Werewolves explained – a terrifying history!

From Ancient Greek and Hindu mythology to the Vikings and medieval France and down to modern times – werewolves have enjoyed a long history. The idea of these half-human/half-wolf creatures that are capable of tearing innocent people to pieces. Transforming themselves, shape shifting from an ordinary person to a lupine monster.

So what is a werewolf? Well, somebody transformed into a werewolf still has the intelligence of a human being but combined lethally with the ferocity of a wolf and the strength of a demon. In other words, a werewolf isn’t just any old wolf. But something especially dangerous.

There’s a long standing fear in European culture of wolves attacking humans, which we can see in the cautionary fairy story: Little Red Riding Hood. Yet the evidence suggests that attacks on humans by wolves are exceedingly rare. Some argue, almost non-existent unless the wolf has contracted rabies.

What has most likely happened throughout history is that wolves have been found scavenging the corpse of somebody who has died of other causes – heart attack, murder, etc. And the sight of a wolf or wolves ripping apart a dead body has excited all the wrong conclusions.

Yet the stories of werewolf attacks have been surprisingly persistent.

DISCOVER: A real-life werewolf in England

Sabine Baring-Gould and the history of werewolves

In 1865, the Anglican cleric and author Sabine Baring-Gould published a very comprehensive history of these horrific creatures: The Book of Werewolves. Baring-Gould was a prolific writer whose output went from mainstream Christianity to the occult. Aside from his book about werewolves, he also penned the hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers.

Herodotus and the Neurians

In his acclaimed work on werewolves, the unassuming vicar gathered a ghoulish collection of werewolf stories from across history. He referenced an account by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus who claimed that the Neuri people – believed to have lived in north-eastern Europe 2,500 years ago – were said to become wolves once a year.

Baring-Gold also mentioned the Rākṣasa – a kind of lupine demon in Hindu mythology that shape shifts between human, wolf and other forms. These demi-gods could be a force for good or evil – though evil seems to have been their forte. Duplicity was also a typical characteristic of the Rākṣasa.

The Saxon Wolfhead

In Saxon England, somebody declared to be an outlaw became a ‘wolfhead’: “He shall be driven away as a wolf, and chased so far as men chase wolves farthest”. An outlaw was placed outside of society and it was the duty of all law-abiding subjects of the kingdom to catch or kill that person. They had forfeited all the rights of an ordinary human being. If you want, they were reduced legally to the status of a wild animal.

Baring-Gould described the way in which warriors would wear animals skins in order to absorb the strength of a bear or a wolf. The Vikings in particular warmed to this idea. But in the medieval period, while the idea of wearing a skin to become an animal persisted, so did the curious notion that some people had what I can only describe as inside-out skins. Put another way, they were growing hair internally while presenting a smooth skin surface most of the time.

But at a whim, their skin turned inside out and suddenly you were presented with a werewolf!

The Werewolf of Chalons – and other French werewolves

If any country has been prone to werewolf manias, then it has to be France. Between the years 1520 and 1630, there is a French Werewolf Epidemic. For example, the so-called Werewolf of Châlons. He was a local tailor accused of murdering fifty children. He strenuously denied the charges though barrels full of small human bones were found at his workplace along with shallow graves in the backyard.

While in custody he experienced episodes of foaming at the mouth, which of course was interpreted as lycanthropy. It seems possible that the man was a deranged serial killer of children and the evidence – if true – would be very compelling today. But this being the year 1598, his ability to become a wolf had to also be proven. Fortunately for the authorities, at least one witness came forward to state they’d definitely seen the tailor transform into a wolf. He was then burned to death as a witch.

As late as the mid-18th century, France experienced The Beast of Gévaudan – a werewolf that accounted for several fatalities and serious injuries. King Louis XV sent one of his best hunters to go and kill the wolf. He brought back an impressive carcass of some wild animals which was stuffed and put on show at the royal palace at Versailles. Sadly the killings started once more, so that exhibit was discreetly thrown away. Eventually, a large wolf-like animal was killed and when cut open, was found to have human remains in its stomach.

Nazi Werewolves at the end of World War Two

At the end of World War Two as the Third Reich was crumbling and the Nazis faced defeat – an order was issued to support pro-Hitler units in parts of Germany that had fallen to Allied forces. These guerrilla units were referred to as ‘werewolves’. In April 1945, the Nazi-controlled Trans-Ocean news agency described werewolves as “wild beings who hide in the forest and pounce on all God’s creatures”.

The analogy to these informal Nazi units was obvious. But just in case anybody didn’t get the point, Trans-Ocean’s press release to global media continued: “Werewolves are the standard bearers of a fanatical struggle which must be waged with fanatical resolution. The werewolves must become the symbol of the struggle for liberation from the foreign invaders.” The “childish rules of so-called decent bourgeois warfare” were to be jettisoned by the werewolves.

Well – the werewolves failed. The Third Reich was toppled. And Hitler blew his brains out.

Do wolves attack humans?

The simple is that yes they do. But very rarely. And in the majority of cases, the reasons can be divided up into: Rabies – where diseased wolves have gone on the rampage. Habituation – where wolves have lost their fear of humans and even regarded them as a food source. Provocation – where a wolf has felt cornered or under threat.

Shortage of food can possibly lead wolves to attack humans – such as children working on the land. Wolves also have been known to attack and kill domestic dogs and a human might be savaged defending his beloved pet.

Getting arrested for cross dressing in history!

