Discover more from Dirtbags Through the Ages
double double toil and throuple
Or, Part Two of the King James Saga, now with even more murder and mess.
Welcome back! And welcome also to the literal hundreds of you who have subscribed since we began the story of King James VI/I two weeks ago. (Elle Griffin, you are the unofficial Secretary of State of Dirtbag Nation, thank you for your promotional service. And also guess what: we’re a featured newsletter this week on the Substack homepage!! Tell your friends you all were here before it was cool.)
If you’re new, when I’m not doing this nonsense, I write historical novels. You can find the one that exists now here and the one that’s going to exist soon here. Publishers Weekly recently liked the new one, to my enormous relief. This newsletter does a balls-awful job of promoting my books but I mention them like every third time so I can tell my publicist I’m doing my best.
OK. Back to business.
The final installment of this two-part Jacobean investigation includes all the things you expect from a really good reality TV show—sex, murder, scandal, betrayal, poison, a fancy disguise, behavior for which there is no heterosexual explanation—so without further ado, let’s get into it.
What in the World Is King James VI/I of Scotland and England Up to Now???
Robert Cecil, Royal Cockblock
When last we left King James, he was rewriting the Bible and yelling about witches while narrowly escaping getting blown up like his dad. What else did he get up to during his reign, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. Gay shit and mess!!
For being king of two entire countries at the same time, James showed startlingly little interest in basic parts of ruling, such as being in charge of things or appointing competent people to be in charge of things for him. Basically, James’s plan for the first decade-plus of being king was to say “well, Queen Elizabeth put Robert Cecil in charge of things, so he’s probably…fine I guess? Let’s let him carry on running the entire government while I think about witches and have bisexual adventures.”
Someday I will do a full Robert Cecil newsletter so I can explain in detail my beef with this man, instead of winking at it in every newsletter for a calendar year. Maybe when I break 5,000 subscribers. I don’t know if that’s a tease or a threat.
Robert Cecil was one determined little motherfucker, but even he couldn’t live forever, and he died in 1612.
This left James essentially without a government, but with a more-than-average-sized amount of audacity. So James started appointing his own ministers, with “hotness” being the main qualification for each and every position. James packed his court with young, hot, and sexually promiscuous men who would compete for his favor and affection. One of the most famous of these was Robert Carr, a Scotsman, himbo, and…murderer??????
We’ll get into it.
Murder Mystery Dinner Theater
First of all: I love Robert Carr. I think he is a beautiful man who meant well and was dumb as a bag of feathers. James first encountered Robert Carr at a tournament because Carr fell off his horse dramatically in front of the king and hurt his leg. James, immediately smitten with this bad-at-riding Scotsman, set about nursing Carr to health personally.
Ironically, this sort of thing is also how James’s mom met his dad. I don’t know what it is about the Stuarts, but they loved providing one-on-one medical attention to himbos.
By the time Carr had healed from his injury, James had also basically made him the head of the British government. You know, the standard three-month anniversary gift: England. Guess who didn’t like this? Anyone at all.
Instead of trying to figure out how to run the government, Carr continued living his life making good-looking bad decisions. In 1612, Carr started having a not-very-secret affair with a married woman named Frances Howard. Probably Carr thought he was keeping this on the down-low, but like I said, brain like a bag of feathers. Carr’s secretary, a man named Thomas Overbury whom no one liked, loudly said that this was a terrible idea and tried to stop the whole thing.
And then in 1613, Thomas Overbury died under—say it with me—mysterious circumstances!! Most likely poison!! At the hands of Frances Howard and Robert Carr!! So they could continue their sexy affair unimpeded! And maybe so Frances Howard could marry Robert Carr and James could third-wheel their marriage like the gay mess he was and they could all keep each other’s queer secrets and live happily ever after! This is a real theory!
Unfortunately, word got out that Overbury had been poisoned, so James had to put Carr and Frances Howard on trial so he didn’t get a reputation as a horny murderer searching for a throuple. Carr was sent to the Tower of London in disgrace.
(It’s perhaps also worth noting at this point that Queen Elizabeth also asked James’s mom to participate in a throuple with her and her boyfriend Robert Dudley, making this two attempted throuples with back-to-back monarchs. British history, I swear to god.)
