George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other people named 1st Duke of Buckingham, see 1st Duke of Buckingham (disambiguation).
His Grace
The Duke of Buckingham
The Duke of Buckingham, 1625, by Peter Paul Rubens Palazzo Pitti (Florence)
Master of the Horse
In office
Preceded by The Earl of Worcester
Succeeded by The Earl of Holland
Personal details
Born (1592-08-28)28 August 1592
Died 23 August 1628(1628-08-23) (aged 35)
Spouse(s) Katherine Manners, Baroness de Ros
Children Mary Stewart, Duchess of Richmond
Charles Villiers, Earl of Coventry
George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham Francis Villiers, 1628-1648
Parents George Villiers (of Brokesby)
Mary Beaumont

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham KG (/ˈvɪlərz/;[1][2] 28 August 1592 – 23 August 1628) was the favourite, claimed by some to be the lover, of King James I of England.[3] Despite a very patchy political and military record, he remained at the height of royal favour for the first three years of the reign of Charles I, until he was assassinated by a disgruntled army officer.

Early life[edit]

George Villiers was born in Brooksby, Leicestershire, in August 1592, the son of the minor gentleman Sir George Villiers (1550–1604). His mother, Mary (1570–1632), daughter of Anthony Beaumont of Glenfield, Leicestershire, who was left a widow early, educated him for a courtier's life, sending him to France with Sir John Eliot.

Villiers took very well to the training set by his mother; he could dance well, fence well, and speak a little French and was overall an excellent student. Bishop Godfrey Goodman declared Villiers to be "the handsomest-bodied man in all of England; his limbs so well compacted, and his conversation so pleasing, and of so sweet a disposition."[4]

Ascent at court[edit]

Arms of Sir George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, KG, as they were quartered on his stall plate and banner within St. George's Chapel

In August 1614 at age twenty-one, Villiers caught the eye of James I at a hunt in Apethorpe.[5] Opponents of the king's favourite Robert Carr saw an opportunity to usurp the Earl of Somerset and began promoting Villiers. Money was raised to purchase the young man a new wardrobe and intense lobbying led to his appointment as royal Cupbearer, a position that allowed Villiers to make conversation with the king.[6]

Under the king's patronage Villers advanced rapidly through the ranks of the nobility. In 1615 he was knighted as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber and in 1616 elevated to the peerage as Baron Waddon, Viscount Villiers.[7] Villiers was created Marquess of Buckingham in 1618 and finally Duke of Buckingham in 1623.[8] Reductions in the peerage had taken place during the Tudor period, and Buckingham was left as the highest-ranking subject outside the royal family.[a]

Relationship with James I[edit]

The personal relationships of James are much debated, with Villiers the last in a succession of handsome young favourites the king lavished with affection and patronage. Contemporaneous evidence suggests that Villiers was James' lover. In 1617, John Oglander wrote that he “never yet saw any fond husband make so much or so great dalliance over his beautiful spouse as I have seen King James over his favourites, especially the Duke of Buckingham."[9] Edward Peyton wrote, “the king sold his affections to Sir George Villiers, whom he would tumble and kiss as a mistress."[10]

James's nickname for Buckingham was "Steenie," after St. Stephen who was said to have had "the face of an angel."[11] Speaking to the Privy Council in 1617, James declared:

I, James, am neither a god nor an angel, but a man like any other. Therefore I act like a man and confess to loving those dear to me more than other men. 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.[12]

In a letter to Buckingham in 1623, the King ends with, "God bless you, my sweet child and wife, and grant that ye may ever be a comfort to your dear father and husband."[13] Buckingham reciprocated the King's affections, writing back to James: "I naturally so love your person, and adore all your other parts, which are more than ever one man had," "I desire only to live in the world for your sake" and "I will live and die a lover of you." Restoration of Apethorpe Hall in 2004–8 revealed a previously unknown passage linking his bedchamber with that of James.[14] Buckingham himself provides evidence that he gave in to the King's passion, writing to James many years later that he had pondered: "whether you loved me now…better than at the time which I shall never forget at Farnham, where the bed's head could not be found between the master and his dog'.[15]

Influence under James I[edit]

French drawing, probably by Daniel Dumonstier, 1625

Until James I died in 1625, Buckingham was the king's constant companion and closest advisor, enjoying control of all royal patronage. Buckingham used his influence to prodigiously enrich his relatives and advance their social positions, which soured public opinion towards him.[16]

Francis Bacon[edit]

