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May 7, 2024 42 mins

George Villiers was in his early twenties when he caught the eye of King James the VI and I. Almost immediately, George became an intimate "favorite," catapulted into a new title and world of courtly power. Whether the relationship between the two men was sexual is still a question historians debate, but the thing that can't be denied is that their relationship would have deadly consequences. Dana is joined by author Benjamin Woolley, whose book The King's Assassin inspired the new television series Mary & George.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to Noble Blood, a production of iHeartRadio and Grimm
and Mild from Aaron Manky listener discretion advised. In two
thousand and five, the English Heritage team working on restoring
Apethorpe Haul in Northamptonshire made a phenomenal discovery. Their job

(00:23):
wasn't an easy one. Though Apethorpe had once been a
magnificent estate that hosted Tutor and Jacobean Royalty over the centuries,
it had fallen into disrepair, first during a period where
it was used as a youth detention facility, and then
later when it was purchased, presumably as an investment by

(00:45):
a Libyan businessman who never spent a single night there.
The palace was crumbling, and the only reason it even
lasted long enough to be protected by the English government
was because of an elderly gardeners caretaker who continued working
without salary to block windows, stop leaks and chase away

(01:07):
would be vandals. When the English Heritage restoration began, the
magnificence of the house slowly became apparent again. There were
centuries old grotesque wall paintings that had been covered in
the eighteenth century and plaster freezes hidden under attic floorboards.
But the best discovery was in the chamber that had

(01:31):
originally been built in order to accommodate the visits of
King James the First. James the First also known as
James the sixth in Scotland, frequently visited Apethorpe. It was
the estate he spent the most time at outside of
his own palaces, and in his bedchamber, the restoring team

(01:52):
removed a wall of plaster to uncover a secret passageway.
Passageway that led to the room that would have been
occupied by the King's favorite George Villiers, the first Duke
of Buckingham. A secret passageway between the bedrooms of two men,

(02:13):
just normal platonic dude stuff. If you know King James
at all, it's probably because of the Bible that bears
his name, or the episode on this podcast we did
about his habit of witch hunting. Neither of those two
character traits seemed particularly aligned with the other big thing

(02:34):
about King James that he had a pattern of selecting
close male favorites. These relationships were absolutely intimate, undeniably romantic,
and probably sexual, although that's a matter of much debate
even today among scholars. Personally, I defer to Antonia Fraser's view,

(02:57):
which she wrote in her nineteen seventy five biography of
the King quote in sexual matters, it is generally better
to assume the obvious unless there is some very good
reason to think otherwise. And that was decades before they
found the secret bedroom tunnel. Whatever the extent of the
physical relationship between King James and George Villiers, the relationship

(03:22):
itself reshaped English politics. George went from being a minor
second son of landed gentry to a duke, a meteoric
rise that first delighted and then terrified and threatened other noblemen.
King James had been in his late forties when they

(03:44):
met George. In his early twenties. The young man had
been thrust into court by his ambitious mother Mary, who
saw her handsome son as a key into high society.
But even she could not have imagined just how successful
George would be. But no one can rise forever, and

(04:06):
the intimate jealous closeness that George and James shared might
have in the end cost them both their lives. I'm
Danish schwartz, and this is noble blood.

Speaker 2 (04:24):
I'm thrilled to be speaking today with Benjamin Wooley, a
professor at Goldsmith's University of London and the author of
The King's Assassin, which was the basis of the new
television series Mary and George that's finally available in the US.
I'm so thrilled to be talking with you. Thank you
so much for being here. Thank you.

Speaker 3 (04:43):
I look forward to it.

Speaker 2 (04:44):
So let's start with Georgie's early life. Though obviously he
would have this meteoric rise through court politics, his early
prospects were extremely limited. You write that he was the
second son of a father who had already been married
and already had earlier sons from that marriage. So what
did that mean in terms of George's future in the

(05:07):
seventeenth century.

