The Exiled Collector: William Bankes and the Making of an English Country House

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9780719563287: The Exiled Collector: William Bankes and the Making of an English Country House
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On August 30th 1841 William John Bankes, former Tory MP, pioneer Egyptologist and renowned traveller, was caught in compromising circumstances with a guardsman in London's Green Park. Bankes paid a heavy price for his 'moment of madness': less than two weeks later, well aware that sodomy carried the death penalty, he had fled in to exile, eventually settling in Venice. The British Government declared Bankes an outlaw, a vindictive and archaic procedure, which might have enabled them to seize his house - Kingston Lacy in Dorset. It was the vicarious embellishment of that house, although it could be no more than a memory, that was to be his only enduring passion.

Based on extensive research from previously undiscovered archives, this is the first ever biography of William Bankes. Brilliantly written and highly readable, The Exiled Collector recounts Bankes' dramatic life story, examines the psychology of collecting, the pain and creativity of exile and affords a revealing insight into the minds of a hypocritical ruling elite in early Victorian Britain.

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Review:

A cracking and detailed tale (Antiques Trade Gazette)

A rich biography of a complex figure... The writing sparkles because Anne Sebba has seen the adventure in Bankes's life. (Christopher Lee, Literary Review)

A torrid tale (Tatler, Must Reads)

Anne Sebba tells this tale ... with great aplomb, producing in the process a wonderful hybrid of a book. (Independent on Sunday)

Anne Sebba tells us in The Exiled Collector a tale of Byron's friend William Bankes - esthete, member of Parliament, scion of a rich family - who became a notorious pariah in the 1830s when he was arrested not once but twice for approaching soldiers in public places. Bankes fled an England in which a convicted sodomite was still executed and spent the rest of his days in Venice and France compulsively collecting paintings and architectural details for his country house back in England. He knew he would never be permitted to live in the sumptuous interiors he was piecing together but paradoxically this elderly homosexual bachelor was assembling a home for future generations of his family. Anne Sebba has written this record of exquisite taste and brutal suffering with equal measures of verve, tact and eloquence. (Edmund White)

Anne Sebba's fascinating book ... (brings) Bankes out of the footnotes to which history consigned him, and back to life. (Financial Times)

This is the first biography of William Bankes and it shows that his story - poignant and colourful by turns - well deserves to be told. (Daily Telegraph)

Brisk, authoritative and readily engaging ... Anne Sebba is marvellously sure-footed in her grasp of this tale ... lively and illuminating (Daily Mail Critic's Choice)

Anne Sebba has written this record of exquisite taste and brutal suffering with equal measures of verve, tact and eloquence. (Edmund White)

Anne Sebba's fascinating book is more than the portrait of another rich, gay dilettante ... it is the portrait of an obsession ... Sebba illuminates this bizarre but brilliant project by bringing Bankes out of the footnotes to which history consigned him, and back to life. (Financial Times)

From the Author:

The Exiled Collector William Bankes and the Making of an English Country House

Every book comes with a most frequently asked question (MFAQ) This time it was: why suddenly write about a man, an unknown man, when all your previous books have been about women and famous ones?

I wanted to write about William Bankes as soon as I knew his story. For years I had dragged more or less willing children around various National Trust houses. But Kingston Lacy was different. It had one outstanding story behind its creation that intrigued me.

William Bankes was the second son who never expected to be heir. He was talented and brilliant but, just as he was about to enjoy the fruits of his life’s work remodelling the ancestral home, just as his opinion on artistic matters was sought by the Government, he threw it all away in a moment of madness in Green Park. Why?

Why did William Bankes exert such a powerful appeal on all those who came within his orbit from Byron to the Duke of Wellington - yet he antagonised many too. Byron’s friend John Cam Hobhouse recognised very early on that he was a clear and present danger to Byron.

I wanted to understand not only what motivated WJB personally but to set his story in the context of his time. Why was British public opinion so terrified of homosexuality when it condoned adultery? Why was the British government so vindictive in its behaviour towards Bankes that he was made an outlaw as well as an exile? Why was Bankes himself so lazy about publishing the results of his travels as a young man, which would have made his name, and yet so energetic about creating his Italian Palazzo in Dorset when it was such a difficult task for him and he had scarce resources?

In trying to answer these questions in my book I hope I have illuminated not only the life of an original and courageous man but shown how a beautiful house full of treasures was put together in painstaking and painful detail. Did he brave the law to see the fruits of his creation before he died? You’ll have to read the book to find that out.

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