We live in a time when people are very divided on the question of sexual and gender identity. Society’s attitudes to gays and lesbians has improved massively over the last thirty years. But transgender people are still fighting a battle. So, what a surprise to look back in newspaper and other archives over the last two hundred years and discover – as I have done – that cross dressing has a long and fascinating history. Men and boys who’ve dressed as women and girls and vice versa – for all kinds of reasons. But the consequences could be severe with arrest and imprisonment, even in the 20th century. Let’s investigate the history of cross dressing!

Mabel becomes Jim in the mid-west – and cross dressing pays off!

In 1909, the St Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Mabel Davis who had dressed as a man for a year calling herself Jim. With her new identity, Jim went off to become a farmhand, labourer, and hotel cook. Even did a bit of house demolition. Jim enjoyed the work and smoking tobacco – though chewing it was repellent. However, Mabel/Jim kept up with the tobacco chewing to maintain the masculine appearance. After that year as a man, Mabel told the newspaper – she wasn’t going back. She fully intended to remain ‘he’.

Cross dressing in history could land you in jail!

In the same year, a woman dressing as a man in Oregon got a sixty-day jail sentence. Clearly things weren’t as liberal as in St Louis! Miss Adele Pefferle, aged 23, was revealed to be a woman when she went to pick up a suit being pressed and cleaned at her tailor. While waiting to get her trousers back, the tailor had agreed to lend her a pair of his.

But I’m assuming he tipped off the police in the meantime and when she returned to get her trousers, she was asked to remove the tailor’s trousers in front of everybody. Quite reasonably she refused and was then arrested. It emerged that Adele was an accomplished musician in several women’s orchestras but had difficulty of late getting work and so had taken to wearing men’s clothes to find a new job.

However – the police countered that their evidence suggested she had been wearing men’s clothes for far longer than she was admitting. Over a period of eight years, they claimed. And had used the name Joe Howard and other male aliases. It was also noted – horror of horrors – that she had not used make-up for several weeks and cut her hair short.

This went to court and scandalised Oregon! Adele begged not to be sent to jail: “I have never used profane language, and never go into saloons. There is no reason why I can’t go free. I don’t bother anyone.” Despite her eloquence and fairly respectable background, she got a prison term.

A few years earlier in August 1895, Reginald Culton was arrested in Central Park, New York “on a charge of masquerading in female attire”. He was Stella Lawrence at the time and a horrified magistrate requested a doctor from Mount Sinai Hospital to examine the cross dressing felon. Reginald/Stella’s defence was that his feminine appearance compelled him to dress as a woman and he was making an honest living as a maid.

Society woman caught cross dressing!

The last story is priceless. Whereas those cross dressing above were in part trying to make a better living – aside from other motives obviously – this society woman was accused of dressing a man so she could go “slumming”. Mrs Dubia wanted to see the sights of Chinatown in San Francisco and in order “to see places forbidden to women” put on male clothing. She was in the company of at least one other female socialite who did likewise.

DISCOVER MORE: Eighteenth century cross dressing diplomat

Sadly, journalists found out and exposed her cross dressing in the newspapers. They then made a beeline for her husband, Walter J Dubia – secretary of the Barnum & Richardson Manufacturing Company in Chicago. Interestingly, while vainly trying to deny that his wife would cross dress, he admitted knowing “a great many women” who dress up as men behind closed doors for “parlour theatricals”.

Frankenstein – from Mary Shelley to the movies!

In the year 1818, a female author Mary Shelley published a novel that would prove to be one of the landmarks of the horror genre for the next two hundred years. Frankenstein was the terrifying account of a Swiss doctor by that name who creates a monster made of human body parts harvested in cemeteries and dissecting rooms. Shelley’s novel was an instant success and soon became a theatre play before being taken up by the movies in the early 20th century.

Shelley herself admitted to lacking the confidence to write even though both her parents were famous scribblers. Her father, William Godwin, was a radical political journalist. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was an early feminist writer. Mary married the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who, to his credit, encouraged his wife to put pen to paper. Her feverish imagination had already created Frankenstein in her head – what she needed was the self-belief to write it down.

Frankenstein in the words of Mary Shelley

The Frankenstein novel begins with a ship in the frozen Arctic north chancing upon two sledges speeding across the ice. The passengers are Doctor Frankenstein and his gigantic monster. The ship captain quizzes the doctor to find out exactly what is going on. It turns out that this man of medicine has been mixing science with alchemy and the occult. The result in his laboratory is an eight-foot monster built of various dead human parts stitched together.

Having breathed life into this creature, Doctor Frankenstein then promptly rejects him. Finding himself not wanted by anybody – the monster’s fury rises to boiling point. He embarks on a string of murders that includes those close to his creator including the doctor’s brother, best friend, and wife.

The last of these murders is revenge against the doctor who had promised the monster a female companion but then torn her to pieces in a fit of regret and thrown the body parts in a lake. This was the final straw for the monster. Condemned to miserable solitude – what else could he do but lash out?

DISCOVER MORE: The London of The Frankenstein Chronicles

Why Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein

The story of how Frankenstein came to be written has become something of a legend. A byword for Regency decadence fuelled by alcohol and opiates. Mary Shelley, her husband Percy, Lord Byron, and a hanger-on called Doctor Polidori are holed up in a Swiss villa on a stormy night in 1816. They tell ghost stories to each other and out of this long night of mayhem emerges two great horror stories: The Vampyre by Lord Byron and Polidori – and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

This party was depicted in the 1986 movie Gothic directed by Ken Russell.

