George Villiers (1628-1687) was an English courtier, politician, writer and, later, the second Duke of Buckingham. His father, also George Villiers, was a favourite (and, according to some, a bisexual lover) of King James I. Villiers Senior was stabbed to death shortly after the birth of his son, who was then raised in the royal court alongside the future Charles II. Young George was sent to study at Cambridge but was bored by lectures, being spotted by Thomas Hobbes “at mastrupation, his hand in his codpiece”.
Villiers sided with the Royalists during the English Civil War, later joining Charles II in exile. He returned to England in 1657 and participated in the Restoration, serving in Charles’ court and on the Privy Council. His political career was marked by scandals, intrigues and feuds. Two notable incidents were a hair-pulling brawl with the Marquess of Dorchester on the floor of the House of Lords, and a 1668 duel where Villiers shot dead the Earl of Shrewsbury. Villiers had been having an affair with the Countess of Shrewsbury; he later caused public outrage by moving the countess into his own home and living in a virtual menage a trois.
Villiers retired from public life in the late 1670s and retreated to his Yorkshire estate. He died in April 1687. The official cause of death was pneumonia contracted while hunting in cold weather – but a letter written by Lord Arran, the future Duke of Hamilton, suggests a more colourful end. According to Arran, he called on Villiers and found him dying of gangrenous private parts:
“He told me he was on horseback but two days before… He told me he had a mighty descent [and had] fallen upon his privities, with an inflammation and great swelling. He thought by applying warm medicines the swelling would fall and then he would be at ease. But it proved otherwise, for a mortification came on those parts, which ran up his belly and so mounted, which was the occasion of his death… I found him there in a most miserable condition.”
Even though he remained conscious and alert, Villiers’ doctors gave him but a day or two to live. They asked Arran to break the news to the patient, who received it stoically. Villiers deteriorated rapidly and passed away at 11 o’clock the following night. Villiers’ body was interred in Westminster Abbey, his funeral quite a grandiose and overblown affair, given his tumultuous and controversial political career.
Having passed away without a legitimate heir, Villiers’ ducal title died with him and his estate was broken up and sold. His wife Mary died in 1704 and was interred alongside him at Westminster Abbey. Their graves are unmarked.