George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
The Duke of Buckingham
The Duke of Buckingham, 1625, by Peter Paul Rubens Palazzo Pitti (Florence)
|Born||28 August 1592|
|Died||23 August 1628(aged 35)|
|Title||Duke of Buckingham|
|Spouse(s)||Katherine Manners, Baroness de Ros|
|Parents||George Villiers (of Brokesby)
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham KG (//; 28 August 1592 – 23 August 1628) was the favourite, claimed by some to be the lover, of King James I of England. Despite a very patchy political and military record, he remained at the height of royal favour for the first two years of the reign of Charles I, until he was assassinated. He was one of the most rewarded royal courtiers in all history.
He 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.
George 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. In August 1614, Villiers, reputedly "the handsomest-bodied man in all of England", was brought before the king, in the hope that the king would take a fancy to him, diminishing the power at court of then favourite Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset.
Following Villiers' introduction to James during the king's progress of that year, the king developed a strong affection for Villiers, calling him his "sweet child and wife"; the personal relationships of James are a much debated topic, with Villiers making the last of a succession of favourites on whom James lavished affection and rewards. The extent to which there was a sexual element, or a physical sexual relationship, involved in these cases remains controversial. However, there is much contemporaneous evidence attesting to the fact that Villiers was, in fact, James's lover: Edward Peyton, who was Knight of Whitehall in 1610, wrote, “the king sold his affections to Sir George Villiers, whom he would tumble and kiss as a mistress." In 1615, the Bishop 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." In 1622, the Venetian ambassador describes how James would not "eat, sup, or remain an hour without him and considers him his whole joy." Francis Osborne later gossipped, “I have seene Sommerset and Buckingham labour to resemble, in the effeminatenesse of their dressings.” The correspondence between James and George is also revealing. James wrote to Villiers: “My onlie sweete and deare chylde I praye thee haiste thee hoame to thy deare dade by sunne setting.” George accepted the appellation, signing the letter “[your] obedient sone and servant and your humble slave and doge, Steenie.” Writing to Buckingham in another letter in 1623, the King ends a letter with, "God bless you, my sweet child and wife, and grant that ye may ever be a comfort to your dear dad and husband."
Villiers reciprocated the King's love, 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.
Villiers gained support from those opposed to the current favourite, Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset, and under the King's patronage he prospered greatly. Villiers was knighted in 1615 as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, and was rapidly advanced through the peerage: he was created Baron Whaddon and Viscount Villiers in 1616, Earl of Buckingham in 1617, Marquess of Buckingham in 1618 and finally Earl of Coventry and Duke of Buckingham in 1623. After the reductions in the peerage that had taken place during the Tudor period, Buckingham was left as the highest-ranking subject outside the royal family.[a] In his rise to power, Villiers became connected with Francis Bacon, whose public career had stagnated somewhat before benefitting, perhaps, from Villiers' patronage. Bacon's letters include letters of advice to the young favourite.
In the 1620s, Villiers acquired York House on the Strand, the street linking the City of London to that of Westminster. Apart from an interlude during the English Civil War, the property remained in the family until his son sold it to developers for £30,000 in 1672. He 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.
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
The 1621 Parliament began an investigation into monopolies and other abuses in England and extended it later to Ireland; in this first session, Buckingham was quick to side with the Parliament to avoid action being taken against him. However, the king's decision in the summer of 1621 to send a commission of enquiry, 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.
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.
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), 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.
War with Habsburg Austria, France, and Spain
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). He lost more than 4,000 of a force of 7,000 men. While organizing a second campaign in Portsmouth in 1628, he was stabbed to death, on August 23, at the Greyhound Pub. 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. Felton believed he had been passed over for promotion by Buckingham. Felton was hanged in October of that year.
A fictionalised Buckingham is one of the characters in Alexandre Dumas, père's The Three Musketeers, which paints him as a lover of Anne of Austria and deals with his assassination by Felton. In Arturo Pérez-Reverte's novel, El capitán Alatriste, Buckingham appears briefly while on his expedition to Spain in 1623 with Charles I. He is also a central character in novels by Philippa Gregory, Earthly Joys, and Evelyn Anthony, Charles, The King. He also appears, played by Marcus Hutton, in the Doctor Who audio drama The Church and the Crown, in which he leads an aborted English invasion of France in 1626. He is a key character in the Bertrice Small novel Darling Jasmine. He also plays a part in the novel, The Arm and the Darkness by Taylor Caldwell, as the English ally sought by the Huguenots to help defend their refuge city, La Rochelle, against the siege ordered and led by Cardinal Richelieu, the minister of Louis XIII, King of France. As George Villiers, Buckingham appears as a major character in Howard Brenton's 2010 play Anne Boleyn as King James I's mate in sexual horseplay.
