An art historian recently discovered a 400-year-old portrait of George Villiers, the former Duke of Buckingham who is thought to have been the gay lover of King James VI and I, the British ruler from 1567 to 1625 who commissioned a bestselling book known as The King James Bible. Heard of it?
Historians technically disagree over whether Villiers and King James VI and I (that weird title comes from the fact that he was King of Scotland as James VI and later King of England and Ireland as James I) actually had a relationship, but if they did, James certainly wouldn’t be the first man-loving British king. In fact, he’s among four others you should know about:
1. William II (ruled 1087 – 1100)
A celebrated military general who pissed off his followers by raising taxes, King William II remained conspicuously unmarried with no children and was said to have “filled his court with attractive young men [who he allegedly promoted from the bedroom and who] … wore fashionable pointed shoes” and long hair.
The head of the English church, the Archbishop of Cantebury, noticed and threw shade by attacking the ‘effeminacy’ of William’s court and calling for the criminalization of sodomy. Leading medieval historian William II was “addicted to every kind of vice, particularly lust and especially sodomy.”
Us too, William. Us too.
After William II was shot through the heart with an arrow during a hunting trip, he died. His brother, Henry I, took the throne and forced all his courtiers to cut their hair.
2. Richard I (ruled 1189 – 1199)
Dick I (a.k.a. Richard the Lionheart) totally smashed with Philip II, the then-teenage King of France. “They ate every day at the same table and from the same dish, and at night their beds did not separate them,” wrote Roger of Hovden, a personal observer who wrote of the two during their time.
Hovden’s bed comment may be more of a political metaphor than a literal one — politics do make strange bedfellows, after all — but even still, Richard I has long been lionized as a gay icon.
3. Edward II (ruled 1307-1327)
If you’ve ever seen Mel Gibson’s 1995 dramatic war film Braveheart, then you might recall seeing the sullen, shy and somewhat fey soon-to-be King Edward II hovering nervously around his father’s deathbed after being forced to marry a woman that he most certainly isn’t into.
King Eddie the Deuce was clocked by at least two historians for being “a sodomite” though he also fathered two kids. (Maybe he was bisexual?) He also had a super-close relationship with Piers Gaveston, the son of a knight who formed a “brotherly” friendship with Ed.
It’s unclear whether the two actually made the sex, but some historians and playwrights seem to think so. The plays of both possibly-gay English playwright Christopher Marlowe and totally-gay English playwright Derek Jarman both depicted Edward II as gay.
4. James I (ruled 1603 – 1625)
James I is said to have fallen in love with his 37-year-old cousin Esme Stuart at the tender age of 13. One observer wrote that James was “in such love with him as in the open sight of the people often he will clasp him about the neck with his arms and kiss him.”
He reportedly dated a 17-year-old named Robert Carr (later the Duke of Lennox) as well as Villiers (mentioned at the top of this article), and is actually memorialized in effigy in Westminster Abbey with Villiers and Stuart’s tomb to the left and right of him.
He was also reportedly a hateful hypocrite, as he meted out severe punishments for sodomy even though he enjoyed it himself. Ugh.
5. That king from Depeche Mode’s ‘Enjoy the Silence’ video (1990)
So angsty as he travels the English countryside, seeking for a perfect place to sit and watch the sunset. Totally gay.
Featured image by SyYates via iStock