Charles Xavier Imagine
Studying in university with Charles Xavier would include awkward jokes, long conversations about mutations and occasional drinking in cosy bars. No matter how drunk he would be he’d always take you home. He would blush when you hug him goodbye. He would read your mind and answer on your question before you even ask one. He would always pledge not to do this but he’d never keep a promise. He’d tell you some complicated science comparisons instead of normal complements. You’d play chess together and of course he would always win. Sometimes he would modestly glance at you. He would read you up for examinations and reduce your stress and anxiety before them. In case of need he would get into your head on actual test to help, but he’d always remind you later to revise better next time. You would secretly watch him studying. Instead of talking in the evening he would read you biology textbook to sleep.
What do you think is the likelihood that Richard II of England was queer?
Short answer: Possibly yes, but most likely asexual if anything.
Longer answer: Have some Thoughts on the ways in which we construct historical “queerness” and standards of proof (this also serves excellently as a post for Queer History Friday thank you very much) and emotional relationships vis a vis sexual ones, especially in the limited medium of medieval chronicles.
To start, Richard was only 10 years old when he became king (his father was the Black Prince, who died in 1376, and his grandfather was Edward III, who died in 1377) and he died when he was only 33 ( b.1367-d.1400), so he was quite young during all of this time. Even during the 1387-88 crisis with the Lords Appellant, which set the stage for the troubles that basically ended his reign, he was only 20 years old, so it’s pretty understandable that a young man would turn to wise older courtiers for experience and advice. This was especially the case because Richard had three powerful and full-grown uncles, led by John of Gaunt (whose son, Henry Bolingbroke, would later depose Richard and become Henry IV). They were definitely viewed as a possible threat to the throne (as was usually the case with primogeniture, when an underage son of an eldest brother got the heirs and honours and the other brothers missed out) and a regency council was quickly established in hopes of giving Richard a power base away from them. But the English people deeply mistrusted these councils/councillors, and that discontent led to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, the first major crisis of Richard’s reign (he was only 14). In the aftermath of that, there was continued shuffling around as to who had the effective reins of government and who had influence and so forth. So there was plenty of environment for an ambitious man to get close to the young king and influence/try to win his patronage and trust.
According to rumour, his [Richard]’s closeness to Lord Robert and his deep love and affection for him was not without some taint of an obscene relationship, and Lord Robert’s fellow nobles and barons spoke in whispers of their indignation that so mediocre a man should aim at so high an office, seeing that he had no nobility of birth or endowment of other virtues that might rank him above the others.
While Walsingham’s work is one of the major and indeed only sources we have for some events in mid-to-late 14th century England, he definitely had a few axes to grind (against John of Gaunt, Henry IV, and others, as well as to some degree Richard himself) and furthermore, all this proves is that jealous rivals of de Vere’s had no trouble suggesting that he and Richard must be having a sordid affair. This is very understandable given that Richard’s great-grandfather, Edward II, had also had male favorites (Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger) who he had extensively relied upon and given honors seemingly above their station (and as I have discussed in some other posts, 14th-century England was ABSOLUTELY OBSESSED with class/station. It was the be-all and end-all of their lives, including dictating how they were allowed to behave and what clothes they were allowed to wear; the heretical/religious reformer group, the Lollards, and their leader, John Wycliffe, mocked this with their famous couplet “When Adam delved and Eve span/Who then was the gentleman?”) Furthermore, Edward II was absolutely having affairs with Gaveston and then Despenser, and he had been forced to abdicate (as indeed Richard II was later deposed) and this memory was definitely the first thing that would come to mind for the question of whether a 14th-century English king was once more too dependent on and attached to male favorites.
Jean Froissart, a French chronicler, describes Michael de la Pole in his Tales as a sort of Iago/Wormtongue figure giving Richard bad advice, but doesn’t seem to think there was anything scandalous about their relationship per se:
But in one night, Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk who at that time was the heart and sole council of the king, and in whom he placed his whole confidence, undid the whole business. I know not what his intentions were for so doing; but I heard afterwards, he should say to the king, “At, ah, my lord, what are you thinking of? You intend then to follow the plan your uncles have devised. Know, that if you do so; you will never return, for the duke of Lancaster wishes for nothing more earnestly than your death, that he may be king. How could he dare advise your entering such a country in the winter? […] Take care of your own person, you are young and promising; and there are those who profess much, but who little love you.“ (ch. 173).
As noted, Froissart was French, therefore not intimately familiar with the inner workings of the English court, and the takeaway here seems to be that de la Pole, supposedly warning Richard against the treachery of his powerful uncles, steers him into a military disaster instead. He describes de la Pole as “the heart and sole council of the king” but again, doesn’t feel the need to intimate anything else. (Which, although the French got along fairly well with Richard II after the endless wars of Edward III, Froissart would probably do if that was there for the bad habits of an English king to be remarked upon.) Furthermore, both de Vere and de la Pole were definitely into women: de Vere caused a scandal by divorcing his wife, Richard’s cousin, and marrying one of the queen’s bedchamber attendants instead (so yes, powerful people have always had affairs with the nanny, apparently) and de la Pole had eight children with his wife. As we like to remind folks around these parts, Bisexuality Exists, so obviously, both of them having affairs/fruitful marriages with women would not necessarily preclude some kind of strategic sexual liasion with Richard, especially if questions of power or career advancement were involved. But given that the only source on this is the hostile hearsay passed along by Walsingham, aka that de Vere’s enemies were happy to accuse him of deviant sexual behavior with the king in the model of Edward II’s scandals, I am less inclined to think so.
