The history of monarchs often reveals stark evidence of gay erasure. In Part One of this series we looked at earlier English kings. In this instalment of Gayme of Thrones we hark back to the Greek poet Sappho and then examine Edward II of England. Despite the earnest propaganda of monarchists, divine right has SFA to do with who gets to plonk their entitled arse on a throne. The ascension of a monarch usually results from one of the three Fs. Some get there by virtue of a F***, many have to Fight for it and others are mere Flukes.
Sufficient evidence survives to assume at least six of the kings and one of the queens crowned in Westminster Abbey were other than heterosexual. However, heterosexist historians — hetstorians — dispute the known facts on every one of those monarchs.
They are a remarkably hetero-insistent breed, those hetstorians.
To deny the existence of LGBTIQ people in history assists to invalidate the acceptance of LGBTIQ people today. It allows for the argument that we are an invented people, a contrivance.
During my schooling in the 1960s and 70s neither history books nor teachers made any reference to homosexual monarchs. Indeed they made no reference to homosexuality.
The only regal personage with even a hint of homosexuality about him was Nero — Mr ‘Fiddled while Rome burned’. As the go to bad boy of popular history, Nero got a pass. We could own him.
However, we want all our history, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
When we are seen in our totality, in all our glory and with all our failings, we are seen for the people we really are – just people.
Historical records of LGBTIQ people are sparse. Sometimes authoritarian outrage at the supposed abominable evil of LGBTIQ people led to the destruction of any evidence we existed. Zealots destroyed documents, manuscripts, poems, pottery and anything else which provided proof of our longevity on the planet.
In recent centuries, LGBTIQ people often avoided documenting their difference for fear of persecution.
And then there is queer erasure — the intentional and systematic erasure of our history by people who branded us ‘unspeakable’. They muted us and then stigmatised the silence as, ‘the love that dare not speak its name.’
Sappho – the original victim of gay erasure
Fifteen hundred or more years before William the Conqueror founded the dynasty which ever since claimed the English then British throne, the ancient world celebrated a woman poet. Her name was Sappho and she was a Lesbian, an inhabitant of the island of Lesbos. She was also a lesbian, a woman who loved women.
That love inspired her acclaimed poetry. So great was her fame, the name of her island home became synonymous with same-sex female love. That fact today irritates those Lesbians affronted by the association with sapphic love. However Lesbian lesbians take no offence. Indeed, the opposite.
In the 1700s Ambrose Philips, an English poet who lived through the reigns of two LGBTIQ monarchs, William III and Queen Anne, translated the surviving works of Sappho. Philips altered the pronoun for the object of Sappho’s affection. He heterosexualised the very woman who gave lesbianism a name. He turned Sappho’s muse to a man.
For centuries people heralded Sappho as of one of the greatest poets who ever lived, under the misapprehension she loved men, not women.
And thus, the erasure of LGBTIQ people from history.
Edward II and gay erasure
In addition to the English throne, Edward II inherited a large debt from his father, and a messy war with Scotland. The role of kingship failed to engage him, and he delegated many of his duties.
He was not a popular king and dissatisfaction with his reign often focussed on his particular ‘favourites’. He allowed them to accumulate wealth and titles while making his decisions for him.
Everyone agrees he enjoyed a close relationship with Piers Gaveston, appointed to his household by his father and thereafter a close confidant. However, hetstorians dispute that the relationship was sexual, some claiming it amounted to a form of ‘blood brotherhood’.
Blood brotherhood indeed! We may as well say Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh are just like cousins.
Oh wait… Elizabeth and Philip are cousins.
Historians convincingly reconstruct wars that changed the course of history from scant and obscure mentions on scraps of decayed parchment.
Yet, show them clear evidence of an unusually close relationship between two people of the same sex plus documented mention of homosexuality and they go all queer.
They invent any contrivance to deny the obvious.
“Things were different then,” they cry. Things were different then, but people were not.
If history teaches us one thing, it is that since the dawn of civilisation, people fell prey to the same failings, and acted after a similar fashion.
Nevertheless, rather than follow where the evidence takes them, hetstorians transform LGBTIQ relationships into desperate and ridiculous fairytale fantasies of platonic friendship.
Eventually the nobles killed Gaveston and Edward took up with the Despenser family, most of all with Hugh Despenser the Younger.
These days, talk of the gay king focusses on his relationship with Gaveston. However, in Edward’s own time, the chatter centred on the latter favourite, Despenser.
The Bishop of Winchester defended himself against accusations he called Edward a sodomite in 1326 by claiming he meant Hugh, not Edward. Later that century the Meaux Chronicle declared Edward gave himself, “too much to the vice of sodomy.”
However, the Despensers also fell foul of the nobility. Rather than just hang Hugh, his executioners showed their disfavour by hanging, drawing and quartering, and castrating him.
Edward’s estranged wife seized power with the help of her lover Roger Mortimer, and the deposed king died in captivity a few months later.
Legend tells us Edward II died from a red-hot poker inserted into his arse, but that seems unlikely. His killers hoped to present his death as a natural occurrence. His body was on open display in the coffin during his funeral. In all likelihood they smothered him, always a popular option.
The effects of gay erasure
The Nazi book burnings of the 1930s provide to this day a powerful image of censorship.
Few people realise the books burnt were from the Berlin Institute of Sexual Research, a front for the gay rights movement of the time.
In the late 1920s the German LGBTIQ populace enjoyed increasing tolerance and freedom.
In fact, in 1929 the German parliament planned to repeal the country’s anti-homosexual laws.
But then the Nazis came to power and in a few short years LGBTIQ Germans went from closing in on equality to extermination in Hitler’s gas chambers.
It is essential we reclaim our history.
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