1703 “Cornbury” Colonial New York Governor Document
EDWARD HYDE-LORD CORNBURY (1661-1723). Colonial Governor of New York and New Jersey called Viscount Cornbury between 1674 and 1709 was Governor of New York and New Jersey between 1701 and 1708, and is perhaps best known for the claims of his Cross-dressing while in office.
January 22, 1703-Dated, Manuscript Document Signed, “Cornbury”, measuring 9.5” x 7.25”, 2 pages, New York, Very Fine. Being an inventory of the estate of Humphrey Progonna. Handwritten above Cornbury’s brown ink signature, it reads: “This was Established for a true and perfect Inventory of all the Goods Chattle & Credits of Humphrey Progonna vowed by John Borrow administrator to said Humphrey Progonna”. A clean, well written and easily readable example of this historic Cross-dressing Colonial Governor!
EDWARD HYDE-LORD CORNBURY. (1661-1723). Viscount Cornbury came to be fabled in historical literature as a moral profligate, sunk in corruption: possibly the worst governor Britain ever appointed to an American colony.
The early accounts claim he took bribes and plundered the public treasury. Nineteenth century historian George Bancroft said that Cornbury illustrated the worst form of the English aristocracy's "arrogance, joined to intellectual imbecility". Later historians characterise him as a "degenerate and pervert who is said to have spent half of his time dressed in women's clothes", a "fop and a wastrel". He is said to have delivered a "flowery panegyric on his wife's ears" after which he invited every gentleman present to feel precisely how shell-like they were; to have misappropriated £1,500 meant for the defence of New York Harbor, and, scandalously, to have dressed in women's clothing and lurked "behind trees to pounce, shrieking with laughter, on his victims".
Cornbury is reported to have opened the 1702 New York Assembly clad in a hooped gown and an elaborate headdress and carrying a fan, imitative of the style of Queen Anne. When his choice of clothing was questioned, he replied, "You are all very stupid people not to see the propriety of it all. In this place and occasion, I represent a woman (The Queen), and in all respects I ought to represent her as faithfully as I can." It is also said that in August 1707, when his wife Lady Cornbury died, His High Mightiness (as he preferred to be called) attended the funeral dressed as a woman. It was shortly after this that mounting complaints from colonists prompted The Queen to remove Cornbury from office.
In 2000 Patricia U. Bonomi re-examined these assertions and found them to be questionable and based on very little evidence. Three colonials, all members of a faction opposed to Cornbury, wrote four letters between 1707 and 1709 discussing a rumour that Lord Cornbury wore women's clothes. There are also some early documents that might be cited to support charges of having taken bribes or misappropriated government funds, but there the contemporary evidence ends.
A portrait possibly of Lord Cornbury dressed in women's clothes which hangs at the New York Historical Society. Philip Davenport-Hines, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, thinks the portrait accurately depicts Cornbury and pronounced Bonomi's findings inconclusive.