England,  ER,  Western Europe

Homosexuality and the Throne of England

Rumors fly when a person is in a position of power.  The royalty of England is no exception.  One of the easiest and deadliest lobs to throw was sexuality- either adultery, homosexuality or a combination thereof.  This post will take a look at two of the most pervasive rumors.

William II of England, from the Stowe Manuscript
William II of England, from the Stowe Manuscript

William Rufus

Son of William the Conquerer, William Rufus inherited England in his father’s death.  Though not a large man, he had a definite presence and was described as a “wild bull”.  Muscular and stocky with fair hair and a taste for the latest fashion, he never married, which was odd for a king of the time period.  He needed a queen for alliance, wealth and heirs.  However, William made no move to change his bachelor state.  Three chroniclers make the leap to homosexuality as to the reason why.

Eadmer of Canterbury was the Archbishop’s chaplain and had a ring side seat to court shinanagans.  He reports that many young men, including the king, wore their hair as long as women and “minced about with girlish steps”.  The Archbishop refused to distribute ashes in Ash Wednesday to men who refused to cut their hair.  The Archbishop also requested the king join him in a crusade to root sodemy out of court, however, William was offended and refused.

William of Malmesbury took this and ran with it.  He described in greater detail reports of effeminacy of the men at court, especially taking offense at shoes that curled up at the toe.  He also implied that there was more than a professional relationship between the king and Ranulf Flambard.  William did have pretty male favorites, which many chroniclers found odd.  Oderic, writing a decade after after William of Malmesbury, accuses the king of being the king of lust.  He describes the men of court having too tight tunics, pointed shoes and hair down their backs like whores.  He says court was full of “sodimites” and Williams death while hunting as judgement for his sins.

No one comes right out and accuses William of being homosexual, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence.  Sodemy could not have been widespread at court without his knowledge or at least the king turning a blind eye.  Mostly, William is accused of debauchery in general.  The fashion critiques sound like every old person lamenting “kids today”.  It has been explained the Norman nobles were wealthy from their English lands and were buying up every new fad in clothes, much to their fathers’ chagrin.  English fashion was for a man to wear longer hair, and not the famous Norman short cut.  Therefore, it was not looked highly upon by the older generation.

These accounts are all by churchman, and should be taken with a grain of salt however.  William and the Church were at odds for the entirety of his reign.  William held bishoprics empty to get the revenue, and squeezed every last shilling out of the English Church. They loathed him.  They were throwing everything to the wall and hoping something would stick.


Church of Fontevraud Abbey Richard I effigy
Church of Fontevraud Abbey Richard I effigy

Richard I

Richard the Lionheart has had his share of praise and criticism.  One of the barbs shot at him, besides the arrow that killed him, was the accusation of homosexuality.  This rumor is enshrined in literature, specifically the wonderful Lion In Winter (if you haven’t seen it, go now.  I will wait)

The first point those in favor of this theory state is that Richard had no children with his wife Berengaria.  There could be several reasons causing this that do not include homosexuality.  One or both of the couple could have been infertile or the timing just wasn’t right.  Even if Richard wasn’t attracted to his wife, he would have been expected to consummate the marriage and produce heirs.  Royal marriages were not about attraction, they were about politics and procreation.  As far as I can find, there are no whispers the marriage was unconsummated.

This brings us to point two.  The story goes that the prime mover in Richard’s marriage was his formidable mother, Eleanor.  Supposedly, Richard did not want to marry and Eleanor forced his hand.  What is not known is Richard was the one who negotiated the marriage treaty not Eleanor.  He needed allies for when he was away on crusade, and Berengaria’s brother helped put down rebellions in Aquitaine.  Richard also had Berengaria come with him to the Holy Land and went to some trouble to do so.  This is odd behavior for a man looking to escape feminine companions.

The final point, and the “smoking gun”, was that Philip Augustus, King of France, and Richard shared a bed.  The story goes:

And after this peace, Richard the Count of Poitou remained with the king of France against the will of his father; and the king of France was honoring him in such a way that each day they would eat together at one table from one dish, and in the night their bed did not separate them. And because of this exceeding love which appeared between them, the king of England [Henry II] was struck with much astonishment and marveled at this, and being on his guard for himself in the future, sent his messengers frequently to France to recall his son Richard….

However, this is not as it seems to modern ears.  Sharing a bed was a mark of honor and favor, not a sexual thing, in medieval times.  Royalty rarely slept alone and the bedroom morphed into an extension of the presence chamber.  The remark that Richard’s father, Henry, was not happy has more to do with the fact his son was cozying up to his mortal enemy as opposed to having a same sex sexual relationship.  Richard and Philip closely conspiring was bad news for Henry.

My next post will discuss two more kings rumors flew about.  I shall leave you to draw your own conclusions. (Please see part II here:  http://www.historynaked.com/homosexuality-throne-england-part-2/ )


Sources available on request