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‘The King and His Husband’: The Gay History of British Royals

 Ordinarily, the wedding of a junior member of the British royal family wouldn’t attract much global attention. But Lord Ivar Mountbatten’s did.

That’s because Mountbatten, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, wed James Coyle in the summer of 2018 in what was heralded as the “first-ever” same-sex marriage in Britain’s royal family.

Perhaps what makes it even more unusual is that Mountbatten’s ex-wife, Penny Mountbatten, gave her former husband away.

Who says the royals aren’t a modern family?

Though Mountbatten and Coyle’s ceremony was expected to be small, it’s much larger in significance.

“It’s seen as the extended royal family giving a stamp of approval, in a sense, to same-sex marriage,” said Carolyn Harris, historian and author of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting. “This marriage gives this wider perception of the royal family encouraging everyone to be accepted.”

But the union isn’t believed to be the first same-sex relationship in British monarchy, according to historians. And they certainly couldn’t carry out their relationships openly or without causing intense political drama within their courts.

 Edward II, who ruled from 1307-1327, is one of England’s less fondly remembered kings. His reign consisted of feuds with his barons, a failed invasion of Scotland in 1314, a famine, more feuding with his barons, and an invasion by a political rival that led to him being replaced by his son, Edward III. And many of the most controversial aspects of his rule — and fury from his barons — stemmed from his relationships with two men: Piers Gaveston and, later, Hugh Despenser.

Gaveston and Edward met when Edward was about 16 years old, when Gaveston joined the royal household. “It’s very obvious from Edward’s behavior that he was quite obsessed with Gaveston,” said Kathryn Warner, author of Edward II: The Unconventional King. Once king, Edward II made the relatively lowborn Gaveston the Earl of Cornwall, a title usually reserved for members of the royal family, “just piling him with lands and titles and money,” Warner said. He feuded with his barons over Gaveston, who they believed received far too much attention and favor.

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