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 King James VI and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham

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PostSubject: King James VI and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham   Sat 25 Mar 2017, 11:52

It is well known that throughout his life James had close relationships with several male courtiers, the last and closest being that with George Villers. King James, then aged 38, had been introduced to 21 year-old George Villiers, the son of an untitled and impoverished squire, in the summer of 1614. James's nicknamed Villiers "Steenie", apparently after the biblical description of St Stephen as having "the face of an angel", for Villiers, according to all contemporary accounts, was "the handsomest-bodied man in England". In November that year Villiers was appointed the royal cupbearer and in April the following year he was knighted. In 1616 he was created Master of the Horse and made a Knight of the Garter. Over the following two years he was made a viscount, then an earl, then a marquess. In 1619 he became Lord High Admiral and finally in 1623 he was created Duke of Buckingham. It had been a spectacular rise for a commoner. But it was widely rumoured, both at the time and since, that Villers not only shared the King’s confidence and friendship ... but also his bed.

In 1623 shortly after he was made Duke, Villiers wrote to James recalling the early years of their relationship in terms which, although ambiguous, do indeed suggest they had slept together:
"... whether you loved me now ... better than at the time which I shall never forget at Farnham, where the bed's head could not be found between the master and his dog."

For his part James wrote a large number of very intimate letters to Buckingham over the tens years they were together, this is from one of the last:
"I desire only to live in the world for your sake, and I had rather live banished in any part of the world with you, than live a sorrowful widow-life without you. And so God bless you, my sweet child and wife, and grant that ye may ever be a comfort to your dear dad and husband."

Contemporary commentators were more succinct and critical, with for example, the courtier Francis Osborne writing:
"In wanton looks and wanton gestures they [James and Buckingham] exceeded any part of womankind. The kissing of them after so lascivious a mode in public and upon the theatre, as it were, of the world prompted many to imagine some things done in the tyring house [i.e. attiring or dressing room which was regarded as a very private and personal place] that exceed my expression no less than they do my experience."

While the French poet Théophile de Viau in his obscene poem, Au marquis du Boukinquan (1623) wrote rather more plainly:
Apollo with his songs
Debauched young Hyacinthus
Just as Corydon f**k Amyntas,
So Caesar did not spurn boys.
One man f**k Monsieur le Grand de Bellegarde [a friend of Viau],
Another f**k the Comte de Tonnerre.
And it is well known that the King of England
f**k the Duke of Buckingham.


Viau was of course writing for laughs amongst his high-born friends but similar crude ditties were also doing the rounds of London's streets and taverns amongst apprentices and barrow boys.

In response to the inevitable Privy Council's remonstrations against such blatant and inappropriate behaviour James defended himself:
"I, James, am neither a god nor an angel, but a man like any other. Therefore I act like a man and confess to loving those dear to me more than other men. You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here assembled. I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had his John, and I have my George."

And of course it should be pointed out that James also had his Anne (Anne of Denmark) his wife, with whom he had 8 children of which 3 survived to adulthood. James initial infatuation with Anne when first married rapidly cooled but their relationship, whilst not a passionate one, seems mostly to have been cordial, even when after 1607 they chose to live apart. While Anne detested James’ earlier male favourites, she seems to have had a genuinely friendly relationship with George Villiers although his developing close friendship with the King meant she became increasingly ignored at court. Anne died in 1619 aged just 44.

Admittedly the fashions, customs and morals of the time were very different from those of today:  there was no real concept of homosexuality as such and in a very male-dominated and closely-confined court, and when marriages were made primarily to forge family alliances and beget heirs, close male friendships were common. Men sometimes shared beds for practical reasons and could openly declare their love for each other without the word meaning quite the same as it does today. Furthermore the undoubtedly very close relationship between James and George is all too often viewed through a lens distorted by the mores and morals of today and reflect modern beliefs and prejudices. Gay groups are keen to "out" James as "one of us", while evangelical Protestants are outraged by the very idea that the deeply-religious King, after whom the translation of the Bible was named, could have been homosexual and they dismiss all comments to the contrary, both then and now, as biased anti-Christian gossip and slander.

So what, I wonder, was the real nature of their relationship?
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PostSubject: Re: King James VI and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham   Sun 26 Mar 2017, 07:57

MM wrote:
So what, I wonder, was the real nature of their relationship?

Now there's a question, MM!

According to Peter Ackroyd, the introduction of that "fair-faced minion", George Villiers, to James was originally a calculated political move masterminded by, of all people, the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot.