Speaker 3 (05:09):
Well, being a second son at that particular time was
not a comfortable position to be in. So they stood
to inherit nothing. Under the system of primogeniture that's called
where the eldest son inherits everything in the family. If
there's an eldest son, that obviously means they're in line
to get that. So the second son has nothing, and

(05:31):
that can make life extremely difficult. I mean you kind
of see it now, don't you. In the relationship between
I don't know, Princes William and Harry. It's a complex,
difficult relationship. It's a difficult position for people like Harry.
You know, you have the air and the spare and
that was very much the case for second sons, even
more so right through the entire system as it worked

(05:53):
in that time. And George was, as you say, in
an even worse position because he wasn't even in the
first family. He was a second son in a second family,
so his prospects were bleak. And a kind of measure
of that is that if you look through the history
of that time, people who were in his position who
came from sort of I suppose, middling gentry rings, so

(06:18):
they went from the aristocracy. But there weren't peasants by
any stretch of the imagination, but this sort of gentry class.
It was really difficult for them, and they would do
things like well what notably, a lot of them piled
at well, not that many, but some of them piled
on a ship and set off for Virginia in the
US to set up Jamestown. The people who did that

(06:38):
was a really motley crewe who were made up of
a lot of second sons, who had nothing else to do.
So that was his predicament, that was his situation, and
that is what makes made for me his story and
his mother's role in that story all the more remarkable.

Speaker 2 (06:56):
So from a pretty early age, his mother is able
to see some sort of potential in him. What does
she see in him? And then how does she cultivate that?

Speaker 3 (07:07):
Well, she sees some potential in him and some lack
of potential in her eldest son, John. So the eldest
who would inherit whatever fortunes of the family made was
I think, right from the start, clearly had a problem
of some sort I mean in more modern turns where

(07:27):
you'd say had some sort of mental illness, probably congenital
mental illness, because it seemed to show up quite early on,
and it certainly manifested itself in violent ways later on
in his life. So he was a difficulty and she
couldn't see what she could do with him, because she
was determined, a very determined woman who was going to

(07:49):
try and sort of get the ranking she thought she deserved.
She thought her and her family she came from this
family which she later claimed was related to five kings
of your Europe. I mean, that's highly debatable, but she
nevertheless thought she came from a very special line, and
John wasn't going to carry that, not as a reflection

(08:11):
of her line and background, nor as that of her
husband who died when John and George were just were young,
who was called Sir George Villiers. So George's father was
also called George. One of those things that happened throughout
history at that time, causing chaos for those of us
trying to research the families. But she could see that

(08:34):
George was a much better prospect, if you liked, for
realizing her ambitions than John. He wasn't very scholarly, he
wasn't very intellectual.

Speaker 2 (08:42):
So he wouldn't be a good fit for the church exactly.

Speaker 3 (08:46):
So if you're looking at the options that were available,
that's exactly the sort of option that might have been considered.
But he was obviously he good looking, charismatic, seemed to
be musical, very good dancer, physically, sort of self assured,
and all those things made it clear that he would

(09:10):
have a successful time if she could somehow get him
within the orbit of the royal court. I mean, most
people it wouldn't have heard in her position, which was
complicated in any number of ways. I mean, she was
what was called a waiting woman to a richer relative,

(09:30):
which doesn't mean she was a servant exactly or a
sort of scullery maid, and her enemies would make her
out to be as such later on, but she was.
She was in a kind of one of those very
ambiguous social positions, which was between service, if you like,
in companionship to another higher ranking individual. So she was
low in the pecking order, and so to even think

(09:54):
about trying to get somebody into the royal court was itself,
you know, that was a moonshot, as it were, in
talking about the times were in. But nevertheless, she was
that ambitious, and George seemed to present a prospect as
somebody who she could just shapen into the sort of
person who would do the job, would have a possibility
of success. So that was her aim as her singular aim,

(10:18):
and various sort of historical forces basically aligned themselves to
make this a completely unexpected possibility.

