William John Bankes, by Henry Bone, after George Sanders (Saunders). Pen and Ink, 1821 (1812). Creative Commons licence, image courtesy NPG London (NPG D17608).
William John Bankes was once described as “the father of all mischief” by his friend Lord Byron: the traveller, collector and draughtsman was an MP before he inherited his family estate of Kingston Lacy in 1834. Bankes’ story is really important to Kingston Lacy, as he completely transformed the house, both inside and out, and it was mostly completed when he couldn’t even be in the country. In 1841, Bankes was charged a second time for same-sex acts. His wealth meant that he could take voluntary exile in continental Europe, eventually living in Venice after a brief spell in France.
Before he left England, Bankes had collected a huge amount of art and artefacts central to the Kingston Lacy collection. He served during the Spanish Peninsular War from 1812 to 1814, which saw him collect a huge group of Spanish paintings (including Velazquez and Murillo) that form the basis of the Spanish Room at the property.
When in Venice, he continued to collect and commission art and furniture, which he actually sent back to Kingston Lacy, accompanied by detailed instructions to his family as to how it should be displayed. Bankes’ wealth allowed him to escape England after his charge, meaning that he lived the rest of his life in Venice, never returning to Kingston Lacy; yet he had a huge impact on the house, it collections and even the gardens, which contain an Egyptian obelisk and sarcophagus. It is an astonishing story that tells of a commitment to his family home despite being torn away from it due to persecution.
In 2017, during the National Trust’s Prejudice and Pride year of programming, Bankes’ story and LGBTQ history at Kingston Lacy was explored through the tripartite exhibition ‘Exile’. Through three installations, it sought not only to understand what happened to Bankes, but also amongst a longer history of intolerance and persecution of LGBTQ lives.
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