The case of Captain Rigby has everything a gay historian requires: sex, dramatic incident, humour, some degree of gay pride or at least defiance, personal human interest, and wider social relevance. It also holds together as an accessible story that can be easily grasped without the need for historical filters. The gay past here does not seem to be a different country, but a country very recognizeable to us today. Nevertheless, there is some historical context that would be useful to make some things more easily appreciated, which I mention in the following notes.
The following is the complete text of the trial of Captain Edward Rigby for sodomy in 1698. It documents the first recorded use of an agent provocateur, employed for the purposes of entrapment by the Societies for the Reformation for Manners. These Societies were formed in Tower Hamlets, London, in 1690, with their primary object being the suppression of bawdy houses and profanity. A network of moral guardians was set up, with four stewards in each ward of the City of London, two for each parish, and a committee, whose business it was to gather the names and addresses of offenders against morality, and to keep minutes of their misdeeds. By 1699 there were nine such societies, and by 1701 there were nearly 20 in London, plus others in the provinces, all corresponding with one another and gathering information and arranging for prosecutions.
Their first queer victim was Captain Edward Rigby. Early in 1698 he had been tried for sodomy at a court-martial, at which he was acquitted. But Reverend Thomas Bray, a leading member of the Societies for Reformation of Manners, believed Rigby to be guilty, and he worked out a plan with the constabulary to entrap him using as bait the servant named Minton who had previously been approached by Rigby. Minton’s master was Rev. Charles Coates, who was a parishoner of Thomas Bray. The trial below gives all the details.
Rigby’s trial was mentioned in several satirical ballads, including The Women’s Complaint to Venus.
The Societies for the Reformation of Manners were also responsible for the arrest of a group of sodomites in 1707, of whom several committed suicide while in prison. See The Tryal and Conviction of Several Reputed Sodomites.
Rigby’s trial is remarkable for showing that as early as the 1690s some men were aware of being part of a historical tradition: Rigby tells Minton, “it’s no more than was done in our Fore-fathers time.” As with many modern gay men, Rigby justified himself — and perhaps developed some sense of gay identity — by referring to historical figures and great men who were also gay.
It should be noted that his reference to Peter the Great is probably based upon first-hand evidence (I don’t think any biographer of Peter has referred to this contemporary evidence). Rigby must have observed Peter lying with Prince Alexander (a handsome lad Peter had picked up in the Moscow slums who became the most powerful man in Russia) during Peter’s visit to England from 11 January through 21 April 1698, aboard the royal yacht, or perhaps during Peter’s two-month stay in Deptford to examine the shipyards, where he caroused with the English sailors, or perhaps in the course of the sham naval battle that was staged for Peter’s entertainment on a visit to Portsmouth. Captain Rigby might well have had some official role to play during this state visit of the Russian monarch whose obsession was the buildilng of ships. Rigby had been made captain of the Mermaid fireship in 1693, and from 1695 until his arrest he commanded the Dragon, a 40 gun man- of-war in the squadron under Commodore Moody; he had taken two valuable prizes in the Mediterranean, and was an officer of some small fame.
Another man was indicted for aiding, abetting, and assisting Rigby in his sodomitical attempts, but was not named at the trial. He was probably Edward FitzGerald, one of two men with the same name, both of whom accused William Tipping, a clergyman, of suborning them to falsely charge Rigby with sodomizing them. Tipping was indicted for this conspiracy in July 1699, but the FitzGeralds’ charge was not believed, and the Grand Jury threw out the bill, with directions to seek out the two FitzGeralds to try them for perjury. Tipping was almost certainly another member of the Societies for the Reformation of Manners and a friend of Thomas Bray.
After serving his prison sentence, Rigby fled to France, where he became a Roman Catholic and entered the enemy’s service. In 1711 the French man-of-war the Toulouse was sighted by two English ships that were returning to Port Mahon in the Mediterranean. They engaged and captured her, and towed the badly damaged ship into port. The Second Captain of the Toulouse turned out to be none other than Edward Rigby. At Port Mahon the resourceful Captain Rigby found means to get on board a Genoese ship lying at anchor in the harbour, and by that means he again escape to France. He was highly regarded in France for his marine skills, and very well paid, though his pleasures were said to have been expensive.
The trial is preceded by several newspaper reports.
