Wesley and Dorrington may have found love but they aren’t out of the woods yet. Being in a gay relationship in ye olden times England was a tricky business.
In 1553, Henry VIII signed the first law making buggery (defined as sodomy or bestiality) a crime punishable by hanging. Before the Buggery Act was created, it was treated as a church matter and men caught were subject to a variety of gruesome punishments. The first man punished under the act was a member of the clergy and headmaster of Eton College. He was charged with abusing his pupils but instead of execution, he was imprisoned for a year. Execution could be avoided by lack of evidence but people were still charged under suspicion of buggery and could face jail time and massive fines.
These were the laws but of course reality was a bit different, especially for the upper classes. Experiments with same-sex encounters was, and still is, considered standard behavior in the English all boys public schools such as Eton, Harrow, and Rugby. Throughout British history, there have been bi- and homosexual men in positions of power. King James I of England and VI of Scotland, the first king of the United Kingdom, was notorious for having a bevy of pretty young men.
The law changed in the 1860s and instead of hanging, convicted men could instead be imprisoned for no less than 10 years and potentially for life. Thirty years after this change, Oscar Wilde became the most famous buggery case. Against the advice of nearly everyone he knew, Wilde sued the Marquess of Queensbury for criminal libel. Wilde and the Marquess’s son, Lord Alfred Douglas, had been lovers for years and the Marquess was furious about it. Queensbury left a calling card at Wilde’s social climb addressed to “Oscar Wilde, posing sodomite.” The trial backfired horribly for Wilde and his own behavior came under scrutiny. After the charges against Queensbury were dropped, the case against Wilde began and he was convicted for buggery. He spent a year in prison after being released for health reasons but the damage was done. His health was ruined, he was bankrupted from court expenses, and his reputation was ruined. Wilde fled to France and died a few years later.
It wouldn’t be until the 1950s that sodomy between two consensual men was decriminalized so Wesley and Dorrington were very smart to seek out safe havens with trusted friends!