King James I of England and his male lover are portrayed in drama, but how much of it is real?

King James I of England and his male lover are portrayed in drama, but how much of it is real?

The narrative of the king and George Villiers’ passionate connection is told in Mary & George.

King James I of England spoke to the privy council in 1617 over the young man he had just, and very gloriously, elevated. He said to them, “I, James, am a man like any other—I am neither God nor an angel.” I thus behave like a guy would.

“You may be certain that I adore the Earl of Buckingham beyond all others. I have my George, and Christ has his John.

“His” George was George Villiers, an earl and one of the king’s closest advisors who, just a few years before, had been the humble second son of a modest nobleman from Leicestershire. However, James was much more than that, as his speech made clear.

Most historians agree that Villiers was the king’s favourite courtier and lover for a number of years; James would later refer to Villiers as his “sweet child and wife,” saying he would sooner be exiled “than live a sorrowful widow’s life without you.”

Or, to put it another way, “It is well known that the King of England / Fucks the Duke of Buckingham,” as stated in a modern French poetry.

A recent drama on Sky Atlantic called Mary and George explores the connection between the two men and dramatises the part played by Villiers’ mother Mary in orchestrating her son’s social climb via the king’s bed.

It’s an outrageously filthy romp through the Jacobean court, starring Julianne Moore and Nicholas Galitzine as the crazily ambitious mother and son. Lucy Mangan of the Guardian calls it “more fun than I can possibly tell you”.

How much of it is true, though? James I of England and VI of Scotland had a relatively peaceful reign between the reigns of Elizabeth I, who defeated the Armada, and his son Charles I, who lost his head in a civil war. The king is perhaps most known today for his obsession with witches and the bible translation that bears his name.

George Villiers’s tale offers a more nuanced and compassionate portrait of the king, highlighting his status as one of the most significant individuals in British LGBTQ+ history.

Although it has long been known that James had several relationships with men, Steven Veerapen, a teaching fellow at the University of Strathclyde whose most recent work explores James’s “lavish life,” believes that history has sometimes been evasive regarding their character. For a very long time, people were reluctant to discuss it in detail; instead, they would only state that he had these “favourites” and was blindly dedicated to them; we won’t discuss what else could have occurred.

He claims that a large number of letters unmistakably indicate intense sexual relationships—this in spite of the king’s unequivocal denunciations of the conduct of sodomy. That does not imply that he was not working alone. You rule supremely. Why not? Follow your interests.

James was reared in a dangerous setting after becoming King of Scotland at the age of only one, due to the death and incarceration of his parents, Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley, respectively. It seems likely that he was sexually abused as a youngster by an older male family member, and he went on to have many young male partners. But according to Veerapen, he seems to have had a strong relationship with Anne of Denmark, the lady he would eventually marry: “He was no heir and a spare man – he had multiple [pregnancies] with her – so they had a fairly active sex life.”

When James came to the English throne in 1603, more attractive young men turned their heads around for him, until Villiers—who was dubbed “the handsomest bodied man in England”—purposefully turned his head. The play implies that Mary was responsible for this, although Veerapen contends that it was the result of irate assistants attempting to remove the king’s former favourite, Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset.

James didn’t appear to try to disguise his real affection for the much younger Villiers. Their “wanton looks and wanton gestures” and “so lascivious kisses… in public and upon the theatre,” as one courtier put it, raised suspicions about what was going on behind closed doors.

It is evident that they have a very close, passionate, and physical connection. But did Villiers feel the same way about you? asks Matthew Storey, head of Historic Royal Palaces’ study into LGBTQ+ royal history and curator of collections. Or was he motivated by the possibility of gaining riches, power, and material belongings?

According to Storey, Victorian morality continues to shape modern ideas about sexuality. In the Jacobean era, on the other hand, spectators were more interested in the king’s companions and potential power struggles than in the actions of the monarch.

It is important to constantly keep in mind that power plays a crucial role in royal relationships. Because everyone around a monarch aspires to share in their authority, they are unable to have what we would consider to be normal relationships.

“Without connecting royal relationships to politics and power, we cannot comprehend them.”

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