Speaker 2 (10:30):
You wrote that there was the sort of benefit of
the fact that James, obviously, coming from Scotland, had surrounded
himself sort of with Scottish men. He had had a
favorite Somerset, who was sort of disliked by nobility, and
so English nobility had a vested interest in helping to
propel an English boy into the King's orbit.

Speaker 3 (10:54):
Exactly so, one of the courtiers was complaining how the
English were unable to the beams of his royal sunlight
or something. I can't quite remember the exact quote, but
they couldn't get a look in literally to the King,
or well the King's bedchamber, which it wasn't just a bedroom,
it was the sort of locust of power at the time,

(11:16):
the place where people who counted, so to speak, had
to have access in order to get the King's ear
physically get the king's ear. It was like that. It
was that kind of court. So they needed a glamorous
young English boy to catch the King's eye, and George
went down to London. His mother obviously sent him down

(11:38):
the King's Way as it was called, down from Leicestershire,
which is in the midlands of England, down to London,
and George hung around court. In fact, he nearly ended
up marrying the child of a prominent courtier who died
before a marriage could be achieved. I don't know what
the father's attitude towards it would have been, but the

(12:00):
executive of the father's will of the bride to bees
or the prospect of a bride to be, the executors
of his will just did everything to prevent George wheedling
his way into the fact that particular family line, so
he was that whole scheme fell apart. I don't know

(12:20):
if that was something that Mary was involved in or not.
The historical record doesn't tell us, but it was some
time and somewhere after that that this group of nobles,
led by the Earl of Pembroke, initially it seems, got together.
So he was actually Pembroke shows in Wales, and so
he had Welsh connections, but Wales in England were essentially

(12:43):
one nation at the time, one kingdom, and so he
worked to come up with a scheme and George was
pushed forward as the candidate to fulfill that scheme, and
that's when the scheming really began, and it turned out
to be extremely successful, culminating in its first stages with

(13:05):
George catching the King's eye by doing a beautiful dance,
one that we had the privilege of watching being recreated
for the show. Mary and George. He did this dance
that caught the King's eye and that is what set
the ball rolling.

Speaker 2 (13:20):
It reminds me of the famous masquerade that Anne Boleyn
danced in to catch Henry the eighth Side that these
masquerades were just a market for people to see beautiful.

Speaker 3 (13:31):
People exactly, and they were very effective of that when
it came to the royal court, and that's a very
good comparison. It subsequently led to George being knighted and
being made a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, which means it's
a kind of ticket to enter and be part of
the bed chamber. It doesn't mean at this stage anything
relating to having any kind of physical intimacy with the king.

(13:56):
There were lots of gentlemen of the bedchamber essentially, not
not just the sort of intermediary between the king and
his people, or more particularly individuals like his Privy counsel
and so on, you know, the people who ran the government.
It wasn't just that it was also a protective ring
around him because obviously the monarch was vulnerable. I mean, yes,

(14:25):
an entourage that was there to protect him so had
to be very closely monitored because within two years of
James coming down from Scotland when he inherited the English throne,
because from Scotland and England were two separate kingdoms at
this time and would remain so throughout James's reign, much

(14:45):
to his frustration. But he barely got his backside onto
the throne when somebody tried to blow him up. So
that's the famous gunpowder plot. It was called of sixteen
oh five. So he was paranoid already. As he put
it himself, he had been nourished in fear because of
his extraordinary early years. He inherited the Scottish rome when

(15:09):
he was still a baby.

Speaker 2 (15:10):
He was a cradle king, of course, And just backing
up a little for the context, his mother would have
been Mary, Queen of scott who was beheaded. His father
was murdered when he was just an infant. This is
someone who has seen death and destruction since he was
since he was born. I can't even imagine exactly.

Speaker 3 (15:28):
Yeah, so he'd never had a period when he was
settled and safe, and that was reflected in his behavior
throughout his reign in England as well as Scotland. He
was restless. He would never stay in one place for
very long. He would tour the country, bankrupting local grandees,
guy insisting they put him up for a little while,
and he would, you know, he would hunt, and he

(15:50):
would he would do. He would distract himself with any
number of entertainments.

