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George Villiers, the second son of Sir George Villiers, was born in Brooksby, Leicestershire, on 28 August 1592. Villiers was not a natural scholar, "but excelled in skills such as dancing, fencing, and riding, and since these were combined with exceptional good looks and charm of manner he was well equipped for life as a courtier". (1)
In 1611 Villiers met Sir John Graham, a gentleman of the privy chamber, who acted as his mentor and promoter. He arranged for Villiers to be introduced to King James I who took an immediate liking to Villiers. Throughout his reign he associated with attractive young men and according to Maurice Ashley he had developed homosexual feelings in his youth. (2)
Although he married Anne of Denmark in 1589, and she gave birth to Henry (1594) and Charles (1600) King James spent little time with his wife and "declined to live in the same place as a woman more than he could help... and soon after his accession the queen was established at Denmark House, rarely accompanying him on his continual progresses." (3)
As Jenny Wormald has pointed out: "There is almost the danger of forgetting that, even if homosexual activity as opposed to homoerotic feeling is ascribed to the king, at the very least, James was bisexual, and succeeded, where his three predecessors had failed, in providing heirs to the throne, which after the previous half-century came as a welcome relief". (4)
One of his courtiers, Anthony Weldon, claims James had several "male lovelies" and was guilty of expressing his feelings in public: "The King's kissing them after so lascivious a mode in public, and upon the theatre, as of were, of the world, prompted many to imagine some things done in the retiring-house that exceed my expressions no less than they do my experience." (5)
James found Villiers extremely attractive and was considered to be "beautiful as a hunting leopard". (6) Bishop Godfrey Goodman commented that Villiers was "the handsomest-bodied man in all of England; his limbs so well compacted, and his conversation so pleasing, and of so sweet a disposition." (7)
At the time he met Villiers the King was romantically involved with Robert Carr. He became the King favourite when he was 20 years-old and the following year became a groom of the bedchamber. The king, it was reported, would "pinch Carr's cheek in public, smooth his clothes, and gaze at him adoringly, even while talking to others". Over the next eight years Carr steadily accumulated the material rewards of royal infatuation and was given large estates all over England. (8)
In 1613 Carr began to make plans to marry Frances Howard, the daughter of Admiral Thomas Howard, the son of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. The Howard family were having a growing influence over King James. This included Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel and Charles Howard, Lord of Effingham, They were all sympathetic to the Roman Catholic church and wanted an alliance with King Philip III of Spain. According to John Philipps Kenyon, the author of The Stuarts (1958): "They (the Howards) urged James to marry his son to the daughter of Philip III of Spain and use her huge dowry to pay off his debts, with the ultimate aim of reconciling the English church with Rome." (9)
Sir Thomas Overbury, had bitterly opposed the marriage as he was worried about the growing influence of the Howard family. He made his feelings known to James. He rejected his complaints and offered him an ambassadorship, which would have meant him living abroad. When he refused to take the post, he was arrested on 21st April, 1613, and taken to the Tower of London. Overbury threatened, in a letter written to Carr, that he would disclose information about the past life of Francis Howard. Overbury died on 15th September, 1613. Ten days later Carr married Howard. (10)
In 1614 appointed Carr as Lord Chamberlain and granted him the title, the Earl of Somerset. However, he also showed his love for Villiers by giving him the job of royal cup-bearer and in 1615 was knighted and became gentleman of the bedchamber. He was also given an annual pension of £1,000. Carr complained about his new rival. James responded by writing a letter that made it clear that he was unwilling to give up his love for Villiers. He rebuked Carr for his "strange streams of unquietness, passion, fury and insolent pride" and for "withdrawing yourself from lying in my chamber, notwithstanding my many hundred times earnestly soliciting you to the contrary". (11)
In August 1615, Villiers and James occupied the same bed at Farnham Castle, where the king was on progress. Roger Lockyer argues that this in itself does not prove the two men were having an homosexual relationship: "Sharing a bed was not uncommon in the early seventeenth century, and did not necessarily imply physical intimacy. Yet there was every indication that the relationship between the king and Villiers had entered a new phase, and that the days of Somerset's favour were numbered." (12)
The author of the The Stuarts (1958) pointed out: "At the age of twenty-two George Villiers had that rather over-ripe masculine attraction that trembles on the verge of femininity: tall and beautifully-proportioned, he had a heart-shaped face framed in dark chestnut hair and short beard, an exquisitely-curved mouth, and the dark blue eyes of the highly-sexed... His intelligence, while it existed at a low level, undoubtedly existed... Buckingham's boyish flirtatiousness enabled him to cross James with impunity." (13)
Villiers also gained the support of Sir Francis Bacon, the king's Lord Chancellor. He also feared the growing influence of the Howard family and encouraged James to order an investigation into the death of Thomas Overbury. Eventually, Robert Carr and his wife, Frances Carr, appeared in court to face the charge of murder. Frances made a full confession but Robert claimed he had nothing to do with Overbury's death. The court did not believe him and the couple were sentenced to death. James refused to allow his lover to be executed and they were both imprisoned in the Tower of London. (14)
Villiers was in a good position to benefit from the removal of Robert Carr from power. In January 1616 James made him master of the horse and on 27th August, he created him Viscount Villiers and gave him crown lands with the value of £30,000. He also became chief clerk for the enrolment of pleas in the court of king's bench, worth some £4000 a year. On 6th January 1617, he was elevated to the earldom of Buckingham, and in the following month he became a member of the Privy Council. The king made no secret of his feelings for his favourite. (15)
In September 1617 the King defended his friendship with Buckingham: "I am neither 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." (16)
James was deeply in love with Buckingham who called him "Steenie" (a reference to St. Stephen whom in the Bible describes as having the "face of an angel"). According to John Philipps Kenyon, he also called him his "sweetheart", his "sweet child and wife". On one occasion, when Buckingham was on a short holiday, James wrote to him asking him to return: "My only sweet and dear child. I pray thee haste thee home to thy dad by sunsetting at the furthest... and so Lord send me comfortable and happy with thee this night." (17)
James was sympathetic to the Roman Catholic church and came to the conclusion that his son, Charles should marry Maria Anna, the youngest daughter of King Philip III of Spain. Buckingham supported this policy but it was opposed by the English Parliament and in 1621 it called for an enforcement of recusancy laws, a naval campaign against Spain, and a Protestant marriage for the Prince of Wales. (18)
Francis Bacon, the Lord Chancellor, led the campaign against the proposed marriage and along with other MPs suggested that Charles should be married to a Protestant princess. James insisted that the House of Commons be concerned exclusively with domestic affairs and should not be involved in making decisions about foreign policy. (19)