News Paper Reports
24 November 1698
There are now above 400 Prisoners in Newgate, 78 of whom are to Plead his Majesties Pardon next Sessions, and the rest are to come upon their Tryals, some of whom are for Buggery. (Dawks’s News-Letter)
10 December 1698
The Sessions is not yet ended, but 2 persons are convicted for that wicked crime of Buggery. (Dawks’s News-Letter)
Sat-Tues 10-13 December 1698
Yesterday the Trials ended at the Old Bailly [sic] when about 22 Criminals received Sentence of Death for different Crimes; a great many were Burnt in the Hand, and a certain Captain was fined in 1000 l. and ordered to stand 3 times in the Pillory for Buggery; as were some others for Misdemeanors, &c. Some others are Continued in Prison for Exchequer Notes, High-ways, &c. And then the Court Adjourned to 8 of the Clock on Friday Morning next, when above 70 persons are to plead their Pardons. Four Women that were Condemned to Die, pleaded their Bellies; and the Jury of Matrons returned 3 of them quick with Child, but the 4th otherwise. (The Flying Post)
13 December 1698
Yesterday the Tryials ended at the Old Bayly, when about 22 Criminals, received Sentence of Death for different Crimes, near 40 were Burnt in the Hand, and a Captain was Fined 1000l. and ordered to Stand 3 times in the Pillory for Buggery, and some others for other Crimes, &c. (Dawks’s News-letter)
17-20 December 1698
We are informed that a Man Servant, belonging to the Right Honorable the Lady Mary Howard, getting out of Bed on Monday morning last, came down Stairs, and putting himself in Womens Apparel, went up again to his Bed, and laid himself athwart it, and cut his own Throat. (The Flying Post) (Nearly the same report appeared in Dawks’s News-letter for 20 December.)
Tues-Turs 20-22 December 1698
On Tuesday last Captain Rigby stood in the Pillory, over-against the George Tavern in the Pall-Mall, and yesterday in Charing-Cross, according to Sentence, for attempting Sodomy; he appeared very gay. He is to stand again to morrow without Temple-Bar. (The Flying Post)
Tues-Thurs 20-22 December 1698
On Tuesday last Capt. Rigby stood upon the Pillory in the Pall Mall, before the George Tavern, and yesterday he stood at Chairing [sic Cross. (The Post Boy)
22 December 1698
Yesterday Captain Rigby stood on the Pillory at Charing Cross, and this day without Temple Bar. (Dawks’s News-letter)
Thurs-Sat 22-24 December 1698
On Thursday last Captain Rigby stood on the Pillory without Temple Bar, as did likewise two other Fellows in the Pillory within the Bar. (The Post Boy)
14 January 1699
I am informed that three other Indictments for Beastly Crimes are ready to be exhibited agianst Captain Rigby. (Dawks’s News-letter)
The Proceedings Against Captain Rigby
At the Sessions of Goal Delivery, held at Justice-Hall in the Old-Bailey, on Wednesday the Seventh Day of December, 1698. for intending to Commit the Abominable SIN of SODOMY, on the Body of one William Minton.
Printed by Order of the Court.
An Indictment was found against Captain Rigby, for that he, the Seventh day of November last, did Solicite, Incite, and as well by words as otherways, endeavour to perswade one William Minton (of about the Age of Nineteen Years) to suffer him the said Rigby, to commit the Crime of Sodomy with him the said Minton. And the said Rigby did also Endeavour and Attempt, to Commit the Crime of Sodomy with him the said Minton; and did also do and perpetrate divers other Enormities and abominable things, with an intent to Commit the Crime of Sodomy with the said Minton.
Captain Rigby being sensible of his Guilt, and unwilling the same should be disclosed to the World, would not therefore Plead Not Guilty to his Inditment; neither would he confess the same, but Demurr’d to the Indictment, in hopes, as his council alledged, that they might find some Fault therein; but upon Arguing the Demurrer, the Court were of Opinion the Indictment was good, and therefore Judgment was given against Rigby, which was the same as if he had Pleaded Guilty. And on the last day of the Sessions, the council for the King demanded Judgment against him, which could not be Adequate to his Crime; and for the Information of the Court, in order to give a Just and Exemplary Judgment, pray’d, That several Affidavits which were produced might be Read, which accordingly were Read; whereby it appeared,
That on Saturday the Fifth of November last, Minton standing in St. James’s Park, to see the Fireworks [i.e. the Guy Fawkes bonfire], Rigby stood by him and took him by the hand, and squeez’d it; put his Privy Member Erected into Minton’s Hand; kist him, and put his Tongue into Minton’s Mouth, who being much astonish’d at these Actions went from him; but Rigby pursued him, and accosted him again; and after much Discourse prevailed with Minton to tell him where he lodged, and to meet him the Monday following about Five a Clock, at the George- Tavern in the Pall mall, and to Enquire for Number 4. Minton the next day Acqainted Charles Coates, Esq; (with whom he lived) with what had happened to him the Night before, and desired his Advice and Direction therein; who with a Worthy Divine then present (being willing to detect and punish the Villany designed by Rigby) directed Minton to apply himself to Thomas Railto Esq; a Justice of the Peace for Middlesex; who being informed of what past between Rigby and Minton, appointed his Clark with a Constable, and two other Persons, to go with Minton to the George-Tavern, who were to stay in some Room adjoyning to the Room whereinto Minton should go: and if any Violence should be offered to him, upon crying out “Westminster” the Constable and his Assistance should immediately enter the Room.
That on Monday the Seventh of November last, about Four of the Clock in the Afternon, Rigby came to the George-Tavern, and left Number 4 at the Bar, with Directions, That if any Enquired for that Number, to send them to him; after Rigby had been about an Hour at the Tavern, (Minton not coming) Rigby called up one of the Drawers, and in a Passionte manner, bid him go to Minton’s Lodgings, and enquire for a young Gentleman; and if he were within, to tell him a Gentleman staid for him at the George-Tavern; the Drawer accordingly went, but Minton not being within, the Drawer return’d that Answer to Rigby.
