Autumn 2017 edition - page 30-31

known to use his political influence to enrich his
relatives and advance their social positions. There-
fore, the physical intimacy experienced in mascu-
line friendship was not necessarily solely due to a
simple human desire for closeness and comfort – it
was influenced
by the political system at the time (although that
does not necessarily mean the men involved didn’t
have genuine feelings towards one another). How-
ever, it is hard to measure and quantify feelings
these are cases from history, it is only through ex-
amining behaviour that we can perceive indications
of homosexual conduct.
This intertwining of politics in relation-
ships is further intriguing as illustrates the nature
of romance in Elizabethan England. Both marriage
and emotional closeness were a form of political
weaponry to an extent – marriages between foreign
royal families were a key tool that could further
international relations, and almost all upper class
marriages were pre-arranged in order to advance or
sustain the family’s reputation. Romance was not
the private, personal affair it is today. Therefore,
perhaps masculine friendship was so widely ac-
cepted simply as it wasn’t perceived to be romantic
and therefore not an “abomination”. Romance and
friendship held entirely different meanings, allow
ing for these different forms of homosexual behav-
iour to manifest with entirely contrasting levels of
societal acceptance.
The examining of why the perceptions of
homosexuality were so different in early modern
England reveals an arresting truth; perceptions of
sexuality are, first and foremost, the creation of cul-
ture. The influence of politics and religion and the
view of romance serve to shape society, which in
turn shapes views of homosexuality. However, it is
the perceptions, not the behaviour that are unable
to transcend time and societal norms. As citizens
of a modern society we are able to accept the
elements of homosexual behaviour: the embrace
and expression of love is familiar to us. What is not
familiar is the way these behaviours were perceived
by society. It is true that the human desire for close-
ness and comfort is able to transcend time, yet it is
the attitudes towards this, so heavily influenced by
the politics and societal structure of the any time
period, that become only a part of history.
Jessica Matthew 12W
tional and physical closeness are characteristics we
often associate with modern day relationships, yet
both of these two men would have greatly opposed
homosexual relationships.
Furthermore, as suggested in the conclusion
of this diary entry, this practise was a largely public
one. Elizabethan society was one in which privacy
was scarce and who shared a bed with whom was
often public fact. This suggests that not only was
bed-sharing a common practise among power-
ful men, it was also accepted and acknowledged
among the rest of society. It is hard to comprehend
that a society that would hang someone for display-
ing certain aspects of a modern homosexual rela-
tionship could also advocate the public exhibition
of others, especially among powerful and respected
Aside from bed-sharing and expressing feel-
ings of love and desire, public embraces and kisses
were not uncommon either, demonstrated by the
editor of the Shepheardes Calendar in 1579: "but
that he shall be not only kissed but also beloved of
all, embraced of the most, and wondered at of the
Perhaps the most famous example of mas-
culine friendship is that between GeorgeVilliers,
the 1St Duke of Buckingham, and James I of Eng-
land (or James VI of Scotland). The King was known
for having a succession of young and handsome
favourites whom he lavished with attention and
patronage, the last and most famous of which was
Villiers. It is debated whether they were lovers, but
through examining letters they sent to each other,
it is apparent their friendship contains elements
reflective of modern relationships. For example,
in a letter to the Duke in 1623, James finishes with
“God bless you, my sweet child and wife, and grant
that ye may ever be a comfort to your dear father
and husband.” The Duke reciprocates the feelings,
replying with phrases such as: “I desire only to live
in the world for your sake” and “I will live and die a
lover of you.” These letters are evidence for mas-
culine friendship extending beyond the physical
closeness of bed-sharing, embracing and kissing;
they indicate an intense emotional closeness as
well. The monarch, the single most powerful person
in the society, engaging in this type of relationship
with another man, and the awareness of most of
the general public of this relationship, indicates a
form of acceptance of homosexuality, even if at
that period in time they did not perceive it to be
‘homosexual’ as we do today.
In today’s society, the combination of an
intense physical and emotional closeness between
men would be highly indicative of a romantic ho-
mosexual relationship. Why was it, then, that in ear-
ly modern England these aspects of homosexuality
were accepted in a largely public manner while the
sodomite was perceived as a subhuman corruption
of nature? It is through answering this question that
we are able to reveal the extent to which sexual-
ity is the creation of culture, and whether it is the
behaviour or the perceptions of this behaviour that
change most with time.
In answering the question of why some aspects of
modern homosexuality were accepted and others
rebuked it is important to understand just how dif-
ferent Elizabethan society was to ours. Pre-industri-
al revolution, hierarchical and extremely segregat-
ed, it was a different world. While the monarch was
at the physical top of the “great chain of being”,
the single entity that dictated the structure, routine
and norms of society was God. The extent to which
sixteenth society was religious is hard to overesti-
mate. And it is arguably this relentless belief in the
Bible that is a key contributor to the strangeness
of the manifestation of homosexuality. It explains
the extremity of the reactions to sodomy: a society
more excessively religious than ours would believe
more excessively in all aspects of the Bible’s script.
Because Elizabethan society was centred around
the bible, as opposed to ours centred on scientific
research and western media, it makes sense that
perceptions of homosexuality would differ consid-
In addition, physical and emotional close-
ness between men was so widely accepted because
of the political advantages that came with it. The
political system was extremely ours today, and
a primary way of gaining political influence was
through contact and closeness to men in power.
The court system is an example of this, as the
main objective was to physically move through the
rooms in order to gain physical contact with the
king. It then follows that if you could increase this
physical closeness to beyond just the court system,
you would be able to increase your political influ-
ence to beyond what an ordinary noblemen or MP
could achieve. The Duke of Buckingham became
an extremely powerful man – by 1623 he was Lord
Admiral and effective Foreign Minister, and he was
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