On this day: Elizabeth was King: now James is Queen


james I james is queen King James Bible
19-year-old James VI of Scotland, later James I of England, by Adrian Vanson

Speculation about the sexuality of the man who paid for the King James Bible began during his youth. Later, James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I to the English throne as James I, and wannabe poets quipped ‘Rex fuit Elizabeth: nunc est regina Jacobus’ —’Elizabeth was King: now James is Queen’. James was born June 19, 1566. 

Despite the insinuation, King James was probably bisexual.

I have no idea why Jacobean raconteurs chose to jest in Latin. Perhaps it sounded funnier. Imagine Joan Rivers hurling insults in Caesarean vernacular.

“Possumusne loqui?

“Princeps Carolus tam gay est. Non potest matrem expectare mori ut regina sit.’

James endured endless turmoil during a chaotic childhood beset by intrigue and bloodshed. Enough to turn anyone to sponsoring a Bible translation — especially the ‘Thou shalt not kill’ bit.

Both his parents suffered violent deaths and the same fate befell three of his regents. Another was probably poisoned by his successor.

Mary Queen of Scotts

At the age of 22, James’s mother, Mary Queen of Scotts, married the hottest young nobleman in her court — the tall, 19-year-old known to history as Lord Darnley. When she first saw him, Mary gushed that Darnley was ‘the lustiest and best proportioned long man’ she’d ever seen.

But the marriage was not happy. It hurt Darnley’s masculine pride to play second fiddle to the Queen. And, as a lusty 19-year-old lad possessed of wealth, privilege, good looks, and a thirst for grog, he wanted to party, especially once Mary fell pregnant with James.

The Queen’s increasing reliance on an outgoing Italian aide led to rumours of an affair between her and David Rizzio. Although well-placed to know there was no hanky-panky, Darnley resented Rizzio’s influence. So, he paid lip service to the idea that the Italian was cuckolding him. Three months before the birth of James, Darnely burst into Mary’s supper room with a mob of rebels. One pointed a gun at the Queen’s pregnant belly while others stabbed Rizzio to death. They took no chances. Their daggers pierced David Rizzio’s body fifty-seven times.

But Rizzio was not cucking Darnley. Something that sounded very similar, but not cucking. David Rizzio preferred men. In fact, the closest he got to a crowned head job was Darnley himself. The Queen’s consort was bisexual. Gossips at the Scottish court nicknamed Darnley ‘the great cock chick’. If I were a more proper and respectable writer, I might translate that as ‘an extremely accommodating twink’. Among the rumoured male bedmates of the great cock chick — David Rizzio.

About a year after Rizzio’s murder, someone exploded two barrels of gunpowder under the room where Darnley was spending the night with his valet, William Taylor. Mysteriously, the pair were unharmed in the blast. The night watch found their dead half-naked bodies in a nearby orchard with not a mark on them. Cause of death: unknown.

james I james is queen King James Bible
A sketch documenting the murder scene for Elizabeth I’s chief advisor. (bodies top right)

Drawing the king to carnal lust

Implicated in her husband’s murder through her association with the lead suspect, Mary relinquished the crown — under duress — in favour of her son. James never saw his mother again.

During the childhood of King James VI, regents dropped like flies. Often, they died clutching at a dagger recently inserted into their vital organs.

Proclaimed an adult at the age of 13, James VI took direct control of his kingdom. However, his friendship with a newly arrived 37-year-old French nobleman caused considerable concern. James showered Esmé Stuart with titles, land and expensive gifts, including some of Mary’s crown jewels. According to popular rumour, the relationship was sexual. One chronicler wrote that the teenage King “conceived an inward affection to [Esmé Stuart], and entered in great familiarity and quiet purposes with him.”

However, a clergyman voiced the more popular opinion that Esmé Stuart, as the adult, was responsible for the relationship. The clergyman accused the Frenchman of drawing the adolescent King into ‘carnal lust’.

Envious of Stuart’s influence and power, Scottish nobles conspired to be rid of him. They abducted the young King and drove Esmé Stuart out of the country on pain of death.

Freed from imprisonment after nine months, James returned to his regal duties. Despite a continued affection for his exiled lover, he moved on. His close relationships with other young men prompted criticism. English diplomat Thomas Fowler wrote, “it is thought that this King is too much carried by young men that lie in his chamber and are his minions.”

However, James also found time to marry. He took Anne of Denmark as his bride in 1589. But while initially besotted with his new wife, the pair soon developed a dislike for each other. However, that did not affect their efforts to produce royal offspring. James impregnated his wife twelve times during their marriage. He also took at least one mistress.

James I of England

By the time James ascended to the throne of England, King James VI and I and his wife lived mainly separate lives.

But the King was far from lonely. He found new and even better-looking male favourites.

The 1861 publication Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, recorded the circumstances whereby James met 20-year-old Robert Carr.