The king's supporters responded by accusing Bacon of bribery and corruption and he was impeached before the House of Lords. Not since the fifteenth century had a great officer of the crown been overthrown in Parliament. (20) Bacon was fined £40,000 and "imprisonment at the king's pleasure". He was also barred from any office or employment in the state and forbidden to sit in parliament or come within the verge (12 miles) of the court. The fine was never collected and his imprisonment in the Tower of London lasted only three days. (21)
James refused to accept defeat and he arranged for Charles to be tutored in Spanish and the latest continental dance steps. In February 1623, Charles travelled incognito with the Duke of Buckingham, to Madrid, to meet members of the Spanish royal family. He was described as having "grown into a fine gentleman" but it was also observed that he looked undistinguished and was only five feet four inches tall. (22) During this period Charles was strongly influenced by Buckingham's political ideas. (23)
John Morrill has pointed out: "Charles's decision to undertake a personal courtship as a way of breaking through the diplomatic deadlock was an indication of his growing self-confidence. He was now commonly acting as a political agent, meeting with privy councillors, foreign ambassadors, and the duke of Buckingham, sometimes under his father's instructions, sometimes independently. The decision to travel to Spain and conduct face-to-face negotiations to conclude his marriage was a further step in his maturation." (24)
The Spanish negotiators demanded that Charles convert to Roman Catholicism as a condition of the match. They also insisted on toleration of Catholics in England and the repeal of the penal laws. After the marriage Maria Anna would have to stay in Spain until England complied with all the terms of the treaty. Charles knew that Parliament would never accept this deal and he returned to England without a bride. (25)
It was now decided to change foreign policy and James now opened up talks about the possibility of an alliance with Louis XIII of France that involved the marriage of Charles to Henrietta Maria, the king's sister. It was unprecedented for a Catholic princess to be married to a Protestant. Pope Urban VIII only gave his permission when he was assured that the treaty included "commitments about religious rights of the queen, her children, and her household; while in a separate secret document Charles promised to suspend operation of the penal laws against Catholics". (26)
In February 1624, the Duke of Buckingham, managed to persuade most members of Parliament to the new anti-Spanish policy and to negotiate a treaty with France. However, it was not explained to Parliament that the proposed marriage would involve increased toleration for Roman Catholics. (27)
These negotiations resulted in Parliament losing confidence in King James. They no longer trusted him and he was forced into making several concessions. This included a Monopoly Act, which forbade royal grants of monopolies to individuals. James also agreed to work closely with Parliament to deal with the economic crisis that the country was experiencing at the time. (28)
James I died on 27th March 1625. Buckingham now became the new king's most important adviser. Charles married fifteen-year-old Henrietta Maria by proxy at the church door of Notre Dame on 1st May. Charles met her at Dover on 13th June and was described as being small-boned and petite and "being for her age somewhat little". (29) Another source said she was "a gawky adolescent, enormous eyes, bony wrists, projecting teeth and a minimal figure". (30) Caroline M. Hibbard provides a more positive image arguing that she had "brown hair and black eyes and a combination of sweetness and wit remarked on by almost every observer." (31)
Many members of the House of Commons were opposed to the king's marriage to a Roman Catholic, fearing that it would undermine the official establishment of the reformed Church of England. The Puritans were particularly unhappy when they heard that the king had promised that Henrietta Maria would be allowed to practise her religion freely and would have the responsibility for the upbringing of their children until they reached the age of 13. When the king was crowned on 2nd February 1626 at Westminster Abbey, his wife was not at his side as she refused to participate in a Protestant religious ceremony. (32)
At this time King Louis XIII was involved in a civil war against the Protestants (Huguenots) in France. Parliament wanted to help the Huguenots but Charles refused as he did not want to upset his wife or brother-in-law. Eventually it was agreed to send a fleet of eight ships to France. However, at the last moment Charles sent orders that the men should fight for, rather than against, Louis XIII. The captains and crews refused to accept these orders and fought against the French. (33)
Charles was willing to declare war on Spain. Rather than direct involvement in the European land war, the English Parliament preferred a relatively inexpensive naval attack on Spanish colonies in the New World, hoping for the capture of the Spanish treasure fleets and only granted a subsidy of £140,000, which was an insufficient sum for Charles's war plans. (34)
Charles was disappointed by this decision and so he called another Parliament. This time the Duke of Buckingham, made a long speech where "he defended his policies, assured them of his commitment to the war, including a naval assault upon Spain, and gave them details of the King's financial obligations". However, they pointed out that the country could not afford more taxes at a time of economic recession. Charles responded by dissolving Parliament. (35)
In the summer of 1627, Buckingham attempted to aid his new Huguenot allies besieged at La Rochelle in France. On 12th July, an English force of 100 ships and 6,000 soldiers arrived at Sablanceau. A French force of 1,200 infantry and 200 horsemen under the Marquis de Toiras, the island's Governor, resisted the landing from behind the dunes, but the English beachhead was maintained. The siege continued until October, during which he lost more than 4,000 of a force of 7,000 men. (36)
Sir John Eliot, Buckingham's main critic in the House of Commons, instigated impeachment proceedings against the king's main adviser. In May 1626, Charles nominated Buckingham as Chancellor of Cambridge University in a show of support, and had Eliot arrested at the door of the House. His imprisonment resulted in a great deal of protest and the the king was forced to order the release of Eliot. However, Charles refused to dismiss Buckingham and instead dissolved Parliament. (37)
Although the king continued to protect Buckingham he was hated by the public and on 23rd August 1628, he was stabbed to death at the Greyhound Pub in Portsmouth. The assassin was John Felton, an army officer who had been wounded in the earlier military adventure and believed he had been passed over for promotion by Buckingham. However, he made it clear that his act was based on his belief in the House of Commons and that by "killing the Duke he should do his country great service". (38)
At the age of twenty-two George Villiers had that rather over-ripe masculine attraction that trembles on the verge of feminity: tall and beautifully-proportioned, he had a heart-shaped face framed in dark chestnut hair and short beard, an exquisitely-curved mouth, and the dark blue eyes of the highly-sexed...
His intelligence, while it existed at a low level, undoubtedly existed... Buckingham's boyish flirtatiousness enabled him to cross James with impuunity, emerging rather with enhanced influence; his letters bubble with nonsensical charm and lovers' baby-talk, but there is a pertness even in his unvarying valediction.
I, James, am neither God nor an angel, but a man like any other. Christ had his John, and I have my George.
