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King James and Letters of Homoerotic Desire Hardcover – 31 Jul 1999


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 242 pages
  • Publisher: University of Iowa Press (31 July 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0877456690
  • ISBN-13: 978-0877456698
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 16.5 x 24.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,180,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 Jun. 1999
Format: Hardcover
First and foremost, the letters between King James and his three male "favorites" are fascinating. Even the little, unintended cultural insights are interesting, for instance, that "gossip" meant godfather, that "Steenie" is short for Stephen, or that the king of Spain had given James an elephant as a gift.
With the author's help in establishing the king's difficult passage into manhood, and his piety as a Christian primitivist, as well as his love of literature--ditto for the gripping biographical sketches of the king's "sweet hearts"-- one cannot read some of the more beautiful passages without being profoundly touched. There is the time James wrote to George Villiers, Marquess of Buckingham, that "for protest to God I rode this afternoon a great way in the park without speaking to anybody and the tears trickling down my cheeks, as now they do that I can scarcely see to write. But alas, what shall I do at our parting?" Or on another occasion, "I had rather live banished in any part of the earth with you than live a sorrowful widow's life without you."
Other times the content is more "saucy," to use Villiers's term. A good example is his own letter to the king: "All the way hither I entertained myself your unworthy servant with this dispute, whether you loved me now ... better than at the time which I shall never forget at Farnham, where the bed's head could not be found between the master and his dog. ...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Penn on 13 Nov. 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book concisely explains and details James' homoerotic inclinations in a manner which is accessible, entertaining and thought-provoking. It is rare that one is able to find books on such subjects which were commonly thought of as 'taboo' at the time, and so this book can be considered to be the figurative jewel in a haystack. I found the excerpts from letters sent between James and Buckingham to be very interesting, as this material seems to be unavailable elsewhere. It really gives an insight into the lives of the men and has helped me extensively with my research into the Stuart period leading up to the English Civil War.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 2 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
An impressive documentary history 26 Jun. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First and foremost, the letters between King James and his three male "favorites" are fascinating. Even the little, unintended cultural insights are interesting, for instance, that "gossip" meant godfather, that "Steenie" is short for Stephen, or that the king of Spain had given James an elephant as a gift.
With the author's help in establishing the king's difficult passage into manhood, and his piety as a Christian primitivist, as well as his love of literature--ditto for the gripping biographical sketches of the king's "sweet hearts"-- one cannot read some of the more beautiful passages without being profoundly touched. There is the time James wrote to George Villiers, Marquess of Buckingham, that "for protest to God I rode this afternoon a great way in the park without speaking to anybody and the tears trickling down my cheeks, as now they do that I can scarcely see to write. But alas, what shall I do at our parting?" Or on another occasion, "I had rather live banished in any part of the earth with you than live a sorrowful widow's life without you."
Other times the content is more "saucy," to use Villiers's term. A good example is his own letter to the king: "All the way hither I entertained myself your unworthy servant with this dispute, whether you loved me now ... better than at the time which I shall never forget at Farnham, where the bed's head could not be found between the master and his dog. ... --Your majesty's most humble slave and dog, Steenie"
The letters come from the manuscript collections of the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and so on, where Bergeron saw and transcribed from holographs, correcting occasional mistakes or intentional glosses from previous historians who have from time to time cited or published versions of these letters, or mentioned them in an embarrassed footnote. The letters have not been otherwise previously collected in such a topical form.
Bergeron does careful work as a scholar; that this does not translate into equal achievement as a writer is okay. Perhaps more seriously, though, are a few puzzling lapses, such as his use of a secondary source for an important speech by King James to the Privy Council in 1617, and the fact that the abbreviated footnote does not have a corresponding bibliographic entry, but again, I'm willing to overlook minor distraction for the strengths the book demonstrates. After reading it, I only want to read more by Bergeron.
Oh, by the way, I suppose that no one needs to point out the obvious implications for fundamentalist Christians: those who (1) use the King James Bible only, and allow no other biblical translation, and then (2) use the same Bible to theologically bludgeon homosexuals. This further reminds me that if there are any fellow Mormons out there, you will want to know that the letters refer to Apostle Boyd K. Packer's seventh-great-grandfather John Packer, who was the "patronage secretary" of King James's lover, Duke Buckingham--according to corroborative data in Donna Smith Packer's book, "On Footings from the Past: The Packers in England" (self-published by the Boyd K. Packer family, 1988, 488 pp.). Although Donna doesn't mention that Buckingham was in love with the king, but she does mentions that John Packer was forty years old when he married. What's my point? Well, maybe just that it's a small world. Enjoy the Bergeron book.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating, but a bit esoteric 2 July 2000
By Richard Harrold - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I write this review from the perspective of one who is interested in reading about the history and documentation of same-sex love, but who is not an academic, a linguist, or has any special interest in the history of literary styles. I offer this explanation because while this book is tremendously fascinating in its historic and biographical material, it at times lost my interest when going deeply into literary interpretation and syntactic analysis. For example, the first chapter on the history and style of writing love letters, or "letters of desire" as the author coins it, I found uninspiring and difficult. However, it does lay the groundwork for the author's study of James' letters.
Having said that, I nonetheless found the book extremely informative, both about James' life and how his contemporaries viewed his life.
The first section covers James' association with Esme Stuart who became the Duke of Lennox. What was of particular interest to me was the fact James was just 13 years old and Stuart 37 when they first met. The description of their first meeting makes it unmistakeable to the reader that the two had indeed fallen in love. The biographical information on how the church leaders and other politicos involved in James' life broke up the relationship was extremely interesting and saddening. But the reader shouldn't interpret these actions as purely coming from the realm of the church's "condemnation of homosexuality." Because there was no such thing at the time as "homosexuality." That was a term and a concept that wouldn't be coined for another 200 years. Rather, the condemnation was over "lying with a man as though a woman." Because of James' young age, it is quite possible that he had taken the submissive role, or that his advisors presumed that he was taking the submissive role. What really happened we don't know. But if the king were in a submissive role, then Stuart was having an undo influence over the young king. Having the king taking the role of a woman would have been blasphemous.
This notion is given further support during the chapter discussing the king's relationship with George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. In one of the king's letters, he refers to Buckingham as not only his "dear son" and the king the father, but also as "wife" and the king being "husband." In one letter, Buckingham writes: "my thoughts are only bent of having my dear Dad and master's legs soon in my arms." This phrase also suggests that Buckingham took the submissive role in his relationship with the king.
Which fits in naturally with the culture of the times. Both James and his "favorites" married and sired children, as the king saw marriage and raising a family an obligation to be joyfully fulfilled. And throughout Renaissance Europe, it was acceptable for a man to play the dominate (top) role during sexual relations with another male, with the submissive generally being younger because it was then excusable for the youth to be a bottom because he was in a submissive role anyway because of age.
It is also made clear in the book that James' other advisors disapproved of his relationships with his favorites not so much because they viewed the physical relationship as being immoral, but because of James' lavish endowment of titles and gifts, and consequently power to his favorites. The book does reveal critics, both contemporary and later, of the king's behavior who found the intimacy of these relationships unseemly and even "disgusting." And it is amusing to read how some of these critics eschewed discussing in detail the nature of the relationships.
In all it is a good book, but for the general reader of the history of same-sex relationships, it may be a bit troublesome and slow to plod through. For example, if I read the book at night while in bed, I usually fell asleep after just one page. If I read it in the morning, then I could read upward of a dozen or so pages.
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