In his rise to power, Buckingham became connected with the philosopher and jurist Francis Bacon. Bacon wrote letters of advice to the young favourite and drafted the patent of nobility when Buckingham ascended to the peerage.[17] With Buckingham's support, Bacon was appointed Lord Chancellor in 1618.[18] In gratitude, Bacon complied with repeated requests from Buckingham for favours from the court for friends and allies. This would prove ruinous to Bacon, who was convicted of corruption and forced into retirement following an investigation by Parliament into royal grants of monopoly, financial peculation and corrupt officials.[19]

Neither Buckingham nor the King attempted to intervene on Bacon's behalf. Buckingham had been liberally spending public funds and accepting gifts and bribes, and many of his contemporaries believed he had sacrificed Bacon to save himself from Parliamentary scrutiny.[20] In 1622 a destitute and ostracised Bacon reluctantly sold Buckingham York House, a handsome residence located on the Strand.[21] Apart from a period during the English Civil War, the property remained in the family until Buckingham's son sold it to developers for £30,000 in 1672. The 2nd Duke of Buckingham made it a condition of the sale that his name and title be commemorated by George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street, Of Alley and Buckingham Street, some of which have survived into the 21st century.


George Villiers established a dominant influence in Irish affairs in 1616.

From 1616, Buckingham established a dominant influence in Irish affairs, beginning with the appointment of his client, Sir Oliver St John, as Lord Deputy, 1616–22. Thence, he acquired control of the Irish customs farm (1618), dominated Irish patronage at court, particularly with the sale of Irish titles and honours, and (from 1618) began to build substantial Irish estates for himself, his family and clients—with the aid of a plantation lobby, composed of official clients in Dublin. To the same end, he secured the creation of an Irish Court of Wards in 1622. Buckingham's influence thus crucially sustained a forward Irish plantation policy into the 1620s.

Relations with Parliament, 1621–1624[edit]

When Parliament began its investigation into monopolies and other abuses in England and later Ireland in 1621, Buckingham made a show of support to avoid action being taken against him. However, the king's decision in the summer of 1621 to send a commission of inquiry, including parliamentary firebrands, to Ireland threatened to expose Buckingham's growing, often clandestine interests there. Knowing that, in the summer, the king had assured the Spanish ambassador that the Parliament would not be allowed to imperil a Spanish matrimonial alliance, he therefore surreptitiously instigated a conflict between the Parliament and the king over the Spanish Match, which resulted in a premature dissolution of the Parliament in December 1621 and a hobbling of the Irish commission in 1622. Irish reforms nevertheless introduced by Lionel Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex, in 1623–24 were largely nullified by the impeachment and disgrace of the pacific Lord Treasurer in the violently anti-Spanish 1624 parliament—spurred on by Buckingham and Prince Charles.

Charles I and foreign affairs[edit]

In 1623, Buckingham accompanied Charles I, then Prince of Wales, to Spain for marriage negotiations regarding the Infanta Maria. The negotiations had long been stuck, but it is believed that Buckingham's crassness was key to the total collapse of agreement; the Spanish ambassador asked Parliament to have Buckingham executed for his behaviour in Madrid; but Buckingham gained popularity by calling for war with Spain on his return. He headed further marriage negotiations, but when, in 1624, the betrothal to Henrietta Maria of France was announced, the choice of a Catholic was widely condemned. Buckingham's popularity suffered further when he was blamed for the failure of the military expedition under the command of Ernst von Mansfeld, a famous German mercenary general, sent to the continent to recover the Electorate of the Palatinate (1625), which had belonged to Frederick V, Elector Palatine, son-in-law of King James I of England. However, when the Duke of York became King Charles I, Buckingham was the only man to maintain his position from the court of James.

George Villiers planned an attack on the main Spanish port at Cádiz, but the plan was abandoned when his troops came upon a warehouse filled with wine and got drunk.

Buckingham led an expedition to repeat the actions of Sir Francis Drake by seizing the main Spanish port at Cádiz and burning the fleet in its harbour. Though his plan was tactically sound, landing further up the coast and marching the militia army on the city, the troops were ill-equipped, ill-disciplined and ill-trained. Coming upon a warehouse filled with wine, they simply got drunk, and the attack was called off. The English army briefly occupied a small port further down the coast before re-boarding its ships.

This was followed by Buckingham leading the Army and the Navy to sea to intercept an anticipated Spanish silver fleet from its American territories. However, the Spanish were forewarned by their intelligence and easily avoided the planned ambush. With supplies running out and men sick and dying from starvation and disease, the fleet limped home in embarrassment.

