On this day in 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years imprisonment after being found guilt of ”committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons.”
After meeting in the summer of 1891, Wilde pursued a relationship with the 24 year old Lord Alfred Douglas, a situation found to be completely inappropriate and morally wrong in the eyes of both the British legal system and the Eighth Marquess of Queensbury; Douglas’ father. The Marquess publicly brought accusations of homosexuality against Wilde; Douglas pushed Wilde to seek prosecution of the Marquess for libel, instigating a series of trials at the Old Bailey.
Wilde v. Queensberry
A case of libel against Queensbury soon became dangerous for Wilde, as private investigators unveiled numerous connections between Wilde and multiple elements of communities associated with homosexuality; cross dressers, male prostitutes and witnesses were called upon to confirm the validity of the claims proposed by the Marquess. Letters written to Douglas were examined in court whilst the moral content of works produced by Wilde was questioned (such as Dorian Gray) alongside dubious relationships Wilde had pursued with multiple younger men. Upon the presentation of witnesses, Wilde dropped the case, recognising the futility of achieving success.
Regina v. Wilde
Following the revelations of Wilde v. Queensbury, Wilde was charged with sodomy and gross indecency under section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. Wilde pleaded not guilty to the charges however much of the responses given proved counterproductive, reinforcing appearances of homosexuality. The jury was unable to reach a conclusion, prompting a final trial and assessment of Wilde’s ‘crimes’.
Gill (prosecutor): What is ”the love that dare not speak its name”?
Wilde: “The love that dare not speak its name” in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as “the love that dare not speak its name,” and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.
Wilde was convicted of gross indecency and charged to two years of hard labour. Upon his release, Wilde moved to France, never returning to Britain again.
Finally, in 1967, homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK, but not before it had been used to discredit some of the greatest minds in modern history including Alan Turing, who’s legacy inspired Turing’s Law which pardoned thousands in early 2017.