Beckford, William

BORN 29 Sep 1760, London - DIED 2 May 1844, Bath, Somerset
GRAVE LOCATION Bath, Somerset: Lansdown Cemetery (Walcot Cemetery), Lansdown Road, Lansdown (1.N.12 (near the tower of Fonthill Abbey))

Son of the famous Lord Mayor of London of the same name, whose fortune from the West-Indies he inherited. His mother was Maria Hamilton, a granddaughter of the sixth Earl of Abercorn. In 1777 he travelled to Switzerland and Italy, where he stayed with his cousin Sir William Hamilton and his wife Lady Catherine Hamilton. The latter became a close friend and adviser.

Back in London he had an affair with Louisa Beckford, the wife of a cousin. This was around 1780. At a certain time she even offered him a menage a trois during a party at his property in Fonthill, Bath. But he also messed around with William Courtenay, a thirteen year old boy. To avoid a disastrous scandal he went abroad once more and travelled through Europe. He was with the Hamiltons in Italy again at the time Catherine died. This was a huge blow to him and he returned to London where he wrote "Dreams".

In 1783 his family pushed him into a marrying Lady Margaret Gordon in an attempt to kill the rumours about his homosexuality. In 1784 their first child was stillborn. Also in 1784 he entered Parliament, but after he was openly accused of misconduct with Courtenay he fled England once more. He went to Switzerland with his wife. She died soon after the birth of their second daughter of puerperal fever and for twelve years he travelled through Europe, collecting books, paintings and all kinds of curiosities.

In 1796 he returned to England permanently. He spent a large part of his later life in complete isolation in Fonthill Abbey, a large house in gothic style especially built for him. Here he kept his enormous collections. The house had cost him around 273,000 pounds and financial problems forced him to sell it in 1822, together with part of his collections. He moved to Landsdown Crescent, Bath, where he died in 1844.

Beckford is the author of "The History of Caliph Vathek", an oriental romance that made a huge impression on Lord Byron. It's now regarded as a classic gothic novel. After his daughter, the Duchess of Hamilton, bought back the Lansdown Tower (part of Fonthill Abbey) she gave it to Walcot parish to be used as a cemetery and Beckford was reburied there.

Related persons
• influenced Byron, George Noel Gordon
• knew Hamilton, William
• was written about by Sontag, Susan


The grave of William Beckford at Walcot Cemetery, Bath.
Picture by Androom (20 Aug 2013)


Beckford's Tower, Bath.
Picture by Androom (20 Aug 2013)


• Beckford, William, Vathek and Other Stories, Penguin Books, London, 1995
• Greenwood, Peter, Who's buried where in England, Constable, London, 1982
Literary Encyclopedia — William Beckford

Beckmann, Friedrich

Published: 01 Jan 2006
Last update: 20 May 2023