James I and George Villiers
When Elizabeth I died without having produced an heir, it was up to James I of Scotland to assume the throne and thus unite the two kingdoms. Evidently, serving as the self-styled ‘First King of Great Britain and Ireland’ was more than a little demanding, so to ease the pressure, James had a habit of enjoying the company of handsome young men. Indeed, though the monarch’s precise sexuality has been the source of much historical debate throughout the centuries, there’s no doubt he had his favorites. And of these favorites, none enjoyed the affection of the king more than George Villiers.
The son of a minor gentleman from middle England, Villiers was reported to have been an incredibly good-looking young man, with a sharp mind and a way of getting what he wanted. He became a courtier and his ascent within the inner circle was rapid, especially once caught the eye of James I while the pair were both at a hunt in 1614. Villiers was soon knighted and made a ‘Gentleman of the Bedchamber’. The besotted monarch showered the younger man with lavish gifts, including more land and greater influence on affairs of the state.
As was expected of him, James took a wife, Anne of Denmark. The Queen Consort herself was evidently not jealous of her husband’s relationship with Villiers and even befriended the younger man herself. And while the King’s health declined rapidly in his 40s, with his teeth falling out and body succumbing to the effects of alcoholism, Villiers remained loyal and was even by the bed when the monarch died in 1625.
While there is no concrete evidence of a sexual relationship, letters exchanged between the pair are testament to a deep love and affection, one that would only come to an end with the king’s death in 1625. To make matters more intriguing, in 2004, work being carried out on Apethorpe Hall, a country house that was a favorite of the King’s, revealed up a fascinating secret: a hidden passage connecting the bedchamber of the monarch and that used to accommodate Villiers.