That about six a clock Minton came to the George Tavern, enquired for Number 4. and was shewed into the room where Rigby was, and [t]he Constable and his assistance were placed in a Room adjoyning; Rigby seemed much pleased upon Mintons coming, and drank to him in a glass of Wine and kist him, took him by the Hand, put his Tongue into Mintons Mouth, and thrust Mintons hand into his (Rigby) Breeches, saying, “He had raised his Lust to the highest degree,” Minton thereupon askt, “How can it be, a Woman was only fit for that,” Rigby answered, “Dam’em, they are all Poxt, I’ll have nothing to do with them.” Then Rigby sitting on Mintons Lap, kist him several times, putting his Tongue into his mouth, askt him, “if he should F[uck] him,” “how can that be” askt Minton, “I’le show you” answered Rigby, “for it’s no more than was done in our Fore-fathers time”; and then to incite Minton thereto, further spake most Blaphemous words, and said, “That the French King did it, and the Czar of Muscovy made Alexander, a Carpenter, a Prince for that purpose,” and affirmed, “He had seen the Czar of Muscovy through a hole at Sea, lye with Prince Alexander.” Then Rigby kist Minton several times, putting his Tongue in his Mouth, and taking Minton in his Arms, wisht he might lye with him all night, and that his Lust was provoked to that degree, he had — [i.e. ejaculated] in his Breeches, but notwithstanding he could F[uck] him; Minton thereupon said, “sure you cannot do it here,” “yes,” answered Rigby, “I can,” and took Minton to a corner of the Room, and put his Hands into Mintons Breeches, desiring him to pull them down, who answered “he would not, but he (Rigby) might do what he pleased”; thereupon Rigby pulled down Mintons Breeches, turn’d away his shirt, put his Finger to Mintons Fundament, and applyed his Body close to Mintons, who feeling something warm touch his Skin, put his hand behind him, and took hold of Rigbys Privy Member, and said to Rigby “I have now discovered your base Inclinations, I will expose you to the World, to put a stop to these Crimes”; and thereupon Minton went towards the door, Rigby stopt him, and drew his Sword, upon which Minton gave a stamp with his foot, and cry’d out “Westminster”; then the Constable and his Assistance came into the Room, and seized Rigby, who offer’d the Constable a Gratuity to let him go, which he refusing, carryed Rigby before Sir Henry Dutton Colt, before whom Minton charged Rigby (who was present) with the Fact to the effect before related; who being askt by Sir Henry Colt, “Whether the Fact Minton had charged him with were True,” Rigby denyed not that the Charge against him was true, only objected against some inconsiderable Circumstances, which no ways tended to the lessening of the Charge.
That after all the Informations were read, Rigby was askt by the Court, “What he had to say for himself,” he desired that a Gentlemans Affidavit who was present when this matter was transacted might be read; the Court told him, “That that Gentleman stood Indicted in the same Indictment with him for being Aiding, Advising, and Assisting to him, in committing his Crime, and therefore could not be an Evidence for him.” Rigby was askt by the Court “what further he had to say,” he insisted on his Innocency, that he was misadvised by his Council in Demurring to the Inditment, which if he had known had been Confessing of the Fact in case the Court had been of Opinion that the Indictment was sufficient, he would not have done it; but seeing the Law was so he must submit to it; he said he was Drunk and might kiss Minton several times. To which it was answered by the Kings Council, “That his (Rigbys) Council had well advised him, and he knew his Guilt to be such, That it would be proved by Three or Four Witnesses beyond all contradiction,” and therefore Rigby Demurred to the Indictment, in hopes thereby his Crime would not be Disclosed, as it must have been if he had pleaded Not Gulty to his Indictment, and submitted to a Tryal; but as the Fact had now been made publick in Court; and it also appearing that he was not Drunk when he Committed it.
It was therefore prayed by the King’s Council, that the Court would give an Exemplary Judgment against him, for that Crime of which, by his own Confession, he stood Convicted, and was not in its Nature to be Aggravated.
And the Judgment which was pronounced by the Court against Rigby, was, viz.
That he stand Three several Days in the Pillory, for the space of two Hours, from Eleven of the Clock to One, in each of those days.
The first day over-against the George-Tavern in the Pall-mall; the Second day at Charing-Cross, and the Third day at Temple-Bar.
That he pay a Fine of 1000l. to the King.
That he lye in Prison for a Year, after he shall have paid his Fine.
And that before he be discharged out of Prison, he shall find sufficient Sureties for his good Behaviour for Seven Years.
- SOURCE: An Account of the Proceedings against Capt Edward Rigby, London: Printed by F. Collins in the Old Bailey, 1698.
- CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation: Rictor Norton. Ed. “The Trial of Capt. Edward Rigby, 1698.” Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. Updated 11 July 2013; http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/rigby.htm
Tim Alderman (2017)