Love Letters: James Stuart & George Villiers (Guest Post by Laura Adkins)

Today on Some Sources Say we have a guest post by the wonderful Laura Adkins creator of the For the Love of History blog. Read more below!


Christ has his John and I have my George…”

On 28th March 1625 King James, I of England died. He had been suffering over the last few days from illness. By his bedside was his son and heir, Charles Stuart and 33-year-old George Villiers, favourite to King James, who had been giving the king his medicines which were different than that of James’ physicians. Villiers had risen to prominence under James and was the only Duke created in all of James’ reign. The two had a very close relationship which for many have split opinion into whether they were lovers in the physical sense or just in love with one another. What is evident from their letters that they wrote to one another, is that their relationship, whatever it may have been, was of fondness and care.

James Stuart

James was known to have a particular preference for handsome young males in his court, which he treated (in the courting sense) like one would a mistress. Villiers would be the third male that James had a close liking for. 

When reading the descriptions of Villiers one can see the appeal, especially for the women of the court. contemporary reports describe him as “the handsomest-bodies man in all of England” and his portraits back up the descriptions given of him. One thing which Villiers was particularly fond of was his legs which can be found prominently displayed in many of his portraits. He was clean-shaven, a heart-shaped face, dark chestnut hair, curved mouth and dark blue eyes. These handsome looks are a contrast to King James I with descriptions of him including having large eyes and tongue which made him “drink very uncomely, as if eating his drink, which came out into the cup of each side his mouth. He also was known to pick his nose and his fingers…fiddling about his codpiece“. It is also said that he hardly ever washed. This contrast is what maybe attracted James to the young Villiers.

George Villiers

He caught James attention in 1614 and what may have originally been a way to rise in favour soon turned into something else of which Villiers could not fake. Villiers began life in court as a cupbearer and was quickly raised to a knighthood, became a companion in the king’s bed-chamber, master of the Horse, knight of the Garters, Viscount, Earl, marquis, lord High admiral and finally, in 1623 Duke of Buckingham. The two certainly had grown close. 

whether you loved me now . . . better than at the time which I shall never forget at Farnham, where the bed’s head could not be found between the master and his dog.” The master being James and Villiers referring to himself as the dog. Farnham was a stop on James’ progress in August 1615. Some have taken this statement as evidence of something physical between the two. “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” (Roger Lockyer, historian) This post is not to explore what form their relationship took but at their words to each other.

It was not only just in letters to each other that we can see evidence of this close relationship they had. In a parliamentary meeting James in defence of his feelings towards Villiers said:

“I, James, am neither a god nor an angel, but a man like any other. Therefore, I act like a man and confess to loving those dear to me more than other men. You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here assembled. I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had his John, and I have my George.” [1617]

One may think that these words would cause outrage within the court after all homosexuality was illegal at the time and not the done thing. After all, look at what is rumoured to have happened to King Edward II when his court had had enough of his relationship with Piers Gaveston. The story goes that the king met his end by having a red-hot poker placed within his rear (this is just hearsay). 

Queen Anne, wife of James even liked and encouraged Villiers relationship with her husband. She preferred him more than the previous favourite Robert Carr. In correspondence to Villiers, she asked him to always be true to her husband. In another letter, she even approached Buckingham asking him to approach the king on her behalf to excuse her from travelling to meet the King. She could see and understood his growing influence on the king. Rather than making an enemy of what she could see as a rival she befriended him instead.

Anne of Denmark

In his letters and corresponded to James, Villiers refers to himself as many things to his king including Dog, which we have seen above but also slave, servant, Steenie (a nickname James gave to him), wife even son.

Whatever James and Villiers physical relationship was like the two knew they, as men, had a duty to perform to continue their family lines. James was already married to Anne in 1589 and the two had 7 children together, three of whom survived to adulthood. Villiers married (with the matchmaking by James) Lady Katherine Manners in 1620, and they had children of their own. Although both married it did not stop the two being close, the day following his wedding, Villiers found a letter from James addressing him as “My only sweet and dear child, thy dear dad sends thee his blessing this morning.” Other letters have statements such as – 

I naturally so love your person and adore all your other parts.” 

But alas, what shall I do at our parting?” [1622]

as I desire only to live in this world for your sake, and that I had rather live banished in any part of the earth with you than live a sorrowful widow’s life without you. And so, God bless you, my sweet child and wife, and grant that ye may ever be a comfort to your dear dad and husband.” [1625]

We cannot look at these letters with the modern mind and view their relationship in the sense that we would today. Words and actions in the 17th century were very different back then and let’s not forget that this was in the royal court, a life none of us can really understand. We may find it strange for Villiers to refer to himself like he did as son, slave and James as “thy dear dad” but to them, it seemed right and normal even. I believe that by using these various titles for one another is evidence that theirs was not just a sexual infatuation which James had with Villiers and Villiers in response used to his advantage. It shows that their relationship was complex and varies. What is evident however is the two certainly loved one another in their way for a time at least.

Sources:

Kenyon, J. P. (1958) The Stuarts. A Study in English Kinship. London: B. T. Batsford

Massie, A. (2010) The Royal Stuarts. Jonathan Cape. London.

Stewart, A (2003) The Cradle King. London: Chatton and Windsor.

Weldon, A (1651) The court and character of King James. London: G Smeeton.

Anon (2020) personal relationships of James VI and I. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_relationships_of_James_VI_and_I [Accessed 10/01/21]

Gregory, P (2019) Death of James I. Available from: https://www.philippagregory.com/news/death-of-james-i [Accessed 12/01/21]
Hunneyball, P. M. (2019) James I and the Duke of Buckingham: love, power and betrayal. Available from: https://thehistoryofparliament.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/james-i-and-the-duke-of-buckingham-love-power-and-betrayal/ [Accessed 10/01/21]

Norton, R (1998) Thy dear dad and Husband. Available from: http://rictornorton.co.uk/kingjame.htm [Accessed 10/01/21]

Simkin, J (1997) Georges Villiers. Avlible from: https://spartacus-educational.com/STUbuckinghamD.htm [Accessed 14/01/21]

Smith, S (2020) James I and his male favourites. Available from: https://thehistoryvault.co.uk/james-i-vi-and-his-male-favourites/ [Accessed 10/01/21]

Wolfe, h (2013) A letter from Queen Anne to Buckingham. Avalbe from: https://collation.folger.edu/2013/01/a-letter-from-queen-anne-to-buckingham-locked-with-silk-embroidery-floss/ [Accessed 14/01/21]

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