August 11, 2023
‘Red, White & Royal Blue’: The Lesser-Known LGBTQ+ History of the British Royal Family
, based on Casey McQuiston’s novel of the same name released today, Prince Henry of England is keeping something from the public: despite being spotted out and about with women, he’s gay. For years, he’s determined to keep up the facade—until he falls in love with Alex Claremont-Diaz, the charming son of the United States president. Brief spoilers are to follow, but Henry must grapple with coming out to both his conservative family his country. In one poignant scene, Alex asks Henry if anyone in his family knows he’s gay. While he responds that his sister accepts him, others have their hesitations: “Grandpa’s a cold hard realist. He sat me down on my 18th birthday and told me not to let any selfish desires I might be harboring reflect poorly on the Crown,” Henry reveals to Alex. “Prince Henry belongs to Britain.” When McQuinton first came up with the idea of in early 2016, the British royals did not have any openly gay family members. That changed later in the year when Lord Ivar Mountbatten, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth and great-great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria, with partner James Coyle. In 2018, the two married at his estate of Bridwell Park, making international headlines as the British royal family’s first gay wedding. Still, it’s unlikely that Mountbatten is the only Windsor (or Hanover or Stuart) to identify somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. In fact, many historians believe that the 17th-century king James I had intimate relationships with several of his male courtiers. The most significant was George Villiers, whom the king later made the Duke of Buckingham. In the book author David M. Bergeron sorted through pages upon pages of correspondence between the two men, kept in the archives at the British Library and the National Library of Scotland. He found many of them to be explicitly intimate: “I desire to live only in this world for your sake, and that I had rather live banished in any part of the earth with you than live a sorrowful widow’s life without you,” James wrote to the Duke in 1623. Daniel Smith, in his book ,” came to a similar conclusion. “To the shock of many courtiers, the pair were demonstratively affectionate to each other in public,” he writes. Indeed, in King James I’s Encyclopedia Britannica entry, his romantic relationship with Buckingham is stated as fact: “His relationship with James became sexual, and he retained the king’s passionate support to the end of the latter’s life,” And when Apelthorope Palace, King James I’s favorite royal residence, , workers even discovered a tunnel connecting the two men’s bedrooms. The relationship between Queen Anne and her childhood friend, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, has also been the subject of speculation. 18th-century letters between the two show an intense friendship that could be read as something more. “The question of whether Queen Anne was a lesbian is a very interesting one,” Anne Somerset, author of , . “If you read the letters she wrote to Sarah as a young woman they are passionate outpourings of devotion. You might immediately think perhaps they were having an affair, but you also have to bear in mind that in that era Women did have passionate friendships with no erotic undertones.” Nonetheless, the possibility continues to capture the public imagination to this day: The 2018 film centered on a love triangle between Rachel Weisz’s Duchess of Marlborough, Emma Stone’s Abigail Masham, and Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne, with the latter taking home the best Actress Oscar for her performance. While the royals of centuries past had to keep their true selves shrouded in secrecy, the Windsor family of today has stated they will embrace family members who identify as LGBTQ+. “I’d support my child if they were gay,” Prince William told reporters in 2019. But, much as the fictional Prince Henry agonized over it in , societal pressures and cultural beliefs still make such a public proclamation a daunting one, especially for a person that’s a figurehead of an entire country. “I wish we lived in a world where it’s really normal and cool, but particularly for my family, and the position that we are in, that’s the bit I am nervous about,” William added. Hopefully, as attitudes continue to change—polls show that 78 percent of Great Britons and 71 percent of Americans support gay marriage—the sexual identity of won’t be a talking point at all. Even if they’re royal.
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