In an 1831 newspaper interview as she produced a new edition of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley verified this account of how her novel came to be written. Her ambition had been to create a story “which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awake thrilling horror – one to make the reader dread to look around, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart”.

Shelley says she was aware of “Galvanism”, which I’ve blogged about elsewhere. In short, the use of electricity to make human beings appear to return to life. The humans in question were normally executed criminals whose bodies were provided to anatomists. They then passed electric currents through the corpse thrilling audiences as dead person’s eyes opened and their limbs twitched.

I say ‘audiences’ because medical operations in the 1830s were performed in front of a crowd who might be medical students and doctors but could equally have paid for admittance – and a thrill.

FIND OUT MORE: Galvanism – Frankenstein science in the early 19th century

Frankenstein parts company with the Mary Shelley novel

By the middle of the 19th century, the Frankenstein story was already parting company with Mary Shelley’s version. Stage plays introduced new characters and steadily dropped the melancholic, philosophical ramblings of the monster in favour of terrifying campy fun. So, The Observer newspaper on 30 December, 1849 reports on a new Frankenstein theatre production that I’m guessing was Christmas entertainment for London theatregoers at the Adelphi Theatre.

Two years later in 1851, Mary Shelley died with her obituaries acknowledging that Frankenstein would be her everlasting memorial – as has proven to be the case. But the adaptations of her novel got progressively sillier becoming fodder for pantomime. In 1887, the Gaiety Theatre in London put on a Christmas ‘burlesque’ of Frankenstein with a female actor playing the doctor and a very camped up monster. The audience hated it.

The actors were well-known faces. The costumes and staging were brilliant – according to contemporary accounts. But the rowdy London theatre crowd were booing loudly before the curtain had even risen. Why? It’s hard to know now. At the same time, other theatres were putting on pantomime versions of much loved stories including Robinson Crusoe. But – it seems the Gaiety theatregoers wanted to be terrified and not amused by Frankenstein.

Movies take different directions on Frankenstein

The 1910 silent movie Frankenstein was pretty much an extension of the theatre burlesque productions captured for the cinema by the Edison film studio. In 1931, the English actor Boris Karloff gave us the square-headed, bolts-in-the-neck, grunting and groaning monster we now associate with the character. At the same time, the Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi was shaping Dracula for the movies with the cape and eastern European drawl. Hollywood was moulding these horror genre characters to its own liking.

That said – subsequent movie versions of Frankenstein either continued the camp horror tradition or endeavoured to swing back towards the Mary Shelley vision. The latter approach includes my personal favourite which is the 1973 movie, Frankenstein: The True Story. The screenplay was written by the veteran LGBT poet Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachardy.

It introduces the idea of Frankenstein’s monster being created handsome but then a defect in the scientific process renders his appearance increasingly hideous. This arouses all our fears about ageing and losing our looks. I think it’s a very smart variation on Mary Shelley’s original tale.

Vampires explained – the history and horror!

In a new series of videos, I’m going to be looking at the history of horror. And I’m starting with vampires. The origins of these blood suckers goes all the way back to ancient Greece and the myth of the Lamia. Interestingly a female vampire. Men, it would seem, do not have a monopoly on sinking their fangs into the living and draining their blood!

Vampire history and real-life murders!

Fascinating that over the last century several murderers have claimed – sometimes in mitigation for their appalling crimes – that they were vampires. The infamous English killer John George Haigh is referred to today as the Acid Bath Murderer on account of how he disposed of the bodies. But at the time, Haigh claimed he drank the blood of his victims and was referred to as the Vampire Killer back in the 1940s.

In the 1920s, the German city of Hannover was rocked by a series of murders of young men and boys. Their necks were savaged by the killer’s own teeth as he tore at their jugular veins. Eventually Friedrich Haarman was apprehended and confessed to everything. He begged the state to behead him. If you’ve watched the TV drama series Babylon Berlin – set at this time – you’ll be aware that beheading was still a form of capital punishment in Germany. Haarman got his wish and was decapitated in April 1925.

The Irish history of Vampires

One curious aspect of vampire literature that I discuss in this film – which I hope you enjoy – is the preponderance of Irish Protestant authors who loved to write about vampires. Charles Maturin was a Church of Ireland cleric and the descendant of French Huguenots – as were the other vampire scribblers, Sheridan Le Fanu (wrote the lesbian vampire drama Carmilla in 1872) and Dion Boucicault (wrote The Vampire as a theatre play renamed The Phantom for American audiences in 1856). And of course, Bram Stoker – author of the novel Dracula – was also an Irish Protestant.

DISCOVER: The Slovakian female vampire of the 17th century!

I note their religion because Stoker in particular is keen to show that only Roman Catholic sacred items like the crucifix, rosary, and communion wafers, can deter Count Dracula. A very odd twist on the ancient vampire myth from an Anglican. And even stranger when you consider that Transylvania is actually in a part of Europe where the form of Christianity is Eastern Orthodox. I’d be curious to know what you think about this.

Do watch the video – it’s pretty comprehensive and should give you a thorough understanding of the history of vampires!

The Anarchist assassination of President McKinley

Everybody knows about the assassination of two US Presidents: Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and John F Kennedy in 1963. But what about President William McKinley on 14 September, 1901? Shot at point-blank range by an anarchist called Leon Czolgosz and dying of his wounds just over a week later. As we move into a stormy political period worldwide, this assassination is the one we should all know about.

The murder of McKinley was part of a global wave of assassinations that claimed top political leaders including McKinley. Other victims of the anarchists included the King of Italy, President of France, Tsar of Russia, King of Greece, and the Empress of Austria. In 1920, an anarchist bomb detonated on Wall Street, the financial heart of New York, killed 38 people. The worst terrorist atrocity in the city until 9/11.

