Pages 18

Gay communities have developed most strongly in Britain, as elsewhere, in large urban centers. London has been the largest city in Britain since the earliest rise of urbanization under the Roman occupation, from the mid-first century. Roman London is estimated to have had a population of perhaps fifty thousand at its peak, a level not recovered, after the collapse of the Roman Empire, until the high Middle Ages. It is only from that later period that the first written sources survive to tell us of what had most likely been true before, that London was a major center of sexual diversity. We cannot speak of gay culture in that period, unless dandified fashions are seen as having been the specialty of people of homosexual leanings, as was the accusation of Archbishop Anselm, against many of the courtiers of King William Rufus in the late eleventh century. Male prostitution would have developed in the context of London’s being a major center for commodities and services of all kinds. Moreover, in London there were nobles free from family life on estates, as well as merchants with money to spend on luxuries. In this context we can envisage a gay subculture emerging through the operation of money in the context of city anonymity. Through the ensuing centuries opportunity flickered in a repressive social climate.