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Here's What Sex Was Like At The Court Of Different British Monarchs

Updated May 2, 2019 1.6k votes 478 voters 49.8k views11 items

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The sex lives of kings and queens have been the subject of scrutiny and scandal for centuries. The Tudor period alone runs the gamut, from the highly sexualized court of Henry VIII to that of his daughter, the "Virgin Queen," Elizabeth I. Extramarital relations at the British court was accepted - or even encouraged - by some monarchs, but it was punished severely by others. 

Whether it was rolling around with a Restoration actress à la Charles II, or non-stop marital romping in the royal boudoir like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, each English monarch had a private life that still fascinates and titillates to this day. And the way monarchs' private preferences inflected their broader courts doesn't disappoint the curious modern reader, either.

  • Photo: Victoria / PBS

    Sexy TL;DR: Victoria and Albert set a standard in their private lives that, had it been known, would have been enviable for married couples the world round. But there was also an extremely repressive side to sexuality in the Victorian Era beyond the staid manners typically associated with it. 

    Homosexual acts were banned in 1885. Though a popular legend claims that lesbianism was not condemned because the queen "could not conceive how women could find other women attractive," in reality the issue was never brought before Her Majesty. 

    The Longer Story: The Victorian era is known for sexual repression and prudishness, especially for women. The court of the queen was concerned with presenting the appearance of propriety and order, but Queen Victoria herself was a bit more open about her sexual appetite. Queen Victoria wrote about her first night with Prince Albert after their wedding in 1840, sharing the same bed and lying together in the dark. Victoria enthusiastically claimed

    I NEVER, NEVER spent such an evening! MY DEAREST, DEAR Albert sat on a footstool by my side, and his excessive love and affection gave me feelings of heavenly love and happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before. He clasped me in his arms, and we kissed each other again and again! His beauty, his sweetness and gentleness,—really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband! Oh! This was the happiest day of my life!

    By this point in the 19th century, the tradition of attendants being present for the couple's first night together had gone out of practice. Victoria's first days as a married woman were full of sensual moments with her new husband, and, given the times, her expressions of sexuality are surprising.

    It's not entirely unlike Victoria, however, who wrote excitedly about when she first spotted her future husband "in his white cashmere breeches with nothing on underneath.” When her doctor cautioned her about having a child at the age of 38, she complained, “Am I not to have any more fun in bed?”

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      George III's Court Was Family-Focused

      Sexy TL;DR: George III's reign and his court were pretty boring compared to rulers who came both before and after him. His Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue, and for the Preventing and Punishing of Vices, Profaneness, and Immorality of 1787 condemned immorality and depravity, making it pretty clear what the king and his reign were all about. 

      The Longer Story: King George III was brought up under the tutelage of his mother, Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. His royal duties often got in the way of pursuing the romantic relationships he wanted, writing in his youth, "I am born for the happiness or misery of a great nation, and consequently must often act contrary to my passions."

      Nonetheless, after he became king, George III married Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1761. The couple had 15 children together, and remained faithful to one another throughout their lives; George never took a mistress. George, his family, and his favorites spent their time at Kew Palace in "domestic simplicity" between bouts of mental illness, likely worsened by arsenic poisoning, and relative confinement to Kensington Palace. He still holds the record as the longest-reigning king of England, serving a total of 59 years and 96 days. 

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      • Photo: Aristocrats / BBC

        Sexy TL;DR: Some scholars look at 18th-century England as a moment of sweeping change with regard to how people conceptualized sexuality and gender, which is encoded into some of the adults-only content written during the period. The authors of George II's court played no small role in this.

        The Longer Story: George II married Princess Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach in 1705, and the couple had nine children. George, who had an "official mistress" for 25 years, was "passionately in love with his wife, the fat, funny and adorable Princess Caroline," and preferred her presence to that of other women. It was said that when his father perished, George had to be torn away from a love-making session with Caroline to be told.

        George's official mistress - Henrietta Howard - was Caroline's own Woman of the Bedchamber. Courtiers believed that Charles took Henrietta as a mistress "rather as a necessary appurtenance to his grandeur as a prince than an addition to his pleasures as a man," but she was also witty, intelligent, and the king cared for her. Howard was also liked by literary contemporaries, including Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Although she never wielded any large influence at court, she left her legacy at Marble Hill House, a Palladian villa built especially for her. Its design inspired architects around the globe. 

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          'Anything Goes' Was The Motto At The Court Of Charles II

          Sexy TL;DR: Known as the "merry monarch," Charles became king after the English throne was restored in 1660. He had spent his youth in exile, womanizing practically every step of the way. Once back in England, King Charles brought playfulness and pleasure to court, even keeping Colonel Condom, the inventor of the condom, close at hand.

          The Longer Story: King Charles II had a lot of mistresses and a lot of illegitimate children, setting the tone for a bawdy court rife with hedonism. 

          During her relationship with Charles, Barbara Villiers produced six illegitimate children, all of which Charles accepted as his own, despite that her youngest daughter was probably not his. Villiers, described as "a woman of great beauty, enormously vivacious and ravenous; foolish but imperious," was both feared and envied at court due to her influence. 

          Another one of Charles's lady friends, Nell Gwyn, was a professional actress. After she took up with the king in 1669, she became a regular source of entertainment for the royal court. The wit, beauty, and comedic ability she demonstrated both onstage and off continued to earn her notice and even helped her maintain her popularity with the public

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