Buckingham then negotiated with the French Prime Minister to the King, Cardinal Richelieu, for English ships to aid Richelieu in his fight against the French Protestants (Huguenots), in return for French aid against the Spanish occupying the Palatinate. Seven English warships participated in operations against La Rochelle and in the Siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré (1625),[22] but Parliament was disgusted and horrified at the thought of English Protestants fighting French Protestants. The plan only fuelled their fears of crypto-Catholicism at court. Buckingham himself, believing that the failure of his enterprise was the result of treachery by Richelieu, formulated an alliance among the churchman's many enemies, a policy that included support for the very Huguenots whom he had recently attacked.

In 1627, Buckingham led another failure: an attempt to aid his new Huguenot allies besieged at La Rochelle in France, by leading the Siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré (1627), during which he lost more than 4,000 of a force of 7,000 men.


During the course of his incompetent leadership, Parliament had twice attempted to impeach the Duke. The king had rescued him by dissolving it both times, but public feeling was so inflamed as a result that he was widely blamed as a public enemy. Eventually his physician, Dr Lambe, popularly supposed to assert a diabolic influence over him, was mobbed in the streets and died as a result. Among the pamphlets issued afterwards was one that prophesied

Let Charles and George do what they can,
The Duke shall die like Doctor Lambe.[23]

The Duke was stabbed to death, on 23 August 1628, at the Greyhound Pub in Portsmouth, where he had gone to organise yet another campaign. He lived just long enough to jump up, shouting "Villain!" and made to chase after his assailant, but then fell down dead. The assassin was John Felton, an army officer who had been wounded in the earlier military adventure and believed he had been passed over for promotion by Buckingham.[24]

Such was the Duke's unpopularity by this time that Felton was widely acclaimed as a hero by the public. A large number of poems celebrating Felton and justifying his action were published. Copies of written statements Felton carried in his hat during the assassination were also widely circulated.[25] The son of Alexander Gill the Elder was sentenced to a fine of £2000 and the removal of his ears, after being overheard drinking to the health of Felton, and stating that Buckingham had joined King James I in hell. However these punishments were remitted after his father and Archbishop Laud appealed to King Charles I.[26]

Felton was hanged on 29 November. Buckingham was buried in Westminster Abbey. His lavish tomb bears a Latin inscription that may be translated as "The Enigma of the World".

Buckingham with his wife Katherine Manners, their daughter Mary and son George, 1628


Buckingham had married the daughter of the 6th Earl of Rutland, Lady Katherine Manners, later suo jure Baroness de Ros, on 16 May 1620, against her father's objections. The children of this marriage were:

  1. Mary Villiers (1622 – November 1685)
  2. Charles Villiers, Earl of Coventry (17 November 1625 – 16 March 1627, died in infancy)
  3. George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (30 January 1628 – 16 April 1687)
  4. Lord Francis Villiers (1629 – 48, died in a skirmish at Kingston during the Second English Civil War)

Literary references[edit]

The Duke has been mentioned as one of the candidates to whom the nursery rhyme "Georgie Porgie" refers, although there is no mention of its existence before the 19th century.[27]

In the few years of popular feeling against the royal favourite at the start of Charles I's reign, and especially after his assassination, a large amount of satirical verse was circulated on the subject. Most of this reflected on how pride goes before a fall and the damage he had done the kingdom, while several pieces commended John Felton's action.[28]

A fictionalised Buckingham is one of the characters in Alexandre Dumas, père's The Three Musketeers (1844), which paints him as a lover of Anne of Austria and deals with the siege of La Rochelle and his assassination by Felton.[29] Taylor Caldwell's The Arm and the Darkness (1943) also deals with this period in France, while Hilda LewisWife to Great Buckingham (1959) goes so far as to make Buckingham’s love for the French queen the main cause of his undoing. The Duke also figures in historical romances like Evelyn Anthony's Charles, The King (1963) and Bertrice Small's Darling Jasmine (2007), although the main focus there is on other protagonists. In Philippa Gregory's Earthly Joys (1998), which has as its subject the famous gardener John Tradescant the elder, the bewitching Duke appears half way through the novel as the object of Tradescant's love.[30] Another historical fiction, Ronald Blythe's The Assassin (2004), is written from his killer's point of view as a final confession while awaiting execution in the Tower of London.[31]

Buckingham also appears in the Doctor Who audio drama The Church and the Crown (2002), dealing with the political intrigue of the time. And as George Villiers, he is a major character in Howard Brenton's 2010 play Anne Boleyn as King James I's mate in sexual horseplay.



