From November 2011 to February 2012 I had a residency at the London Metropolitan Archives, as part of the Write Queer London Festival along with other writers in residence at places like the British Museum and National Maritime Museum.

Most of what’s at the archives about gay men is to do with them coming up against the law, because that’s what left a trace (and the lesbians are pretty much absent from records). Court records can be depressing, and it’s often hard to tell what was really going on, but the case of Captain Edward Rigby in 1698 is documented with a luxurious amount of detail, as the young man who was set up to entrap him was determined to record as much as possible of the conversation and the Captain’s amorous advances.

I turned the story into a 74-stanza ballad, with all the explicit detail of the evidence. It was premiered at the Museum of London’s 2012 Valentine Ball, and since then I’ve performed it at Polari on the South Bank, at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival and Have a Word, Brighton as well as at Gay’s the Word for the launch of the pamphlet version with illustrations by Peter Forster. Historian Rictor Norton also spoke at the launch, and you can read about the Rigby case on Rictor Norton’s website. The ballad appears on the WQL site. 

Here’s the Prologue (the whole poem is nearly 60 stanzas):

The Ballad of Captain Rigby 

Convicted of attempted sodomy, December 1698


I have a cautionary tale 
that I will shortly tell, 
but full of sodomy and filth 
and blasphemy as well.

And so I beg your pardon 
if you’re easily offended; 
I hope you’ll learn some history 
by the time the tale is ended.

At the Metropolitan Archives 
I have spent a little while, 
and most of what I’ll tell you 
is verbatim from the file,

plus more from other sources, 
and of course it’s only right 
to acknowledge what I’ve found online 
Rictor Norton’s site.

William the Third is on the throne, 
in sixteen ninety-eight; 
he’s had a Russian visitor – 
Tsar Peter, called “the Great”.

The usual naval wars with France 
have ended in a truce, 
and Captain Edward Rigby 
is ashore, and on the loose…

©   Peter Daniels.