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Of all the British monarchs – and there have been a LOT – Edward II is the best known to the LGBTTQ community.
Edward’s devotion to his favourites was a major factor in causing political unrest during the early part of the 14th century and his “excessive, immoderate, beyond measure and reason” obsession with Gascon knight Piers Gaveston was notorious. Whether their relationship was a sexual one can only be conjectured. Learned historians shy away from the idea and hum and haw and say there is no evidence and that the relationship might have been one of ‘adoptive brotherhood’. I say that we can make up our own minds. Christopher Marlowe, playwright contemporary of Shakespeare, obviously thought there was more to the relationship than being jolly god pals. His play about Edward and Piers is one of the first on stage depictions of a same sex relationship.
Music and poetry is his delight;
Therefore I’ll have Italian masques by night,
Sweet speeches, comedies, and pleasing shows;
And in the day, when he shall walk abroad,
Like sylvan nymphs my pages shall be clad;
My men, like satyrs grazing on the lawns,
Shall with their goat-feet dance an antic hay.
Sometime a lovely boy in Dian’s shape,
With hair that gilds the water as it glides,
Crownets of pearl about his naked arms,
And in his sportful hands an olive tree
To hide those parts which men delight to see,
Shall bathe him in a spring; and there, hard by,
One like Actaeon, peeping through the grove,
Shall by the angry goddess be transformed,
And running in the likeness of a hart
By yelping hounds pulled down and seem to die.
Such things as these best please his majesty. (I.i.53-70)
The play, a tragedy, was written in the 1590s and continued to be played until the Civil War put an end to the theatre. It was revived in the 20th century and many well known actors, including Sir Ian Mackellern, have played in it and Derek Jarman adapted the play for the silver screen. [There are dutch subtitles for anyone who needs them :)]
Edward cetainly wasn’t the only English king to have been gay – William Rufus, Richard I and possibly II, James I [and VI of Scotland], Charles I, reputedly Charles Edward Stuart – but is definitely the one that has had the most attention.