Military Tactics in the Civil War (Answer Commentary)
Women in the Civil War (Answer Commentary)
Portraits of Oliver Cromwell (Answer Commentary)
(1) Roger Lockyer, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(2) Maurice Ashley, The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (1975) page 182
(3) John Philipps Kenyon, The Stuarts (1958) page 41
(4) Jenny Wormald, King James I : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(5) Anthony Weldon, The Court and Character of King James I (1650)
(6) Diane Purkiss, The English Civil War: A People's History (2007) page 15
(7) Pauline Gregg, King Charles (1984) page 49
(8) Alastair Bellany, Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(9) John Philipps Kenyon, The Stuarts (1958) page 47
(10) John Considine, Thomas Overbury: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(11) Peter Ackroyd, The Civil War (2014) page 45
(12) Roger Lockyer, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(13) John Philipps Kenyon, The Stuarts (1958) page 50
(14) Peter Ackroyd, The Civil War (2014) page 46
(15) Roger Lockyer, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(16) King James I, speech at meeting of the Privy Council (September 1617)
(17) John Philipps Kenyon, The Stuarts (1958) page 50
(18) Christopher Hibbert, Charles I (1968) pages 49-50
(19) Richard Cust, Charles I: A Political Life (2005) page 8
(20) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) page 225
(21) Markku Peltonen, Francis Bacon : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(22) Maurice Ashley, The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (1975) page 187
(23) Richard Ollard, Clarendon and His Friends (1988) page 24
(24) John Morrill, King Charles I : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(25) Pauline Gregg, King Charles I (1981) pages 85-87
(26) Caroline M. Hibbard, Henrietta Maria : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(27) John Philipps Kenyon, The Stuarts (1958) page 60
(28) Barry Coward, The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714 (1980) page 158
(29) John Morrill, King Charles I : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(30) John Philipps Kenyon, The Stuarts (1958) page 63
(31) Caroline M. Hibbard, Henrietta Maria : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(32) Charles Carlton, Charles I: The Personal Monarch (1995) page 76
(33) Gerald Howat, Stuart and Cromwellian Foreign Policy (1974) page 35
(34) Pauline Gregg, King Charles I (1981) page 129
(35) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) page 233
(36) Mark Charles Fissel, War and Government in Britain, 1598-1650 (1991) pages 123-125
(37) Charles Carlton, Charles I: The Personal Monarch (1995) pages 149-151
(38) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) page 238
The publication in January this year of The House of Lords, 1604-29 represents the culmination of ten years of writing and research by a dedicated team of four scholars led by Dr Andrew Thrush. Comprising two volumes of biographies extending in length to more than 1,600,000 words, and a separate Introductory Survey, this latest addition to the History of Parliament series complements and enhances the six-volume set on the early Stuart House of Commons and its members published in 2010.
At the heart of the History of Parliament’s latest volumes are the biographies of 277 peers who were entitled to sit in the House of Lords between 1604 and 1629. (A further nine biographies of peers who were incapable of sitting before 1629 and who died before another Parliament assembled, in 1640, appear in two appendices.)
The greatest amount of space is naturally devoted to leading political figures of the period, including Robert Cecil, 1st earl of Salisbury, who tried in vain to solve the crown’s financial problems with the aid of Parliament George Villiers, 1st duke of Buckingham, the parvenu whose domination of English politics as favourite and chief minister to two successive kings enraged members of the ‘ancient nobility’ and led to his impeachment in 1626 George Abbot, archbishop of Canterbury, who assisted Buckingham in his rise to power and lived to regret it and Thomas Howard, 21st earl of Arundel, the leading member of the ‘ancient nobility’, who initially counted himself among Buckingham’s chief allies. Much that is new will be found in these individual studies. For instance, in the lengthy entry on Prince Charles – the future Charles I – who sat in the Lords as Prince of Wales in both 1621 and 1624 it is claimed that Charles’s famous stutter was the result not of psychological trauma but an enlarged tongue, a condition known as macroglossia, which made public speaking difficult.
The biography volumes are not exclusively populated by towering figures like Charles and Buckingham, or Salisbury and Arundel, but also include many lay peers who, for reasons of poverty or minor political importance, have escaped inclusion in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: men like the Hampshire peer, William, 3rd Lord Sandys and the Anglo-Irish nobleman, George Tuchet, 11th Lord Audley and 1st earl of Castlehaven.
However, these smaller fry are treated just as fully as their more illustrious brethren. Alongside each man’s career in the House of Lords (assuming that he sat, of course), readers will find details of his political career, financial affairs, religious persuasion, cultural interests, general character and sexual mores. Indeed, these volumes are richly coloured in their detail. We learn, for instance, that Buckingham returned from Spain in 1623 with gonorrhoea and that his younger brother Christopher Villiers, 1st earl of Anglesey, was a lecherous drunk that Basil Feilding, Lord Newnham Paddockes, was an anti-Calvinist in his youth rather than the convinced Calvinist we had all thought and that Henry Clinton, 2nd earl of Lincoln, was of such a violent disposition that James I opined that he was governed by the influence of the underworld. We also discover that William Paulet, 4th marquess of Winchester was reputedly so dim that on his wedding night he evidently did ‘not know at which end to begin’ that Thomas, 4th Lord Cromwell, was partial to Dublin shop girls and that Henry, 7th Lord Berkeley was so dominated by his wife that his own steward bestowed upon him the nickname ‘Henry the Harmless’. Non-parliamentary historians will find just as much of interest in these volumes as parliamentary scholars.
Supplementing the two volumes of biographies is a 400-page monograph on the House of Lords itself. Divided into six large chapters, it views the Lords through a broader lens than did Elizabeth Read Foster in her 1983 study of the upper House. Whereas Foster drew almost exclusively on the parliamentary sources, this new study looks beyond Parliament to examine developments in the Lords. Several key findings emerge. Among the most important is that the Lords experienced something of a renaissance during the 1620s. Prior to that date the House was increasingly eclipsed by the Commons, whose members alone controlled the parliamentary purse-strings.
However, beginning in 1621, new life was breathed into the Lords. In part this was due to the sudden revival of the Lords’ long forgotten judicial powers, most notably the power to conduct impeachment trials, which placed the House at centre-stage and aroused the envy of the Commons. However, it was also attributable to fears among the nobility that their privileges were being undermined. Led by the earl of Arundel, the Lords established their first ever committee for privileges, thereby turning themselves into a sort of trade union for the nobility. Another factor in the revival of the Lords’ fortunes was the growth of factionalism, which spilled over into Parliament. Before the 1620s, the Lords had viewed their main role as defending the interests of the king. The rise of Buckingham, and the sale of aristocratic titles, changed all that. It led to the emergence of what one might term ‘opposition’ politics in the Lords. In the popular mind, many members of the upper House, like the earls of Essex and Warwick, and Viscount Saye and Sele, came to be seen not as subservient to the crown but as champions of the common weal. By the end of the 1620s, no one could have predicted that twenty years later the upper House, like the monarchy, would be abolished.
The House of Lords 1604-29 is now available to purchase via Cambridge University Press. Click here for more information.
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
In 1614, Villiers, then said to be "the handsomest-bodied man in England",  was introduced to King James, who soon developed a strong affection for him, calling him his "sweet child and wife". He was initially supported by those who opposed the King's current favourite, Robert Carr Earl of Somerset. Over the next few years he was rapidly made a knight, baron, viscount, earl, marquess, and finally duke.
Restoration of Apethorpe Hall, Northamptonshire, in 2004–2008 revealed a previously unknown passage linking Villiers' bedchamber with that of James. 
Villiers took a leading role of many of the political and military events of James's reign, many of which turned out very badly, and he became very unpopular. According to some accounts he became the lover of Anne of Austria, Queen of France (whose husband, Louis XIII, is said to have been gay).
After James's death in 1625 Villiers remained in favour with James's son, Charles I, but he was assassinated in Portsmouth in 1628.
Today is the first in a trio of blogs to celebrate LGBT+ History Month. Paul M. Hunneyball, Associate Editor of the House of Lords 1604-1629 project, kicks off with a sequel to his blog from last LGBTHM, ‘James I and his favourites: sex and power at the Jacobean Court’. In this new blog he explores the evolution of the duke of Buckingham’s position at court in the 1610s and 1620s, and the intricacies of his relationship with James I…
George Villiers, 1st duke of Buckingham, is probably best known today for his decade-long liaison with James I. However, in historical terms he is equally notable for being the principal court favourite of two successive monarchs, James and his son Charles I, an unparalleled feat in Europe during that era. When one considers the very different nature of his relationships with the two kings, Buckingham’s achievement seems all the more remarkable. He initially rose to prominence because the homosexual James found him physically and emotionally appealing, and this remained the vital consideration which sustained their affair. Charles, in marked contrast to his father, shared the conventional homophobic prejudices of his time, disapproved of James’s gay dalliances, and at first took an intense dislike to Buckingham. The role that the duke eventually assumed with him was that of confidante, indispensable adviser, and chief minister. The emotionally reserved Charles developed a deep and unshakeable affection for the duke, but their friendship was firmly platonic in character. The fact that Buckingham was able to effect this transition so successfully raises some interesting questions about the true nature of his relationship with James.