Speaker 2 (15:55):
You know.

Speaker 3 (15:55):
He was a great patrol, of course, of the arts
of the King's Men, which was Shakespeare's troupe of players actors.
So he was somebody who constantly needed distracting from his fears,
if you like, constantly worried that he was going to
come under attack. So for somebody to get into the
bedchamber was to give them a level of trust that

(16:18):
was extremely important and special, and it was how that
trust was used that would define George's career.

Speaker 2 (16:28):
Before we jump back into George's career, I think it's
probably worth just taking a moment to address the elephant
in the room, which is in terms of you mentioned
James liking distractions. He has a history of male favorites.
George was certainly not the first male favorite, and historians,
i think, for centuries have been trying to parse out

(16:51):
what those relationships were, whether they were physical, whether they
were sexual, whether they were romantic. What is the conclusion
you've you've come to in terms of James's relationships with
his male favorites and George in particular.

Speaker 3 (17:07):
Well, I think what i'd say about that, And obviously
I've been thinking about it a lot, and when I
was involved in this production as historical consultant, we have
these extraordinary conversations about what the nature of the intimacy
was between George and James. You know, they had their
own reading of that situation.

Speaker 2 (17:27):
Well, television is always more dramatic than history.

Speaker 3 (17:32):
Yeah, it's not only that it has to be more dramatic.
It has to really physically show you what's going on.
You know, you can't.

Speaker 2 (17:39):
I mean, you can.

Speaker 3 (17:40):
Obviously be a little bit euphemistic about it. Bedroom Dawes
can close at vital moments, but that clearly isn't the
way things go at the moment when it comes to
historical drama. So I just should make it absolutely clear.
I love the scripts, I love the people who worked
on it, and I'm really pleased with what they did

(18:00):
with it. But thinking of this historically, if there's this
key to it, in a way, it's a series of
letters which were helpfully drawn together into an edited so
there was an edited edition of these letters published by
an American academical bergerom called King James and the Letters

(18:23):
of homo Erotic Desire, and it is a really good
piece of academic work because he's dug into the letters,
you know, the references that the letters make to people
and places and so on are explored. But they also
because they're in a collection, and because when I first
encountered this, I just read it through from beginning to end.

(18:43):
It's an extraordinary collection. Now, if it was a collection
of letters between a man and a woman, I think
you would just take it as read that this was
a romantic, intimate sexual relationship. I don't think you would
start to fret about whether or not it was sexial
in nature. The complication is obviously that this was the

(19:04):
same sex relationship and it was being conducted in a
period when, as we see it now, they were much
more you know, homophobic, whatever term you want to use
for it. That's where I think it gets tricky. And
from my perspective as somebody who sort of researched it
and thought about it, I think part of the problem

(19:25):
is us we assume that the past is always slightly
more in terms of sexual relationships and politics and that
sort of thing more regressive than as you further you
go back, It's like homophobia just escalates, gets worse and
worse and worse. Although any number of those sorts of
things considered to be wrong. Now that's to use a

(19:50):
anachronistic concept. I think, to try and think about what
was going on now. I'm the romantic in the sense
that I do think romance love is something that's probably
common through various centuries of history. I keep, as it were,
running into it when I'm writing and researching and writing

(20:11):
the people I write about, But then I consider myself
a biography. I'm always sort of looking for that kind
of thing.

Speaker 2 (20:17):
But how those.

Speaker 3 (20:18):
Relationships form and what form they take is if you
look at it through contemporary eyes without bearing in mind
what was going on at the time, you kind of
lose the picture of what could be happening, what sort
of relationship it could be. And so if you think
about that time, we're thinking about a time when you know,

(20:40):
gender fluidity, if you like, was something that was much
more a part of life. I mean, you've only got
to think of Shakespeare. Every Shakespeare played I had men
playing boys and men playing women.

Speaker 2 (20:54):
In some of James's letters, I believe even calls George wife.

