Partner James VI of Scotland
University Of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2, Regno Unito
Apethorpe Palace, Hunting Way, Apethorpe, Peterborough PE8 5AQ, UK
Westminster Abbey, 20 Deans Yd, Westminster, London SW1P 3PA, Regno Unito
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, KG (28 August 1592 – 23 August 1628), was an English courtier, statesman, and patron of the arts. He was a favourite and possibly also a lover of King James I of England. Despite a patchy political and military record, Buckingham remained at the height of royal favour for the first three years of the reign of King Charles I, until a disgruntled army officer assassinated him.
Villiers was the last in a succession of handsome young favourites on whom the king lavished affection and patronage, although the personal relationship between the two has been much debated. James's nickname for Buckingham was "Steenie", after St. Stephen who was said to have had "the face of an angel". Speaking to the Privy Council in 1617, James tried to clarify the situation in the face of rumours:
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 John, and I have George.
Historian David M. Bergeron claims "Buckingham became James's last and greatest lover" citing flowery letters that followed 17th century styles of masculinity. Other scholars say there was no physical sodomy, and note that the king's many enemies never accused him of sodomy. In a letter to Buckingham in 1623, the King ended with the salutation, "God bless you, my sweet child and wife, and grant that ye may ever be a comfort to your dear father and husband". Buckingham reciprocated the King's affections, writing back to James: "I naturally so love your person, and adore all your other parts, which are more than ever one man had", "I desire only to live in the world for your sake" and "I will live and die a lover of you". Restoration of Apethorpe Palace in 2004–8 revealed a previously unknown passage linking his bedchamber with that of James. Buckingham himself provides ambiguous evidence, writing to James many years later that he had pondered: "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".
Westminster Abbey, London
Speculation about the close relationship between king and favourite was not confined to the kingdom, moreover. It was carried back to France by the poet Théophile de Viau, who was resident in England in 1621 and had then addressed to Buckingham the flattering ode Au marquis du Boukinquan. On his return, he went on to justify his own masculine preferences by a witty appeal both to Classical mythology and to the contemporary gossip:
During the course of his incompetent leadership, Parliament had twice attempted to impeach the Duke. The king had rescued him by dissolving it both times, but public feeling was so inflamed as a result that he was widely blamed as a public enemy. Eventually his physician, Dr Lambe, popularly supposed to assert a diabolic influence over him, was mobbed in the streets and died as a result. Among the pamphlets issued afterwards was one that prophesied
The Duke was stabbed to death, on 23 August 1628, at the Greyhound Pub in Portsmouth, where he had gone to organise yet another campaign. According to an eye-witness account, he lived just long enough to jump up, shouting "Villain!" and making to chase after his assailant, but then fell down dead. The assassin was John Felton, an army officer who had been wounded in the earlier military adventure and believed he had been passed over for promotion by Buckingham.
Such was the Duke's unpopularity by this time that Felton was widely acclaimed as a hero by the public. A large number of poems celebrating Felton and justifying his action were published. Copies of written statements Felton carried in his hat during the assassination were also widely circulated. Many of these described Buckingham as effeminate, cowardly and corrupt, and contrasted him with Felton, who was held up as an example of manliness, courage and virtue. The son of Alexander Gill the Elder was sentenced to a fine of £2000 and the removal of his ears, after being overheard drinking to the health of Felton, and stating that Buckingham had joined King James I in hell. However, these punishments were remitted after his father and Archbishop Laud appealed to King Charles I. Felton was hanged on 29 November and his body was taken to Portsmouth for public display. However, this proved to be a miscalculation by the authorities as it became an object of veneration by the public.
Buckingham was buried in Westminster Abbey. His lavish tomb bears a Latin inscription that may be translated as "The Enigma of the World". Here, too, he was depicted surrounded by mythical figures. The black marble sculptures at each corner include Mars and Neptune, in reference to his military and naval exploits; on the catafalque lie bronze-gilt effigies of the Duke and his wife (who long survived him), cast by Hubert le Sueur. Buckingham is clad in armour, enriched with crossed anchors and with an ermine cloak over it. He wears on his breast the chain and George of the Garter and on his head a ducal coronet, summing up the principal steps in his brief career. He had died at the age of 35.
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