SIR ROGER CASEMENT is born in Kingston, Ireland (d: 1916). A former British diplomat he was knighted for his services to the crown after exposing the horrible working conditions of worker in British colonies in the Congo and in South America. This made him a hero to workers suffering from colonial hardship throughout the British empire.
However, the Ulster Protestant became an ardent Irish nationalist and was captured and tried for treason after returning from a trip to secure Germany’s aid for the Irish Revolution of 1916. What sealed his doom was the admission into evidence of Casement’s diaries where he meticulously detailed the names and descriptions of his numerous sexual partners. That he was on trial for treason and not for buggery did not matter.
When he was found guilty, protest was world-wide. Among the voices William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw spoke out in his defense. But then the British government leaked word of the contents of Casement’s “black diaries,” all protest suddenly stopped. Typically, the diaries were examined and re-examined looking for “proof” of the man’s sexuality. The case against him was shaky – as his alleged treason had taken place in Germany and not the UK – and in the end, his guilt was determined by the placement of a comma in the Treason Act of 1351, which was written in Norman French. Casement famously wrote later that he was to be ‘hanged on a comma’.
Putting aside how difficult it is to prove the negative, the historical presumption that someone is, of course and by default, heterosexual unless proof certain is obtained otherwise, assumes that to come to that decision is a de facto smear on the man. In this era, it was, of course. And it proved critical in the undermining of his wide public support.
No less a supporter than Mario Vargas Llosa presented a mixed account of Casement’s sexuality in his 2010 novel, The Dream of the Celt, suggesting that Casement wrote partially fictional diaries of what he wished had taken place in homosexual encounters. Dudgeon suggested in a 2013 article that Casement needed to be “sexless” to fit his role as a Catholic martyr in the nationalist movement of the time. Dudgeon writes, “The evidence that Casement was a busy homosexual is in his own words and handwriting in the diaries, and is colossally convincing because of its detail and extent.”
Research published in 2016 again casts doubt on the Black Diaries. In The Casement Secret, it is argued there is no evidence of the existence of the diaries during Casement’s lifetime since only typescript pages – allegedly copies – were circulated; no-one was shown the diaries now in the National Archives. An official memorandum by the British Secretary of State dated March 6, 1959 states: “There is no record on the Home Office papers of the diaries or the copies having been shown to anyone outside the Government service before Casement’s trial”.
This argument reflects the question raised in 1955 by Bertrand Russell concerning their existence at the time of Casement’s trial. The argument proposes a paradigm shift – the diaries were fabricated after Casement’s execution as forged versions of the original typescripts. Anatomy of a Lie, another research essay, purports that the homosexual dimension was largely the invention of British Envoy Extraordinary and Minsiter Plenipotentiary Mansfeldt Findlay in Christiania, Norway (now Oslo) in a false memorandum on October 29, 1914. The rarely-seen documentcontaining the first innuendo has never been analysed before and is unmentioned by all Casement authors save one. It is posited that, in the following months Findlay amplified his allegations because he feared exposure of his written bribe through a threatened lawsuit against him by Casement; a subsequent diplomatic scandal which might have destroyed his career.
Such a lot of bother. Roger Casement was hanged on August 6, 1916. A good man who’d been knighted for his service to humanity had become a martyr to men who love men everywhere.
Esteemed historian Martin Duberman has a “biographical novel” about Casement Luminous Traitor: The Just and Daring Life of Roger Casement being released on October 1 of this year. It promises to be a real pleasure read.