This site is the most comprehensive on the web devoted to trans history and biography. Well over 1700 persons worthy of note, both famous and obscure, are discussed in detail, and many more are mentioned in passing.

There is a detailed Index arranged by vocation, doctor, activist group etc. There is also a Place Index arranged by City etc. This is still evolving.

In addition to this most articles have one or more labels at the bottom. Click one to go to similar persons. There is a full list of labels at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar. There is also a search box at the top left. Enjoy exploring!

31 January 2021

Cross-dressing during the Reign of Charles Stuart (reigned 1625-1649) and the ensuing Civil War

James Stuart, king of Scotland 1567-1625, and of England 1603-25, is taken by many historians to be gay because of his interest in young men. Certainly his reign was one with very few prosecutions for sodomy. He wrote a book on demonology that is quoted in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and sponsored a translation of the Christian Bible that became canonical. He had no interest in gender variance despite it being a common trope in theatre, but in 1620 he commanded his clergy to preach,

"against the insolencie of our women, and their wearing of broad brimmed hats, pointed dublets, their hair cut short or shorn, and some of them stilettoes or poinards, and such other trinckets of like moment."

This was followed by two infamous pamphlets:

Hic Mulier: or, The Man-Woman: Being a Medicine to cure the Coltish Disease of the Staggers in the Masculine-Feminines of our Times. An anonymous pamphlet denouncing the very small increase in women wearing men’s clothing. The Latin uses the masculine form of the demonstrative pronoun jokingly applied to the feminine noun.

Haec Vir: Or, The Womanish-Man. A response to Hic Mulier. Censured men for their effeminate dress and behaviour, while defending women in men’s garb on the grounds of freedom. The Latin uses the feminine form of the demonstrative pronoun jokingly applied to the masculine noun.


3 January. Katherine Jones appeared before the Bridewell governors, after being arrested in the street by the constable of Fleet Street, in men’s apparel. She insisted that ‘she did it in merryment“. The governors accepted it was simply a New Year frolic, and discharged her.


Charles Stuart
James Stuart died and was replaced on the throne by his son Charles. A few weeks later Charles married the 15-year-old French princess, Henriette Marie Bourbon.

Henriette Marie Bourbon was Catholic and openly facilitated Catholic marriages despite it being against English law. She was also fond of theatricals, and in 1626 performed in the play Artenice staged at her London residence, Denmark House – this at a time when women actors were barred from the English stage – and a number of her female attendants played male roles and dressed appropriately. Popular disquiet was voiced. (Stoyle p11)

1627-9 The Anglo-French War

In 1625 Charles Stuart had signed a secret marriage treaty with the French king that he would relax religious restrictions against English Catholics (he did not). He also loaned seven English war ships to help repress the Protestant Huguenots at La Rochelle. Two years later he had changed sides, and sent his favourite, George Villiers to capture the Île de Ré in support of the Huguenots. This held for three months, until re-inforced French forces compelled the English to withdraw in defeat.

One of the soldiers in the expedition was the female-born, Thomas Hall, 25.

Hall afterwards temporarily returned to living as a female seamstress in Plymouth. This did not suit, and a few months later, becoming aware of a ship being made ready to sail to Chesapeake in the Virginia colony, Thomas sailed with it as a male indentured servant.

In addition, Walter Yonge of Colyton in Devon, a puritan Justice of the Peace, noted in his private journal that ‘there was a woman apprehended at Plymouth in the habit of a man, by the mayor of Plymouth, at the time the Lord Denbigh and Sir Henry Martin went to sea (that is sailed with troops to the Île de Ré), Some said that she was Martin’s mistress. (Stoyle p12)


The controversial puritan William Prynne published an invective against women counterfeiting their sex: “these ...unnaturall and unmanly times; wherein ...sundry of our Impudent ...Female sexe, are Hermaphrodited and transformed men ...not onely in their immodest ...and audacious carriage in the ...odious, if not whorish, cutting of their haire.” He claimed England’s foreign policy reversals to be divine punishments for such transgressions. (Stoyle p12)

• William Prynne, The Unloveliness of Lovelockes. 1628.


