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The Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in British America (Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture) Paperback – March 16, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0807848692 ISBN-10: 0807848697

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Editorial Reviews


A model of historical investigation.Edmund S. Morgan, "New York Review of Books"


Patricia Bonomi argues that Cornbury's notoriety, especially as an alleged cross dresser, owes more to the complex operations of a culture of calumny and scurrilous gossip than to historical fact. . . . This book is a carefully documented and lucidly written example of cultural studies at its best.--Julia Epstein, Haverford College|Bonomi challenges [the] standard interpretation of Lord Cornbury as she takes a fresh look at the political culture of the first British Empire.--Choice|Eminently readable . . . Professor Bonomi is to be congratulated on a fine piece of historical revisionism.--Times Literary Supplement|[Bonomi's] engrossing investigation of a popular early American scandal gives us, first, a demonstration of deft historical detective work; second, a rich reconstruction and analysis of the crass and complex political culture of post-Stuart England; and, finally, a clear picture of the relationship between imperial policies and local, intra-colonial conflicts. . . . One of the best written accounts of provincial politics in New York and New Jersey and one of the best examples of the positive impact of the new, transatlantic perspective on colonial history.--Journal of Interdisciplinary History|A telling interpretation of an important era in the development of colonial politics.--William and Mary Quarterly|A model of historical investigation. . . . Bonomi's book is more than an exoneration of Cornbury. It is a case study of what she aptly calls the politics of reputation.--Edmund S. Morgan, New York Review of Books|Historical detective writing at its best.--The Journal of American History|[This book] will appeal to a general audience who enjoys a good story populated with colorful characters, and more importantly, to all who are interested in the ways our histories are produced. For students of colonial America, Bonomi's mastery of the cultural and linguistic complexities of the political scene in New York and England during the turbulent decades surrounding the turn of the eighteenth century will provide ample rewards.--Journal of the History of Sexuality|This is a superb investigation of Anglo-American political culture under the later Stuarts. In pulling on the thread of the reputation of colonial America's most notorious governor, Bonomi's exhaustive research unravels a whole skein of seamy politics. Among the seamier aspects she reveals was the use of sexual slander by Country opponents of Court politicians to undermine their power.--W. A. Speck, University of Leeds|[An] intriguing and carefully crafted book. Instead of writing a conventional biography, Bonomi has framed her narrative with the charges against Cornbury, for the purpose of shaping a sustained historical brief for his defense. . . .Bonomi provides. . . an intriguing detective story that exposes the weaknesses in the case against Lord Cornbury. In the process, she casts light upon the operation of political power in the past and the nature of history writing in the present.--New Republic|With the publication of this book, historians must now acknowledge a new Lord Cornbury, a more historically accurate personage. Employing the investigative techniques of a Sherlock Holmes, Bonomi has pieced together a plethora of evidence, which shatters the traditional characterization of Cornbury and rehabilitates his historical reputation.--New York History|A rich account of a sensational mystery, is also a splendid example of how a historian should assess evidence and, as well, how a historian should establish a context and tell a story.--American Historical Review|The infamous Lord Cornbury, New York's governor in the early eighteenth century--corrupt, bigoted, and a defiant transvestite. Or was he? In this remarkable historical whodunit, Patricia Bonomi traces Cornbury's career through a dense jungle of Anglo-American politics to uncover a world 'steamy with intrigue, gossip, and rumor-mongering'--a world of vicious scurrility in which 'gossip, calumny, prurient satire, and a muckraking press were active instruments of partisan conflict.' Was Cornbury the scandalous, venal villain he was said to be, or a shrewd and effective governor whose reputation was ruined by slashing partisan opponents? Is the famous painting of him in women's clothes a fake? Bonomi, in probing the reality behind Cornbury's career, uncovers aspects not only of eighteenth-century Anglo-American politics not otherwise seen but also details of portraiture in the eighteenth century, imperial governance and finance, political satire, and cross-dressing, sex, and gender. This is a compelling story based on thorough research and written in a suspenseful style that grips one from start to finish.--Bernard Bailyn, Harvard University|A tour de force of historical detection.--New York Times Book Review|Important and compelling.--Reviews in American History|A fascinating, authoritative glimpse into the seamy underside of imperial politics in the late Stuart era.--Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography|Offers a contrast in approach and subject matter to the most innovative work in American colonial history in recent decades, which has been written by historians concerned with communities in early America. . . . Deftly shows how changing cultural standards in England had an enormous impact on the practice of politics in the American colonies.--The Review of Politics

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (March 16, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807848697
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807848692
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,578,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Marie Parker-Allen on May 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
The support community for heterosexual male transvestites in Vancouver, British Columbia, calls itself The Cornbury Society. The organization, like New York's famous Hyde Park, has taken upon itself the name of the third Earl of Clarendon, Edward Hyde, the Lord Cornbury, royal governor of New Jersey and New York from 1702 to 1708. These men, like most historians from the mid-19th century forward, believe that Governor Hyde was an exhibitionistic cross-dresser, who attended his own wife's funeral dressed in women's clothing, and cavorted about in society dressed as a woman, to the horror and condemnation of hundreds of spectators. This has been the historical legacy of Hyde for over 150 years, and it is Patricia Bonomi's task to not only refute these (and other) rumors, but illuminate the condition of politics and political discourse in the 18th century, and expose a long-standing bias in American history against royalists in general, and Tory governors in particular. She does this all in an engaging and descriptive manner, though with perhaps an insufficient degree of explanation of basic terminology and concepts (for example, she does not explain what she means by "Grub Street Press," a fundamental concept used from the first chapter forward, until page 102), and a organizational structure that seems to lack both organization and structure. There are three areas from which criticism of Governor Hyde has always stemmed. The most infamous is a portrait said to be of him, dressed in women's attire, now hanging in the halls of the New-York Historical Society, a portrait with which there is no connection to the Governor until many decades after his death.Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Philip Leetch on October 21, 2005
Format: Paperback
The writer does indeed show how easily stories get garbled and tales get passed on as history. A great deal of scepticism or, at least, critical awareness is needed when looking at the past. This is a very readable and lucid book.
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 12, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author argues convincingly that stories of Lord Cornbury's cross-dressing were only rumors. She offers some explanations as to why such rumors might have started but fails to consider one plausible explanation-- they were true. As evidence that the charges were untrue, the author cites the four letters which described Cornbury's behavior. Each was written by someone who disliked the colonial governor. Cornbury probably did not attend public functions in women's clothes. Rumors do tend to be embellished with each re-telling. The fact that someone has enemies, however, does not mean he can not also be a transvestite, consider J. Edgar Hoover. The fact that his enemies would be more likely to comment than his friends seems hardly surprising.
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The Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in British America (Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture)
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