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Centuries before homosexuality was made legal between consenting adults in 1967, the ‘love that dare not speak its name’ was viewed as a sin in England, particularly by the church, and technically punishable by death.
It is not surprising that many gay and bisexual monarchs kept their love lives with members of the same sex a closely guarded secret.
1. William II of England: Reign 1087 – 1100)
Known as ‘Rufus’ due to his ruddy complexion and red hair, the third son of William the Conqueror became King of England in 1087 and is assumed to have been gay or bisexual. Described by historians as both ‘effeminate’ and ‘boorish’, as well as being a devil-may-care soldier, his temperament swung between extremes of calmness and belligerence.
The Anglo-Norman king, who never married or sired children, was capable of both wise governing and acting with contentiousness. Unlike other monarchs of the period, William lacked religious piety and is said to have indulged in sexual vices that shocked his council.
His death while hunting in the New Forest when he was shot by an arrow, has led to the suggestion he may have been murdered by an assassin.
2. Richard I: Reign 1189 - 1199
Mainly associated with legendary tales of Robin Hood and the Knights Templar, King Richard I was praised as a brave warrior and given the moniker ‘Lionheart’. The fourth son of Henry II, he is also believed to have been homosexual despite marrying Berengaria of Navarre.
Rarely present in England due to his military activities and leading the Third Crusade against Saladin, Richard is said to have had a close relationship with Philip II of France, who was a former Crusader ally. An observer noted that they ate from the same plate and their beds were not separated. The pair eventually fell out over Richard reneging on a promise to marry Philip’s Alice.
Robert Bolt’s acclaimed play ‘Lion in Winter’, which alludes to Richard and Philip’s affair, was made into an Oscar-winning film. Richard had no heirs and died after being hit by a crossbow bolt in the shoulder while suppressing a revolt in France.
3. Edward II: Reigned 1307 – 1327
The legendary story that Edward was killed by a hot poker forced into his rectum has fascinated writers and filmmakers, despite the alleged event having been written after his death. Despite conjecture over how Edward - famously associated with losing the battle of Bannockburn - died, there is little doubt that the king’s relationship with Gascon knight Sir Piers Gaveston ruffled feathers at his court.
Even though Edward and Gaveston were lovers, the king was married to the ambitious Isabella of France and had six children. Gaveston was forced into exile by Edward’s barons before he was murdered. A devastated Edward was himself captured and imprisoned in Wales when Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer invaded England with an army. Edward was forced to relinquish his crown in January 1327 and most likely murdered by the new regime.
4. James VI of Scotland and I of England: Reigned in Scotland 1567 – 1625 / England 1603 -1625
The only son of the tragic Mary Queen of Scots, James became King of England in 1603 and leant his name to the translation of the King James Bible. Famously associated with the Gunpowder Plot he is also known as the persecutor of thousands of women accused of witchcraft.
Despite marrying Anne of Denmark, James had several male lovers that the party-loving Anne appeared to ignore. Three of James’ male lovers were Esme Stewart (Duke of Lennox), Robert Carr (Earl of Somerset), and George Villiers (Duke of Buckingham).
James is said to have become besotted with Robert when witnessing him break his leg during a jousting match. However, he was later replaced by George when he was disgraced over a murder plot. George was nicknamed ‘Steenie’ and exchanged love letters with the King displaying equal adoration such as "I desire only to live in the world for your sake" and "I will live and die a lover of you".
5. Queen Anne: Reign 1707 – 1714
Crowned Queen of Great Britain in 1702 after the death of William III of Orange and her sister Mary, Queen Anne’s romantically eventful life was immortalised in the movie ‘The Favourite’. Nicknamed ‘Brandy Anne’ due to her increasing weight, she was married to the Prince of Denmark, whom it is said she adored and became pregnant by him seventeen times. No children survived.
Prone to depression, Anne’s complex life is noted for her close relationship with Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, where the lovers referred to each other as ‘Mrs Freeman and Mrs Morley’. Sarah’s tendency to patronise Anne led to them falling out and Anne turned her affections to Sarah’s cousin, Abigail Masham, instead. Sarah’s sense of betrayal led to her trying to publicly humiliate the Queen over her relationship with Abigail.
Anne was devastated by the death of her husband and his passing saw the curtain fall on her once passionate affair with the bitter and aggrieved Duchess.