Thomas Hall, in the Virginia colony, temporarily switched back to female, and was said to have sex with men. There was a public obsession about his sex, and the Council and General Court of Virginia ruled that he was ‘a man and a woman’ and ordered that he wear male clothing but with a female apron and head covering.

1628-31 The Western Rising

As Charles Stuart was determined to rule without Parliament, he needed other sources of income. Royal lands and forests were enclosed and sold off, depriving local people of their use. Riots ensued, some of which featured cross-dressed men using the traditional name Lady Skimmington.


Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, was charged both with committing sodomy with a number of servants, and with encouraging a servant to rape Castlehaven's wife. While there is little doubt that he did both these things, it is also obvious that his Catholicism played a major role in ensuring that he was tried, and that the rape and the participation of servants were more important than the charge of sodomy. He was executed in 1631 and two of his servants were hanged the following year. He was attainted, that is his titles and property in England were Forfeit, but as the Buggery Law did not apply in Ireland, his son inherited his Irish titles and property.


Henriette Marie Bourbon and her attendants transvested in another play, The Shepherds’ Paradise.

William Prynne again wrote an attack on women who had the audacity to adopt quasi-masculine styles – ‘our man-women English Gallants’, as he termed them – but had also castigated the ‘women-Actors’ of antiquity, all of whom, he thundered, ‘were ...notorious, impudent, prostituted strumpets. (Stoyle p13)

  • William Prynne. Histriomastix, 1632.


Henriette Marie Bourbon and her attendants transvested in another play, The Shepherds’ Paradise on 9 January. the original performance lasted seven or eight hours. It required four months of rehearsal by its cast.

William Prynne
Prynne’s fulimations were taken as an aspersion on the queen; his passages attacking spectators and magistrates who failed to suppress them were seen as an attack on the king. 

William Noy, the attorney-general took proceedings against Prynne in the Star-chamber. After a year's imprisonment in the Tower of London, he was sentenced on 17 February 1634 to life imprisonment, a fine of £5,000 (over £1 million today), expulsion from being a lawyer, deprival of his University degree, and amputation of both his ears in the pillory where he was held on 7–10 May. Noy died later that year, which Prynne took as God’s punishment. He was released by Parliament in 1640, and his degree and membership of the bar restored.


The Irish cleric, John Atherton, in that the Buggery Act applied only to England, pushed for the enactment of "An Act for the Punishment for the Vice Of Buggery" to be applicable in Ireland.


Alexander Gough, actor, specialized in female roles. He continued acting until the theatres were banned, after which he acted in clandestine private productions.


The trial and execution of John Atherton, Bishop of Waterford and his steward. They were charged under the law that Atherton himself had helped to extend to Ireland. The charge was probably proceeded with in that Atherton had become alienated from the large Irish landowners by trying to extend the lands owned by the protestant Church of Ireland.

Henriette Marie Bourbon and also Charles Stuart performed in another play, Salmacida Spolia. Henriette and her ladies appeared dressed in “Amazonian habits”.

1642-1651 Revolution and Civil War
Illustration from the ballad
Valiant Virgin


The theatres were banned.

An anonymous letter written from the Royalist camp in July 1642, and later published in a pro-royalist news pamphlet, describes a woman called Nan Ball who was ‘taken in mans cloathes, waiting upon her beloved Lieutenant’ while in the king’s army near York. A top level-investigation was launched, the lieutenant was sacked from his command and it was suggested that the woman should be shamed by whipping or pillory, although she was merely expelled. (Stoyle p14)


A draft proclamation was drawn up, setting out required standards of behaviour for the royalist army. It included a hand-written memo in the margin from the king himself stating ‘lett no woman presume to counterfeit her sex by wearing mans apparall under payne of the severest punishment’. However the memo was not included in the published version. (Stoyle p18-20)


2 July: The Battle of Marston Moor, is said to have included Jane Ingleby in the Royalist cavalry. (Fraser p221)


March: Oliver Cromwell, in charge of Henry Percy and other Royalist prisoners, noticed one of “so faire a countenance” and asked him to sing, thereby revealing that the person was a damsel. (Stoyle p23)

