Partner John Chute

Queer Places:
University of Oxford, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3PA
Southwick Priory, Priory Rd, Southwick, Fareham PO17 6ED, UK

The Vyne ©National Trust Images/John HammondFrancis Thistlethwayte Whithed, MP (1719 - March 30, 1751) was the son of Alexander Thistlethwayte, of Compton Valence, Dorset and Winterslow, Wilts., and Mary Whithed, daughter of Richard Whithed of Norman Court, Hants. He had two brothers, Alexander Thistlethwayte, MP and Rev. Robert Thistlethwayte. John Chute was the second son of Edward Chute. He succeeded his brother Anthony to The Vyne in Hampshire in 1754. Chute was the younger brother of an uncultivated boor and, until he succeeded to the estate, he lived for some years in Florence with a young cousin of striking good looks, Francis Whithed, whose portrait by Rosalba Carriera one sees at the Vyne today. Whithed was an enchanting companion, a generation younger, gay and lively: the two were inseparable.

Francis Thistlethwayte was educated at Wadham, Oxford, and as a second son, succeeded to his uncle Richard Whithed at Southwick Park in 1733, assuming the name of Whithed. He hold the Offices Held Ranger, Bere forest, Hants. Whithed’s uncle left him large estates in Hampshire, in which he was confirmed by the court of Chancery against an attempt by his elder brother, Alexander Thistlethwayte to dispute the will. He lived in Italy from 1740 to 1746 with his cousin John Chute, making friends with young Horace Walpole and the poet Thomas Gray, on their grand tour.

Whithed and Chute travelled together widely on the continent, and it was probably when they were in Venice in 1741 that Whithed sat for Rosalba Carriera, one of the greatest exponents of the pastel medium.

Francis Whithed returned for Hampshire in 1747 as a government supporter, and died 30 Mar. 1751, leaving his estates to his two brothers, subject to small bequests to his Italian mistress and daughter.

The tragedy of Chute's life was the early death of Francis. He intended to make him his heir, and had already arranged a marriage for him to an immense fortune. Francis was fond of the girls and in Italy had picked up a slight infection - as many in that age did. He may have been rather consumptive - his complexion had that flush, with over-bright eyes. Everybody loved him, "that best of hearts", as Horace Walpole called him; Chute lived an inconsolable life thereafter. Francis was only 31 when he died; no one ever took his place.

According to George E. Haggerty, in Queer Feelings: Love and Loss in the Letters of Horace Walpole, Chute and Whhithed were a couple. Horace Walpole wrote to Horace Mann about the loss of John Chute’s friend Francis Whithed. Chute and Whithed had been Walpole’s friends from the early 1740s, when Walpole was in Florence with Mann. They shared a love of architecture and collecting, and for Walpole, Chute and Whithed were a model of friendship and care. Here he is telling Mann of Whithed’s death: How shall I begin a letter that will, that must give you as much pain as I feel myself? I must interrupt the Prince’s death to tell you of two more, much more important, God knows! to you and me! One I had prepared you for—but how will you be shocked to hear that our poor Mr. Whithed is dead! He had a bad cough for two months; he was going out of town to the Winchester assizes; I persuaded and sent him home from hence one morning to be blooded. However, he went, in extreme bad weather. His younger brother, the clergyman dragged him out every morning to hunt, as eagerly as if it had been to hunt heretics. One day they were overturned in a water, and then the parson made him ride forty miles: in short, he arrived at the Vine, Chute’s home, half dead, and soon grew delirious. Poor Mr. Chute was sent for to him last Wednesday, and sent back for two more physicians, but in vain; he expired on Friday night! Mr. Chute is come back, half distracted, and scarce to be known again. You may easily believe that my own distress does not prevent my doing all in my power to alleviate his. (1 April 1751)

This would be touching in any circumstances, but if we see these two men, the Chuteheds, as he called them, a proto-gay couple, the power of the scene is even more palpable. This is not from the annals of heroic soldiers or mythical figures, but it is from two simple men, minor gentry, who were in love. For that alone, this lament needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. Horace makes these terms even more persuasive as he proceeds: He has left Mr. Chute one thousand pounds, which, if forty times the sum, would not comfort him, and little as it is, does not in the least affect or alter his concern. Indeed, he not only loses an intimate friend, but in a manner an only child; he had formed him to be one of the prettiest gentlemen in England, and had brought about a match for him that was soon to be concluded with a Miss Nichol, an immense fortune, and I am persuaded had fixed his heart on make him his own heir, if he outlived his brother. With such a fortune, and with such expectations, how hard to die!—or perhaps how lucky, before he had tasted misfortune and mortification!

Walpole’s last sentiment about misfortune and mortification does not undo the profound statement of love between two men. Here again Horace calls Whithed “one of the prettiest gentlemen”, which is a compliment to Chute, but also all but a code for effeminacy and sexual transgression. Furthermore, he expresses the love between these two men—an intimate friend, an only child—as if they are closer than he knows how to express. If Chute has arranged a marriage—and an immense fortune—that does not diminish the intimacy he feels for the man whom he hopes to make his heir. Whithed was a contemporary of Horace’s. Chute was nearly 20 years older. However, that does not diminish the intimacy between these two men or insist that the father–son relationship was un- or antierotic. Horace here gives us every detail he can to express his admiration for this male–male couple, his friends from some dozen years earlier when he was on the Grand Tour.

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