In the 1890s and up until the 1920s, there were secret anarchist cells operating on American soil planning attacks in the United States and around the world. The successful plot to kill the King of Italy, Umberto I, in 1900 was hatched in New Jersey and implemented by an Italian-American called Gaetano Bresci, who travelled to Italy to carry out the murderous deed.

The assassination of President McKinley was carried out by a working-class Polish American, Leon Czolgosz, who was known to some of the leading anarchists in the United States including Emma Goldman – a globally recognised figure at the time. Czolgosz may have carried out the crime as a lone operator to prove his worth to comrades, some of whom thought he was an ‘agent provocateur’ in the pay of the police. Or he may have been directed by other anarchists.

DISCOVER: The eight assassination attempts on Queen Victoria

Ten facts about the anarchist assassination of President William McKinley

Here are ten facts about the McKinley assassination that you might not know:

  1. Newspapers had been warning of an anarchist-inspired attack on the President for weeks before. One senior police officer thought the same anarchist cell behind the killing of King Umberto of Italy was planning to murder McKinley.
  2. President McKinley’s killer – the anarchist Leon Czolgosz – was suspected by his fellow anarchists of being a police spy.
  3. Czolgosz hid his gun in a handkerchief and in a major security breach fire at very close range at McKinley.
  4. An African-American called James Benjamin Parker, born to enslaved parents in 1857 in Atlanta, Georgia stopped Czolgosz firing a third shot into McKinley and his heroism led to public call for a statute to be erected of Parker. Sadly he died in poverty six years later.
  5. Anarchists were rounded up across the United States after the death of President McKinley including the infamous Emma Goldman described as the “queen of anarchism”
  6. President McKinley loved meeting the public and boasted he could shake fifty hands a minute
  7. McKinley removed one of the bullets that Czolgosz had fired himself as he was being stretchered out as that bullet had glanced off his suit buttons while the other had penetrated his abdomen and would kill him
  8. The President urged his security detail to stop beating Czolgosz after the shooting
  9. The assassination happened at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York state, and there was an early X-Ray machine being used as a fun exhibit but it was not deployed by medical staff to find the bullet lodged deep in the President
  10. Czolgosz was condemned to the electric chair but a film widely circulated on YouTube purporting to show his execution is actually a re-enactment with an actor produced by Thomas Edison’s film company. His last words before the volts were fired through his body were: “I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people – the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime.

This YouTube film below that I presented, directed and produced tells most of the story of the McKinley assassination. Below it, I share even more salacious details – including questions we have to ask about the personal lives of and psychology of these anarchists.

The ceaseless slayings by anarchist assassins had experts scratching their heads. What was motivating these killers? Psychology was in its infancy. Months before McKinley’s death, Professor Cesare Lombroso at the University of Turin published a study that reads today more like a tabloid newspaper rant than a serious analysis. He called the anarchist assassins “moral madmen, half-educated, or not educated at all”.

He took aim specifically at Luigi Luccheni, a fellow Italian who had murdered the Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898 with a knife while she was taking a stroll in the Swiss city of Geneva. Professor Lombroso pointed to Luccheni’s troubled childhood as “the son of a tippling priest of unsteady mind, and of a servant”. Raised in a foundling asylum, then farmed out to various foster parents, followed by a period of begging. And he was epileptic. Seemingly “gentle natured” and kind to children. Nevertheless a terrible anger was building up inside him.

Luccheni “feels the breath of anarchy” – Lombroso wrote – which he believes can “avenge his many grievances”. This is a recognised pattern in radicalisation today. Grievance creates a cognitive opening for terrorist ideology which legitimises and enables violent action. He stabbed the Empress. After his arrest, Luccheni claimed he would have killed any aristocrat who crossed his path that day “even if she had been a little baby”.

At his trial, Luccheni demanded the death penalty. He wanted to die. Professor Lombroso concluded that “his homicide is nothing except an indirect suicide”. What law enforcement today calls ‘suicide by cop’ when an individual knowingly provokes the police into a deadly response to kill themselves. Lombroso noted this character trait in many of the anarchist assassins of his time.

But then Lombroso took a weirder turn in his analysis. Not only was Luccheni suicidal (he did go on to hang himself in jail), but he was…”in temperament a homosexual”. Worse – a homosexual with epilepsy! This is of course wildly offensive today. Lombroso’s theory is that anarchists like Luccheni swung between criminality and anarchy. He could tell what phase Luccheni was in by his handwriting – going from “small and feminine characters” (presumably in his homosexual/anarchist phase) to criminality, when his handwriting got bigger and more butch!

Lombroso characterised anarchists as something akin to werewolves who kill in a trance-like state and then have to sleep it off. As for the epilepsy: “Epilepsy, moreover, is extremely frequent among anarchists, and one might say that it was the basis of action among the bomb-throwing anarchists”. The debate about the relationship between mental illness and radicalisation into terrorism is still very live today but experts are more careful about how they frame the issue.

This is an image of Luccheni under arrest below looking very pleased with himself.

The contemporary debate about the motivations of anarchist killers threw up some crazy ideas. Madame De Thebes, a Paris-based palmist, was sure that the answer lay in examining the shape of anarchists’ hands. She had examined the hands of several anarchist assassins and noted marked similarities.