At the Jacobean court, rival factions openly sought influence with the king by promoting handsome young men whom they hoped would gain his favour. Buckingham himself began his court career as the client of George Abbot, archbishop of Canterbury and William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke, who exploited his charms to displace the previous royal favourite, Robert Carr, earl of Somerset. The young Villiers, who had reportedly come to court in search of an advantageous marriage, took to his new role with aplomb. According to Godfrey Goodman, later bishop of Gloucester, ‘he was the handsomest bodied man in England his limbs so well compacted, and his conversation so pleasing, and of so sweet a disposition’ (G. Goodman, Court of King James the First, i. 225-6). Another observer, Sir Simonds D’Ewes, found him ‘full of delicacy and handsome features yea, his hands and face seemed to me, especially, effeminate and curious’ (J.O. Halliwell (ed.), Autobiography and Correspondence of Sir Simonds D’Ewes, i. 166-7).
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, c. 1616 (W. Larkin?)
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, 1625 (Peter Paul Rubens)
We can get a sense of these characteristics from a portrait painted to mark his creation as a knight of the Garter in 1616, which shows Buckingham clean-shaven, and with his long, elegant legs prominently displayed. Nine years later, however, following Charles’ accession as king, the duke was keen to promote a rather different image, as seen in this equestrian portrait by Rubens. Here a bearded Buckingham consciously projects an air of machismo and strength, and this was how he chose to present himself for the rest of his career.
What might this transformation tell us about his relationship with James? For seven or eight years it suited Buckingham to cultivate a more effete persona. The king remained completely enamoured with him, and indeed became emotionally dependent on him. Judging from their surviving correspondence, Buckingham developed considerable fondness for his royal lover. But there was one fundamental problem. This was no modern-style gay partnership. James was in a sense the ultimate 17th-century sugar daddy, showering his lover with wealth, titles and influence. Buckingham, who came from minor gentry stock, rose to the summit of society, dukedoms at this time normally being reserved for members of the royal family. He achieved a degree of informal intimacy with the king that was denied to other courtiers. Nevertheless, he was never allowed to forget that James controlled their relationship. The king liked to boast of Buckingham as his finest creation, which by implication meant that he could unmake him again. The duke’s lavish thanks for all the benefits that he received reflected his awareness that he had a lot to lose if circumstances changed, and he was painfully aware that his rivals at court sought his downfall by tempting James with other pretty young men. Over time Buckingham assumed the role of a surrogate son, and James took to signing his letters as ‘thy dear dad’. But the duke knew his place, and invariably described himself in reply as ‘your Majesty’s most humble slave and dog’ (D.M. Bergeron, King James & Letters of Homoerotic Desire, 177, 182). There was surely an element of humour in that moniker, but it also reflected the fundamental imbalance in their relationship, and Buckingham’s perennial insecurity.
The duke’s success in finally winning over Charles offered him a way out of that situation. Exactly how the two men became such close friends has never been fully explained, but by 1623 Charles and James were effectively competing for Buckingham’s attention. Charles gained the upper hand that year when he travelled to Spain in a misguided bid to finalise his marriage to a Spanish princess, and the duke went with him. Once there, Buckingham adopted a flamboyantly heterosexual image, and acquired a reputation for womanizing. By the end of that trip, he and the prince were virtually inseparable, the proof coming a few months after their return to England. Charles, smarting from his treatment in Madrid, had abandoned any thought of a closer alliance with Spain, and was now intent on war. James, who had spent his entire reign promoting Anglo-Spanish peace, naturally opposed this strategy. Buckingham, while as solicitous as ever of his royal master’s wellbeing, sided with Charles. The now ailing king complained loudly about his favourite’s behaviour, but, as Buckingham had no doubt calculated, could not bring himself to dismiss him. These conflicts further enhanced the duke’s standing with Charles, and when the latter finally became king in March 1625 it was generally acknowledged that, in political and social terms, Buckingham’s position was now stronger than ever. Indeed, it was only an assassin’s knife that finally ended his dominance three years later.
Assessing same-sex love and desire in the early modern period is fraught with difficulty, and Buckingham’s case is no exception. His ability to switch between two radically contrasting modes of behaviour may seem strange to a modern eye, but such sexual fluidity was arguably less exceptional at the time. The undeniable warmth of his correspondence with James indicates a fair degree of genuine mutual affection, and indeed it’s hard to see how the duke could have sustained his role as royal favourite for so long without this. Nevertheless, when he had to choose, Buckingham valued his long-term security above loyalty to James, and this suggests that for him, ultimately, their relationship was based not on love but on the pursuit of power and wealth.
R. Lockyer, Buckingham (1981)
M.B. Young, King James and the History of Homosexuality (2016)
Biographies of Buckingham, Prince Charles, Archbishop Abbot, the earls of Pembroke and Somerset and Bishop Goodman will appear in the History of Parliament’s forthcoming volumes on the House of Lords 1604-29. A biography of Sir Simonds D’Ewes is being prepared for the volumes on the House of Commons 1640-60.
3. His Friend Became Famous
Though the public did not yet know either of their names, the teenage traveling buddies would prove to be a duo for the history books. The young Villiers’ partner-in-crime, John Eliot, grew up to be an influential statesman famous for his support of the rights of Parliament—an opinion for which he was repeatedly imprisoned as an adult.
But of the two, Villiers would make the biggest splash by far.
About George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (28 August 1592 – 23 August 1628) (surname pronounced /ˈvɪlɚz/ ("villers")) was the favourite, claimed by some to be the lover, of King James I of England and one of the most rewarded royal courtiers in all history.
5 Relations with Parliament, 1621-1624
6.1 War with Habsburg Austria, France, and Spain
He was born in Brooksby, Leicestershire, in August 1592, the son of the minor gentleman Sir George Villiers (1550-1604). His mother, Mary (1570 - 1632), daughter of Anthony Beaumont of Glenfield, Leicestershire, who was left a widow early, educated him for a courtier's life, sending him to France with Sir John Eliot.
Villiers took very well to the training he could dance well, fence well, and speak a little French. In August 1614, Villiers, reputedly "the handsomest-bodied man in all of England," was brought before the king, in the hope that the king would take a fancy to him, diminishing the power at court of then-favourite Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset.