Speaker 3 (20:59):
Yes, yes, did He made this plea to George. After
James lost his wife Anne of Denmark the Queen, he
wrote this extraordinary letter to George asking him to be
his wife, and George reciprocated with very loving letters back
to James. Now, obviously there's a power dynamic here. For example,
a lot of the criticism, if that's the word of

(21:21):
people from people, particularly in the past, of portraying James
as in inverted commas gay or homosexual, and I'm putting
them in perverted commas because those for concepts would be
nothing to people who lived in that period. I mean,
they just wouldn't know what you were talking about. The
idea of sexuality wouldn't have made any sense to them.

(21:41):
But anyway, so one of the objections to painting their
relationship as being sexual was because of the sodomy laws
of the time and James's support of those laws. But
there were sodomy laws, they weren't They weren't anti homosexual
laws or same sex relationship laws. They were very specific

(22:04):
about a very specific physical act, a bit like rape law.
And I think partly they're because of concerns about power
relations and about how men abusing boys and so on.
Obviously there are biblical prohibitions against men lying with men,
as to use the terminology of the Keith James Bible,

(22:28):
of course, But again I think to read that through
contemporary eyes, assuming that this is evidence of basically being
sexily regressive in some way, that wasn't you know, that
wasn't the preoccupation. The preoccupations were in all sorts of
different directions and concerns, with all sorts of different issues,

(22:50):
theological and otherwise. So I think James could happily have
an intimate sexal relationship with another man without that without
him thinking that he was breaking really many taboos. I mean,
sexual acts themselves were taboo in the sense you didn't
do them in public, you didn't talk about them in public,

(23:12):
things like that. That more or less applies now that
the idea that the same sex relationship itself was something
that he had to particularly hide or was particularly concerned about,
or that it's particularly controversial even to consider. I think
that's to look at it through an anachronistic lens.

Speaker 2 (23:34):
I think that's so well said. Especially I've read some
people that talk about because for someone who doesn't know
much of history, they might hear King James and only
associate him with the Bible. And he was married with
I believe seven children with.

Speaker 3 (23:49):
Not all the three yeah, not all.

Speaker 2 (23:52):
The survivors survived. But you know, had had clearly a
sexual relationship with a woman. But I agree with you
that I don't think, in my opinion, the reading feels
like it wouldn't have precluded a romantic or sexual relationship
with men as well.

Speaker 3 (24:08):
The thing is is what I loved about it was
the romance. It was a very romantic relationship at least
particularly for James, and James for me, emerges from this
story as a fascinating, really fascinating character. And I have
said to Chap who played him in Mary and George
Tony Curran, I had a long discussion with him before

(24:30):
he started out on this production. It was a big
you know, it was a massive amount of work for him.
Six months or so they were filming, and he did
point out after he'd been filming for a couple of
well maybe a couple of months, I can't remember, but
he said, when I went to the set one day
and he said it was nice to be able to
talk to me with some clothes on. He you know,
it was it demanded a great deal of this actor,

(24:53):
and I think Tony did an amazing job of it.
I'm not sure that everyone picks it up, having you know,
look took the aftermath of the show and some of
the reviews, which is a shame. Not everyone kind of
sees what I saw. But then, of course I'm seeing
something seeing it from a very particular perspective. But I
think he pulls out the subtleties of a very very

(25:16):
interesting historical character who is bizarrely almost completely absent from
our historical record as a significant figure. I cannot understand
why that's the case. You know, we've all heard of
Henry the eighth and Elizabeth, but why James the first

(25:37):
sixth isn't up there with the sort of the big
names of British monarchy. I have no idea.

Speaker 2 (25:45):
I just have to say I also love Tony kran
I have loved him from the episode of Doctor Who
where he plays Vincent van goh So anyone who has
seen that episode of Doctor Who, it's the same wonderful actor.
Back to George, this close relationship with the king leads
to a I will say, meteoric rise in court. I believe.

(26:09):
Is this correct? He's the first non royal family member,
or the only non royal family member at the time,
to become a duke.