The hand of a standard murderer is less detailed than an ordinary hand because the lines indicating love, long life, and domestic happiness are not there apparently. Neither are the raised mounts that tell of success and “worthy ambition”. But the politically motivated murderer, Madame De Thebes observed “has a less brutal hand than the ordinary murderer”.

Although the Parisian palmist had nothing good to say about the hand of Italian-born, French resident Sante Geronimo Caserio – an anarchist who successfully stabbed President Marie François Sadi Carnot to death in 1894 and was guillotined for his crime. His hand was “repellent” with four fingers of almost equal length and a thumb that was “strong, heavy, and brutal”. In a diagram reproduced below, De Thebes was most insistent that a murderer’s was invariably “short and thick”.

If you enjoy my video on anarchist assassinations – it is part of a playlist on YouTube about terrorists in history so do watch some of the others that cover everybody from Jesus Christ to Guy Fawkes.

LGBT Roman Emperors – the facts!

It’s surprising just how many Roman Emperors could be defined in today’s terms as LGBT. So, what are the stories and can we confirm the facts two thousand years later. Well, let’s go through a list of Roman Emperors who were in same-sex relationships and were very definitely non-binary. It’s a jaw-dropping list!

Kicking off the LGBT Roman Emperors list…with Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar: The Roman poet Catullus sarcastically commented that Caesar was “the husband to every woman and the wife to every man”. As a young man, the future dictator of Rome spent time on military campaigns in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The kingdom of Bithynia was a client state of the empire and Julius spent what was widely felt to be an inordinate period of time with its ruler, King Nicomedes IV.

Much older than Julius Caesar – and unfavourably portrayed as a lecherous geriatric ruling in the decadent East and coveting the youthful Roman. This sexual liaison was used as propaganda back in Rome against the ambitious Caesar. Suggesting that he had gone ‘native’ while out in the East and succumbed to all that sleaze and corruption. Allowing himself to be used as the plaything of an oriental despot.

Years later, the Bithynia episode led to a bawdy ditty being sung by the legions as they marched along: Gallias Caesar subegit, Caesarem Nicomedes. Which roughly translates as “Caesar laid Gaul while Nicomedes lay Caesar”. This annoyed Caesar so much that he swore on oath that there had never been a sexual relationship between him and the King of Bithynia. That didn’t stop Caesar being referred to behind his back as the Queen of Bithynia.

The Roman historian Suetonius was convinced the twenty year old Caesar shared a bed with the king and that – horror of horrors – he was the passive partner. Something an elite Roman would find unforgivable. By all means have a dalliance with another man – but always be the dominant party. Suetonius – who was quite a bitchy writer – referred to Caesar competing against the real Queen of Bithynia for the king’s affections: paelicem reginae, spondam interiorem regiae lecticae.

DISCOVER: Famous LGBT Muslims in history

Julio-Claudian LGBT Roman Emperors

All the first emperors of the so-called Julio-Claudian dynasty could have been classified as LGBT if contemporary sources and later writers are to be believed:

Emperor Augustus: The first acknowledged emperor of Rome is well-known for his tough laws on adultery and promiscuity. His legal prudishness even led to the banishment of his own daughter, Julia, to the island of Pandateria and the exile of the licentious poet, Ovid. But Augustus may have been over-compensating for the swirl of LGBT related rumours and accusations that dogged his youth.

Augustus was known as Octavian before becoming emperor. His rival for political power was the Roman alpha male, Mark Antony. On his coins, Mark Antony has the bearing of an American football quarterback or a rugby scrum half. In contrast, this Roman jock depicted Octavian as effeminate and incapable of military and political leadership. But Mark Antony went way further than that.

Through his brother, Lucius Antonius, Mark Antony accused Octavian of being the passive partner when having sex with a consul called Aulus Hirtius who reportedly paid the young Octavian for the experience. Octavian was also said to have cemented his alliance with Julius Caesar in between the sheets. All the more scandalous as Caesar adopted Octavian as his son and heir.

As we know, Octavian would go on to defeat all his enemies – including Mark Antony – and adopt the title Augustus. With almost absolute power, Augustus posed as the defender of ancient Roman morals.

For instance, he was once informed that a Roman actor called Stephanio was parading around the streets with a page-boy who it turned out was a married woman with her hair cut short. The scandalised Augustus had Stephanio whipped in three of Rome’s main theatres – those built by Pompey, Marcellus, and Balbus. He also forced an actor called Pylades out of Rome for making an obscene gesture at somebody in the audience with his middle finger.

All a far cry from the sexual liberality of the young Octavian!

DISCOVER: LGBT men hanged in 18th century London

Tiberius: Tiberius took the reins of power after Augustus died. Already on the older side of middle age, he went into semi-retirement on the island of Capri leaving the business of government to others in Rome. Tongues wagged over what exactly he was up to on Capri and the stories got increasingly lurid.

Some of the accusations encompassed what we would now classify as pedophilia. The jaded emperor also brought together young women and adult male prostitutes. Obsessed with pornography, he would insist that a kind of live sex show was put on for his entertainment. All of this was intended to excite and ‘stiffen’ his flagging libido or as Suetonius puts in in Latin: ut aspectu deficientis libidines excitaret.

I think you get the drift!

Caligula and Nero:

Among the Julio-Claudians, two emperors stand out as the most deranged: Caligula and Nero. Though attempts have been made in recent years to rehabilitate both of them to a degree. They undoubtedly engaged in what we would regard as LGBT sexual activity. But their tastes were very broad – to put it mildly!