Following Villiers' introduction to James during the king's progress of that year, the king developed a strong affection for Villiers, calling him his 'sweet child and wife' the personal relationships of James are a much debated topic, with Villiers making the last of a succession of favourites on whom James lavished affection and rewards. The extent to which there was a sexual element, or a physical sexual relationship, involved in these cases remains controversial. Villiers reciprocated the king's love and wrote to James: "I naturally so love your person, and adore all your other parts, which are more than ever one man had" and "I desire only to live in the world for your sake". Villiers gained support from those opposed to the current favourite, Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset. However, restoration of Apethorpe Hall, undertaken 2004-2008, revealed a previously unknown passage linking the bedchambers of James and his favourite, George Villiers.
Under the king's patronage he prospered greatly. Villiers was knighted in 1615 as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, and was rapidly advanced through the peerage: he was created Baron Whaddon and Viscount Villiers in 1616, Earl of Buckingham in 1617, Marquess of Buckingham in 1618 and finally Earl of Coventry and Duke of Buckingham in 1623. After the reductions in the peerage that had taken place during the Tudor period, Buckingham was left as the highest-ranking subject outside the Royal Family.
In the 1620s, Villiers acquired York House, Strand, which, apart from an interlude during the English Civil War, remained in the family until George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham sold it to developers for ꌰ,000 in 1672. He made it a condition of the sale that his name and title be commemorated by George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street, Of Alley, and Buckingham Street, some of which have survived into the twenty-first century.
Buckingham with his wife Katherine Manners, their daughter Mary and son George, 1628Buckingham married the daughter of the 6th Earl of Rutland, Lady Katherine Manners, later suo jure Baroness de Ros, on 16 May 1620 despite the objections of her father. Buckingham was happy to grant valuable royal monopolies to her family.
From 1616, Buckingham established a dominant influence in Irish affairs, beginning with the appointment of his client, Sir Oliver St John, as Lord Deputy, 1616-1622. Thence, he acquired control of the Irish customs farm (1618), dominated Irish patronage at court, particularly with the sale of Irish titles and honours, and (from 1618) began to build substantial Irish estates for himself, his family and clients - with the aid of a plantation lobby, composed of official clients in Dublin. To the same end, he secured the creation of an Irish Court of Wards in 1622. Buckingham's influence thus crucially sustained a forward Irish plantation policy into the 1620s.
The 1621 Parliament began an investigation into monopolies and other abuses in England and extended it later to Ireland in this first session, Buckingham was quick to side with the Parliament to avoid action being taken against him. However, the king's decision in the summer of 1621 to send a commission of enquiry, including parliamentary firebrands, to Ireland threatened to expose Buckingham's growing, often clandestine interests there. Knowing that, in the summer, the king had assured the Spanish ambassador that the Parliament would not be allowed to imperil a Spanish matrimonial alliance, he therefore surreptitiously instigated a conflict between the Parliament and the king over the Spanish Match, which resulted in a premature dissolution of the Parliament in December 1621 and a hobbling of the Irish commission in 1622. Irish reforms nevertheless introduced by Lionel Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex, in 1623-1624 were largely nullified by the impeachment and disgrace of the pacific Lord Treasurer in the violently anti-Spanish 1624 parliament - spurred on by Buckingham and Prince Charles.
In 1623, Buckingham accompanied Charles I, then Prince of Wales, to Spain for marriage negotiations regarding the Infanta Maria. The negotiations had long been stuck, but it is believed that Buckingham's crassness was key to the total collapse of agreement the Spanish ambassador asked Parliament to have Buckingham executed for his behaviour in Madrid but Buckingham gained popularity by calling for war with Spain on his return. He headed further marriage negotiations, but when, in 1624, the betrothal to Henrietta Maria of France was announced, the choice of a Catholic was widely condemned. Buckingham's popularity suffered further when he was blamed for the failure of the military expedition under the command of Ernst von Mansfeld, a famous German mercenary general, sent to the continent to recover the Palatinate (1625), which had belonged to Frederick V, Elector Palatine, son-in-law of King James I of England. However, when the Duke of York became King Charles I, Buckingham was the only man to maintain his position from the court of James.
Buckingham led an expedition to repeat the actions of Sir Francis Drake by seizing the main Spanish port at Cฝiz and burning the fleet in its harbour. Though his plan was tactically sound, landing further up the coast and marching the militia army on the city, the troops were ill-equipped, ill-disciplined and ill-trained. Coming upon a warehouse filled with wine, they simply got drunk, and the attack was called off. The English army briefly occupied a small port further down the coast before reboarding its ships.
This was followed by Buckingham leading the Army and the Navy to sea to intercept an anticipated Spanish silver fleet from Mexico and Spanish Latin America. However, the Spanish were forewarned by their intelligence and easily avoided the planned ambush. With supplies running out and men sick and dying from starvation and disease, the fleet limped home in embarrassment.
Buckingham then negotiated with the French regent, Cardinal Richelieu, for English ships to aid Richelieu in his fight against the French Protestants (Huguenots), in return for French aid against the Spanish occupying the Palatinate. The aid never materialised, and Parliament was disgusted and horrified at the thought of English Protestants fighting French Protestants. The plan only fuelled their fears of crypto-Catholicism at court. Buckingham himself, believing that the failure of his enterprise was the result of treachery by Richelieu, formulated an alliance among the churchman's many enemies, a policy which included support for the very Huguenots whom he had recently attacked.
When the Commons attempted to impeach him for the failure of the Cฝiz Expedition (1625), the King dissolved Parliament in June to prevent his impeachment.
In 1627, Buckingham led another failure: an attempt to aid his new Huguenot allies besieged at La Rochelle in France. He lost more than 4,000 men out of a force of 7,000. While organizing a second campaign, he was stabbed and killed at Portsmouth on August 23, 1628 by John Felton, an army officer who had been wounded in the earlier military adventure. Felton believed he had been passed over for promotion by Buckingham. Felton was hanged in November and Buckingham was buried in Westminster Abbey. Buckingham's tomb bears a Latin inscription translated as: "The Enigma of the World."
The memory of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, is held sacred by the Villiers Club, an exclusive dining and debating society at Oxford University.
A fictionalised Buckingham is one of the characters in Alexandre Dumas, père's The Three Musketeers, which paints him as a lover of Anne of Austria and deals with his assassination by Felton. In Arturo Pérez-Reverte's novel, El capitán Alatriste, Buckingham appears briefly while on his expedition to Spain in 1623 with Charles I. He is also a central character in novels by Philippa Gregory, Earthly Joys, and Evelyn Anthony, "Charles, The King. He also appears, played by Marcus Hutton, in the Doctor Who audio drama The Church and the Crown, in which he leads an aborted English invasion of France in 1626.
Buckingham's daughter, Lady Mary Villiers, was the wife of the Royalist 1st Duke of Richmond. Richmond was the grandson of the 1st Duke of Lennox of the Seigneurs d'Aubigny Stuarts. His elder son Charles (1626 - 1627) died as an infant and the title was inherited by his younger son George.
George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham
George Villiers, Earl of Buckingham, became the favourite of James I after they first met in 1614. Villiers succeeded Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, as the king’s favourite after Carr’s fall from grace after the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury.
Villiers was born on August 28 th 1592 at Brooksby in Leicestershire. His father was a minor noble who had remarried and Villiers was born to his second wife, Mary Beaumont. He knew that in future years he would have to compete with his half-brothers for a share of his father’s modest estate. His mother was an ambitious woman and she saved enough for him to be educated in France. Here Villiers learned to dance, duel and ride with a degree of expertise. By all accounts Villiers was an athletic and well-built man. One contemporary described him as “no one dances better, no man runs or jumps better.”
