James VI and I

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James VI and I, who has been described as “the most effective ruler Scotland ever had,” takes his two numerical titles from his reign there and in England, the fusion of which created the kingdom of Great Britain. He was an intellectual who penned several books, lent his name to the King James Version of the Bible, and played the rivalries of Scottish family factions against each other to consolidate power. His ambitions and belief in absolute monarchy justified by divine right made him unpopular in England, culminating in first the gunpowder plot and then the rebellion against his son. Although historians disagree on James’s homosexuality or bisexuality, the favoritism he showed to several male courtiers did nothing to help his case.

 

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Julie d’Aubigny

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Julie d’Aubigny, or – as she called herself – Mademoiselle Maupin (La Maupin for short), was a scoundrel straight out of a swashbuckling tale. Originally a child of the French courtly life, her father trained her from an early age in the usual arts befitting a woman of her standing: dancing, reading, art, and…fencing. She took to the latter so well that soon after marrying she struck out on her own and took up dueling in the streets as a way to make a living, adding singing to the act as an extra draw for the crowds. After numerous escapades she was approached by the Paris Opéra and hired as a contralto, which only shifted her occupation from singing-while-stabbing to stabbing-when-she-wasn’t-singing.

On the rare occasions when d’Aubigny was occupied with neither singing nor stabbing she kept herself busy with love affairs. In one comical incident she took a nun’s initiate vows in order to sneak into a convent and abscond with a woman who had been sent there precisely to remove her from d’Aubigny; in another, she stabbed a nobleman in the shoulder during a duel and then, after visiting him in the hospital, became his lover. She would often dress as a man, but judging by more in-depth writeups there does not seem to be evidence that she did so for any reason other than amusement.

Although her biography was an obscure one for several centuries, in recent years the internet has taken an interest in d’Aubigny’s life. For a lengthy account of d’Aubigny’s escapades, read here; for a more humorous one, try here.

Philippe I, Duke of Orléans

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To understand the Duke of Orléans, watch this video and pay attention to the man doing most of the singing. Although the conventions of musical theater exaggerate the scene somewhat (witness the actors soaring on strings), Philippe himself was an accomplished dancer and socialite who charmed the court of his elder brother, King Louis XIV – somewhat ironic, as his relatives had gone to great lengths to avoid just such competitive popularity, including restricting his access to funds and encouraging his homosexual proclivities, to the point where the local Cardinal set him up with his nephew.

Even outside the realm of the landed gentry Philippe excelled, winning several major battles as a commander (though he reportedly gave in to boredom at one point and retreated to decorate his tent), and investing in the arts and engineering. Through his investments he founded a powerful and wealthy line that came to rival – naturally – his brother’s, even seizing power for a time in the 1800s.

Although he is now popularly known as “Monsieur,” the title was not a nickname exclusive to him; instead, it referred to a younger brother of the reigning king. When he was born he was called “le Petit Monsieur,” signifying that his uncle – “le Grand Monsieur” – was still alive and the brother of the then-living king.

 

Benedetta Carlini

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Sister Benedetta Carlini was well on her way to becoming a saint when her canonization was derailed by an affair with either Jesus or a fellow nun. She had all the signs of sainthood going for her: stigmata, visions, even an alleged death and resurrection, all diligently inspected by Church officials. The various internet accounts of her downfall vary widely, but a New York Times book review gives the most complete summary, adapted from Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy.

As an extension of the traditional view of nuns as brides of Christ, Carlini staged an elaborate wedding between her and the Son of God, with one of her fellow Sisters as a stand-in. During the ceremony she allegedly spoke with Jesus’s voice, proclaiming herself “empress of all the nuns.” Her hubris, combined with the sexual relations she had with aforementioned fellow nun, were enough for the Church to declare her visions the work of the Devil rather than God, and to have her detained in her convent for the remaining 35 years of her life.

How Carlini’s story is interpreted depends on the religious beliefs of the reader as well as historical fact. From a Christian viewpoint it is not necessarily impossible for Carlini’s miracles to have been authentic, which puts a very different spin on her affair with the other nun. She is listed here as a lesbian because it is the closest term available, though the term defies the historical context that encouraged elaborate miracles and legitimized sexual relationships with Christ.

Sir Francis Bacon

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Sir Francis Bacon, a 17th century English intellectual, was so prolific and influential that, even if the dubious claims that he was the real Shakespeare are true, penning theatrical masterpieces would have been one of his lesser accomplishments. How he would have found the time between proposing judicial reforms credited with forming the backbone of the Napoleonic Code and modern common law, (possibly) drafting the charters for the Virginia colony, completing enough books and treatises that Wikipedia has assigned them their own page, and establishing methods of induction and parallel philosophical arguments to support them that led to the empiricist movement (and arguably the industrial revolution), while simultaneously running himself into financial ruin by holding civic positions that didn’t pay well enough to cover the bills, is a mystery for the historians.

Bacon’s sexuality is a matter of some debate among scholars, though considerable evidence does exist that points to him being, if not gay, at least fond enough of his young Welsh serving-men to cheat on his wife with them. A fellow member of Parliament quoted the following delightful couplet in his diary, footnote and all:

“‘Within this sty a *hogg doth ly,

That must be hang’d for Sodomy.’

(*alluding both to his sirname of Bacon, & to that swinish abominable sinne.)”

Bacon’s own writing on the subject was markedly less crude: “Although nuptial love maketh mankind, friendly love [between men] perfecteth it.”