Premiering on Starz in the US from tonight (Friday 5th April), Mary & George is set to take viewers on quite the journey through the Jacobean era.


It's the history lesson you may not have been expecting, but is nonetheless fascinating, as we dive deep into the unbelievable story of Mary and George Villiers.

Not happy with her standing in society, Mary engineered a plot for her handsome son George to seduce King James - but it's not all fine and dandy in the land of complete power.

Led by Julianne Moore and Nicholas Galitzine (Red, White & Royal Blue) as the mother and son, the pair chatted exclusively to and teased "tragedy" to come.

Moore said: "I think, as we move through time, we watch them both kind of ascend in terms of where they are in this particular society."

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Galitzine added: "I think as the story goes on, their intentions and outcomes kind of darken and become maybe more tragic in some capacity, without trying to ruin anything."

And if you think it's too good to be true, Mary & George is actually based on real-life historical events - derived from Benjamin Woolley's The Fatal Affair of George Villiers and James I.

For a full account, you can purchase the book on Amazon or from a local bookseller of your choosing. But for a short overview of some of the biggest questions the series raises, read on.

Mary and George true story: Shocking history explained

Was King James VI and I really gay?

Laurie Davidson as Earl Somerset and Tony Curran as King James in Mary & George.
Laurie Davidson as Earl Somerset and Tony Curran as King James in Mary & George. SKY UK

The sexuality of King James VI and I has been the subject of debate for a long time.

During his life, jokes and rumours about his homosexuality were common, due largely to how he surrounded himself with handsome, young men, whom he quite openly kissed, wrote about lovingly and shared a bed with.

An opposing view, that these so-called 'favourites' were just good friends and that 'masculinity' was expressed differently in those days, has become less prominent in recent years.

Some historians, such as Michael B Young, suggest that it was partly fuelled by society's negative attitude towards same-sex relationships in the 20th century, with these biases no longer clouding the evidence to the same extent.

Publicly, King James condemned what was then known as 'sodomy' (ie the act of anal sex), which was used by some historians to counter claims of his own homosexuality.

However, Young noted that King James's excessive alcohol consumption and swearing exposed him as a hypocrite, while there's also a chance that he felt the rules of the time simply didn't apply to him. The phrase 'do as I say, not as I do' comes to mind.

Therefore, modern historians tend to believe that King James VI and I was either bisexual or homosexual, with his fathering of eight children with Queen Anne of Denmark and likely sexual relationships with his male "favourites" suggesting the former.

Who was Mary Villiers, Countess of Buckingham?

Julianne Moore standing in a traditional Jacobean era dress and hat, which is covering her face in black netting.
Julianne Moore as Mary Villiers in Mary & George. Sky

Mary Villiers came from the noble Beaumont family, but her standing in the upper classes of early modern Britain was far from assured – which is why she went to great lengths to shore it up.

After her first husband, Sir George Villiers, died in 1606, she found herself on the brink of financial ruin, hatching a plan to work her way back into a world of opulent wealth.

That relied heavily on her second son, also named George, who she sent to the English Court, having likely heard of the king's widely rumoured interest in handsome, young men.

Sure enough, he went on to become one of the king's "favourites", which lifted the Villiers out of their economic peril and gave them considerable influence over the running of the country.

What was King James and George Villiers' relationship like?

George lying on the floor next to King James
Nicholas Galitzine as George and Tony Curran as King James in Mary and George Sky

In just over a decade, George Villiers climbed the ranks of the royal court to become King James's closest advisor.

He used his influence to benefit himself and his family, with this corruption narrowly avoiding formal punishment but making him an unpopular figure among the court – but importantly, not with the king himself.

On the contrary, King James proclaimed to love Villiers, the duke of Buckingham, "more than anyone else". However, in a bid to quash rumours of homosexuality, he instead compared their relationship to that of Jesus Christ and his disciple, John.

King James told his Privy Council in 1617: "I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had John, and I have George."

How did King James IV of Scotland and I of England die?

Tony Curran as King James in Mary & George sitting at a banquet table filled with food, resting his elbow and looking out.
Tony Curran as King James in Mary & George. Sky

During the last years of his life, King James VI of Scotland and I of England suffered from various medical conditions and was frequently unwell with teeth loss, arthritis, gout, and kidney stones - all likely worsened by alcoholism.

As James became a more remote figure, George Villiers focused his attention on being the favourite and mentor of James's son, Charles, instead.

In 1625, the King's conditions worsened and he suffered fainting spells and from an infection of malaria preceded a stroke.

A violent incident of dysentery followed and James died at the age of 58 on 27 March 1625 with George at his bedside.

Did George kill King James VI and I?

Nicholas Galitzine as George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham with longer hair in Mary and George
George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham did not kill King James. SKY TV

No, George Villiers did not kill King James, although there were accusations of a potential poisoning in the weeks following the monarch's death. These were ultimately dismissed.

The king suffered poor health for some time leading up to his demise, with arthritis, gout and kidney stones thought to be just some of the conditions that plagued him.

Ultimately, he passed while suffering dysentery, mere weeks after a case of tertian ague (a form of malaria) and a stroke, which had left him severely weakened.

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Mary & George is available to stream on NOW and will air on Starz in the US from Friday 5th April. Find Sky deals here.

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