James first met Villiers at Apethorpe in August 1614. James was forty-seven.
“He (James) was of middle stature, more corpulent through his clothes than his body, yet fat enough, his clothes ever being made large and easy, the doublets quilted for stiletto proof, his breeches in pleats and full stuffed……his eye was large, ever rolling after any stranger that came into his presence, in so much as many for shame have left the room, as being out of countenance….his legs were very weak….and that weakness made him ever leaning on other men’s shoulders his walk was ever circular, his fingers ever in that walk fiddling about his codpiece.”
James was immediately taken in by Villier’s appearance. In 1615, Villier’s was made a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. His advance after this was swift. In 1616, Villiers was appointed Master of the Horse, made a Knight of the Garter and became Viscount Villiers. In 1617, he became Earl of Buckingham and in 1619, he was made a Marquess.
Such a swift advance up the social order was bound to provoke negative thoughts with regards to both James and Buckingham and the latter certainly made enemies. It was not unusual for a king to have favourites – but the speed with which Villiers climbed the social ladder and was promoted was too much for many.
Their public displays of affection only served to bring the court into more disrepute. James referred to him as “my sweetheart”, “my sweet child and wife” and “my only sweet and dear child”. In response to this, Buckingham flattered the king at every opportunity. There can be little doubt that Buckingham knew what he was doing (he ended his letters to the king with “Your majesty’s most humble slave and dog”) and that by pandering to James he knew that he was enhancing his own position within the royal court. In 1617, James explained to the Lords why he was making Villiers Earl of Buckingham:
“I, James, am neither 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.”
One casualty of the rise of Buckingham was the demise in political terms of the Howard’s. In 1618, the Star Chamber, spurred on by Buckingham, prosecuted the Lord Treasurer, the Earl of Suffolk, leader of the Howard faction, for embezzlement. It ended any political influence the Howard’s may have had – but it also removed from power one of the few rivals Buckingham had in 1618. Buckingham used his influence over James to get Francis Bacon appointed to be the country’s senior law officer as Lord Chancellor. This suited James as Bacon was a strong supporter of the royal prerogative and he was now in a position to support the king when James had to justify its use. It also suited Buckingham as Bacon had the Duke to thank for his social and political advancement.
Buckingham was a shrewd manipulator of the king. He also knew the value of patronage – appointing his own men to positions of responsibility. They would support him and be grateful to Buckingham for their elevated status in society. One described Buckingham as thus:
“(A man of) a kind, liberal and free nature and disposition – to those that applied themselves to him, applauded his actions, and were wholly his creatures.”
In 1620, Buckingham married Lady Catherine Manners, the daughter of the Duke of Rutland. He swiftly became a very rich man as he built up a large clientage network of office holders and monopolists. He put his own supporters and family in positions of responsibility and during all of this self-advancement he had the full support of the doting James. Christopher and John Villiers both benefited from their brother’s position in society despite their own limitations. Buckingham’s mother became a countess in 1618, a marchioness in 1619 and a duchess in 1623.
However, far more damaging to James was the fact that he allowed Buckingham to involve himself in policy matters and decision-making. This was bound to alienate powerful groups in Parliament who felt more and more alienated from both the king and decision-making.
The Parliament of January 1621 to January 1622 started to reverse the trend towards Buckingham’s ever-expanding power base. Two men who had gained office via the patronage of Buckingham – Sir Giles Mompesson and Sir Francis Mitchell – were impeached by Parliament for monopoly offences. Lord Chancellor Bacon was also impeached for accepting bribes.
Buckingham was also a supporter of a marriage between Charles and the daughter of Spain’s Philip III – a policy that the majority of Parliamentarians did not support. In December 1621, Parliament produced the ‘Protestation’. This was deemed by James to be a sign that Parliament believed that it had the right to discuss foreign policy issues – something that he was adamant that they did not. James physically tore out the ‘Protestation’ from the House of Commons Journals with his own hands such was his anger.
Buckingham accompanied Prince Charles to Spain (1623) on what was to be a failed marriage mission. From this embarrassing failure, the nation witnessed a complete volte-face by James. War was declared on Spain and in May 1625 and Charles married Henrietta Maria of France.
The influence Buckingham had over James did not decline even in the king’s final months. In one of the last letters written by James to Buckingham in December 1624, James signed off with:
“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.”
James died on March 27 th , 1625. This could have left Buckingham in a void both socially and politically, but he had spent time winning over Charles when he was a prince. Now that Charles was king, Buckingham neatly moved over to his new master and became his chief minister.
Charles and Parliament fell out nearly from the start of his reign. Whereas Parliament had been happy to give James a clean start, the same was not true for his son. Parliament attacked the religious policies of Charles – especially the relaxation of the penal laws against Catholics. With regards to Buckingham they vented their spleen at his foreign policy. His foreign policy was openly criticised as incompetent. Buckingham had signed treaties with Denmark and Holland for English participation in the Danish phase of the Thirty Years War where 8,000 men out of 12,000 died on board their ships without even landing in the Netherlands he had also masterminded the marriage of Charles to Henrietta Maria, a French Catholic, that was far from popular he had also lent Cardinal Richilieu eight boats which were used to attack the Huguenot stronghold at La Rochelle. However, he failed to get France to commit herself to greater involvement in the Thirty Years War. Parliament voted through only limited taxation to finance Buckingham’s foreign policy and this lack of money was a major reason for its failures. As an example, Buckingham wanted an armada to attack Cadiz. 15,000 men were gathered together for this venture in October/November 1625. It was a dismal failure due to the poor training that was given and the poor equipment. Buckingham took the blame for this.
In 1626, Parliament, led by radicals such as Sir Edward Coke, became even more critical of the king’s chief minister and started impeachment proceedings against him. Charles responded by dissolving Parliament. Buckingham reversed his previous foreign policy. Now in support of the Huguenot defenders at La Rochelle, he led 6,000 men to the Isle de Rhé in July 1627. He left in November 1627 having achieved nothing except the loss of nearly half his force. “Since England was England, it received not so dishonourable a blow.” (Denzil Holles)
In 1628, Parliament continued to attack Buckingham and Coke called him the “grievance of grievances”. Parliament sent a remonstrance to Charles in 1628 that declared that they feared for England’s religion, her standing in Europe and her success in the Thirty Years War if Buckingham continued in power. Charles merely prorogued Parliament (June 1628).
Clearly protected by the king, Buckingham confidently went to Portsmouth to start organising another sea-going venture. Here, John Felton, who had taken part in the disastrous Cadiz and Isle de Rhé ventures, murdered him on August 23rd, 1628. Buckingham’s funeral was held at Westminster Abbey where soldiers formed an armed guard to protect the coffin from the cheering crowds.
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
This highly ambitious son of a Leicestershire knight rose to be the favourite of James I, and of his son Charles I, on the strength of his charm and good looks. He was full of brave schemes, but lacked the good sense to carry them out effectively. As Lord High Admiral he bungled expeditions to Cadiz and La Rochelle, and his diplomatic incompetence led him to become the House of Commons' 'grievance of grievances'. At the age of 36 he was assassinated by a fanatic while in Portsmouth. This portrait, which shows him in his garter robes, almost certainly commemorates his installation as a Knight of the Garter in 1616.