The Duke of Buckingham was a very controversial historical figure. Though Alexandre Dumas writes in paradoxically positive terms about him in The Three Musketeers, on the other hand, the English novelist and historian Charles Dickens makes no effort to hide his total rejection of the Duke in his book A Child’s History of England. He claims that, as King Charles the First commissioned the Duke of Buckingham (“that insolent upstart”) to bring the royal fiancée, Princess Henrietta Maria, from Paris to England, Buckingham — “with his usual audacity” — made love to the Queen of France, the Spanish Anne of Austria, thus creating an extremely serious diplomatic conflict to the advantage of Cardinal Richelieu. Later, “that pestilent Buckingham, to gratify his own wounded vanity”, engaged England in war with France, as well as with Spain.
And Dickens comments: “For such miserable causes and such miserable creatures are wars sometimes made.” Far from regretting Buckingham’s assassination, Dickens concluded that “he was destined to do little more mischief in this world”.
Marriage and family
Buckingham married the daughter of the 6th Earl of Rutland, Lady Katherine Manners, later suo jure Baroness de Ros, on 16 May 1620, despite the objections of her father. Buckingham was happy to grant valuable royal monopolies to her family, with issue:
- Mary Villiers (1622 – November 1685)
- Charles Villiers, Marquess of Buckingham (17 Nov 1625 – 16 March 1627)
- George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (30 January 1628 – 16 April 1687)
- Lord Francis Villiers (1629–48, died at the sword during the Civil War)
Buckingham's daughter, Lady Mary Villiers, was the wife of the Royalist 1st Duke of Richmond. Richmond was the grandson of the 1st Duke of Lennox of the Seigneurs d'Aubigny Stuarts. His elder son Charles (1626–27) died as an infant and the title was inherited by his younger son George.
- There was no Duke of Norfolk at the time; the Duchy was "restored" in 1660.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Buckingham, George Villiers, 1st Duke of.|
- Montague-Smith, Patrick (1970). Debrett's Correct Form. London: Headline. p. 409. ISBN 0-7472-0658-9.
- "Surname Pronunciation: Vavasour to Woburn". Debrett's. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
- "13", The Western Heritage (8th ed.), p. 420.
- 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.
- Bergeron, David M (1999). King James and Letters of Homoerotic Desire. p. 175.
- Graham, Fiona (5 June 2008). "To the manor bought". BBC News. Retrieved 22 September 2011.
- An apprenticeship in arms by Roger Burrow Manning p.115
- Tudor and Stuart Britain 1471–1714, by Roger Lockyer, 2nd edition, London 1985, Longman.
- A Child’s History of England, by Charles Dickens, London, Edinburgh, Dublin and New York, Thomas Nelson and Sons, editors.
- Roger Lockyer, Buckingham, the Life and Political Career of George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham, 1592–1628 (Longman, 1981).
- Paul Bloomfield, Uncommon People. A Study of England's Elite (London: Hamilton, 1955) (about the descendants of George Villiers).
- Victor Treadwell, "Buckingham and Ireland, 1616–1628. A study of Anglo-Irish politics" (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1998).
- Some text modified from public domain 11th Edition Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911
- Siobhan Keenan, ‘Staging Roman History, Stuart Politics, and The Duke of Buckingham: The Example of The Emperor’s Favourite ’. Early Theatre, 14:2 (2011). ISSN: 1206-9078. [pp. 63–103]. Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/earlytheatre/vol14/iss2/3.
- Siobhan Keenan, ‘Representing the Duke of Buckingham: Libel, Counter-Libel and the Example of The Emperor’s Favourite ’. Literature Compass, 9:4 (2012). [pp. 292–305]. (About Stuart libels relating to the Duke of Buckingham and a Caroline play satirising his career - The Emperor's Favourite.)
Media related to George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham at Wikimedia Commons
- The impeachment of Buckingham (1626), Historical Collections of Private Passages of State: Volume 1: 1618–29 (1721), pp. 302–358.