Unless otherwise indicated, all OI books are distributed by The University of North Carolina Press.

The Lord Cornbury Scandal

The Politics of Reputation in British America

Patricia Bonomi

Paper: 978-0-8078-4698-8 ($28.95)

Copyright 1998
University of North Carolina Press

A Prize-Winning Book

  • Distinguished Book Award, Society of Colonial Wars in the State of New York (1999)

For more than two centuries, Edward Hyde, Viscount Cornbury—royal governor of New York and New Jersey from 1702 to 1708—has been a despised figure, whose alleged transgressions ranged from raiding the public treasury to scandalizing his subjects by parading through the streets of New York City dressed as a woman.

Now, Patricia Bonomi offers a challenging reassessment of Cornbury. She explores his life and experiences to illuminate such topics as imperial political culture; gossip, Grub Street, and the climate of slander; early modern sexual culture; and constitutional perceptions in an era of reform. In a tour de force of scholarly detective work, Bonomi also reappraises the most "conclusive" piece of evidence used to indict Cornbury—a celebrated portrait, said to represent the governor in female dress, that hangs today in the New-York Historical Society.

Stripping away the many layers of "the Cornbury myth," this innovative work brings to life a fascinating man and reveals the conflicting emotions and loyalties that shaped the politics of the First British Empire.

About the Author

Patricia U. Bonomi is professor emerita of history at New York University. Her books include Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America and A Factious People: Politics and Society in Colonial New York.


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 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.’

--Bernard Bailyn

A tour de force of historical detection.

--Tim Hilchey, New York Times Book Review

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

A fascinating, authoritative glimpse into the seamy underside of imperial politics in the late Stuart era.

--Timothy D. Hall, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

An intriguing detective story that....casts light upon the operation of political power in the past and the nature of history writing in the present.

--Alan Taylor, New Republic

A tour de force of historical detection.

--New York Times Book Review

[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 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

[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

[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

Bonomi challenges [the] standard interpretation of Lord Cornbury as she takes a fresh look at the political culture of the first British Empire.


A telling interpretation of an important era in the development of colonial politics.

--William and Mary Quarterly

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

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

Eminently readable . . . Professor Bonomi is to be congratulated on a fine piece of historical revisionism.

--Times Literary Supplement

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