home improvement ideas from the rich and famous

***William Beckford (1760-1844) was once the wealthiest man in England. Wherever he travelled he was accompanied by his personal doctor, cook, valet, baker, two dogs, three footmen, 24 musicians and a Spanish dwarf.

image found here

It was said that for one trip to Portugal, he even took with him a flock of sheep in order to improve the view from his window. Wherever he stayed, he supplied his own bed, cutlery, crockery and wallpaper.

Vintage wallpaper found here

He also appears to have been a paedophile. (I’m not condoning the behaviour, just reporting a sad, strange, interesting and possibly wasted life)

By the time he died at the venerable age of 84, he had built the loftiest domestic residence in the world, had assembled a virtual harem of boys, had his own militia to protect his Fonthill estate of 6,000 acres, had written the first Oriental-Gothic horror novel in English literature, and had become the most scandalous connoisseur of hedonism in the modern world.

Fonthill Abbey ceilings found here

Beckford received a brilliant education, and was widely learned in French, Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, philosophy, law, literature and physics by the age of 17. His private piano teacher was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — at least that is the legend, too romantic to be discouraged.

piano students found here

When this self-styled Caliph was 19, he fell in love with the Hon William Courtenay, later 3rd Viscount and 9th Earl of Devon, then ten years old and regarded as one of the most beautiful boys in England. Beckford and Courtenay saw each other frequently for nearly six peaceful years.

William Courtenay found here

But in 1784, a visitor to Powderham claimed to have heard some “strange goings on” in Courtenay’s bedroom, with Beckford apparently in bed with the lad. Soon the newspapers started circulating rumours about the country squire and his “Kitty,” as the beautiful Courtenay was effeminately dubbed. Beckford and Courtenay were forced to separate to avoid further reprisal.

The scandal of 1784 was partly fabricated or at least exaggerated by Courtenay’s vindictive uncle Lord Loughborough, and we cannot be sure that specific sexual acts took place; but the general charge was almost certainly true.

Laughing Lord Loughborough found here

Upon his eventual return to England, Beckford shielded himself behind an eight mile long, twelve foot high wall topped by iron spikes, surrounding his estate (it was also built because he loved animals, and wanted to keep out hunters). He imported a dwarf to be his doorkeeper (and with whom he shared the pornography occasionally sent by Franchi from London), an abbé from France as spiritual advisor (and also as tolerant confidant concerning boy-troubles), a physician from Italy, and a harem of boy-servants for diversion, some picked up in England.

More paintings by Velazquez here

His household of young male servants were all given revealing gay nicknames: “there is pale Ambrose, infamous Poupee, horrid Ghoul, insipid Mme Bion, cadaverous Nicobuse, the portentous dwarf, frigid Silence, Miss Long, Miss Butterfly, Countess Pox, Mr Prudent Well-Sealed-up, The Monkey, The Turk, and others.

“Butterfly Boy” by Jerome Leibling found here

His exclusion from society was compensated for by the transformation of Fonthill Abbey into a Gothic cathedral to rival nearby Salisbury Cathedral. With the help of the leading architect of the day, James Wyatt, he raised a tower that was nearly 300 feet high.

By the 1820s, Beckford had spent so much money on Fonthill that he was forced to mortgage it. In 1823 he sold it to a gunpowder maker for nearly five million dollars. He then bought an estate near Bath and built what he called Lansdown Baghdad, with a much shorter tower. Then in his late sixties, he became respectably eccentric, rather than scandalously debauched, until his death.

Fonthill Abbey found here

Beckford’s personality still remains enigmatic, even for his modern biographers. “He was,” in the opinion of Alistair Sutherland, “as much a martyr as Wilde, and almost certainly a more interesting and civilised man.” He was immensely intelligent as well as a hedonist, a serious artist as well as a social rebel, and more honest than eccentric.

***Excerpted from the web page of Rictor Norton found here

Published in: on March 21, 2011 at 7:16 am  Comments (44)  
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