“Being a handsome youth, ‘straight-limbed, well-formed, strong-shouldered, and smooth-faced’, [he] had been led to believe that if he cultivated his personal appearance, and a gaiety and courtliness of address, he was sure of making his fortune at the court of James. Accordingly, he managed to appear as a page to Lord Dingwall at a grand tilting match at Westminster, in 1606. According to chivalric usage, it became his duty to present his lord’s shield to his majesty; but in manoeuvring his horse on the occasion, it fell, and broke his leg. That fall was his rise. James was immediately struck with the beauty of the youth who lay disabled at his feet, and had him straightway carried into a house near Charing Cross, and sent his own surgeon to him.”

When Robert Carr recovered, James appointed him a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. A courtier wrote of their relationship:

“[James] constantly leaneth on his arm, pinches his cheek, and smoothes his ruffled garment… I tell you, this Scottish lad is straight-limbed, well-favoured, strong-shouldered, and smooth-faced, with some sort of cunning and show of modesty.”

Your most humble slave, servant and dog

However, a few years later, Robert Carr fell out of favour with the King. Nobles jealous of his influence plotted to find a replacement.

The Bishop of Gloucester described George Villiers as “the handsomest-bodied man in all of England; his limbs so well compacted, and his conversation so pleasing, and of so sweet a disposition.”

The King noticed 21-year-old George during a hunt — chiselled features, curly reddish-brown hair, clear skin and dark blue eyes. And Robert Carr’s opponents noticed James notice George. They took up a collection to buy young Villiers a new wardrobe and secured him a job as Royal Cupbearer to place him in contact with the King.

As the object of the King’s affection, George enjoyed rapid promotion, first to a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, and then to Master of the King’s Horse. He was created a baron, then a viscount, a Knight of the Garter, an earl, a marquess and finally Duke of Buckingham. At the age of 27, he became Lord High Admiral.

The nature of the King’s relationship with Buckingham became so controversial the subject even supplanted discussion of more august affairs of state in the Privy Council. In 1617, the King attempted to justify his love for Buckingham to his Privy Councillors as not merely platonic but godlike.

“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 John, and I have George.”

Jesus! It’s never a good idea to start comparing oneself to the reputedly selfless Christ. But no Privy Councillor who wished to keep his head could suggest King James climb down from his cross. Nor that someone else needed the woodie.

Crude, I know. But a French poet who lived for a while in England waxed even lewder.

Au marquis du Boukinquan

Apollo with his songs,
Debauched young Hyacinthus
Just as Corydon f_cked Amyntas,
So Caesar did not spurn boys.

One man f_cks Monsieur le Grand de Bellegarde,
Another f_cks the Comte de Tonnerre.
And it is well known that the King of England
F_cks the Duke of Buckingham.

I have neither the status nor the rank
Which makes a Marquis of a wench.
And yet, you know my dick is as hard,
As that of any Prince of royal blood.

Théophile de Viau

The Mustering of the Minions

In his later years, various illnesses and complaints led James to leave the administration of his kingdom mainly in Buckingham’s hands. Other nobles remembered how Buckingham himself rose to the top by supplanting Robert Carr in the King’s affection. They searched for good-looking lads who might catch the old King’s eye in an episode known as ‘the mustering of minions’.

My favourite chronicler of queer history, Rictor Norton, explains in a marvellous essay on James, that the nobles acted purely from self-interest, not out of concern for the Kingdom. And they spared no effort in their attempts to transform stable boys into twinkly courtesans.

“Every day some aspiring Lord — notably Sir William Manson (ed: Monson) — would hire a troup of handsome young ragamuffin boys, scrub their faces clean with curdled milk, curl their hair, powder them and perfume them, dress them in silk and lace, and lead them in dainty procession around the throne in order to seduce the King’s favour. Marvellously delighted by this display of prime mignon at first, James quite quickly not only grew weary with surfeit, but realized that he was being made a fool of, and he gave Buckingham orders to clear the court in 1618. This marked the end of the riotous period and the beginning of a period when he would mellow, and, eventually, slide into a state of depression.”

Was King James queer?

A reading of the evidence leaves no doubt James was bisexual.

That’s even before the discovery in recent decades of a secret tunnel linking the bedchambers of James I and the Duke of Buckingham at Apethorpe Palace, the King’s favourite country residence.

Of course, no matter how high the mountains of evidence, some historians’ automatic response is to always deny historical personages were queer.

Oh no! James was just a wealthy man who enjoyed giving his famously handsome good mate land, titles and riches beyond belief and because of a shortage of furniture, men often shared beds in those days. No homo!

‘But’, respond deniers and erasers of queer history, ‘but, but, but…’

They can’t see the butts for the buts.

If a photo turned up of Buckingham with his tongue firmly planted in the King’s butt, they’d sombrely proclaim ‘But the primitive toilet tissue of the era was very rough and His Majesty had such a sensitive bottom’.

All that sitting on thrones!

Perhaps in the case of James, we needeth to respond in biblical vernacular: F_cketh thee off.

Read also: On this day June 18, Raymond Radiguet, dont call me Bébé.

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