Caligula is accused of incest with two of his sisters and demanding sex with the wives of senators. But he also had a homosexual relationship with a senator called Valerius Catullus. This caused some consternation among upper-class Romans who didn’t mind that Caligula was seeing a male actor called Mnester, because it was fine for an elite Roman to have a gay fling with a lower-class person.

But with somebody of equivalent social rank, they needed to be sure that Catullus hadn’t been pressured into it. For his part – Catullus complained that he was literally worn out by the emperor’s demands in bed. Gay sex for pagan Romans was a fact of life. Many in the senatorial class engaged in LGBT activity, not just the emperors. But the ideal was an older, richer, man in a dominant role with a younger, lower social rank individual who took a passive role. This is uncomfortable for us today – and illegal where it was under age.

Should also mentioned that elite Romans were queasy about Caligula cross-dressing as he allegedly did. What you wore designated your position in society so emperors wearing dresses or imitating the Gods was not a good thing. Caligula, Nero, and Elagabalus were three emperors who ignored social and gender norms when it came to their attire to the horror of their social equals.

Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors. He had just kicked to death his pregnant second wife Poppaea Sabina when he decided to marry a male freed slave called Sporus who resembled her. This was according to the historian Cassius Dio. Just to get the resemblance even closer, Nero had Sporus castrated and in a wedding ceremony, Sporus was dressed as a bride.

Curiously on a later occasion, Nero held yet another wedding ceremony where the LGBT emperor dressed as a bride and married another freed slave dressed as the groom. Only Nero didn’t have himself castrated for this role. These accounts come from all the major historians of the time with Suetonius even claiming that Nero used to wear an animal skin and “assail with violence the private parts both of men and women, while they were bound to stakes”.

Emperor Hadrian and Antinous – an imperial LGBT romance!

The most famous LGBT relationship in Roman imperial history has to be that between the Emperor Hadrian and Antinous. The British Museum, Louvre, Prado, Vatican and other collections of Roman art are replete with busts of the beautiful LGBT youth – Antinous. Lover and companion of the Emperor Hadrian. Coincidentally from Bithynia where Julius Caesar had so much fun!

Hadrian the bearded Spaniard who rose to the top position in the Roman Empire. Antinous born a slave, freed, and lived as the lover of Hadrian. Often described by gay friends of mine as the perfect coupling of a “bear” and a “twink”.

Hadrian spent a big part of his reign on a tour of the empire. While sailing down the river Nile, Antinous drowned. Rumours have always swirled around this tragic death. Accident, suicide, murder, or ritual sacrifice? Whatever the circumstances, a grief-stricken Hadrian had Antinous turned into a God.

His cult centred on a new city called Antinoopolis whose impressive ruins lasted into the 19th century until locals ground up the remaining buildings for cement production. Hadrian’s intense love affair with Antinous wasn’t viewed negatively at the time although his reaction to the young man’s death was seen as over the top. Womanly even – in one sneering comment.

Other LGBT Roman Emperors – including the boundary pushing Elagabalus

Other LGBT Roman Emperors include Nero’s immediate successor Galba; the Flavian dynasty emperors Titus and Domitian; the “good emperors” Nerva and Trajan; Commodus (as featured in the movie Gladiator); and the notorious Elagabalus.

The latter LGBT emperor – Elagabalus – is a corker! A teenage ruler whose reign last four years until he was assassinated age just eighteen. Though in that time he managed to rack up four marriages to women – and a string of gay encounters. Roman writers commented on his use of a female hair net by Elagabalus and removing hair from all over his body. He wore mascara, powdered his face, and wore women’s clothes.

To the horror of respectable opinion he took several husbands and Cassius Dio claimed that Elagabalus prostituted himself. But where he truly crossed a line for Roman elite opinion was his partial castration. This has led some to claim that he was a transgender Roman Emperor – which seems a fair conclusion. Sadly the Praetorian Guard turned on the young emperor and assassinated him.

Is Mary Magdalene under the Louvre?

In the late 1980s, French President Francois Mitterand ordered a new look for a centuries old museum and palace – the Louvre, in the heart of Paris. Mitterand basically stuck a huge glass pyramid in front of a venerable building dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Today, you take the pyramid for granted. At the time – this modernist structure was loved and despised in equal measure. But nobody imagined that over a decade later, the Louvre pyramid would be depicted as the final burial place of Mary Magdalene – the companion of Jesus!

Thanks to American author Dan Brown, the glass pyramid attained a mystical significance that escaped everybody at its unveiling in 1989. Back then, it was one of the President’s grand projects to beautify the city. Costing an eye watering US$850 million at the currency value of the time and taking six years to complete. Designed by the Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, it was intended to ensure that the Louvre would emerge as the biggest museum in the world.

Dan Brown, Mary Magdalene, and the Louvre

Now strictly speaking – before Dan Brown lovers scream me off the stage – Mary Magdalene, according to his novel The Da Vinci Code, is not buried under the pyramid you see soaring above ground but a sister pyramid that is inverted.

DISCOVER: Secrets of the Lost Gospels of Jesus

This is a nearby accompanying pyramid whose large glass base is in the Place Du Carrousel. So, at the end of the Da Vinci Code movie, when you see Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) having his moment of realisation – it’s happening as he walks across glass panes that form the flat base of the inverted pyramid.

He has deduced that Mary Magdalene is buried under this chalice-like shape of a pyramid. Suggestive of the female womb as has been heavily hinted throughout with upturned V-shapes being male phalluses and the reverse being female. Its subterranean tip meets the top of another much shorter pyramid as you can see in my video below. It’s beneath THAT third pyramid, were you can find Mary Magdalene.