December: Evesham, Worcestershire: A captain of Horse having served a year, and having obtained leave to visit family in Shropshire, went to a tailor and ordered female clothing supposedly for a sister of the same stature as himself. The tailor was suspicious, and told the Governour, which led to examination where the captain admitted that he was female, and spoke of three others from Shropshire who had taken male disguise to ‘serve in the Warre for the Cause of God’. (Story in The Scottish Dove, London, 3 Dec 1645; Stoyle p 24)


Charles Stuart was indicted, accused of treason. The charge was that he "for accomplishment of such his designs, and for the protecting of himself and his adherents in his and their wicked practices, to the same ends hath traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament, and the people therein represented", and that the "wicked designs, wars, and evil practices of him, the said Charles Stuart, have been, and are carried on for the advancement and upholding of a personal interest of will, power, and pretended prerogative to himself and his family, against the public interest, common right, liberty, justice, and peace of the people of this nation."

He was beheaded in a formal execution 30 January 1649. Henriette Marie Bourbon returned to France.


Stephen Evison, a soldier was discovered to be female during the Parliamentary occupation of Scotland, and was identified as Anne Dymoke, from a distinguished family in Lincolnshire. She and her lover, John Evison, having no means of support, had entered service as two brothers. They then took a sea voyage during which John was drowned. Knowing not what else to do, Stephen then enlisted giving his name as John. (Frazer p225)


The following were consulted;

• Antonia Fraser. The Weaker Vessel: Woman’s Lot in Seventeenth-Century England. Methuen, 1985: 220-6.

• Mark Stoyle. “ ‘Give mee a Souldier’s Coat’: Female Cross-Dressing during the English Civil War”. History, The Journal of the Historical Association, 103, 2018


It is Henriette Marie Bourbon for whom the Maryland colony was named.

The Wikipedia page on her says nothing at all about her thespian inclinations.

We should remember that many of the women camp followers of both armies in the Civil War had to survive. Ankle-length skirts In muddy fields are quite problematic, and the adoption of breeches was, as Fraser says, “more from convenience than from caprice”.

On why Charles Stuart’s addition to the 1643 declaration did not make it to the published version, Stoyle writes:

“Why should the king have decided to dispense with the strictures against cross-dressed female camp-followers which he had been so keen to insert into the original text? Three possible answers present themselves. First, the king’s military commanders may have informed him that the habit of donning masculine attire was so commonplace among the women who accompanied his army and so important to those women in terms of their day-to-day mobility – not only while on the march, but also while undertaking the foraging trips which helped to keep the royal army supplied with provisions – that it was simply not practicable to outlaw the practice. Second, Charles’s advisers may have pointed out to their royal master that for him to admit – in a formal proclamation – that some of the women who accompanied his soldiers were accustomed to cross-dress would only be to invite the derision of enemy propagandists, who had already demonstrated on numerous occasions – in the partisan pamphlets that spewed from the London presses each week – that they were only too ready to highlight and denounce any hint of ‘gender confusion’ in their opponents’ ranks. Third – and closely related to this latter point – Charles may have had second thoughts about incorporating a stern condemnation of female cross-dressing into his proclamation when he recalled that, just three years earlier, his own queen, Henrietta Maria, together with her ‘martiall ladies’, had appeared on stage dressed in ‘Amazonian habits’ in the court masque Salmacida Spolia.” (Stoyle p18-20)

18 January 2021

Edward Wilson (?1672 – 1694) kept man, murdered

Edward Wilson from Leicestershire served under his uncle in Flanders during the Nine-years war against France, 1688-97. However he was dismissed and sent home to London with 10 guineas (about £2,300 in modern money). This was soon spent. However by 1693 Wilson was living with the equipage and garb of nobility, had redeemed his father’s estate and gave portions to his sister – all this without any visible means of income. It was estimated that he was living at a rate of £4,000 per annum (over three quarters of £1 million in modern money). There was much speculation in the coffee-houses and in clubs as to the source of his income. Had he stolen diamonds, was he passing information to the French, had he discovered the philosopher’s stone, or sold his soul to the devil? Was he a kept man? 

