James VI’s dad may well have been queer – if the messy gay chaos of his life is anything to go by

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Marchioness of Dorset and Mary, Queen of Scots

The more you delve into history, the more it becomes apparent that the British royal family has never been particularly short of LGBTQ+ people.

Take, for example, the Sky’s horny new period drama Mary & George: which is based on a true story.

The programme follows the machinations of Mary, the Countess of Buckingham, (Julianne Moore). When she’s told that her position in society is soon to become “untenable”, following the death of her husband, she concocts a plan to have her son George (Nicholas Galitzine) seduce England’s King James I – James the VI in Scotland – (Mayflies star Tony Curran).

It’s a matter of historic fact that the loved-up James sent George a portrait of himself with his heart in his hand and there are also passionate letters from the king to his ‘sweet heart’, plus other evidence he was LGBTQ+.

So, James VI was, by all modern ways of looking at it, queer. But what about his father, Lord Darnley?

Was Lord Darnley gay?

Drama-loving twink Henry Stuart, aka Lord Darnley (Wikipedia)

To cut a long story short… maybe. It is widely believed that Darnley may have been gay, bisexual, or queer. 

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Henry Stuart, better known as Lord Darnley, was the son of Mathew Stuart – the Scottish Earl of Lennox – and the great-nephew of King Henry VIII.

Darnley married Mary Queen of Scots in 1564 and he was proclaimed king consort. However, in the 16th-century court, Darney failed to assume regal authority and essentially demanded respect without doing the required duties – a big gay mood!

Once Darney married Mary, his reputation really went downhill and it was declared that the King consort was “much addicted to base and unmanly pleasures.” Translation: he liked gay stuff.

According to Leslie Carroll’s book Notorious Royal Marriages, and many other historical sources, Darney rose to power with Mary while silmultaneously uplifting the fortunes of dashing Italian musician David Rizzio.

Darnley and Rizzio are said to have a relationship of a… sexual nature. Historian David Calderwood noted that Rizzio “insinuated himself in the favours of Lord Darnley so far, that they would lie sometimes in one bed together.”

So, what does this mean for Darnley? Well, though we can’t be sure, it seems Darnley may have been what we would term bisexual due to his multiple courtships and liaisons with both women and men.

It is said that Darnley was repeatedly unfaithful: he had an affair with a noblewoman at court and made another woman pregnant.

In popular culture, a queer relationship between Darnley and Rizzio has been depicted in both the 1971 film Mary, Queen of Scots and the 2018 film Mary Queen of Scots.

Also, let’s be honest: in his 21 years of life, from 1546 to 1567, Darnley achieved so much messy chaos – which honestly adds to the possibility of him being queer. 

While Darnley was out gallivanting with other people, Mary was also with child. Trouble arose when Darnley was denied the crown matrimonial, meaning if Mary died prematurely Darnley would be refused any real or legitimate power of a King.

In a fit of gay panic, Darnley fled to the Isle of Inchkeith and went hunting with a bunch of nobles, during which time he’s said to have done something so unspeakable that it turned out to be the final straw for Mary. 

Some historians believe this incident was that Darnley caught in a moment of intimacy with another man. In the fallout, Darnley turned against the Queen and her now private secretary Rizzio.

This royal love triangle exploded as the royal household descended into chaos and Darnley – driven by pure jealousy that his wife and (potential) lover were now in cahoots – is said to have orchestrated Rizzio’s murder.

Darnley and his bunch of noble pals burst into Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, restrained Mary and watched on as Rizzio was stabbed 57 times. 

Darnley’s life ended on the night of 10 February 1567 when a deadly explosion destroyed their Scottish house and killed him, but left Mary unharmed.

So while we should certainly not be looking to Darnley as an LGBTQ+ icon, his presumed bisexuality is another marker to prove that, even 457 years ago, LGBTQ+ people have always been part of history.

How to watch Mary & George

As mentioned above, Darnley’s son King James I of England is the subject of the steamy Sky Atlantic drama Mary & George.

Like his father before him, it is believed King James had romances with men and his passion led to his lover George Villiers becoming the 1st Duke of Buckingham, the King’s titled and hugely influential lover. At the time, this made him the only English Duke not related to the royal family.

Despite King James’ many proclamations against homosexuality and marriage to Anne of Denmark, the King and Duke George had a secret passageway connecting their bedrooms. 

Though Darnley may have been cast aside in the queer history books, King James is regarded as one of the most prominent gay figures in early modern history.

Mary & George is available to watch on Sky Atlantic and NOW in the UK.

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