Or not of course. Watch to discover!

The tabloids cover the death of Princess Diana

I’m an avid collector of old newspapers going right back to the one page news sheets of the late 17th century. Over the years, I’ve held on to contemporary newspapers when their front pages are massively compelling. Such was the case on the 31 August 1997 as I returned in a mini-cab from a night out clubbing in London to hear that Princess Diana had been involved in a serious car crash in Paris. Through the night I got hold of the tabloid papers as they printed updated editions every hour right up to the moment that her death was confirmed.

I’ve not shown these newspapers before because even two decades later – it seemed far too sensitive. But with a quarter of a century now gone by, I’m sharing them here for you to see. However, handling these newspapers and looking at the headlines still sends a chill down my spine.

The death of Al Fayed – but not Princess Diana

At 2am, the News of the World reported sensationally that Princess Diana’s “boyfriend” Dodi Al Fayed had been killed while Diana “suffered serious neck injuries”. The driver of their Mercedes had also been killed. The Prefect of Paris police confirmed that the accident had happened as Diana’s car was chased by press photographers on motorbikes.

The car was in such bad shape that the police thought it was miraculous that anybody survived. At that stage of the night, the ambulance crew attended to the “partly conscious” princess. The French radio station RTL reported that a photographer sat by the roadside nearby “distressed after seeing the serious condition of Princess Diana”. I reproduce that front page below.

By 3am, the Sunday Mirror was still of the view that while Dodi Al Fayed was dead, Princess Diana was “terribly hurt” but still alive. Al Fayed had been given a heart massage next to the car but could not be revived. The newspaper called its update on the situation an “emergency edition” – shown below.

The death of Princess Diana is announced

Then at 6am, the News of the World dropped its usual red-coloured banner and went entirely black on the front page in what it called a “shock issue” of the newspaper to announce that Princess Diana was dead. She had died at around 3am London time.

I was working at the BBC in the late 1990s as a news producer – what they called a ‘Senior Broadcast Journalist’. So, going into work I was confronted by a hive of activity as the BBC went into full rolling news mode. This, by the way, was still the early days of 24 hour news and the coverage was on the main BBC channels as it would only be in November 1997 that the 24-hour news channel was launched – on which I was an early producer.

One newspaper that shall remain nameless decided not to lead with the Diana story on the grounds, I assume, that they thought it was too tacky. Or maybe populist. Anyway, the prize for claiming the moral high ground for that pompous newspaper was unsold copies piled up in the supermarkets and newsagents.

DISCOVER: The awful coronation of King George IV

The death of Princess Diana in August 1997 left the country numbed but few of us anticipated the outpouring of very public grief from a sizeable part of the population. As with the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II, it revealed emotions around the monarchy that can bubble up to the surface in the event of such a tragedy.

The comical coronation of King George IV

In July 1821, George IV was crowned as king of the United Kingdom at Westminster Abbey. The event was a riot of glitzy kitsch with no expense spared that went some way to establishing the model for the modern coronation. But it was a comical – or rather tragicomic – day that saw George’s own queen barred from the event while he sweated inside under the weight of extravagant robes of his own design.

Meanwhile, the streets of London saw both celebration and civil unrest.

No expense was spared for this royal event. King George IV spent twenty times more than his father’s coronation had cost. My calculation allowing for inflation was that he splashed out £25million in today’s money. Though half the cost was covered by reparations imposed on France which had been defeated six years earlier in the wars against its emperor Napoleon. George viewed himself as the conqueror of France and his coronation was a kind of victory lap.

I’ve gathered many of the following details about the coronation and events around it from contemporary newspaper accounts.

A feast of bling at the coronation of King George

The coronation crown was the largest item of royal bling ever created. It included a staggering 12,314 diamonds! After the coronation, George IV pressured parliament into buying the massive bauble but MPs and Lords said no. Gradually stripped of its jewels over the years, the unloved crown went on a curious journey ending up at the Museum of London in the 20th century, then Asprey the jewellers, then the Sultan of Brunei, and finally into the Royal Collection which has placed its forlorn remnant in the Tower of London.

But George didn’t have just one crown fashioned for his coronation. Another item of stunning headwear made for the event was the Diamond Diadem, which has been worn by queens and queens consort at coronations ever since. Most famously, it was worn by the late Elizabeth II when she modelled for the iconic stamps we knew and used for decades in this country to send our mail. Here it is pictured below (article continues after this image).

At George’s coronation, all the nobility were ordered to have special clothes tailored copying Tudor and Stuart designs. This was English history cosplay on a grand scale. The king’s own coronation robe was 27 feet long and needed to be carried by nine pages. It was later sent to the waxwork museum Madame Tussauds. During the proceedings, George perspired profusely under his ridiculously rich and heavy attire.

King George’s queen excluded from the coronation

The Times newspaper noted the George IV’s coronation followed the structure of his father’s crowning sixty years later but there were huge differences. For a start, King George III was crowned alongside his wife as queen. In stark contrast, George IV’s estranged wife Queen Caroline was excluded from the coronation. She was reduced to banging on the doors of the abbey which were slammed in her face and at one point, guards stuck their bayonets under the queen’s chin to make the point she wasn’t welcome. Broken by this humiliating ordeal, Queen Caroline died three weeks later!

