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Who was the real King James VI from Mary & George and is his character accurate?

 King James VI in Mary & George and a real portrait of the King.
King James VI in Mary & George and a real portrait of the King.

King James VI is a key character in Sky Atlantic's new TV series, Mary & George, but is this portrayal true to life?  

James VI of Scotland and I of England was a historical figure who reigned over both countries from 1603 until his death on March 27th, 1625. The new series, Mary & George, focuses on a mother and son duo Mary and George Villiers who are played by Julianne Moore (May December) and Nicholas Galitzine (Red, White & Royal Blue) and their relationship with King James VI played by Tony Curran.

The story suggests that the King was romantically entangled with many men outside of his marriage and suggests the King's reign was ruled by his infatuation with different suitors. But how accurate is this? Here's what you need to know about the real King James VI...

mary & george
mary & george

Who was King James VI?

King James was James VI in Scotland as the sixth King with this name to rule Scotland and I in England as the first King named James to rule England.

The King was the son of Mary Queen of Scots who was forced to abdicate in favour of her son James VI who was just one year old at the time.  She was then held prisoner for 18.5 years and was then beheaded for plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth I of England.

When Elizabeth I died without an heir, he succeeded as the King of England, making him the King of both countries, an event known as the Union of the Crowns.

James VI died at the age of 58 in 1625. Through his marriage to Queen Anne, the couple had three children who survived to adulthood, Henry Fredrick, Elizabeth, and Charles. After their son Henry died of typhoid fever at age 18, their youngest son became King Charles I of England.

James VI died from several health problems after suffering from kidney stones, gout, arthritis, and dysentery in his final years. He finally died of a stroke while in Hertfordshire on a hunting trip. He was far less healthy than he appears in the TV series, reportedly had lost all of his teeth in his lifetime and was a heavy drinker. He was buried in Westminster Abbey under the alter in London.

mary & george
mary & george

How accurate is King James VI in Mary & George?

The show creators at Sky described King James's character in the show as someone who was 'exploited by tyrannical lovers'. The description read, "Capricious and unpredictable, James is never happier than when he's either drinking, hunting, feasting, or fucking. Being King is a burden for James."

"Though, when he cares to show it, he can be a shrewd political operator. But James’ desire to be loved makes him happy to put himself in the power of ambitious and beautiful young men, where he risks the danger of being exploited by tyrannical lovers," the description concludes.

But how accurate was this?

King James VI
King James VI

Several accounts from historians suggest that the King was involved in romantic relationships with men from his court. Historian Michael B. Young described the King as, "the most prominent homosexual figure in the early modern period." He was known to have many 'male favourites' as historians called them. These favourites  included, the King's first cousin the 1st Duke of Lennox, the 1st Earl of Desmond, and the Earl of Somerset.

Additionally, love letters from James to George Villiers were discovered. Per History Learning site, in one letter the King wrote, "I, James, am neither a god nor an angel, but a man like any other. Therefore I act like a man and confess to loving those dear to me more than other men. You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here, assembled. I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had John, and I have George."

George Villiers
George Villiers

It was also said by many historians that the King was openly affectionate towards George and commentators and poets of the time would joke about their relationship. In a 17th-century poem by Théophile de Viau, a line from the poem Au marquis du Boukinquan, reads, "And it is well known that the king of England / f**ks the Duke of Buckingham."

Historical sites, also reveal that the King had a secret passageway between King James VI's bedroom and George Villiers chambers. This was discovered in the 20th century and further evidences a romantic relationship between the pair.