There was only one lady who was said to have enough resources, the intrigante Mistress Elizabeth Villiers (1657-1733) then 36 and the favourite of the then King, William of Orange. It was later said that Wilson and Villiers had been lovers and she was curious to know of a rival. In any case it irked her that she was being mentioned. She engaged one John Law, a card sharper down from Edinburgh to spy on Wilson. He quickly ascertained that most evenings at around 10, Wilson would dismiss his servants and take a sedan chair to a house near Hyde Park Corner. He did not return until 5am. On a later evening Law realised that the house went through to the next street, and a hour after Wilson's arrival a lady left by chair from the back door and proceeded to a nobleman’s house. Some hours later she emerged and the journey was reversed. After some days of watching this, Law contrived to have the lady arrested and taken to a sponging house on charges of an outstanding debt. There he was able to confirm that the lady was Wilson, and was impressed by her gait and demeanour which were consistent with her appearance. Wilson offered money and Law changed sides. It was arranged that Law should burst into the nobleman’s house and discover Wilson with the naked daughter of the French steward. This was reported back to Mistress Villiers.

It so happened that both Wilson’s sister and Law’s mistress, a Mrs Lawrence, lodged at the same abode in St Giles in the Fields. After a spat between the two, Wilson removed his sister elsewhere. Law took the attitude that aspersions had thereby been cast upon the residence, and letters concerning matters of honour were exchanged. On the 9th April 1694, Wilson was drinking with a friend, Captain Wightman at the Fountain Inn in the Strand, when Law arrived and words were exchanged. Law then left. Wilson and Wightman took a carriage to Bloomsbury Square, where they encountered Law again. Law and Wilson drew swords, and after only one pass, Law punctured Wilson fatally to the depth of two inches in the upper part of the stomach. Law remained and was immediately arrested. Wightman went immediately to Wilson’s house, but reported that there were no papers, except for a suggested cure for toothache.

While their encounter did not have the formality of a duel (formal challenge, seconds, a surgeon in attendance etc), it is described so in many accounts. Duelling was illegal, but survivors of duels were almost never arraigned. Law was found guilty of murder on 20th April, sentenced to death. This was then commuted to a fine, but Wilson’s brother lodged an “appeal of murder”, a private prosecution following an acquittal for murder, and Law continued to be imprisoned. On the 6th January 1695 with the help of bribes and drugs to subdue the guards, law escaped to a waiting coach, which took him to a waiting ship and thence to Flanders.

Prior to this period, much of what banking there was had been done by goldsmiths.  John Law (1671-1729) was the son of a Scottish goldsmith and was thus acquainted with the practices and the theory.  He was also good at numbers and odds and at remembering which cards had already been played, and thus was able to win at the game of faro.  After his prison escape he wandered around Europe, living by his wits and his abilities as a card sharper.  He also became an advocate for central banking and paper currency. He published a text entitled Money and Trade Considered: with a Proposal for Supplying the Nation with Money, 1705. Law was in Scotland and participated in the debates leading to the Act of Union with England, 1707. However with the passing of that act he had to leave as he was an escaped felon in England. His propositions of creating a national bank in Scotland were ultimately rejected. In France he was mentored by the Duke of Orleans. The wars of Louis XIV had left the country completely wasted, both economically and financially. The resultant shortage of precious metals led to a shortage of coins in circulation, which in turn limited the production of new coins. After Louis XIV died, and Orleans became regent, Law proposed that the economy be stimulated by replacing gold with paper credit and a centralised bank.  He was the architect of the Mississippi Company which became the Mississippi Bubble in 1720, and the bubble in turn was aggravated by an outbreak of plague in the Marseilles region. People quickly returned to gold and silver currency and there was no further monetary reform until after the Revolution. Law's properties were confiscated. He had been granted a British pardon in 1719, and returned to London in 1723. He died in poverty in Venice in 1729 age 57.

