Image of two men kissingEssays on Gay History and Literature by Rictor Norton

Thy Dear Dad and Husband

The Gay Love Letters of King James I & VI

Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (1998), Edited by Rictor Norton

Portrait of King James I&V

King James (VI of Scotland, I of England) (1566–1625) was introduced to twenty-one-year-old George Villiers, son of an untitled and impoverished squire, in the summer of 1614. "Steenie", James's nickname for Villiers, is apparently derived from the biblical description of St Stephen having "the face of an angel," for Villiers according to all contemporary accounts (and surviving paintings) was "the handsomest-bodied man in England." In November that year he was appointed the royal cupbearer, in April the following year he was knighted and by August 1615 he was James's bedpartner; the men spent a few days together at Farnham Castle that month, which Buckingham recalled in a lettter to James years later, wondering "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." His spectacular rise continued: he was created Master of the Horse and Knight of the Garter and given a Viscountcy in 1616, and made the Earl of Buckingham in 1617. In response to the Privy Council's remonstrations against such blatant favoritism, James defended himself: "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." The next year Villiers became a Marquess in 1618, Lord High Admiral in 1619, and finally the Duke of Buckingham in 1623. In that year Buckingham wrote to James from Madrid, beginning "Dere Dad and Gossope" (gossip, from godparent, meaning chum) and closing "Your most humble slave and servant and doge [dog] Steenie." The two men were notorious for their kissing and carressing of one another in public, and their heedless contempt for public opinion contributed to the civil crisis enveloping the nation. James suspended Parliament in 1621 and more or less lost control of the government. Their personal friend the Lord High Chancellor Sir Francis Bacon, well known for sleeping with his Welsh serving boys, in a politically motivated trial was convicted of accepting bribes, and Villiers was assassinated in 1628. James had arranged Villiers' marriage to Lady Katherine Manner, daughter to the Earl of Rutland, on May 16, 1620, which of course was necessary for dynastic purposes. But the very day after his wedding night he found a letter from James waiting for him, in which the king clearly staked his continuing claim upon his beloved:

Portrait of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham


[17 May 1620]

My only sweet and dear child,
          Thy dear dad sends thee his blessing this morning and also to his daughter. The Lord of Heaven send you a sweet and blithe wakening, all kind of comfort in your sanctified bed, and bless the fruits thereof that I may have sweet bedchamber boys to play me with, and this is my daily prayer, sweet heart. When thou risest, keep thee from importunity of people that may trouble thy mind, that at meeting I may see thy white teeth shine upon me, and so bear me comfortable company in my journey. And so God bless thee, hoping thou will not forget to read over again my former letter.
                    James R.

[December 1622?]

My only sweet and dear child,
          I am now so miserable a coward, as I do nothing but weep and mourn; for I protest to God I rode this afternoon a great way in the park without speaking to anybody and the tears trickling down my cheeks, as now they do that I can scarcely see to write. But alas, what shall I do at our parting? The only small comfort I can have will be to pry in thy defects with the eye of an enemy, and of every mote to make a mountain, and so harden my heart against thy absence. But this little malice is like jealousy, proceeding from a sweet root; but in one point it overcometh it, for as it proceeds from love so it cannot but end in love. Sweet heart, be earnest with Kate to come and meet thee at Newhall [Buckingham's mansion in Essex] within eight or ten days after this. Cast thee to be here tomorrow, as near about two in the afternoon as thou can, and come galloping hither. Remember thy picture and suffer none of the Council to come here [probably Theobalds, where he ordered on December 16 that none of the Lords were to trouble themselves to come]. For God's sake write not a word again and let no creature see this letter. The Lord of heaven and earth to bless thee, and my sweet daughter, and my sweet little grandchild, and all thy blessed family, and send thee a happy return, both now and thou knows when, to thy dear dad and Christian gossip.
          James R.


18 April [1623] My sweet Steenie gossip,
          The bearer hereof had so great a longing to see you as I was forced to give him leave. . . .
          For news, your bay Spanish mare with the black mane and tail hath an exceeding fair and fine horse-foal of ten days old, just of her own colour but that he hath the far foot white; and there is another of them ready to foal. God send my sweet baby the like luck with his Spanish breed before this time twelve-month. Thus hoping that ye will give a good advice to the bearer hereof to lead a good life in times coming, I pray the Lord send my sweet Steenie gossip a happy and comfortable return in the arms of his dear dad.
                    James R.

[December 1623?]

My only sweet and dear child,
          Notwithstanding of your desiring me not to write yesterday, yet had I written in the evening if, at my coming out of the park, such a drowsiness had not come upon me as I was forced to set and sleep in my chair half an hour. And yet I cannot content myself without sending you this present, praying God that I may have a joyful and comfortable meeting with you and that we may make at this Christmas a new marriage ever to be kept hereafter; for, God so love me, 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.
                    James R.

Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.

SOURCE: Letters of King James VI & I, ed. G. P. V. Akrigg (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1984).

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