Speaker 3 (26:19):
Yes, dukedoms were generally for members of the royal family,
and that's still the case. Actually, but there were some
other dukedoms I shouldn't, you know, pretend they weren't. I mean,
for example, the Duke of Norfolk, the Howard family. They
were not. They didn't have direct they had links to
the royal family, but they're very remote. So there were
dukes around who weren't members of the royal family, but

(26:40):
nobody had been made a duke for the best part
of a century. Elizabeth First didn't make any of her
courtier's dukes. She made some lower you know, earls, for example.
She made no one a duke, and in fact, had
she done so, that would have changed the shape of
her reign because it implied in some way, I suppose,

(27:02):
because she was childless, that the person she promoted to
that position was in line for the throne. Even so,
you know, it carries a lot of weight, that title.
And indeed, during George's time when he was made duke,
which was around the time well in the midst of
this amazing escapade, him and Charles hairing off through France

(27:24):
to Spain to try and capture the the hand of
the Infanta, the Spanish princess. He was made due then,
but it immediately aroused rumors that he was aiming to
seize the throne. His enemies certainly thought that that was
a possible motive. In any case, it was the most
extraordinary promotion, and it was something that elevated the Villiers

(27:50):
family to a social rank that even Mary, who had
this very high opinion of her social position, a true
who if you like, or natural social position, even she
couldn't have imagined that happening. And she became a countess.
It's a special title. It was one that James basically
bestowed on. It wasn't heritable, but it was one he

(28:12):
just thought, I'm going to make you a countest. I
think you're such an amazing woman. Here's a countess ship.

Speaker 2 (28:18):
So with Mary becoming a countess, she also gained incredible
access to the King. George obviously has sort of unprecedented
access to the King's person. Your book is called the
King's assassin. Can you sort of walk us through what
you've determined about King James's illness and then death with

(28:39):
regards to George and Mary. Yeah.

Speaker 3 (28:42):
So there's two controversies surrounding what I wrote about this.
One of them is, you know, to just accept that
George and James had a sex of relationship. But the
other one is that George and Mary were somehow involved
in James's death. I'm slightly puzzled by both controversies. What
I don't say in the book is that George and

(29:04):
Mary definitely killed James. There's no way of knowing that
that though, is not, as I see it, the issue.
So I first encountered these two when I was researching
another book called The Herbalist, about a sort of a
completely different figure. He was a sort of a radical
from the Civil War pier called Nicholas Culpepper. His nemesis

(29:28):
was a doctor called William Harvey. Brilliant doctor incidentally discovered
the circulation of the blood, for example, changed the course
of medical history, you could say. But William Harvey was
at James's bedside in his final hours, alongside him with
these two figures, Mary and George, and I thought, who
on earth are they, and then they started to interfere
in the King's care in what was being in the

(29:49):
medicines dispensed to him. Now, what we do know from,
among other things, actually spies that were in the King's
court at the time who had that somehow had access
we don't know their names, but who had access to
the king's bedside and saw what was going on. So
these were people who were reporting back to their spymasters
back in Catholic Europe what was going on. So we

(30:12):
know something was going on, and what seemed to be
going on was that Mary and George decided to apply
a medicine that their own apothecary, Mayor's apothecary to be specific,
had mixed up as a plaster and potion in James's
final hours while he was ill with what was diagnosed
fairly familiar disease at the time, malaria, because malaria was

(30:34):
endemic in England. Then having dismissed the royal doctors from
the King's bedside and then subsequently trying to force them
to sign a declaration to say they had agreed to
the dispensing of this medicine to James. Having done all
that leading to James having a series of fits and dying. Now,
he was weak, he was ill. He was not that old,

(30:55):
but he was aging, and he you know, he could
have died of natural causes. But soon after his death
the rumors started to spread that they had poisoned him.

Speaker 2 (31:07):
On paper, it's a little suspicious, but impossible to convict
based on based on the circumstances.

