LGBT History Month Poster: James VI & I – King of Scotland, England and Ireland

James VI of Scotland, I of England and Ireland, Wikimedia Commons

James VI & I (1566-1625), the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and her second husband, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, was crowned as King of Scotland in 1567, at only thirteen months of age. Following the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, the sixth James to hold the Scottish crown also became James I of England and Ireland.

James VI & I’s appointment of royal favourites – a practice entirely in keeping with other European monarchs of the age – has caused some modern scholars to speculate about James’s sexuality, particularly with respect to his relationship with his “greatest favourite”, George Villiers, who was appointed cupbearer to the king in 1614, gentleman of the bedchamber in 1615, knighted in 1616 and ultimately made duke of Buckingham in 1623. Whilst James made his affection for Villiers abundantly clear, and the relationship between monarch and favourite was necessarily one that was both deeply political and personal, the sources do not make explicit the nature of the two men’s intimacy. Rumours may have circulated – and been picked up on by later scholars – but these are difficult to disentangle from discourses on ‘court favourites’, from contemporary and later attempts to paint James’ court as sleazy and corrupt, and from practices that in the early modern context were commonplace, such as same-sex bed-sharing. 

Thumbnail of this poster. Click for larger version.

The problem of uncovering practices which would necessarily have been hidden, and in unpicking discourse from events, fall into especially sharp relief in this case. Whilst scholars disagree about how the evidence on James’s sexuality should be interpreted, this example is instructive for all historians as a reminder of the importance of seeking to understand the emotional lives and intimate relationships of past historical actors in their full complexity and contexts.

Further reading:

Michael B. Young,  King James VI and I and the History of Homosexuality (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000)

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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