Abbot and other senior politicians, including Francis Bacon, were determined to diminish the influence of the bisexual Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, not so much because of this man's apparent sexual hold over the king, but because Carr and his associate, Henry Howard, the Earl of Northampton (Carr was married to the infamous Frances Howard, a relative of Northampton), both favoured an English alliance with Spain and, even worse, both were known to be crypto-Catholics.

Queen Anne supported the Archbishop's parading of Villiers before the king, and, obviously knowing her husband's weakness for gorgeous young men who could dance beautifully, made sure George (Villiers, not the Archbishop) had every opportunity to display his athletic body (he did have very good legs - see picture) in front of the susceptible James. Villiers had spent many years in France - he favoured that country - and he had learnt there to dance, fence and generally play the courtier like a Frenchman born. The plan worked a treat: James was soon drooling all over the lovely lad who did indeed have the appearance of a very arrogant angel, albeit a very French one.

Bacon, who understood so well the working of the Jacobean court, carefully explained things to the young man who now had his well-turned foot on the first step of the "winding stair". He told Villiers: "Remember well the great trust you have undertaken. You are as a continual sentinel, always to stand upon your watch to give him true intelligence."

Carr was now on his way out and the dreadful scandal of the age, the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, in which Somerset and his awful countess were implicated, finally did for him. The Overbury scandal was an exceedingly bad business - something was indeed rotten in the state, not of Hamlet's Denmark, but of James's England.

I find the reign of this king a terribly depressing time - nothing to do with his sexuality, about which I do not give a hoot, but because his court was an absolutely dreadful place, with dreadful people ruling the roost. One Mrs. Turner, a professional poisoner who was the servant of the Countess of Somerset and who was tried and condemned to death for her part in the Overbury murder (the Somersets got away with six years' confinement in the Tower), summed it all up when she said of her betters at the king's court: "There is no religion in the most part of them but malice, pride, whoredom, swearing and rejoicing in the fall of others. It is so wicked a place as I wonder the earth did not open and swallow it up."

Villiers perhaps was not as vicious as some (?): maybe he was just a beautiful boy on the make. He ended up being stabbed to death in a Portsmouth pub - not a good end for anyone.

PS
I've often wondered how much influence George Buchanan had on the development of James's sexuality. Buchanan was the young king's tutor in Scotland and, according to historian Keith Brown, he was "the most profound intellectual sixteenth century Scotland produced", being a brilliant Latin scholar and historian. He was also a nasty, vicious, dirty old man who taught the young prince that his mother had been an adulterous whore who had murdered his father. God knows what else he taught the boy. Buchanan was a rabid, spleeny Lutheran, who turned into an even spleenier Calvinist, and he seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the regular beatings he gave to his royal pupil as part of the rigorous, "religious" upbringing James had to endure.



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PostSubject: Re: King James VI and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham   Sun 26 Mar 2017, 13:13

He was a mass of contradictions, that lad. Someone who these days would most certainly be assessed as "damaged" and in need of therapy or similar. His upbringing certainly played a role in this, not just Buchanan being a singularly powerful early influence but also the Countess of Mar, whose adoption of the child when his mother had been imprisoned was akin to taking the current "royal baby", George, and sending him off to a Taliban training camp for his education.

He was probably primarily homosexual, but then even this was tainted by how he evaluated and expressed affection to his favourites (who all possessed remarked upon physical beauty), an extremely unhealthy mixture of total adoration (expected and dished out) with a prurient delight in seeing equally handsome and pretty males being physically abused. He became engrossed in military reform while simultaneously detesting all things military, even the sight of uniformed guards being enough to bring him out in nervous colic, as one physician noted. He genuinely believed himself one step removed from absolute deity while simultaneously neglecting personal hygiene to the extent that courtiers approached him with "nosegay" at the ready. His frequent forays into foreign policy were by and large spectacularly successful whereas his domestic policies, especially those directed against his own marginal subjects in the Scottish Isles and Ireland were so disastrous as to have repercussions to this day. His religious zeal and what seems a genuine commitment to Protestant Christian values was accompanied by a policy of draconian (and if he'd had his way, genocidal) measures to be taken against "dissenters", a category of Christian which to James embodied everything from papists to Presbyterians, with a large swathe of Anglicans thrown in on occasion when they could not be tackled on purely political grounds. His homosexuality must also be seen as an apparent contradiction there too, but then what damaged, sensitive and highly strung lad brought up by strict Calvinists suddenly having the freedom to experiment in that area with impunity wouldn't at least have the urge to do just that? And who is to say that this experimentation did not, in fact, yield dividends for James in the form of true affection, something he'd been woefully deprived of in childhood and early youth?

