George Villiers rose from obscurity to become the favourite of not one, but two kings of England. His life and perceived influence was such that he was made a principle character in Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers.
Born in 1592, a younger son of a gentleman farmer in rural Leicestershire, Villiers had few expectations in life, and was no scholar, but he did have two things in his favour: a devoted mother who harboured great ambitions for her favourite son, and stunning good looks. Naturally charming and graceful, he showed a passion for the gentlemanly pursuits of swordsmanship, riding and dancing, and this perfectly suited Villiers for life at the court of King James I.
Villiers became James’s new favourite with dizzying speed. Soon, he was wielding power and exercising patronage, and titles and honours came thick and fast. There were those at court who cultivated his friendship; others looked for ways to remove him. Villiers and James, however, remained close; but just what the true nature of their relationship and how much influence did Villiers really have over the king?
When James died - and there were those who believed that Villiers had murdered him - Charles I inherited the throne and, unusually, the favourite. Villiers exerted great influence over Charles in every area of life except, crucially, politics; however, many have seen in their relationship the seeds of the Civil Wars that shook England in the mid-seventeenth century. As favourite, it fell to Villiers to shoulder the blame for Charles’s incompetence and stubbornness, and to shield the king from the wrath of the council, the court and his subjects, and this duty would cost Villiers his life.
Villiers is often vilified as a playboy, grasping and self-serving, but this biography challenges this assessment, offering a well-rounded and eminently accessible portrait of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham as the favourite of King James and King Charles from a personal, political and military perspective.
Dr Josepha Josephine Wilkinson received a First Class Honours degree from the University of Newcastle. She was the winner of the Third Year Prize for her work on The Little Apocalypse, which placed Mark chapter 13 into its historical context, and the Jewish Studies Prize for her historical study of the community at Qumran. She remained at Newcastle, earning an MPhil for her thesis on the historical John the Baptist (as close to a biography as is possible to do); her PhD traced historical traditions and legends of John the Baptist across several cultures as well as art, literature and film.
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