  1. ^ There was no Duke of Norfolk at the time; the Duchy was "restored" in 1660.


  1. ^ Montague-Smith, Patrick (1970). Debrett's Correct Form. London: Headline. p. 409. ISBN 0-7472-0658-9. 
  2. ^ "Surname Pronunciation: Vavasour to Woburn". Debrett's. Retrieved 9 October 2011. 
  3. ^ "13", The Western Heritage (8th ed.), p. 420 .
  4. ^ Godfrey Goodman, Bishop of Gloucester, quoted in Gregg, Pauline (1984). King Charles I. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-520-05146-1. 
  5. ^ Stewart p. 264
  6. ^ Stewart p. 268
  7. ^ Stewart p. 279
  8. ^ Wroughton p. 221
  9. ^ Bergeron, 2002. p. 348
  10. ^ Ruigh p. 77
  11. ^ Stewart p. 280
  12. ^ Stewart p. 281
  13. ^ Bergeron, 1999. p. 175
  14. ^ Graham, Fiona (5 June 2008). "To the manor bought". BBC News. Retrieved 22 September 2011. 
  15. ^ Buckingham: The Life and Political Career of George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham, 1592-1628 Lockyer, Roger; Longman 1981 ISBN-10 0582502969, p22
  16. ^ Stewart p. 314
  17. ^ Zagorin pp. 20-21
  18. ^ Zagorin pp. 21
  19. ^ Zagorin pp. 22
  20. ^ Stewart p. 309
  21. ^ Zagorin p. 23
  22. ^ An apprenticeship in arms by Roger Burrow Manning p.115
  23. ^ Frederick William Fairholt, Poems and Songs Relating to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and His Assassination by John Felton, August 23, 1628, London 1850, pp.xiv-xv
  24. ^ Tudor and Stuart Britain 1471–1714, by Roger Lockyer, 2nd edition, London 1985, Longman.
  25. ^ Bellany, Alastair (2004). "Felton, John (d. 1628), assassin". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/9273.  The first edition of this text is available as an article on Wikisource:  "Felton, John (1595?-1628)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  26. ^ David Masson (1859). The life of John Milton: narrated in connexion with the political, ecclesiastical, and literary history of his time. Macmillan and co. pp. 150–151. 
  27. ^ Iona and Peter Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, originally published 1951.
  28. ^ Frederick William Fairholt, 1850
  29. ^ The novel is available on Gutenberg
  30. ^ Author's site
  31. ^ Jessica Mann, "The popular murderer", a review in the Daily Telegraph, 26 September 2004


  • Bergeron, David M. (1999). King James and Letters of Homoerotic Desire. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. p. 175. 
  • Bergeron, David M. (2002). "Writing King James's Sexuality". In Fischlin, Fortier. Royal Subjects: Essays on the Writings of James VI and I. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. 
  • Ruigh, Robert E. (1971). The Parliament of 1624: Politics and Foreign Policy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 
  • Stewart, Alan (2003). The Cradle King: A Life of James VI & I. London: Macmillan. 
  • Wroughton, John (2013). The Routledge Companion to the Stuart Age, 1603–1714. London: Routledge Companions. 
  • Zagorin, Perez (1999). Francis Bacon. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 

External links[edit]

Media related to George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham at Wikimedia Commons

Political offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Worcester
Master of the Horse
Succeeded by
The Earl of Holland
Preceded by
The Baron Ellesmere
Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire
Succeeded by
The Earl of Montgomery
Preceded by
Sir Francis Fortescue
Custos Rotulorum of Buckinghamshire
Succeeded by
The Earl of Bridgewater
Preceded by
The Earl of Nottingham
Lord High Admiral
Succeeded by
In Commission
(First Lord: The Earl of Portland)
Preceded by
The Lord Wotton
Lord Lieutenant of Kent
Succeeded by
The Duke of Lennox
Preceded by
In Commission
Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex
Succeeded by
The Earl of Dorset
The Earl of Holland
Preceded by
The Earl of Exeter
Custos Rotulorum of Rutland
Succeeded by
The Lord Noel
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Lord Zouche
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by
The Earl of Suffolk
Legal offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Shrewsbury
Justice in Eyre
north of the Trent

Succeeded by
The Earl of Rutland
Preceded by
The Earl of Nottingham
Justice in Eyre
south of the Trent

Succeeded by
The Earl of Pembroke
Peerage of England
New title Duke of Buckingham
Succeeded by
George Villiers
Marquess of Buckingham
Earl of Buckingham
Viscount Villiers