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Handsome and ambitious, George Villiers became the most notorious of James I's favourites. He was a younger son from a minor Leicestershire gentry family and caught the king's attention during a hunt at Apethorpe in Northamptonshire. Opponents of Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, saw an opportunity to replace him with Villiers in the king's favour and secured Villiers' appointment as Royal Cupbearer. He flourished and was elevated by the king with astonishing speed through the ranks of the aristocracy, being made Duke of Buckingham in 1623. He became one of the king's leading ministers but was widely regarded as corrupt and extravagant, and although his influence continued under Charles I, he was blamed for a number of military failures while serving as Lord High Admiral he was assassinated in Portsmouth in 1628 by a soldier who had served under him in France. This portrait celebrates Villiers' installation as a Knight of the Garter and elevation to the peerage in the summer of 1616, which was an important indication of his intimacy with the king. His luxurious robes are drawn back to focus attention on his legs, and he wears the garter, bearing the Order's motto Honi soit qui mal y pense ('Shame be he who thinks evil of it'), below his left knee.
This splendid portrait has undergone some changes. Acquired by the Gallery with the background curtains painted green, it was so displayed until 1985, when close examination revealed fragments of paint of the present colour which under analysis proved to be the original. Skilfuly restored to its full glory, by removing the green paint and matching the garments, we can now enjoy the voluptuous splendour of its original colour scheme.
George Villiers was the most notorious of James I&rsquos favourites: men admired by the King, with whom he developed what some regarded as unhealthily close and dangerously dependent relationships. Handsome and charming, Villiers was promoted rapidly at court and as a duke and one of James&rsquos leading ministers, he had considerable power. An effective administrator in some areas and a knowledgeable collector of art, he was widely regarded as corrupt and extravagant, and was blamed for various military failures. He was assassinated by a disenchanted soldier at the age of thirty-six.
William Larkin (d.1619) was one of the most accomplished portrait artists of the Jacobean period. He and his studio painted a large number of dramatic full-length portraits, often including spectacular textiles, as well as more intensely focused head-and-shoulders portraits. Buckingham is depicted here in his lavish robes as a Knight of the Garter.
Meet the English nobleman who may have been King James’ boyfriend
What it’s about: Born in England in 1592 as the son of a “minor gentleman,” George Villiers may have gone through life as merely a handsome rich guy, had he not attracted the notice of James I (also called James VI, as he was the king to unite the Scottish and English crowns, and was the sixth King James of the former, and first of the latter). Villiers was a favorite of the king, and shot through the aristocratic ranks, becoming a knight, baron, viscount, earl, marquess, and then duke in rapid succession between ages 21 and 30. (The title of duke had been retired some time earlier, so this promotion made Villiers the highest-ranking person outside the royal family.) His close relationship with the king sparked speculation, then and now, that the two men were lovers, despite the 26-year age gap.
Biggest controversy: As James heaped title upon title upon Villiers, he also gave him jobs of increasing importance at court. At age 21, members of the court pushed for Villiers to become Royal Cupbearer, hoping he would supplant the King’s previous favorite, Robert Carr . (He did). The following year, Villiers was knighted and named Gentleman Of The Bedchamber . (There’s nothing ambiguous about the name of the role, which was to serve in intimate duties like helping the king dress.) A year after that, Villiers became Master Of Horse and a Knight Of The Garter . The year after that he was made an earl, and the year after that he was named Lord Admiral Of The Fleet. And that’s when the trouble began.
In 1623, after becoming the official Duke Of Buckingham, he was charged with helping arrange the Prince Of Wales’ (the future Charles I ) marriage to Maria, the Spanish Infanta. The plan collapsed, and “Buckingham’s crassness” may have been the cause. The Spanish ambassador insisted Buckingham be executed for his (unspecified here) behavior, but Villiers called for war on Spain instead. He tried to shore up relations with France by betrothing Charles to Henrietta Maria, King Henry IV’s youngest daughter, but the idea of the English king marrying a Catholic was wildly unpopular. To make things worse, Villiers gave military aid to France’s Catholic Chief Minister, Cardinal Richelieu , against his Protestant enemies, in return for help attacking Spain.
That attack failed—an attempt to burn down Spain’s main port was aborted when the sailors captured a warehouse full of wine and got drunk instead of attacking. The Spanish fleet escaped a planned ambush. And Villiers had to retreat from a naval skirmish he fought alongside the French. He blamed Richelieu, and soon sided against him and with the French Protestants he had only recently been fighting against. Through the whole mess, Villiers’ popularity with the English people plummeted, although he never lost the support of James or Charles.
Strangest fact: We don’t know for certain whether Villiers and James I were lovers because of 17th-century England’s love of flowery prose. Our ideas on masculinity have changed dramatically in the last 400 years. It wasn’t uncommon for platonic male friends of the era to speak and write of their friendship in ornate language that, in modern times, would only be used for a romantic overture, and even then seen as a bit much. The King ended a letter to Villiers with, “God bless you, my sweet child and wife.” The Duke responded, “I naturally so love your person, and adore all your other parts, which are more than ever one man had.” Apparently we weren’t doing “phrasing” in 1623.
Thing we were happiest to learn: Villiers was quite a patron of the arts , commissioning paintings (including two Rubens ), financing plays, and buying collections of rare books (including the first book in Chinese to be donated to Cambridge’s library). However, a good deal of his patronage seems to be self-serving—the play he financed was an anti-Spanish satire he intended as propaganda. And the paintings he commissioned were mostly of himself, looking regal, in an attempt to impress and remind people of his standing.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Villiers was corrupt as all get-out. He almost immediately used his various positions of influence to “prodigiously enrich his relatives.” He had his friend Francis Bacon appointed Lord Chancellor, but threw him under the bus when Parliament investigated the bribery and “financial peculation” the two men engaged in.
Villiers also abused Britain’s habitual abuse of Ireland, selling Irish titles, controlling Irish customs (the import/export kind, not the step-dancing kind), and prolonging England’s plantation policy (more on that in the next section) for his own financial gain. Twice, Parliament tried to impeach Villiers, but in both instances, he convinced the King to dissolve Parliament for ostensibly unrelated reasons.
Three years after James’ death, Villiers (still supported and employed by the new king, Charles I) was stabbed to death by John Felton , an army officer who had been wounded in one of Buckingham’s campaigns, and believed he had been passed over for a promotion unfairly. Villiers was so disliked by that point that Felton was a national hero, even after he was hanged for murder.
Also noteworthy: Britain’s plantation policy toward Ireland had devastating short- and long-term effects. While ruling over the Emerald Isle, Britain seized property from Irish landowners and gave it to English settlers, creating an English, protestant ruling elite, and an Irish population who were essentially serfs who weren’t allowed to own land in their own country, and in some cases weren’t even allowed to rent it as tenant farmers. At one point, less than 10 percent of the island was owned by Irish Catholics, and Parliament once proposed moving the entire Irish population to the western third of the country, an idea that failed only because of a lack of willing English settlers to re-fill the other two-thirds.