The nobleman lover of Edward Wilson is taken by most writers to be Charles Spencer (1675-1722). He became the heir to the Earldom of Sunderland when his elder brother died in 1688. After the death of Edward Wilson, he became Member of Parliament for Tiverton in 1695 and married the heiress Arabella Cavendish. She gave him one daughter and died in 1698 age 24. He married a second heiress, Anne Churchill in 1700. They had six children and she died in 1716 age 33. Spencer married a third heiress, Judith Tichborne in 1717. They had three children who all died very young. Spencer became the Third Earl in 1702, and he served in several major political offices. In 1718 he became First Lord of the Treasury (in effect Prime Minister). This was at the same time as John Law held the corresponding position in France. The British South Sea Bubble was also in 1720, and Spencer resigned over it in 1721. He died a year later. Love-Letters Between a Certain Late Nobleman and the Famous Mr. Wilson: Discovering the True History of the Rise and Surprising Grandeur of that Celebrated Beau which almost identified him as Edward Wilson’s lover was published a year after that.

Netta Murray Goldsmith points out that neither Spencer nor Villiers was that rich that they could provide for Wilson’s spending. Spencer was still dependent on an allowance from his father. She makes a good case that William of Orange was also Wilson’s lover. Two other attractive young men were raised by William III to wealth and titles: William Bentinck and Arnold van Keppel. All three were regarded as part of a sodomical circle at court.

The suspicious removal of all Wilson's papers, and the arranged escape of Law from prison suggest a conspiracy.  Law would seem to have been a hitman, but who ordered Wilson's death and why?  Had he become over-demanding, or an embarrassment? Had he suggested that he would spill secrets?   

Some historians suggest that the 1723 published Love Letters were among the documents removed from Wilson's house when he was killed.  This detail, like most of the details here is advocated by some and dismissed by others. 

  • Unknown Lady’s Pocquet of Letters, 1708
  • Love-Letters Between a Certain Late Nobleman and the Famous Mr. Wilson: Discovering the True History of the Rise and Surprising Grandeur of that Celebrated Beau. A Moore, 1723.
  • Adolphe Thiers translated by Frank S Fiske. The Mississippi Bubble: A memoir of John Law. W A Townsend & Company, 1859: 29-33. 
  • H Montgomery Hyde. John Law: the history of an honest adventurer. W H Allen, 1948, 1969: 24-33.
  • Rictor Norton. Mother Clap’s Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830. GMP, 1992: 35-43.
  • Antoin E Murphy. John Law: Economic Theorist and Policy-Maker. Clarenden Press, 1997: 20-34.
  • Netta Murray Goldsmith. The Secret: Edward Wilson And The Government Conspiracy. Kindle, 2012.
  • Antoin Murphy. “Two Bubbles and a Plague”. Center for the Study of Economic Liberty, Online.

13 January 2021

James How (1714–1780) publican

In December 1732 Mr James How took unto marriage one Mary Snapes. Together they had a small nest-egg of £30 (£6,000 in today’s money). They found a small pub in Epping, northwest of London, which was to let, and they took it. James was involved in an altercation with a young gentleman that resulted in a lameness of his hand. This was of such a nature that he entered an action against the gentleman and obtained damages of £500 (over £100,000). James and Mary were then able to seek a better situation, and took a public house in Limehouse. They lived there many years, in good credit and esteem. They then bought the White Horse pub on Poplar High Street, which they also ran successfully.

Manion p45

A woman by the name of Bentley, resident not far away, had known James when they were both young. In 1750 she asked for £10 (£2,000) that James’ sex not be discovered (this at a time when £20 a year was a good wage). James complied, and the matter was settled for many years.

James served in most parish offices and more than once was a jury foreman, although some regarded him as somewhat effeminate. 

In 1765, at Christmas time, Mrs Bentley sent a repeated demand for £10, and a fortnight after that she sent again. 

Around this time Mrs How took ill, and went to a friend in the country. James was not able to join her before she died, and she told their secret to the friend. The “friend” visited James in his grief and "insisted not only on their share of the whole effects, but more”. 

Mrs Bentley escalated her demands and recruited two men, John Charles and William Barwick, who pretended to be a constable (Bow Street Runner) sent by Justice John Fielding (the brother of Henry Fielding the novelist). A neighbour, Mr Williams, a pawn broker was passing and was informed of the situation. He urged How to go to the local Justice. While he stepped out to change his shirt, the two men forcibly took How to the house of Mrs Bentley, where after threats How gave a draft for £100 on Mr Williams payable at a later date, and they released him. 

