The Society for the Reformation of Manners and their crusade against homosexuals.
The Society for the Reformation of Manners (i.e. Morals) was formed in Tower Hamlets in 1690. Their primary goal was the suppression of bawdy houses and profanity. A network of moral guardians was set up, with four stewards in each ward of the city of London, two for each parish, and a committee, whose business it was to gather the names and addresses of offenders against morality, and to keep minutes of their misdeeds. By 1699 there were nine such societies, and by 1701 there were nearly twenty in London, plus others in the provinces, all corresponding with one another and gathering information and arranging for prosecutions.
Their first homosexual victim was Captain Edward Rigby. Early in 1698 he was tried for sodomy at a court-martial, but acquitted. But Thomas Bray, a member of the Society for the Reformation of Manners, believed him to be guilty, and worked out a plan with the constabulary to entrap him, using as bait a servant by the name of William Minton, who had previously been approached by Rigby.
William Minton, age 19, had previously met Rigby in St James’s Park to see the fireworks on the Fifth of November (Guy Fawkes Night), 1698, where Rigby “took him by the hand, and squeez’d it; put his Privy Member Erected into Minton’s Hand; kist him, and put his Tongue into Minton’s Mouth”. A meeting was arranged for the following Monday at the George Tavern in Pall Mall. When Rigby joined Minton in the private back room Number 4 on the day, little did he know that in the adjoining room had been stationed a clerk of the court, a constable, and two assistants, who were ready to burst in upon him as soon as they heard Minton shout the previously agreed code word “Westminster!”
In due course Rigby pulled down Minton’s breeches, “put his Finger to Mintons Fundament, and applied his Body close to Mintons”, whereupon Minton reached round and took hold of Rigby’s privy member and exclaimed loudly for those in the next room, “I have now discovered your base Inclinations, I will expose you to the World, to put a stop to these Crimes”. Minton ran towards the door. Rigby pulled his sword to stop him. Minton stamped his feet and cried out for assistance. At the sound of that fateful word “Westminster!” the four officers rushed in and seized Rigby, who vainly proffered some money to be set free.
He was convicted, and sentenced to stand in the pillories near the George Tavern in Pall Mall, in Charing Cross, and in Temple Bar (from 11.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. each day), to pay £1,000 fine, and to spend one year in prison.
Rigby in fact did not serve his sentence. Upon conviction, he fled to France, where he became a Roman Catholic and entered the enemy’s service. Hurrah for Rigby!