When William Beckford left England in 1785 he entered a period of exile that would last a decade. Having been one of the most celebrated members of 18th century society, for the rest of his life he would be a social outcast. The reason for this exile was the exposure of his relationship with William Courtenay, the heir to Powderham Castle in Devon.

For Beckford, the exposure of this homosexual relationship threatened not just social exile, but the risk of imprisonment and execution. Certain sexual acts between men had been defined as criminal and punishable by death since 1558, when Elizabeth I reinstated Henry VIII’s 1553 Buggery Act. During Beckford’s youth the high profile case of Captain Robert Jones in 1772 had resulted in England’s first public debate about homosexuality.

In Beckford’s lifetime the only way to escape the threat of arrest was to escape the country. Exile from England, and more importantly from his home at Fonthill in Wiltshire, had a powerful impact on the rest of Beckford’s life. His time spent in exile influenced everything from the evolution of Fonthill Abbey and its landscape in the 1790s, to the creation of his retreat from society in Bath at Lansdown Tower (more commonly known as Beckford’s Tower).

Read this fascinating booklet called The Beckford Scandal to learn more.