There were riots by supporters of the queen in London which meant that whereas the coronation of George III required 3,000 troops to maintain order – the enthronement of his son saw 20,000 troops on the streets. Having failed to be crowned alongside her husband, Queen Caroline petitioned the Archbishop of Canterbury to have her own coronation a week later while the abbey was still suitably decorated. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

A wave of national apathy for the coronation of King George

On 28 July 1821, The Morning Chronicle took stock of the coronation that had happened just ten days before. It mocked the “court journals” that had drooled over this “pompous” ceremony without pointing out “the perfect apathy with which it has been regarded by the great body of the people of England”. The newspaper remarked that so indifferent were the masses that it would be a topic of study for future historians.

What The Morning Chronicle believed it was witnessing was something stirring deep in the national soul – against the monarchy:

“Superficial observers may think temporary causes sufficient to account for it; but an indifference so marked and universal – so entire a want of sympathy on the part of the people with those observances, which in the hands of their feudal tyrants were at once the instruments of gratification and delusion, can only be fairly ascribed to causes of a more general and permanent operation.”

Instead of inspiring awe, the pomp and pageantry had many wondering gloomily how much it was going to cost. The newspaper was concerned that after a century of reining in royal power, King George was showing signs of old-style absolutist monarchy and his ministers, who should have been able to control him, had allowed this grandiose coronation to take place.

“The truth is that the whole thing is out of date and the attempt at transferring the forms of chivalry to the cold realities of a modern court produces all the effects of a ‘travesti’.”

This newspaper assumed a much bigger figure for the true cost of the coronation than the one I gave above from other sources. It estimated half a million pounds which at today’s value is an eye watering £53.7 million. The Morning Chronicle believed that downscaling the coronation to a simple oath taking would have saved the Treasury what it lost in revenue from the recent abolition of the Agricultural Horse Tax.

FIND OUT MORE: The chaotic funeral of King George III

Crowds leave the coronation of King George for baser amusements

Once King George IV’s procession had entered Westminster Abbey, most of those outside departed hastily for Green Park according to The Observer newspaper. The reason being that a certain Mr Green was to ascend in a large hot air balloon as a stunt to celebrate the coronation. Watching this daredevil act of bravery enthralled the crowd more than the crowning of the king. There was some concern as Mr Green ascended until he was entirely lost from view eventually managing to descend again near South Mimms in the county of Essex.

At sunset, an estimated half a million people descended on Hyde Park to watch a firework display. This included an “illuminated transparency” of King George IV drawn in a carriage by “milk white horses”. According to one account, whole oxen and sheep were roasted in Hyde Park to feed the multitude.

I live close to an area of south London still called Vauxhall. Before the Victorians stuck a railway line through it, this was a centre of public entertainment. The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens saw the city’s glitterati rubbing shoulders with politicians, entertainers, thieves, prostitutes, and thrill seekers attracted by a night of entertainments. For the king’s coronation, Vauxhall witnessed a huge masked ball.

The Morning Chronicle newspaper listed what visitors could expect to experience. Ramo Samee was a celebrity magician from India whose act included fire eating, sword swallowing, and a curious trick that involved swallowing beads followed by a string and then regurgitating a strung necklace. The equally renowned Mr Wilson would perform on the tightrope. A performance of Italian marionettes called the Fantoccini and a Chinese shadow puppet show called the Ombres Chinoises would also feature that evening.

DISCOVER: Worse royal funeral ever!

Ten years later, King George IV breathed his last – one of the least mourned monarchs to ever sit on the throne. It was up to Queen Victoria to bring some dignity and respect back to an institution that could very easily have not survived the 19th or early 20th century.

Inside Charles III’s Hampton Court Palace

Now that Charles III is King – he takes over the royal palaces and that includes an impressive Tudor spread just outside London called Hampton Court Palace. A royal residence seized from its original owner Cardinal Wolsey by his boss, King Henry VIII. He expanded it into the incredible series of structures you see today.

I visited in April 2022 – fifty-two years after I went as a child (see my film below). It’s as magical today as it was in 1970. Though the way it’s presented has changed a bit. But all the main features are still very much in evidence. The cavernous kitchens that served jumbo-sized meals to courtiers and the king twice a day. The manicured gardens with the maze that delights children. And the great vine for gardening enthusiasts.

DISCOVER: England’s long lost royal palaces

The palace is closely associated with three of Henry’s wives. The intertwined letters A and H you can see carved at certain points refers to the thousand days in which Henry took Anne Boleyn to be his second queen. After arranging for Anne to be beheaded with a sword on charges of treason, the overbearing monarch married Jane Seymour but she died in childbirth at Hampton Court.

Wife number five was the teenage Catherine Howard who was put under effective house arrest at this palace after being accused of adultery. She would also lose her head. As a child I remember a guide at Hampton Court telling us that her ghost could still be heard imploring the king in high pitched screams to forgive her indiscretions. He didn’t.

A century later, and King Charles the first was imprisoned in his own palace at the end of a civil war that had pitched royalists against parliamentarians. The king managed to escape as he knew his own palace and its various exit points. But was recaptured and executed outside the Banqueting House in London. The Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell – who headed up Britain’s first and only period as a republic of sorts – lived at Hampton Court enjoying its regal splendour.

But as you’ll see in the film below, that splendour wore thin by the end of the 1600s with King William III setting out to demolish the entire palace and rebuild it in the baroque style. He got half way there. So today, you have the remains of a Tudor palace bolted on to a grand Versailles-style edifice. It’s a curious stylistic jumble.

In 1737, King George II gave up on the place preferring Kensington Palace while George III developed what would become Buckingham Palace. It remains a royal palace and part of the new king’s palatial portfolio but it’s managed to be passed on as opposed to Charles III having any power to change it in any way.