Queer City

Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day

Peter Ackroyd
Queer City

In Roman Londinium the penis was worshipped and homosexuality considered admirable. Then came the Emperor Constantine, his bishops, clergy and missionaries. His rule was accompanied by the first laws against queer practices. An endless loop of alternating permissiveness and censure followed, from the notorious Normans, whose military might depended on masculine loyalty, and the fashionable female transvestism of the 1620s; to the frenzy of executions for sodomy in the early 1800s and the ‘gay plague’ in the 1980s. Ackroyd takes us right into this hidden city, celebrating its diversity, thrills and energy on the one hand; but reminding us of its very real terrors, dangers and risks on the other. In a city of superlatives, it is perhaps this endless sexual fluidity and resilience that epitomise the real triumph of London.

‘As with the monumental London: the Biography, Ackroyd here offers another utterly unique reading experience, with something to tickle the nose, or shelve for a dinner party, on every page.’ Independent

‘The love that dare not speak its name has not just one name, but a vast number, many of them listed in Peter Ackroyd’s vivacious new book: ingle, bugger, catamite, chicken hawk, fribble, endorser, fairy, shirt-lifter, bone-smoker, fudge-packer, butt piler, pillow biter. The name du jour, it seems, is queer… It was inevitable that London’s great chronicler, who happens himself to be queer, would give us the lowdown on homosex in the city. His book is predictably droll, provocative and crammed to bursting with startling facts and improbable names (Constable Obert Pert and the trinket vendor Samuel Drybutter).’ The Guardian

‘Most important of all, in uncovering the sensational and sometimes unsettling details of gay London, Ackroyd’s book ends up being about much more than one great city. It is the story of every city there ever was and all the gay men and women who have ever run away to one… In peeling back the skin of London and looking at the blood and guts underneath, he has also issued a kind of warning. London, and Britain, have sometimes been tolerant of gay people and sometimes not. Right now, London and the UK could hardly be more open and liberal. But in taking us through all the light and dark periods of the gay story, Queer City is a disturbing reminder of a reality of history: just because something is now does not mean it will always be.’ The Sunday Herald

‘Fifty years of gay emancipation contrast with two thousand years of queer history in Peter Ackroyd’s survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life in London. Queer City is both a commemoration and a celebration of “the ultimate triumph of London” and its diversity. Yet it also proves that it has ever been the case… Ackroyd has created a triumphantly queer picture of a city he loves – a city as queer as any other.’ New Statesman

‘It tells a tale of persecution of pleasure, of blackmail and blue murder. Like any good rent boy, London has the potential to be all things to all men.’ Evening Standard

‘Across the centuries, Ackroyd handpicks some splendid examples of gay debauchery. There is the infamously camp Piers Gaveston, who so entranced King Edward II that even during the royal wedding the king couldn’t take his eyes off him, leading his bride’s relatives to walk out in disgust. In the 16th century comes Nicholas Udall, the headmaster of Eton who was sacked from his post after confessing to having had sex with a pupil, then went briefly to prison before being appointed headmaster of Westminster school just a few years later… Queer City contains something to alarm or fascinate on every page.’ Daily Mail

‘The sheer breadth of Ackroyd’s picture impresses, capturing the often unruly energy and ferment of the city as it developed over the centuries as a “haven and home of anonymity”.’ The Arts Desk
‘Of course, no salacious book about London would be complete without some dirt on the royals. Ackroyd’s delves into all the allegedly gay monarchs, including William Rufus, Edward II, Richard II, James I, and William III and what they called their “favourites” (a.k.a. male tricks). If ever one needed evidence of the gay gene, they need look no further than the Royal Family.’ Queerty

‘Ackroyd has an encyclopaedic knowledge of London, and a poet’s instinct for its strange, mesmerising drives and urges … Queer City contains something to alarm or fascinate on every page’ The Mail on Sunday

‘Always entertaining … much to be recommended’ The Spectator


  • Chatto & Windus UK
  • Editions Philippe Rey France
  • Penguin Verlag Germany
  • SEM Libri Italy
  • Zysk Poland
  • Edhasa World Spanish

Optioned for TV by Two Halves Pictures

Material: Finished copies and PDF (320pp)