Who was Henry Labouchere?

 By @pridematters1 


Above: Henry Labouchere 

I often talk about Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, commonly known as the Labouchere Amendment. This act made “gross indecency” between two males a crime in the UK and this amendment was named after Henry Labouchere. ‘Gross indecency’ meant that any man who had committed any act of homosexuality with another man could be prosecuted under the new amendment. Unlike the Buggery act of 1533, which only prosecuted against the act of buggery, therefore the new act was much easier for prosecution and clearly opened it up to interpretation. 

Henry Labouchere was an English writer, poet, publisher and ironically a theatre owner, a profession that was historically associated with homosexuals working as theatre workers, yet a man who clearly was homophobic.

Above: Henry Labouchere was often mocked by the media. 

Labouchere was also a member of parliament, having a break from politics at one point, editing and funding his magazine ‘The Truth’.He was a liberal, yet his views could be forgiven to be very conservative in todays climate.  It is worth pointing out his status, as it played a great part of his success. He inherited a vast fortune from his uncle, also a member of parliament in his day .

He was often sued for libel.However, owing to his fortune he was able to continue and defend his legal battles.

He was a very outspoken writer and made many enemies. Gilbert the Composer mocked him in an infamous song, there was also a few cartoons mocking him likewise.

He battled using his magazine against feminism and often ridiculed and belittled women, along with his constant anti-Semite viewpoint.

However, ‘The Truth’ magazine did campaign for changes in the law for prostitution and the rise in the age of consent in heterosexuals to 16, which led to the Criminal Law Amendment act,  almost over night Labouchere drafted a part that had absolutely nothing to do with the bill and is seen to be clearly homophobic. It would make it easier for homosexuals to be prosecuted, unlike other laws it didn’t define the act of homosexuality.

Labouchere was aware of the increase in male prostitution and the rise of cases that could not prosecute anyone participating in acts of buggery,  also people we would consider in today’s standards as Transgender in a case such as the case of Boulton and Park in 1870. https://pridematters.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/a-brief-look-at-the-case-of-stella-fanny/

The rise of the visibility of homosexuals is thought to be the introduction of The Offences Against the persons act 1861, although changes to the laws that affected buggery crimes had been ongoing since the turn of the century. The abolition of the death sentence for buggery was replaced with a life sentence for anyone caught. 

A few years before this act was passed through parliament he met Oscar Wilde in America. Alhough Wilde was a big fan of Labouchere it wasn’t a mutual admiration, Labouchere was often making comments at the time about Wilde’s ‘behaviour’.

On Wilde’s sentence he wrote that he regretted the shortness of the sentence that the amendment carried and commented that he would have preferred seven or so years.

Above: Oscar Wilde 

He went on to criticise other homosexual incidences, one of which was linked to the Royal household. Queen Victoria is said to have had an incredible distaste for Labouchere, after insulting the Royal family. This is thought to have led to his lack of inclusion in Gladstone’s (PM) cabinet.

He wasn’t as successful as he would have liked to be as a politician and left Britain, retiring to Italy.

Edited by Sam Mills

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