
the painting, and repeated the quote from Strickland. This was the first mention
of the painting in New York or elsewhere in North America.
Is the painting of a man or a woman?
Bonomi quotes Robin Gibson of the National Portrait Gallery, the expert on
the Hyde family paintings known as the Clarendon Collection. Of the painting
that we are considering: “I feel certain that the so-called portrait of Lord
Cornbury is a perfectly straightforward British provincial portrait of a rather
plain woman circa 1710.
” The painting was unlikely to be done on the colonies. .. Although I do not think it would be possible to identify either the artist or
the sitter of the portrait in question, it seems to me the sort of portrait
which might have been painted of a well-to-do woman living well outside London
society, perhaps in the north of England. It is not necessarily of a member of
Could it be a caricature of Hyde?
paintings (certainly in Britain at this date) are unknown to me and extremely
rare at any time. Any caricature would have taken the form of an engraving or
The painting in New York
The painting was put up for auction in 1952, and was then acquired by the New
York Historical Society, where it is now on display.
Here is a portrait, probably of Edward Hyde, in 1681, when he was 19. Compare
the faces. Does it look like the same person?
And here is a portrait of Henry Hyde, the future 2nd
Clarendon, in 1643 when he was 4. Could this have been the picture referred to by the son of Lord Sandys?
None of Livingstone, Morris and Neau say that they actually saw Hyde dressed
in ‘womens Cloaths’. Nor do they name any person, of any rank who so saw. This
despite the claim that Hyde had transvested before the full New York Assembly,
and on the city ramparts.
In a court of law ‘evidence’ such as this would be dismissed as hearsay, and
Incidentally not one of Livingstone, Morris and Neau is quoted by
century writers who tell of Edward Hyde.
The letters, sent to authorities in London, were not acted on. The claims
were not consistent with other accounts, and as said, no witnesses were ever
named or recorded. Hyde returned to England in 1710 and was appointed to the
Privy Council and named first commissioner of the Admiralty. Even his kinship to
the Queen would not have permitted this if he were regarded as scandalous.
Bonomi points out (p161) that other Governors in the same period were
involved in scandals. Let us take the case of Francis Nicholson who was Governor
of Virginia 1690-2, 1698-1705. The account in Encyclopedia
Meanwhile, his persistent and unsubtle courtship of the beautiful
eighteen-year-old Lucy Burwell turned Nicholson into a laughingstock: In a
speech to the House of Burgesses on September 22, 1701, Nicholson professed his
admiration "for the Natives" of Virginia, "in particular but principally for One
of them," but his marriage proposal to Burwell, daughter of the wealthy and
influential Major Lewis Burwell of Gloucester County, was refused. The governor
only made matters worse when he continued to publicly pursue Burwell even after
she had become engaged to the equally privileged Edmund Berkeley II of Middlesex
Hearing rumors of Nicholson's political and personal missteps, authorities in
London requested that a Virginian named Robert Quary investigate the various
complaints against the governor. Although Quary's report was highly supportive
of Nicholson and dismissive of his opponents, it did give the impression of
being so biased toward the governor that it resulted in Nicholson becoming even
less popular within the ranks of the colony's most influential residents, among
them Robert Beverley II. In May 1703 six members of the governor's Council
requested that the Crown remove the governor from office, asserting that he was
a man of poor personal character, and thus was not an appropriate choice to
serve as the monarch's representative in the colony. Following lengthy debates
in London, the imperial authorities dismissed Nicholson from his governorship in
April 1705, replacing him with Colonel Edward Nott.
Nothing like this happened to Edward Hyde.
It is well established that the terms ‘gay’ or ‘faggot’ are often used to put
down men who are not at all gay. Here are some examples of politicians said to
be trans when they were not at all so.
In 1988, Jonathan Falwell, son of Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell, put
out a comic book showing the Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis in drag, (see
Marjorie Garber. Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing & Cultural Anxiety
1992: 54 – there is no longer anything on the web about this comic book).
Also 1988, a painting by a student, David Nelson, showed the recently
deceased mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington, in female underwear. This caused a
brouhahah, the painting was seized, and damaged before being returned. EN.Wikipedia
In 2016, Alex Jones got a lot of mileage in the press when he claimed that
Michelle Obama is a trans. Online
It is unproved at best that Edward Hyde did as was said in the scurrilous
Certainly any claim that he did so made after 1998 that fails to discuss
Bonomi’s book is deserving of no attention at all.
- Cecil Adams. “Did New York once have a transvestite governor?”. The
Straight Dope, January 25, 2002. Online.
- Emily Ulrich. “Biography of Edward Hyde, earl of Cornbury, Governor of New
York”. Alma Mater, Spring 2014. Online.