Homosexuality and royalty through time
By Bethany Scard, Level 3 History Undergraduate
Congratulations are due to Princess Eugenie and her new husband Jack Brooksbank. They had a lovely ceremony on the 12 October 2018 which was broadcast live on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and ITV. The coverage of their wedding was staggering, as was the turn out, with 850 guests and an estimated 3,000 fans crowded around Windsor Castle. These guests included the Queen and her consort, Prince Philip, as well as other members of the royal family. After what was a very windy affair, the couple headed to St George’s Hall to attend the after wedding reception hosted by the Queen.
It may interest you to know that there was another, very different royal wedding back in September that received much less attention from the British press and public. This was the marriage of Lord Mountbatten to James Coyle, the former being the Queen’s cousin. This was the first royal same-sex marriage. Rather than live broadcasts on YouTube, the only coverage this wedding received were the photographs that Mountbatten uploaded to his own Instagram account. He and Coyle also had a mere 60 guests, and the Queen and other royal family members were not it attendance.
Until recently, homosexuality was illegal and it was very difficult for men and women to express same-sex desire publicly. However, throughout history, it has often been different for royalty. For example, if anyone has been watching the BBC programme ‘Versailles’, you will have witnessed the relationship between the King’s brother, Philippe I, and Philippe de Lorraine (also known as Chevalier de Lorraine). Although the relationship between these two men was no secret to the King or other members of the Versailles court, the royal family overlooked it. This can be seen through the marriages that were arranged for Philippe I with women, despite his evident sexual preferences. It is not certain that Philippe I was gay and it is more widely believed that he was bisexual due to the fact that he produced children with the wives who he married.
Rumours have also circulated about the sexuality of a number of other historical royal figures. King William II was said to surround himself with attractive young men in his court: he reportedly made them grow their hair long and would promote them depending on how they performed in bed. Another key figure was Richard the Lionheart who may have had a passionate affair with the young Philip, King of France. It was said that they shared a bed at night, and a quote from Roger of Hovden claimed that: ‘the king of France loved him as his own soul; and they loved each other so much that the king of England was absolutely astonished at the passionate love between them and marvelled at it.’
Most famous are the affairs of King Edward II. When the English nobles rose up against him, they executed Edward’s famous lover Piers Gaveston, then went on to hang, draw and quarter another suspected lover, Hugh le Despenser the Younger. It has been argued that his penis was cut off and burned in such a way as to punish his homosexuality as sinful. Historians have also suggested that Edward himself was murdered and his body brutalized in order to punish what were widely deemed to be his sexual transgressions.
The truth behind some of these stories is debatable. Homosexuality has rarely been documented by the chroniclers and writers of the past. The aforementioned statement of Roger of Hovden could be open to many different interpretations, and some historians have argued that the two Kings of England and France merely formed a close political alliance, nothing more. It is difficult to say what really happened hundreds of years ago, but one can hope that, in the wake of the first same-sex royal marriage, it becomes easier for gay royal men and women to express their sexuality free from the negative associations of the past.
Reid-Smith, Tris. ‘The Secret History of the Gay Kings and Queens of England’, Gay Star News, 14 January 2017.
Ritschel, Chelsea. ‘Lord Mountbatten Marries James Coyle in Frist Royal Same-Sex Wedding’, The Independent, 25 September 2018.
Royal wedding; Princess Eugenie Marries Jack Brooksbank, BBC News, 12 October 2018.