The book explores the changing ways in which male-male sex and love have been perceived and experienced from the late Anglo-Saxon period to the present. Celebrated figures, such as Richard Lionheart, whose love for Philip Augustus of France was so well-documented, Oscar Wilde, gubject of the most explosive scandal of the Victorian period, and Derek Jarman, the great artist and chronicler of the age of AIDS, are examined alongside little-known figures: Eleanor/John Rykener, a cross-dresser in Chaucer's England, the mollies of eighteenth-century London, the habituants of underground gay bars and cafes in 1930s Manchester and Brighton, and the newly-confident gays of contemporary Britain, who marry, adopt children and command the increasingly powerful 'pink pound'. Drawing on a fabulous wealth of research, the authors - each an expert in his field - have worked closely together to deliver a powerful, highly-readable and eye-opening history of love and desire between men in Britain.
"The authors are professors of history and English at Birbeck and Kings Colleges in London and Baruch College in New York. In chapters focusing on six British eras from the Middle Ages to the present, they examine through literature and other primary documents how intimate emotional and/or sexual relationships between men were understood and defined by those involved and their societies. Among other things, they demonstrate that it was not until the 1700s that the notion of a gay identifying minority of men existed and separated them from the rest. The final chapter catalogs gay reform in Britain and its modern legacy."
"[A] very worthwhile project, which brings together some of the best insights of modern scholarship. Here we have a very readable history that refuses simple categorisations while providing vivid insights into the complex ways in which sexuality and intimacy are organised. Mills asks for a 'more unruly understanding of sex and love' than is usually allowed by historians of sexuality. This offers an unruly history at its best."
"[A] thorough and fascinating glimpse back at gay life in the UK over the last 1,000 years....a landmark achievement, shedding light on a section of history too often ignored or overlooked."
"It is next to impossible to offer a continuum gay history, whether in Britain or elsewhere. Nevertheless, the four authors assembled here (Cook, Robert Mills, Randolph Trumbach and HG Cocks) do a largely good job. Professional historians, they manage not to over-enunciate recent ritualistic assumptions in the field. Foucault appears twice....Fundamentally, the story of gay Britain becomes narratable from the mid-19th century onwards. It is a substantial, moving and significant one, well captured in an impressive book whose watershed moment remains the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895."
"A valuable, long-overdue addition to the canon of gay history."
"In their separate histories of gay and lesbian Britain, Matt Cook and Rebecca Jennings have produced not only impressive historiographical summaries of recent scholarship but also compelling narratives of same-sex desire in Britain."
Reviewed with A Lesbian History of Britain: Love and Sex between Women since 1500