Was King James I really gay? The true story behind steamy queer series Mary & George

The true story behind Sky Atlantic’s limited series Mary & George, in which Nicholas Galitzine and Julianne Moore get delightfully gay, has thrust King James I’s life into the public consciousness.

In the raunchy series, Red, White & Royal Blue star Galitzine plays King James VI and I’s gay lover, George Villiers.

Mary & George sees George’s mother Mary Villiers, Countess of Buckingham (played by Julianne Moore), instruct him to seduce King James I (Tony Curran). 

Galitzine’s role in the series has seen him feature in steamy gay sex scenes, with critics calling the historical psychosexual drama a “horny romp”. What’s better? The salacious series is based on true events. 

For hundreds of years, monarchies around the world have had gay and bisexual royals, shrouded in varying degrees of secrecy and historical debate. So what do we know about King James I?

King James VI and I is one of the ‘most prominent’ gay figures in early modern history

It’s rumoured that the son of Mary Queen of Scots, King James I, had many gay relations with his male courtiers, despite being married to Anne of Denmark. 

In fact historian Michael B. Young referred to James I as “the most prominent homosexual figure in the early modern period” – and this was before Grindr! 

James was King of Scotland as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I after the union of the Scottish and English crowns on 24 March 1603.

One of James’ more recognisable courtiers was a man named George Villiers, who James made Earl and later Duke of Buckinghamshire, making him the only English duke at the time not related to the royal family.

Reports indicate that Villers was an attractive young man and in 1614, at the age of 21, he caught the attention of the king.

Many suggest the two were extremely affectionate and would write love letters to each other, despite James’ many proclamations against homosexuality. 

James even declared his love for the Duke in front of a council after claims of favouritism began to circulate. “You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here assembled… Christ had his John, and I have my George.”

 In 2000, a secret passageway was discovered at Apethorpe Palace connecting George’s bedroom to the King’s. 

After the death of King James I, Villiers continued to assist as admiral for the Jaemes’ successor, Charles I.

However, Villiers’ role in parliament was not favoured by many and after two attempted impeachments, the Duke was assassinated in 1628 by an army officer. 

Mary & George is available to watch on Sky Atlantic and NOW in the UK.

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