*Gay Panic Intensifies*
Did James calm down after this, you ask? The hell he did! He went on to the next hot dumb man in court, a man named George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Villiers had been actively campaigning to be the new royal favorite for a few years now, dressing in increasingly scandalous clothing and participating in elaborate dances at court to get James to notice him. (You think I’m joking. I’m very much not joking.) This absolutely worked, and Villiers and James were inseparable for the next decade or so.
“But Allison!” some tiresome person among you is probably saying. “Same-sex friendships in those days were more effusive and passionate! It’s all a question of gender roles! You’re being ahistorical and silly by claiming that James and Villiers were lovers!”
To which I respond with Exhibit A: James’s speech to his Privy Council in 1617:
“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.”
CHRIST HAD JOHN, AND I HAVE GEORGE.
Again. This is the man who WROTE THE BIBLE.
There are people out there who claim that because James had several children with his wife Anne, there couldn’t possibly have been anything sexual between James and Villiers. These people a) have no imagination, b) have never met a bisexual, or c) can’t understand that sometimes people have sex they don’t enjoy. I warmly encourage these people to develop an imagination.
A Cunning Plan!
OK, enough affairs for the time being. Let’s talk about some other things.
One country loomed large over James’s reign, and that was the main Catholic power in the region: Spain. Spain had threatened to send the entire Spanish Armada to invade England under James’s predecessor Elizabeth not once but thrice, so he was understandably wary about pissing them off.
So he decided to try and do what people always did when facing hostile foreign powers: he decided to be a weird matchmaker about it. In 1623, James decided that it was time for his oldest surviving child, the future King Charles I, to marry. His strategic pick was Maria Anna, the Infanta of Spain.
Of course, in this time, people absolutely did not negotiate their own marriages. And apparently James was bored. So instead of sending an ambassador or something normal to Spain, James and his boyfriend Villiers sailed over to Spain, dressed up in fake beards and, using the extremely creative fake names of Tom and John Smith, tried to seduce the Infanta on his son’s behalf.
I would pay a thousand American dollars to hide behind a tapestry and watch this. What did the fake beards look like. Did they try doing elaborate accents. I have questions.
The other foreign policy of note during the Jacobean age was a little thing called the colonization of North America. Colonists went over to what would become Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, creating a permanent colony in the South and paving the way for all kinds of awful things like the plantation economy and chattel slavery, the Civil War, the genocide of Native Americans, etc. A real hearty fuck-you is offered to James on this score.
One Last Poison, For the Road
By now, James was getting on in years. He took terrible care of himself, spending all kinds of money on rich food and tons of wine, and so he was quite ill with arthritis and gout. He suffered a stroke and passed away in March 1625 of natural causes.
Unless he actually died of poison?
What’s this? A conspiracy theory? IN MY RESPECTABLE DIRTBAG NATION??
Some people suggest that James was actually murdered by none other than his boyfriend George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham! Villiers had given James unsanctioned medicines without permission from his doctors, and it’s reported that after this, the king’s condition took a turn for the worse. Nefarious intent, perhaps??
Conspiracy theorists suggested that Villiers had killed James so he couldn’t complete the alliance between his son Charles and the Infanta Maria Anna of Spain. Yes, the very same match that Villiers and James had just dressed up in costume to go suss out. Maybe Villiers got bad vibes from the Infanta? Maybe he really hated her hat-slash-hair and had to take drastic measures?
I mean, this whole idea is unhinged and obviously untrue. But you all know me by now. If there’s a conspiracy theory in history, I’m at least going to tell you about it.
And thus concludes the veritable saga of King James VI/I of Scotland/England. A true mess, from start to finish.
Thank you for joining me on this journey, friends! I’ll be back in two weeks with something completely different, probably. Until then, be well, and if you’re experiencing a problem in your life maybe try putting on a fake beard and large hat about it,
Erratum: a reader has since informed me that in fact Charles I himself journeyed to Spain in a fake beard with the Duke of Buckingham to seduce the Infanta, not James on Charles’s behalf. This admittedly makes more sense. I’m leaving it in, though, because a) IMO the fact that I believed James would do this says enough about his vibe, and b) it shows that the Stuart Mess was a dominant genetic trait for at least three generations.