Speaker 3 (31:13):
Yes, absolutely, but I mean it would be more or
less impossible to convict anyone of any poisoning at that time,
because of course there's no forensic evidence to be had,
and that's not the point. The significance of this is
the impact it had subsequently, because the House of Commons
set up essentially a sort of secret committee that interviewed

(31:35):
the doctors and asked them what had happened, and they
used it in order to draw up a case against George,
because by this stage the Parliament, which had once hailed
George as Saint George on horseback, the great champion of
the people, had turned against him because of his involvement
with Charles, and it poisoned. They may not marry and

(31:55):
George may not have poisoned James, but what they did
poisoned relationships between parliament and the king. The new king,
Charles the First, and even when Charles was arrested by
parliamentary forces, so Charles tried to all without Parliament for
a period basically of two decades or over two decades.

(32:17):
And the upshot was that Parliament went to war with Charles.
That was the Civil War.

Speaker 2 (32:22):
They Charles the just for any listeners, Charles the first,
James's son after James died.

Speaker 3 (32:29):
Exactly who inherited the throne here When James died, Charles
eventually lost to Parliament and was arrested, and one of
the charges brought against him was that he was involved
in the death of his father. So that rumor had
been rumbling around through throughout that period, and I think
that's the aspect of it that makes it so important historically.

(32:53):
And the roots to that was when George and Charles,
this was when James was still alive, when they went
to Spain to try and see if Charles could marry
the Infanta, the Spanish king. That would have changed the
geopolitics of Europe. In an instant England, which had been
a sort of hostile Protestant power, James had tried to

(33:14):
regularize relationships between Britain and Spain that would have secured
it if that had happened. It didn't happen, and George
has sort of tactically decided, well, if you're not going
to support that, we'll turn against you. James wasn't prepared
to do that. When James died, he was conveniently out

(33:35):
of the way and him and Charles, who subsequently married
a French princess, could pursue a policy of antagonism towards Spain.
And that's what George did. It didn't go well, it
went very badly. In fact, George was not a terribly
good tactician, you could argue, but he was a really

(33:57):
interesting politician, and he tried to set up a kind
of Northern Protestant cluster of nations hostile to Catholic Europe.
And when I was researching this, Brexit was underway though,
the British referendum which led to the decision to leave

(34:19):
the European Union, and in a sense George was a
sort of proto brexiteer, you could argue. He thought that that,
you know, Europe should be more open, more Protestant, it shouldn't,
you know, cow taw to the Pope and to the Habsburgs,
who were the royal sort of the royal dynasty that

(34:39):
ruled Catholic Europe. He thought that that that there should
be a challenge to that. America was bound up in
this Jamestown and the founding of Jamestown was during this period.
It was seen as part of this sort of Protestant
this new Protestant order, and one way or another, George
was at the heart of this. That's why he's a

(35:00):
much more significant figure than maybe we really appreciate him
to be. And that's why a really chunky piece of
scholarship exploring his life and politics is something we need.

Speaker 2 (35:15):
One thing I found actually a little touching is that
relationship between George and Charles. Obviously, George had this intimate
relationship with Charles's father, but the age gap between George
and the son Charles is much closer. And once Charles
becomes king, he really not I feel a little bad

(35:38):
making this one, but sticks his neck out again and
again for George and protects him. I find that very touching.

Speaker 3 (35:45):
Yes, they start off as antagonists because Charles Charles, when
James is still alive, Charles is feeling neglected by his father,
and he makes a couple of attempts to actually get
George into trouble, and James sticks by George at Charles's expense,
and George turns it around. He actually he actually stages

(36:07):
a kind of banquet, he calls it the Friend's Banquet
or something like that, which to which he invites Charles
and lots of other sort of leading members of court
to patch up the relationship. And then that's followed up
by then it's just the two of them and about
two others in support who ride across France to Madrid,

(36:28):
across the Pyrenees, the mountain range that separates France and Spain,
on to Madrid and turn up at the doorstep for
the English ambassadors, frightening the living daylights out of the
port chap because they had no idea that this was
going to happen, and putting the entire sort of future
of the Kingdom at stake in that maneuver, and they