Yet it must be said that of all the Tudors and Stuarts in succession, it was James who was most widely and genuinely mourned on his death by the "ordinary people" of England (the jury was still out in Scotland, and in Ireland had long since convened and delivered their verdict). Using the broad rule of thumb that a leader who offends his peers but garners the support of the people must be doing something right then James, for all his weirdness, was at least in that sense a "successful" monarch. The more I have read about him the more I suspect that a lot of what he did within his private life, as well as many of his executive decisions, was primarily motivated by a desire to "get back" at the aristocracy of his time, at whose hands his younger self had undoubtedly suffered and now, as their leader, upon whom he could inflict no small measure of discomfort.

His "affairs" must be seen in that light too, I feel. The most offensive thing about Villiers, as you point out Meles meles, might not have been the implied homosexuality but the social stratum from which he was elevated by James, and therein lies they key, I reckon, to understanding the bile of his peers and the inclination for James to intentionally raise it.
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PostSubject: Re: King James VI and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham   Sun 26 Mar 2017, 20:27

@nordmann wrote:
The more I have read about him the more I suspect that a lot of what he did within his private life, as well as many of his executive decisions, was primarily motivated by a desire to "get back" at the aristocracy of his time, at whose hands his younger self had undoubtedly suffered and now, as their leader, upon whom he could inflict no small measure of discomfort.


I do so agree with that comment. You are also right when you say:


@nordmann wrote:
Someone who these days would most certainly be assessed as "damaged" and in need of therapy or similar.


James certainly would present as a challenging "client" for any therapist or psychiatrist. The task of encouraging him to remember and confront the pain and lonely horror of his childhood and adolescence would be daunting indeed; and the anger - and grief - that would surface during such therapy would be overwhelming.

It was not just James's younger self that had suffered at the hands of the Scottish (and English) political élite: both his parents had, too. All three members of this unhappy family - father, mother and later the child - had learnt the truth of the words uttered by Donalbain (one of the sons of the murdered King Duncan in Macbeth): "There's daggers in men's smiles..." During his early years, James - who was a very bright child - would gradually have become aware that half of the Scottish nobility had been involved, one way or another, in the assassination of his father and, previously, in the particularly brutal murder of the man, Rizzio, commonly believed to have been the bisexual lover of both his mother and of his bisexual father. Those same aristocratic lords had then successfully pinned the entire blame for his father's death on his mother and on his step-father, later parading that unfortunate young woman through the streets of Edinburgh (after her defeat at the Battle of Carberry Hill, June 1567) allowing a baying mob to spit on her - and worse - while they howled for her blood with cries of "Burn the whore!"  The whole thing reads like a Greek tragedy.

The young James would in time also have become familiar with Buchanan's Ane Detectioun of the Duinges of Marie Quene of Scottes, tuiching the Murther of her husband, and hir Conspiracie, Adulterie and pretensit Mariage with the Erle Bothwell This was a work originally written in impeccable Latin, but with salacious content worthy of the News of the World. It was later translated into English. Professor John Guy describes Buchanan's "Detection" as "the most artful piece of character assassination ever devised in Scotland".

Guy quotes and comments on one particularly vicious paragraph from the work. What on earth must have been the impact on James of reading this about his mother? Here is Guy (page 389 of his biography of Mary):

As a blend of fact and fiction, Buchanan's story is a masterpiece...Her sexual indiscretions had supposedly begun on a holiday at Alloa*, just a few weeks after her son was born. Then, when returning to Edinburgh, instead of abandoning her liaison, she had intensified it and continued to gratify her infatuation for Bothwell while openly shunning her wronged husband...He (Buchanan) claimed that Mary had flaunted herself on holiday, leaping straight into Bothwell's arms:

'What her usage was in Alloa needs not to be rehearsed, but it may be well so said that it exceeded measure and all womanly behaviour...but even as she returned to Edinburgh...what her behaviour was, it needs not be kept secret, being in the mouths of so many: the Earl of Bothwell abused her body at his pleasure, having passage in at the back door...This she has more than once confessed herself... using only the threadbare excuse that the Lady Reres gave him access**...'


