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- Background and ascent to court
- Political life
- Assassination and death
Let’s know more about George Villiers!
- George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, was an English courtier, statesman and patron of the arts. Well-known for his physical attractiveness and elegance, he became the favourite and possibly the lover of James I of England, which helped him to rise quickly through the ranks of nobility. Despite a patchy political and military record, he remained at the height of royal favour in the early years of Charles I’s reign, until a disgruntled army officer assassinated him in 1628. Today, he is buried in Westminster Abbey, next to the tomb of James I.
Background and ascent to court
- Born on 28 August 1592 in Brooksby, Leicestershire, George Villiers was the son of Sir George Villiers and Mary, daughter of Anthony Beaumont of Glenfield. At a young age, he was sent to France to be educated for court life. Generally an excellent student, he learnt to dance, fence and speak a little French. He was well-known for his physical attractiveness and elegance.
- At age twenty-one, Villiers was introduced to the court of James I in August 1614.
- Intense lobbying by opponents of the king’s favourite Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, secured his appointment as Royal Cup-bearer.
- From 1615, he started to appear as a dancer in masques, which allowed him to show his grace of movement and beauty of body in order to gain royal favour.
- In addition to participating in masques, he commissioned portraits of himself as a means of manoeuvring for political and court advancement.
- Under the patronage and affection of James I, he rose quickly through the ranks of nobility.
- In 1616, he became the king’s Master of the Horse, and then he was promoted to the peerage as Baron Whaddon, Viscount Villiers.
- He was made earl in 1617, appointed as Lord High Admiral in 1619 and eventually elevated to Duke of Buckingham by 1623. In fact, the dukedom of Buckingham was recreated for him.
- This position enabled him to become friends with the heir to the English throne Charles, Prince of Wales.
- As the favourite and possible lover of the king, he was able to retain the king’s passionate support until the end of the latter’s life.
- Under James I, he used his influence to enrich his relatives tremendously and improve their social positions.
- This ruined public opinion towards him.
- On 16 May 1620, Villiers married Lady Katherine Manners, daughter and heir of Frances Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland, despite the objections of her father.
- The couple had four children: Mary (1622), Charles (1625), George (1628) and Francis (1629). His second son was born after his death.
- Villiers first played an important role in politics when he was Lord Admiral and Foreign Minister. He later launched wars against foreign nations.
- In 1623, he accompanied Charles to Spain in order to negotiate the prince’s marriage with the Infanta Maria Anna, the youngest daughter of the Spanish king Philip III.
- This trip allowed him to strengthen the relationship and trust with the future king.
- The negotiations were long, but Villiers’ behaviour is believed to be the cause of the negotiations’ failure.
- In fact, the Spanish ambassador asked Parliament to execute him for his behaviour in Madrid, but Villiers gained popularity and support by calling for war with Spain on his return to London.
- In 1624, he was then sent to France to request the hand of Princess Henrietta Maria, daughter of Henry IV, on behalf of Charles.
- However, the princess’ Catholic faith provoked the English population’s disapproval.
- During this diplomatic mission in France, Villiers courted Queen Anne of Austria, which resulted in his expulsion and caused animosity from Louis XIII and Cardinal de Richelieu.
- Villiers’ luck improved when the Prince of Wales was crowned Charles I of England on the death of James I in 1625. Despite his failures, he was kept in office due to his close friendship with Charles I.
- In 1625, Villiers organised an expedition against Spain with the intention of seizing the treasure fleet.
- An Anglo-Dutch fleet under the command of Edward Cecil attacked the Spanish city of Cádiz.
- The expedition failed because the English troops were poorly equipped and underprepared, which allowed Spain to resist the attack.
- In May 1626, Parliament tried to get rid of him, but the king, in order to prevent the expulsion of his protégé, dissolved Parliament in June.
- In 1627, as England was drifting toward war with France, Villiers negotiated with the French regent, Cardinal Richelieu.
- The English ships were supposed to aid Richelieu in his struggle against the Huguenots (i.e. French Protestants) in exchange for French assistance against Spain.
- Such aid never materialised and instead, Villiers personally took command of an 8,000-man force to relieve the port of La Rochelle, a Huguenot stronghold under attack by French government troops.
- However, after a four-month campaign, his shattered army was forced to withdraw.
Assassination and death
- Charles I twice rescued Villiers from impeachment by Parliament. However, Villiers’ unpopularity continued to soar, and he was widely viewed as a public enemy.
- While preparing for a second expedition to La Rochelle on 23 August 1628, he was assassinated by John Felton, a naval lieutenant who believed that the death of Villiers would serve the good of the country.
- He was stabbed in the Greyhound Pub, a tavern in Portsmouth.
- The populace of London rejoiced at the news and acclaimed Felton as a hero.
- Felton was hanged on 29 November and his body was taken to Portsmouth for public display.
- Villiers was buried in Westminster Abbey.
- He was the first person not belonging to the royal family to be buried in Westminster.
- His tomb is next to James I.
Key Facts And Information