(36:50):
just they're glued together from then then on, and that's
why you know, the poisoning thing comes up. Subsequently, Charles
was at Theobalds, the country retreat where James fell in
and died. During that time, and so that's why there
was suspicions surrounding Charles that he was plotting with George

(37:13):
and Mary, and George stood by him until George was assassinated. Well,
actually that in itself is an interesting question, but by
one of the naval personnel who claimed he hadn't been paid.
But George was assassinated, and that, in a sense is
one of the first things that leaves Chiles so marooned

(37:35):
politically that civil war is too strong to say it
at that point would have seemed inevitable, but certainly seemed
more likely.

Speaker 2 (37:44):
I would say, I've already kept you and I'm so
grateful for your time. But before you leave, just one
more quick question. George had this incredible rise, but he
would die fairly young and fairly tragically when he was assassinated.
Can you speak to that just a little bit.

Speaker 3 (38:04):
Once Charles was on the throne, George decided to throw
everything at trying to sort of carve out himself a
role for himself as a kind of military leader of
the Protestant cause. So there was this big tension geopolitically speaking,
between the Protestant countries kingdoms, mostly of Northern Europe, but

(38:27):
very crudely and the Catholic countries of southern Europe, and
he wanted to try and build an alliance actually out
of countries that Protestant countries in the north of Europe.
And he embarked on a number of military campaigns to
do this, and one of them one involved in an
attempt to try and actually go and support of Protestants
in Spain and France with two two missions, and they

(38:50):
went very badly wrong and he was heavily defeated. And
also by this stage under Charles, the regime was running
short of money because these military oppers are very expensive.
Sailors who had been press ganged into taking part in
these expeditions were going unpaid. And there was one of
these figures called the figure called John Felton, who met

(39:13):
George when he was acting as Admiral of the Fleet
and had gone to Portsmouth and had gone to an
inn called the Greyhound. John Felton came up to him
and essentially stabbed him to death. And that assassination sent
shock waves through the entire court because it would it

(39:34):
was going to change everything basically in terms of the
power dynamics of the of Charles's court and his body
was brought back. His mother was still alive. She was
there to receive the body when it was brought back
to London. And, as I suppose, the last gesture of
the sheer ambition of this rise to power of the

(39:55):
Villiers family, he ordered the most spectacular, arguably spectacularly vulgar
memorial to George, which was took up a whole side room,
so to speak, of the royal part of Westminster Abbey.
In other words, he was buried among the kings and
queens of England and Britain, probably the biggest and gaudiest

(40:18):
memorial of all. Ironically, James is also buried there, but
there's now a plaque, but there was no memorial to him.
There wasn't even a plaque when he was interred in
Westminster Abbey. So those who go to Westminster Abbey can
see George in all his magnificence, and if they just
pop over to the other side of the chapel, they
will also see his mother lying alongside his father, the

(40:41):
one who died when he was young, making her claims
to being the offspring of five rulers of Europe.

Speaker 2 (40:49):
They made it all the way to Westminster.

Speaker 3 (40:51):
Abbey, they did in Stile.

Speaker 2 (40:55):
Thank you so much. This was fascinating to any listeners.
I highly recommend watching the television series wherever it is streaming,
wherever you geographically are located. Thank you again so much.
What a privilege.

Speaker 3 (41:08):
Thank you, It's been great.

Speaker 2 (41:11):
Noble Blood is a production of iHeartRadio and Grimm and
Mild from Aaron Manky. Nobel Blood is hosted by me
Danish Forts, with additional writing and researching by Hannah Johnston,
Hannah Zewick, Courtney Sender, Julia Milani, and Arman Cassam. The
show is edited and produced by Noemy Griffin and rima

(41:35):
Ill Kali, with supervising producer Josh Thain and executive producers
Aaron Manky, Alex Williams and Matt Frederick. Four more podcasts
from iHeartRadio visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever
you listen to your favorite shows.
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