The Gay Lionheart

Many gay men are keen on the idea that Richard I Lionheart was “gay”. There are two reasons for this: a reference in the chronicles that is arguably misinterpreted by those ignorant of medieval customs, plus some other circumstantial evidence, such as his delay in getting married and the absence of a legitimate heir. The other and weightier reason is that he is regarded as a Hero King, a positive role model – a “Good Thing”, as 1066 And All That might put it. Since homophobes often suffer from the peculiar misapprehension that homosexuals must of necessity be wusses, making this ferocious warrior into a gay icon is a potent counter-move.

Had the trick been done with a courageous and brilliant general who really was gay, it would be an admirable riposte to the ignorant. Unfortunately there are several problems with using Richard for this purpose: first, the evidence for his homosexuality is actually rather weak. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t, and failing a time-machine, we cannot tell. Second, while his military vigour is beyond reproach, there are grounds for considering him an inferior ruler. Were Richard to be universally regarded as a “Bad King,” one wonders whether the gay campaigners would be so eager to claim him. Third, there is slightly more evidence that his great-great-uncle William Rufus was homosexual, but no one is interested in him as an icon. He has gone down in popular history as a “Bad King,” despite the fact that he was no worse a ruler than Richard and probably a good deal better.

The way in which such icons are selected and manipulated for the purpose is shown by John Boswell’s amazing reference to the undoubtedly homosexual Edward II as a great warrior, despite the fact that one of the three things for which he was famous was getting routed by a ragtail mob of Scots at Bannockburn. What we thus have is a circularity: “X was great, so he has to be gay” and “X was gay, so he has to be great”.

Posted on May 20, 2011 at 10:32 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: GETTING MEDIEVAL, Jews, Cathars, Gays And Witches

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