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King James and Letters of Homoerotic Desire

David M. Bergeron

Publication Year: 2002

What can we know of the private lives of early British sovereigns? Through the unusually large number of letters that survive from King James VI of Scotland/James I of England (1566-1625), we can know a great deal. Using original letters, primarily from the British Library and the National Library of Scotland, David Bergeron creatively argues that James' correspondence with certain men in his court constitutes a gospel of homoerotic desire. Bergeron grounds his provocative study on an examination of the tradition of letter writing during the Renaissance and draws a connection between homosexual desire and letter writing during that historical period.

King James, commissioner of the Bible translation that bears his name, corresponded with three principal male favorites—Esmé Stuart (Lennox), Robert Carr (Somerset), and George Villiers (Buckingham). Esmé Stuart, James' older French cousin, arrived in Scotland in 1579 and became an intimate adviser and friend to the adolescent king. Though Esmé was eventually forced into exile by Scottish nobles, his letters to James survive, as does James' hauntingly allegorical poem Phoenix. The king's close relationship with Carr began in 1607. James' letters to Carr reveal remarkable outbursts of sexual frustration and passion.

A large collection of letters exchanged between James and Buckingham in the 1620s provides the clearest evidence for James' homoerotic desires. During a protracted separation in 1623, letters between the two raced back and forth. These artful, self-conscious letters explore themes of absence, the pleasure of letters, and a preoccupation with the body. Familial and sexual terms become wonderfully intertwined, as when James greets Buckingham as "my sweet child and wife."

King James and Letters of Homoerotic Desire presents a modern-spelling edition of seventy-five letters exchanged between Buckingham and James. Across the centuries, commentators have condemned the letters as indecent or repulsive. Bergeron argues that on the contrary they reveal an inward desire of king and subject in a mutual exchange of love.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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pp. vii-viii

John Berendt's evocative, quasi-fictional version of life in Savannah recounts the experiences of James Williams, antiques dealer and social gadfly. Williams also becomes a convicted murderer. While in the local jail, he continues to carryon his business and even to arrange a luncheon which his eighty-year-old mother will host and to which many of the socially...


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1. Letters and Desire

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pp. 3-31

Feste the Clown in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night explains to Olivia about the letters of the imprisoned, presumably mad Malvolio: "But as a madman's epistles are no gospels, so it skills not much when they are delivered" (V.i.z79-z80)1. These irrelevant letters contain no truth, no good news; therefore, the fate of their delivery causes little concern...

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2. Esm

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pp. 32-64

In September 1579 the thirty-seven-year-old Frenchman Esme Stuart d'Aubigny entered for the first time into the Presence Chamber at Stirling Castle, where he immediately prostrated himself before the thirteen-year old King James VI of Scotland, "desiring the King of Heaven to blesse his Majesty with perpetuall felicity." 1 This contemporary account records James's reaction: "No sooner did the young king see him, but in that hee was so neare allyed in bloud, of so renouned a Family...

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3. Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset

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pp. 65-97

In late March 1603 welcome news reached King James in Edinburgh: Queen Elizabeth had died, and he had been proclaimed King of England. With his wife, Anne of Denmark, and three children - Henry, Elizabeth, and Charles - he would soon begin his journey south to claim that for which he had thirsted for years: the English crown. He was headed for the Promised Land - or so it seemed. Having waited through Elizabeth's declining...

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4. George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham

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pp. 98-144

No drooping marigold here; instead, George Villiers (1592-1628) arose, to shift the metaphor, phoenixlike from the ashes of Robert Carr's fall. The sun (king) continued to shine brightly; the marigold (Villiers) retained its beauty and its position. Balthasar Gerbier, an artist who assisted Buckingham in collecting art, wrote to him in Madrid on 25 March 1623: "The King with great affection has sent an express for the little portrait, a proof that the large and the real one is ever in his heart." 1...


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5. Letters of James and Buckingham

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pp. 147-219

This chapter offers a storehouse of the letters exchanged between King James and Buckingham. The letters appear together for the first time in the context of their shared love. Readers may judge for themselves the nature of this love and desire. Fortunately, G. P. V. Akrigg's edition of James's letters sets a high standard for accuracy...

6. Ane Metaphoricall Invention of a Tragedie Called Phoenix

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pp. 220-230


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pp. 231-240


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pp. 241-248


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pp. 249-251

E-ISBN-13: 9781587292729

Publication Year: 2002