Guy continues: "The innuendo was deliberate. When Buchanan referred to Bothwell 'having passage in a the back door', he was echoing the main charge of 'Ane Ballat'  ('A Ballad') issued by the Confederate Lords accusing the illicit lovers of the 'beastly buggery Sodom has not seen'. "

It's nasty stuff for us to read - for a vulnerable child, or for an adolescent struggling with his own sexuality, it must have been humiliating and distressing beyond belief. What fury and resentment James must have carried with him into adulthood - towards his foolish parents, towards those so-called "Lords of the Congregation" and, perhaps most of all, towards the hell-fire, harsh-judging Calvinistic preachers of the Kirk.

* PS Apparently when James's mother was not indulging in perverted intercourse during her holiday with Bothwell, she was playing golf - yes golf - which was probably viewed as being nearly as bad. What Buchanan failed to note was that her ultra-respectable, Protestant, hypocritical bastard of a half-brother, Moray, had accompanied Mary to Alloa and was present throughout. But then Buchanan was never a man to allow the facts to get in the way of a good story.

**PPS Lady Reres was one of Bothwell's mistresses.


Last edited by Temperance on Wed 29 Mar 2017, 12:50; edited 3 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: King James VI and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham   Mon 27 Mar 2017, 08:20

MM wrote:
So what, I wonder, was the real nature of their relationship?


It seems that James genuinely loved the boy; and his devotion lasted until death (James's) parted them. What Villiers's true feelings were towards his royal master are not so easy to determine.


What is pretty disgusting is the way members of the political élite at Court, notably what remained of the Howard faction there, together with the Earl of Suffolk and his lady, plus, incredibly, the Somersets (who were still trying to control events from within the Tower!) were anxious to play pimp to the King. The Archbishop of Canterbury was not involved this time. The following tale reminds me rather of the offering up of the teenage Katherine Howard to Henry VIII in the previous century, although the ending of the following wannabe favourite's story was not - thankfully - tragic, just rather farcical.

The lovely young thing whom these great ones hoped would oust Villiers (who by 1618 was the Marquis of Buckingham) was "the epicene son of Sir William Monson". The details of the Howards' and the Suffolks' attempts to supplant Buckingham with this boy would be funny, were it all not so horribly corrupt. The Suffolks  "took great pains in tricking and pranking him up", fitting him out in fine clothing, while Lady Suffolk personally helped young Monson with his hair and his make-up. She even advised the lad on how to cherish his complexion and personally supervised " the washing of his face every day with posset curd". One wonders if she continually added the encouraging words: "Because you are worth it!"

A ridiculous and systematic parading before the King then began. In February 1618 Nathaniel Brent reported that Monson was taking "all occasion to present himself to his Majesty's view", adding that the young man's hopes and ambitions were "so palpable as it causeth much laughter". However, by deliberately flaunting himself so conspicuously and in such a silly way, the boy, despite his beauty, actually managed to annoy James, who found his presence "intrusive". The Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Pembroke, had to be sent to Monson to inform him in no uncertain terms "that the King did not like his forwardness and presenting himself continually about him; that his father and uncle were not long since called in question for matters of no small moment*; that his own education had been in such places and with such persons as was not to be allowed of". Poor Monson was bluntly ordered to cut out all his nonsense and to stay away from the King.

Apparently very hurt, the by-now rather despondent lad concluded that it was not because of his lack of any necessary allure that he was thus scorned, but simply because the King thought he was, like most of his family and friends, a Catholic. So, presumably instructed again by the determined Lady Suffolk, he therefore ostentatiously received Communion on Easter Day from the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, making as he did so, "a great show of piety" before the King and the prelate, presumably piety of the solid, restrained, acceptable Anglican sort with no additional embarrassing and alarming papist flourishes.

How Steenie must have laughed at all this.

And I can't help but think it would make an excellent episode of Black Adder.

PS In fact Buckingham was seriously angered by this attempt to supplant him in the King's favour. He was to prove a dangerous enemy.


*A reference to the Overbury scandal.
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PostSubject: Re: King James VI and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham   Wed 19 Apr 2017, 11:07

For a few years after his marriage to Anne of Denmark, James did have at least one female mistress, Anne Murray later Lady Glamis. They were certainly close and he referred to her as “my mistress and my love” but, somewhat unlike the usual way of things, she bore no illegitimate children by him and indeed at this time James was considered to be paragon of chastity and of fidelity to his wife. His relationship with Anne Murray was therefore perhaps just a very intimate friendship with no romantic or sexual aspect.
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King James VI and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham

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