How to Survive a Sex Scandal
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Published in: November-December 2022 issue.


Lord Battersea’s Hidden Scandal and the Lives It Changed Forever
by Peter Jordaan
Alchemie. Books. 668 pages, $45.99



IN THE SUMMER of 1902, Great Britain was in the midst of preparing for the coronation of King Edward VII when a scandal broke that threatened to embroil some members of the gentry and even the new king, leading to a feverish high-level cover-up. The scandal involved the criminal procurement of young men for sexual favors for some thirty aristocratic gentlemen, including members of Parliament and the royal family. The ringleader of this group was the plutocrat and MP Cyril Flower, Lord Battersea, developer of the London suburb that bore his name. Considered the most handsome man in parliament, he was married to the heiress Constance de Rothschild.

            This was a time when the aristocracy was powerful and protected by the British government, which worked to cover up any scandals that might arise in their midst. The elite could usually suppress police investigations along with newspaper coverage of these indignities. In A Secret Between Gentlemen, Peter Jordaan deftly unearths the story about a scandal of “gross indecency” and the cover-up that blocked it from view for over 100 years.

            Illicit homosexual affairs were not uncommon at this time, and the people involved were often subject to blackmail by the procurers of sexual partners. But what if such introductions could be arranged by persons of one’s own class? This was the brainstorm that occurred to Cyril Flower, Lord Battersea, who resolved make this service a reality.

            The Battersea affair began with the discovery of letters. At the turn of the century, the British Navy was filled with recruits who could be as young as fifteen years old. One such young sailor was found with letters indicating a sexual affair with an adult male. This led to an investigation that implicated another young sailor who was involved with the same type of sordid behavior. The real targets of these investigations were not the boys themselves but instead the adult males that they were involved with.

Frederick Sandys. Portrait of Cyril Flower [Lord Battersea], 1872.

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