Furthermore, Richard’s relationships with both of his wives were emotionally close and loving. His first wife, Anne of Bohemia, married him in 1382, when they were both about 15. They quickly became devoted to each other and she was known for her influence on him. What is now known as the Crown of Princess Blanche may have been made for her, and she appears alongside Richard in the Liber Regalis, a book possibly made for her coronation service and which still mostly functions as the order of service for major royal ceremonies. Anne’s death in 1394, probably from plague, absolutely devastated Richard, to the point he ordered the manor where she had died torn down. The Historia Vitae et Regni Ricardi IInotes this and memorialises her warmly:
Hoc anno, die 7 mensis Junii, die viz. festo Pentecostes, apud Shen Anna, Regina Angliae, diem suum clausit extremum. Propter quod Rex, ejus mortem dolendo, illud nobile regiumque Manorium solo prosterni fecit. […] Sepulta est cum maxima solennitate in Ecclesia Westmonasterio, in die Sanctae Annae sequente, cujus festum ut Ecclesia Anglicana solennius celebraretur ista Regina et Domino Papa impetravit. (p.126)
I can’t be arsed to do a full word-for-word translation, but the sense of the passage is that Anne died on the 7th of June, near Pentecost, and that Richard in his grief ordered the manor where she died to be destroyed. She was buried at Westminster with full solemnity and feasts and commemoration from the English church, and from the Pope. The chronicler goes on to praise her kindness and her piety, as Anne came from Bohemia and was not popular at first because Foreign, but had won over the people with her charity and mercy. We see this also in Richard Maidstone’s Concordia, a verse epic detailing Richard II’s reconciliation with the citizens of London in 1392, in which Anne’s intervention was pivotal. Multiple passages are devoted to praising Anne’s beauty, her love for Richard and vice versa, and her moderating effect on him:
The queen is able to deflect the king’s firm rule,
So he will show a gentle face to his own folk.
A woman soothes a man by love: God gave him her.
O gentle Anne, let your sweet love be aimed at this!
A queen can, for her people, speak the words that please -
None but a woman can do what no man would dare.
When fearful Hesther stood before King Assuer’s throne,
She brought to naught the edicts that the king had
For this, no doubt, almighty God gave you to be
A partner in this reign, a Hesther for the realm.
At his command she stands. “What, Anna, do you seek?”
He asks. “Just speak, and your desires will be
“Sweet king of mine,” she said, “my man, my strength, my life!
Sweet love, without whom life to me would be like
Therefore, Richard and Anne’s devotion to each other can barely be questioned, but nonetheless, they had no children. (They are now buried jointly in Westminster, and Richard had ordered their effigies to be carved holding hands.) Jeffrey Hamilton suggests (p.190) that the marriage may not have been consummated (though I’m not sure on what evidential grounds, and unfortunately a page is missing in the e-version so I can’t get his full argument). (See my followup discussion of the deep unlikeliness of a fully chaste marriage here.) Furthermore, when Richard did remarry in 1396, it was to the seven-year-old daughter of Charles VI of France, Isabella of Valois, in an attempt to make a peace treaty. The youth of the bride was brought up as a potential stumbling block in negotiations, but Richard essentially replied that he was fine waiting (he himself was still only 29) and that wasn’t a problem. He then proceeded to befriend the seven-year-old girl, visit her often at Windsor, make funny conversation with her, and otherwise be genuinely decent to a young girl in a foreign country, and he’s not recorded as having any mistresses or illegitimate children that we know of. So even if he was married to a young girl, he a) treated her respectfully and kindly and like a friend, and b) apparently didn’t have the need to go elsewhere for sex. For her part, Isabella adored Richard, so much that she flatly refused a remarriage, after being widowed at the age of 10, to Henry V, son of Richard’s usurper Henry IV. It’s fair to say that she probably wouldn’t have if he mistreated her.
So as ever, this has gotten long, but yes. This is why I am inclined to suggest that if anything, Richard II was probably ace. He had close and loving emotional relationships with both men and women (and as I’ve also discussed a bit, emotional/romantic male friendship was a thing in the medieval era, especially as related to knights and chivalry, in a way that would be considered homoerotic today). However, his political difficulties and probable personality disorder ended up getting him deposed, and he didn’t have any children even though he and Anne loved each other very much and were married for 12 years. He was also fine marrying a young girl for political reasons, but was not very interested in/fine with waiting for any possible sex, and instead actually treated said child well and kindly. The accusations (and as ever, it is “accusations”) of homosexuality come from hearsay hostile sources, and Walsingham is, as far as I know, the only chronicler to suggest it (in comparison to the numerous pieces of chronicle evidence in many different places that discuss the queerness of Richard I). Which as I said above, makes sense given that Edward II had been brought down by reliance on (sexual) male favorites, and it was an easily available paradigm to critique the resented influence of Richard II’s male favorites.
In terms of “Probably Asexual/Ace-spec Historical Figures,” moreover, there is almost no way to prove it, since the underlying assumption (as @extasiswings and I were chatting about) is that all people must be having sex with someone, and the “default” for this sexual expression is het/straight sex. Richard II was by all appearances biromantic, and emotionally close to members of both genders, but it is less clear if that translates to sexual relations with either.