As it is, so many Irish were forced out of the northern part of the country, mostly to be replaced by Scots, that upon Irish independence, those Protestant-majority counties remained part of the U.K., which led to partition of the island and a 30-year guerrilla war .
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: So, back to Villiers’ job as Gentleman Of The Bedchamber . From 1650 to 1837, it was an official office, usually held by a member of the peerage (according to the timeline here, the positions seems to have originated with Villiers, although his own page doesn’t mention that). Duties included attending to the king when he ate in private, helping him dress, and insuring he wasn’t disturbed while asleep or using the bathroom. As unglamorous as this all sounds, it was a sought-after position, as it naturally made the office-holder a close confidant to the monarch. But just so we’re clear on how unglamorous it was, it was quickly combined with an older title, the Groom Of The Stool , who was, as Wikipedia delicately puts it, “responsible for assisting the king in excretion and ablution,” although in practice, the Groom Of The Stool acted more as the king’s personal secretary.
Further down the Wormhole: Villiers was a notorious figure in both history and fiction. He’s met Doctor Who (in 2002 audio drama The Church And The Crown , not the TV series), has appeared in numerous historical fictions of the era (most recently in Howard Brenton’s 2010 play Anne Boleyn), and shows up as a character in Les Trois Mousquetaires , known to American audiences as The Three Musketeers. The book describes him as “the favourite of two kings, immensely rich, all-powerful in a kingdom which he disordered at his fancy and calmed again at his caprice,” and called his life, “one of those fabulous existences which survive, in the course of centuries, to astonish posterity.” No less astonishing was the life of the book’s author, Alexandre Dumas , the grandson of a slave, the son of one of Napoleon’s generals, and one of the most widely read French author of all time. We’ll hear his story next week.
Host of the podcast Why Is This Not a Movie? His sixth book, The Planets Are Very, Very, Very Far Away is due in fall 2021. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.
English Historical Fiction Authors
Katherine Manners was the daughter of Francis Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland and Frances Knyvett. After the death of his first wife Rutland married Cecily, the daughter of Sir John Tufton, who bore him two sons who died in apparently mysterious circumstances which were the centre of a notorious witchcraft case. Their deaths resulted in Katherine becoming the heir not only to the Knyvett property from her mother, but also to the unentailed estates in Yorkshire and Northamptonshire.
Portraits of Katherine show her to have been a rather plain woman, but doubtless her inheritance more than made up for her lack of beauty, and Buckingham and his mother opened negotiations. However, there were complications: Rutland was a Roman Catholic and the king would only permit his favourite to marry a Protestant, therefore pressure was brought to bear upon Katherine to abandon her religion. Rutland may well also have heard the talk and speculation about the exact nature of King James’s intense relationship with his handsome young favourite the Earl was often at court and must have witnessed the very public display of kissing and caressing. The amount of dowry demanded, too, was exorbitant and Rutland was offended. The negotiations floundered, but Buckingham and Mary’s solution to the deadlock was a plan which reflects badly on them both.
In March 1620 Mary visited the Countess of Rutland in the absence of the Earl, and invited Katherine to dine with her, promising to bring her back home before night-fall. It has been commonly assumed that the invitation was to Mary’s Leicestershire home at nearby Goadby Marwood. However, Mary brought the innocent girl to her lodgings at the Gatehouse in Whitehall. Even worse, Katherine stayed overnight, and so did her suitor, despite the fact that his own lodgings were within walking distance. The next day Katherine was returned home, but her outraged and furious father refused to receive her at Belvoir. The fact that Buckingham had also slept under the same roof ensured that Katherine’s reputation was ruined. Rutland was now forced into the position of insisting that Buckingham marry his daughter to save both her and the family’s honour.
The affair caused great scandal and despite Buckingham’s importance, the marriage did not take place at court with the usual lavish and lengthy entertainments, instead the couple were married privately in 1620, witnessed only by the Earl and the King.
The Buckinghams lived a lavish life-style, but it seems clear that this was not the fairy-tale life which Katherine had imagined. Perhaps she had unrealistically believed that Buckingham would leave his life at court and devote himself exclusively to her, and in a bitter, reproachful letter in 1627 she told him that, ‘… there is none more miserable than I am, and till you leave this life of a courtier which you have been ever since I knew you, I shall think myself unhappy.’
Buckingham again outraged convention and stretched Katherine’s devotion to the uttermost when he travelled to Paris in May 1625 to escort England’s new Queen, Henrietta Maria, to her new home. The English favourite scandalised the French court by blatantly making love to the French Queen Anne of Austria, giving scant thought to his pregnant wife at home. The Duke’s obsession with Anne, which he did not try to disguise, must have caused Katherine great heartache, and he made determined attempts to see the queen again.
The evidence suggests that although Buckingham was never in love with his wife he nonetheless genuinely cared for her, and notwithstanding his inability to remain faithful, treated her well. When he discovered that Katherine had been ill, perhaps seriously, while he was in Madrid, he seems to have been genuinely alarmed, confessing his adultery and asking for forgiveness, and even telling her he would return home if she was still sick. Katherine was aware of her husband’s weakness, and comforted by his concern for her, she was able to be sufficiently magnanimous to tell him that he was a good man save for his one sin of "loving women so well."
The increasing attacks upon the Duke during the first three years of Charles I’s reign, and the attempts by Parliament to impeach him in 1626 caused Katherine serious alarm. The Duke survived because of the King’s deep attachment to him, but Katherine and his mother and sister were devastated to hear that Buckingham intended to command a naval expedition to La Rochelle to relieve the Protestant Huguenots in the summer of 1627. Such was Katherine’s distress that Buckingham promised her that he would not accompany the fleet, and she wrote to him several times reminding of his promise to her, telling him in one letter that, "I hope you will not deceive me in breaking yours, for I protest if you should, it would half kill me."
However, Buckingham lied and left without saying goodbye. When she realised that he had really gone, Katherine told him she could almost wish herself dead, but although she had failed to keep her husband at home, her letters indicate her continued attempts to control his behaviour.
Buckingham and Charles planned another attempt to liberate La Rochelle, but this time Katherine refused to allow him to quietly slip away, determinedly accompanying him to Portsmouth in August 1628. Fortunately she was still in her bedchamber when the Duke was stabbed to death by John Felton.
The Duchess returned to her Catholic faith after Buckingham’s death. The king, whose devotion to the Duke had matched her own, removed his beloved friend’s children from her care and had them brought up with his own children. Katherine again occasioned the king’s wrath when she married the Irish Randal MacDonnell, then Viscount Dunluce, in 1635 to general censure. Katherine’s second marriage was equally eventful but seems to have been a far more equal partnership, with Katherine playing a leading role. MacDonnell was deeply distressed when she died in November 1649.
Living through a time of political upheaval and the tumultuous events of the Civil War, Katherine Manners was fiercely loyal and passionately devoted to her two husbands, even to the extent of defying convention and incurring the displeasure of her father and the king to marry the men of her choice.
Pamela J. Womack is the author of Darling of Kings, published by Hayloft Publishing Ltd., an historical novel which tells the tragic story of the friendship between Charles I and George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham. She has also written An Illustrated Introduction to the Stuarts, published by Amberley Publishing Ltd. She is currently writing the Duke of Buckingham’s biography.