Was King James Gay?

Was he gay? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently a new edition of the Bible has been published, The Queen James Bible. This is a special version for homosexuals in which all of the uncomplimentary references to homosexuality have been edited or removed. There is an explanation for what the editors are trying to do on their website.

Homosexuality in The Bible

Homosexuality was first mentioned in the Bible in 1946 in the Revised Standard Version. There is no mention of or reference to homosexuality in any Bible prior to this – only interpretations have been made. Anti-LGBT Bible interpretations commonly cite only eight verses in the Bible that they interpret to mean homosexuality is a sin; Eight verses in a book of thousands!

The Queen James Bible seeks to resolve interpretive ambiguity in the Bible as it pertains to homosexuality: We edited those eight verses in a way that makes homophobic interpretations impossible.

Who is Queen James?

The King James Bible is the most popular Bible of all time, and arguably the most important English language document of all time. The brainchild and namesake of King James I, who wanted an English language Bible that all could own and read, it has been in print for over 400 years and has brought more people to Christ than any other Bible translation. Commonly known to biographers but often surprising to most Christians, King James I was a well-known bisexual. Though he did marry a woman, his many gay relationships were so well-known that amongst some of his friends and court, he was known as “Queen James.” It is in his great debt and honor that we name The Queen James Bible so.

A Fabulous Bible

The QJB is a big, fabulous Bible. It is printed and bound in the United States on thick, high-quality paper in a beautiful, readable typeface. It is the perfect Bible for ceremony, study, sermon, gift-giving, or simply to put on display in the home or Church.

You can’t choose your sexuality, but you can choose Jesus. Now you can choose a Bible, too.

I approve of their wanting to bring the Gospel to the homosexuals but I am not sure if I agree with their method. But, that is a matter for another post. Right now I want to attempt to answer the question of whether what they said about James I is true. Was he gay or bisexual?

In 1603 James VI and I became the first monarc...

Was he gay?

There are two things to consider before trying to discover the truth about King James. First, it would probably be a good idea to be more than a little skeptical of accounts of the sexual behavior of historic figures. This is not a matter that there is likely to be solid documentary evidence and any historical accounts are likely to be based on gossip. We wouldn’t necessarily take at face value a tabloid magazine’s accounts of the antics of movie stars. The same sort of incredulity would probably be advisable with kings and emperors. Then too, hostile biographers are likely to exaggerate or fabricate stories of their subject’s sexual perversions in order to blacken their reputation. You might think, from the historical accounts, that the earliest Roman Emperors must have been the most depraved men in history, until you consider that most of the surviving accounts were written by men of the Senatorial class who resented their loss of power under the Emperors.

Second, our modern concepts of homosexuality or bisexuality are, well, modern. The words homosexual and heterosexual were coined by German scientists towards the end of the nineteenth century. For most of history, homosexual behavior was regarded as a vice some people indulged in. A clear distinction between homosexuals and heterosexuals as different sorts of people is very much a modern idea. If James had had a male lover, it is not clear that he would be what we might consider “gay”. If his contemporaries were aware of his male lover, they would have regarded what he did as acts of sodomy, and he as a sodomite, but would not necessarily consider him “gay” as either a supporter of gay rights or a homophobe might today.

So, was King James gay? It is actually hard to tell. James Stuart was born on June, 19 1566. His father was Henry Stuart, a descendant of the Scottish king James II. His mother was Mary, Queen of Scots, the only child of James V, and the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister, which made her the cousin of Elizabeth I.   He did not have a happy childhood. Mary and Henry Stuart did not get along with each other, in part because Henry was not content to be king consort, but wanted to be co-sovereign. He also turned out to be arrogant and unpopular with the Scottish nobility. He was murdered in a very strange manner in February 1567. Mary was suspected of being complicit in the murder, a suspicion which seemed more reasonable after she married James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell who was also suspected of being involved in the murder. Mary was imprisoned and forced to abdicate and she fled to England where Queen Elizabeth had her executed in 1587 after she learned that Mary had been involved in plots to assassinate or supplant her. So, James grew up never knowing either his mother or his father.

Since James was a minor when he became King James VI in 1567, Scotland by ruled by regents. As is often the case when the monarch is a minor, Scotland was politically unstable and there were struggles for power among his regents. One of James’s favorites was Esme Stewart, Earl and later Duke of Lennox. He was from France and was originally Catholic but he converted to Calvinism. Despite this, many of the Scottish nobles distrusted him. There were rumors that the affection he showed the young king extended as far as a physical relationship. This may be the source of the idea of James’s homosexuality. Lennox was forced to leave Scotland in 1582. James came of age the following year and asserted his control over the turbulent kingdom.

As king, James VI strengthened the power and authority of the central government of Scotland. He believed in the divine right of kings and asserted the rights of the monarchy. James became known as a patron of learning and literature and was a scholar himself, writing several books. He seems also to have been something of a misogynist and preferred the company of men over women. In fact, James had no known liaisons before his marriage and was praised for his chastity. He was also obsessed with hunting witches and literally wrote the book on the subject.He also personally supervised the interrogation of suspected witches.

In spite of his reticence among women, in 1589, James arranged a marriage to Princess Anne of Denmark. Her ship encountered stormy weather on the way to Scotland and they were forced to make landfall in Norway. James was unwilling to wait for her so he sailed to Norway himself and they were married in Oslo in November and the newlyweds traveled to Scotland. James seems to have genuinely loved Anne and by all accounts their marriage was a happy one.

James VI became King James I of England in 1603, when the dying and childless Queen Elizabeth named him as her successor. The popular Elizabeth was a hard act to follow and in general James was a respected but not particularly well-liked king. James’s ideas about the divine rights of kings was not well accepted by the English. Although James was not really any more autocratic than Elizabeth had been, he lacked her tact and her knack for for getting along with all classes of English society. He quarreled with Parliament and ruled without it for much of his reign. Still, he was an effective king. For most of his reign, England was prosperous and at peace. He patronised Shakespeare and commissioned the King James Bible. He also began England’s colonisation of North America.

James was also suspected of having sexual relationships with various male favorites. His more passive and reserved demeanor was contrasted unfavorably with Elizabeth’s more aggressive and seemingly masculine style, particularly in her foreign policy. James was indeed referred to as “Queen James” but it was not an affectionate nickname and I doubt it was said to his face. On the other hand, James referred to sodomy as an unforgivable crime. King James died in 1625 and was widely mourned.

So, was King James gay? The truth is that unless someone unearths a love letter by James to a male lover, or some eyewitness observations in a forgotten diary, we may never know. I think that it is likely that he had one or more male lovers, but the evidence is by no means conclusive. I doubt that he would have considered himself “gay” in the modern understanding of the term and if he did have a homosexual relationship, he would have regarded it as a terrible sin he had committed. I doubt very much that James would have approved of the Queen James Bible.

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