Image: Brasenose College, LGBT History Month 2018


Records tell us that poet Richard Barnfield (1574-1620 or 1626) matriculated at Brasenose in November 1589, taking his degree in February 1592. He appears to have intended to stay at Oxford for a master’s degree but left abruptly after performing the exercises for his master’s gown.

Shortly after leaving Oxford Barnfield wrote two renowned volumes of homoerotic verse: The Affectionate Shepheard: Containing the Complaint of Daphnis for the Lo[v]e of Ganymede (1594) and Cynthia, with Certaine Sonnets, and the Legend of Cassandra (1595). Both works fit into a broader flourishing of male-male romantic poetry in English Renaissance literature (a genre which includes Shakespeare’s Sonnets). The Affectionate Shepheard, in particular, is passionately homoerotic, and misogynistic, telling the story of a shepherd, Daphnis, who courts a youth named Ganymede. Barnfield writes from a self-consciously homoerotic perspective and also openly defends male-male erotic feelings and relationships. He wrote: ‘If it be sinne to love a lovely Lad: / Oh then sinne I, for whom my soule is sad.’ Elsewhere Barnfield has Daphnis exclaim to his beloved:

O would to God (so I might have my fee)
My lips were honey, and thy mouth a Bee.
Then shouldst thou sucke my sweete and my faire flower
That now is ripe, and full of honey-berries.
Then would I leade thee to my pleasant Bower
Fild full of Grapes, of Mulberries, and Cherries;
Then shouldst thou be my Waspe or else my Bee,
I would thy hive, and thou my honey bee.

In 1598 Barnfield published his last work, The Encomion of Lady Pecunia. Like much about his life, it is not known why he stopped writing poetry so young. It used to be thought he then married, had children, and lived as a gentleman farmer until his death in 1627, but literary scholar Andrew Worrall discovered that the death that was registered in 1627 (and the will executed soon after) actually related to the poet’s father, also named Richard. The younger Richard Barnfield had not married, had no children, and, moreover, his father acted to prevent him from inheriting his considerable estate. Thus it appears that the poet died, most likely in 1620, a bachelor and estranged from his family. We can only wonder if this estrangement was in some way related to the desires he expressed so passionately in his poetry.

For a volume of enlightening papers on Barnfield’s life and work made in the light of Worrall’s biographical revelations, see K. Borris and G. Klawitter (eds), The Affectionate Shepherd: Celebrating Richard Barnfield (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 2001).


From 1870 to 1874, renowned archaeologist Arthur Evans (1851-1941) read Modern History at Brasenose, graduating with First Class Honours. He subsequently completed a MA. Evans was one of the leading archaeologists of his day, best known for his excavation of the palace of Minos at Knossos and for his work on the Minoan civilisation, and as a curator at the Ashmolean between 1884 and 1908. To all appearances, Evans had enjoyed a happy marriage until his wife’s sudden death in 1893. He never remarried. On the night of 29 January 1924, at the age of 73, he was arrested in London’s Hyde Park along with a 17-year-old hawker named George Cook. According to a report in The Times (6 February 1924), reproduced below) the pair were charged with ‘being concerned together in committing an act in violation of public decency’. The magistrate was convinced beyond all doubt that an offence had been committed; he fined Evans £5 and ordered him to pay a further £5 5s in costs. Cook was banished from London for a period of twelve months. Evans responded by donating his considerable estate at Knossos to the British School at Athens, the announcement of which was made in The Times the day before it reported Evans’s court appearance.


© Ross Brooks, 2020