Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 22 - A Favourite

LastTime : 66) Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) used the excavations of Pompeii to promote modern archaeological methods, his passion for Ancient Rome (and handsome young men) shared by his patron 67) Cardinal Allesandro Albani (1692-1779), who was on the same conclaves that elected 2 popes as 68) Cardinal Prince Henry Stewart, Duke of York (1725-1807), the Jacobite heir to the throne of Great Britain, a double monarchy first held by his great-great-grandfather 69) King James I of Great Britain (1566-1625).
When Queen Elizabeth I of England died in 1603 she was succeeded by the nearest Protestant heir 69) King James I. After a strong female monarch England was hoping for a strong male monarch. When James arrived in England he was followed by the rumours of his private life. There were pamphlets circulating in the capital which declared “Elizabeth was king, now James is queen”. King James was known for having several male “favourites”.

I was amused by a remark made by the gay comedian and quiz champion Paul Sinha in a light-hearted radio history lecture. He questioned the sexual equality of the founding colonies in America. Paul remarked that the colonists pointed out the sexual status of Elizabeth I, known as the Virgin Queen, was celebrated in the naming of the colony Virginia. Paul wondered why King James only got the small settlement of Jamestown named after him and not in a colony celebrating his sexual status, which could have been called Bisexualabama!

King James’s first favourite following his accession to the English throne was Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset (d.1645). His replacement 400 hundred years ago this year was 70) George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628). George met King James in April 1614 and the king was instantly attracted. Almost a year later, in 1615, George found himself sharing a bed with the king on an overnight stay at Farnham Castle. Two men sharing a bed for the night was common, but when one of those men was a king the personal relationship between the two men must be questioned.

It is very clear from the surviving letters between King James and the Duke of Buckingham, as George Villiers would become in 1623, that there was a genuine romantic aspect on the king’s part. With Buckingham the personal feelings are more difficult to describe. He obviously returned the king’s romantic attentions and they may have shared a bed many times, but nothing approaching King James’s many gushing letters survive from Buckingham.

Both men were married and had children. Producing heirs was a top priority for any man of their status regardless of personal preferences. King James had been separated from his wife long before he met Buckingham, and Buckingham was married off to a wealthy heiress, Catherine, Baroness de Ros. This lady was daughter of the hereditary Constable of Nottingham Castle, a position that was only ceremonial and honorary by that time as the castle was a ruin and uninhabitable. Buckingham inherited this honorary position from his father-in-law.

Buckingham was a great friend of King James’s son and successor King Charles I and he continued to play an important part in British politics. Indeed, Buckingham was the only court official to retain his appointment after “Queen” James died. But, like all politicians, he had his enemies. Even during James’s reign Buckingham was accused of corrupt practices, particularly in procuring honours and titles to many members of his own family. His inept handling of international affairs also made him unpopular and eventually he was despised by most politicians and public alike.

Such was the anger at Buckingham’s management of affairs and influence over King Charles I that he was stabbed to death in a tavern in 1628.

Like all people of historical importance Buckingham turns up as a character in popular historical novels. The most famous of these being “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas, published in 1844. As with most historical novels involving real people a certain amount of literary licence is used. Buckingham has a fictional romance with the equally fictional Milady de Winter, and even Buckingham’s murderer, John Felton, is fictionalised. In “The Three Musketeers” it is Milady de Winter who persuades Felton to murder Buckingham.

Buckingham is, however, a supporting character in the novel. None of the three musketeers of the title are even the central character. That honour goes to a dashing young swordsman called D’Artagnan. Surprisingly, as it may seem, D’Artagnan was also based on a real person. In fact, all of the Three Mustekeers were as well. The real D’Artagnan was called Charles de Batz-Castelmore d’Artagnan (c.1611-1673) and he really was a musketeer. He inherited his d’Artagnan name from his mother’s family, the Montesquiou-d’Artagnans. The senior line chose not to use the d’Artagnan name even though they were created Counts d’Artagnan. The counts died out a century ago and the remaining junior Montesquiou family readopted the d’Artagnan name as recently as 2011.

Among the few members of the Montesquiou family who could have used d’Artagnan in his name but didn’t was someone who relished the romantic antics of his swash-buckling ancestor. He was poet, aesthete and dandy 71) Count Robert de Montesquoiu (1855-1921).

Next time we join Count Robert in the salon.

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