For much of history, LGBTQ+ royalty needed to hide their identities. Even though some societies embraced homosexuality, most refused to accept a gay monarch. But before we talk about LGBTQ+ kings and queens, let's start with the history of sexual identity.
The terms heterosexual and homosexual didn't exist until the 1860s. And until the 1930s, heterosexual meant an abnormal attraction to the opposite sex. For centuries, many societies didn't see sexuality in binary terms at all. Ancient Greeks and Renaissance Florentines took both male and female lovers. King Edward II of England openly kissed his male lover on his wedding day. And the Roman emperor Hadrian named a city after his male lover. Many kings and queens needed to keep their sexuality quiet, but others defended their lifestyle openly.
The last of the Stuart monarchs, Queen Anne of Great Britain maintained a long-term relationship with Sarah Churchill in the early 1700s. Anne wrote to Sarah, "I hope I shall get a moment or two to be with my dear… that I may have one dear embrace, which I long for more than I can express."
Anne has been called England's lesbian queen because of her close relationship with Churchill, who served as "Lady of the Bedchamber." But when Queen Anne pulled back, Sarah publicly accused the monarch of choosing another woman over her. Anne stayed above the fray, however, and remained popular through her death in 1714.
Pope Julius III ran the Catholic Church from 1550 to 1555. He also created a scandal thanks to his young male lover. Julius met Innocenzo, a 15-year-old beggar, in 1548, when Innocenzo was fighting with his pet ape on the street. The future pope swept the boy away and named him a cathedral provost.
When Julius became pope two years later, he convinced his brother to adopt Innocenzo, and later named his alleged lover a cardinal. Julius's enemies called Innocenzo "Cardinal-Monkey" and complained the boy shared the pope's bed.
Most stories about a royal's sexuality were only mentioned in secret and whispers. That's not the case for King Edward II of England, who openly showed affection for his male lover, Piers Gaveston. When Edward married Isabella of France, he showered kisses on Piers in front of the entire court.
As chroniclers wrote at the time, Edward's affection for Gaveston was "beyond measure and reason," "excessive," and "immoderate." One writer even said, "I do not remember to have heard that one man so loved another." The relationship didn't end well: Edward's barons beheaded Gaveston.
The younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, was known for being a party girl. In addition to multiple affairs, she married bisexual photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, who explained, “I didn’t fall in love with boys, but a few men have been in love with me."
Royal reporter Noel Botham claimed in his book Margaret: The Last Real Princess that Margaret had an affair with the American ambassador's daughter, Sharman Douglas, known as Sass. One of Douglas's close friends told Botham that Sass confessed to being the princess's lover in the 1950s.