How and Williams applied to the local bench for advice, and when Bentley and Barwick came for the payment there was a real constable waiting and they were taken to the bench of Justices sitting at the Angel in Whitechapel. How, now being outed, had reverted to female dress, and now gave the name of Mary East. Under examination, Bentley denied sending for the £100, and Barwick declared that he would never have gone if she had not sent him. They were committed unto the Clerkenwell Bridewell until the next session. Charles disappeared and was never heard of again. Bentley and Barwick served four years in prison and Barrick also stood in the pillory three times.

It was noted “The alteration of her dress from that of a man to that of a woman appeared so great, that together with her awkward behavior in her new assumed habit, it caused great diversion”, for of course he was 33 years unused to it.

Either How gave it out, or the newspapers added the story that both Mary East and Mary Snapes had been abandoned by men in their youth. In East’s case the man had been arrested for being a highwayman and transported to the American colonies. They gave up on men, and tossed a coin to decide which of them would act as the man in their relationship. Mrs How’s name, Mary Snapes, was not given in any of the accounts.

How/East sold the White Horse and retired to another part where he was not famous. He lived till 1780. When he signed a will in 1779 it was as Mary East.

  • “The FEMALE HUSBAND; or a circumstantial Account of the extraordinary Affair which lately happened at POPLAR; with many interesting Particulars, not mentioned in the publick Papers.” London Chronicle, 7-9 August 1766. Reprinted: Rictor Norton (ed) as "Mary East, the Female Husband", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 6 December 2003. Online.
  • “Mary East, The Female Husband”. The Odd Fellow, 2 May 1840.
  • “A Curious Married Couple: Thirty-four years of pretended matrimony”. Fincher’s Trade Review, July 25, 1863. Reprinted in Jonathan Katz. Gay American History: Lesbians And Gay Men In The U.S.A. A Discus Book.1978:343-4.
  • “A Fortified Public House: Strange Story of Mary East, the ‘Man-Woman’ who Lived There”. Illustrated Police Budget, 13 May 1899.
  • “The Romance of the White Horse”. Tower Hamlets Independent and East End Local Advertiser, 27 January 1900.
  • Bram Stoker. “Mary East” in Famous Imposters.  Sturgis & Walton, 1910: 241-8. 
  • Rictor Norton. Mother Clap’s Molly House: The gay Subculture in England 1700-1830. GMP, 1992: 237.
  • “Mary East (aka James How) and Mrs How of the White Horse, Poplar”. East End Women’s Museum, 23 June 2017. Online
  • Jen Manion. “The Pillar of the Community” in Female Husbands: A Trans History. Cambridge University Press, 2020: 44-67.

Isle of Dogs Life


The story of the transported lover and the coin toss may be true or untrue. It was a telling that went well with the newspapers in that it downplayed the idea that How was gender deviant. However given the 33 years that he maintained the role and that he was regarded as an outstanding citizen implies that he had an affinity for being male.

I was not able to ascertain from the various accounts just when in 1766 Mrs How, Mary Snapes, did die.  Was it before the trial of Bentley and Barwick in August?  It is not at all explained how friends or family of Mrs How could claim half the property.  Under the various coverture laws that lasted into the 19th century, wives had no property rights apart from their husband.   

Almost all accounts spell their surname as 'How'.  Manion, without discussing why she dissents, spells it "Howe".

Some of the immediate accounts in 1765 used How’s well-earned masculine pronouns for the period pre-1766. However after his death in 1780, almost all used she/her only, put ‘wife’ in quotation marks and some even referred to him as ‘Mrs Mary East’ as if he had been married to a Mr East!!. The very recent book by Manion opts for the hopefully-temporary fashion of using they/them which of course is not How’s choice of pronouns, and is confusing.

 “They were in the business of keeping public houses, which they did to great success by evidence of their ability to upgrade their situation numerous times over the years before settling in at the White Horse Tavern for roughly two decades.” (p46) Does ‘they’ mean James alone or Mr & Mrs How together?

When the two thugs sent by Bentley accost How, is ‘they’ the two thugs or How himself? “to impersonate officers of the court who roughed Howe up physically and suggested they would be executed for their crimes” (p46).