So ended Long Live Queen James! – our ‘Jacobean drag-show in Polari’ at Banqueting House in February earlier this year. It was the first in our Palace Pride series of events across Historic Royal Palaces - celebrating the LGBT+ stories in our palaces’ histories. We’re doing this in 2017 to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts in England and Wales. Next up are events at the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace.
The name Queen James comes from a 16th century popular saying “Elizabeth was King, now James is Queen”. Throughout his life King James I had a series of male “favourites” – his closest companions on whom he bestowed titles, wealth and influence. Whilst these relationships were likely sexual, they were based on more than just this – on love, power, affection and friendship too.
They took place at a time when sexuality was defined more by the acts in which people took part – rather than how people identified themselves or were defined by society.
To explore this fascinating (and surprising fluid) historical perspective on sexuality, we worked with playwright Mark Ravenhill and performance artist Scottee who co-devised the evening’s performances. These featured queer cabaret and live art performers Ginger Johnson, Lasana Shabazz, Nando Messias and Rubyyy Jones.
Whilst these shows told the stories of the 16th and 17th century relationships, much of the language was Polari, the secret language used by many gay men before decriminalisation in 1967 – and mixed elements of contemporary queer culture too. The finale was a mass lip-synching serenade to the dead King – all to the tune of I Know Him So Well, of course…
Working with these incredible artists to create this new work really cast a whole new perspective on these historic stories – and allowed us to tell them in a more raucous, risqué and frankly fabulous way. As one of the audience remarked on Instagram, “Banqueting House has seen many queens but, I suspect, few like this.”
The evening also included talks from historians on portraits of the King’s favourites and cross-dressing crazes and early feminism - as well as musical performances by Liam Byrne playing the Viola da Gamba, an instrument James himself played. We even had Grindr profiles designed for the favourites which seemed to go down well – “No portrait, no chat” demanded the Earl of Somerset.
The Palace Pride series continues in May with ‘Pride, Power and Politics: a tour of the Tower’s LGBT+ histories’ and then on to Hampton Court Palace in July for ‘Pride at the Palace: discover Hampton Court’s LGBT+ stories’. And we’ll finish the season off by taking part in the Pride in London parade for the second year running – proudly walking behind our banner which proclaims “Celebrating 1,000 years of kings, queens and in-betweens”. Please dig out your tiara and come and join us!
Tickets for both of these can be booked here.
Historic Royal Palaces is an independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle. Our aim is to help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built.
Words by Tim Powell and Danny Parlour