Being born into royalty may guarantee wealth and power, but it doesn’t always mean acceptance. This hasn’t stopped royals throughout the ages from crossing sexual and gender boundaries, though. While it’s tricky to use modern-day labels like gay or transgender to refer to historical figures, there is undoubtedly a rich history of same-sex love and genderqueer identities in royal circles. Some of these rulers were celebrated by their people, while others were vilified, but all of them have fascinating stories that deserve to be told.
1. Edward II
Born in Caernarvon, Wales, Edward II succeeded Edward I to the English throne at the age of 23 in 1307 and ruled for 20 years. Described by the Britannica website as “a man of limited ability” he spent much of his reign in conflict with the powerful English barons. One of the bones of contention was Edward’s relationship with Piers Gaveston, the man that many historians believe was not only his court favorite, but also his lover.
Gaveston was born into the French aristocracy but brought up in the English royal court as companion to the young Edward. In fact, Edward I was so worried about the relationship between the two youths that he exiled Gaveston. But as soon as his father died, Edward brought Gaveston back to England and made him Earl Of Cornwall. Eventually in 1312 the barons became so enraged by Gaveston’s arrogance that they seized and beheaded him.
2. James VI and I
James VI of Scotland was the man who united the kingdoms of England, Ireland, and Scotland when he became James I of England in 1603 after the death of Elizabeth I. By that time, he’d already ruled Scotland for 36 years. Historians have argued over James’ sexuality, but few would deny that he had court favorites who may well have been more than just close friends.
A secret passage
Some of the strongest evidence that James — despite being married to Anne of Denmark at the age of 14 — enjoyed gay relationships comes from letters to George Villiers. These letters were full of expressions of devotion, suggesting intimacy. Further indications of James’ relationship with Villiers came in 2004. During refurbishment of Apethorpe Hall, a country mansion the King used often, a secret passage between the bedrooms of James and Villiers was discovered.