The real story of the scheming, social-climbing mother and son who seduced a 17th-century king, as shown in new drama 'Mary & George'

The real story of the scheming, social-climbing mother and son who seduced a 17th-century king, as shown in new drama 'Mary & George'
  • "Mary & George" takes viewers inside the raucous 17th century court of Britain's King James I.

  • The series focuses on the sexual power-plays of a mother and son in the royal court.

  • Together, the duo became the monarch's closest advisors.

"Mary & George," Starz's latest steamy drama, tells the outrageous story of one of history's most committed "momager."

Long before Kris Kardashian helped build a $1.7 billion empire in the aftermath of her daughter Kim's sex tape scandal, there was Mary Villiers (Julianne Moore), who molded her son, George (Nicholas Galitzine), into a sophisticated sexual weapon to gain social standing and political power in the court of Britain's King James I (Tony Curran).

Together, the duo became the monarch's closest advisors and were given the lofty titles of Countess and Duke of Buckingham. But, as the seven-part historical drama series, which began airing on April 5, shows, it took a lot of scheming for the mother-son duo to get to the top — and stay there.

'These two people were just playing the game that already existed'

While "Mary & George," which is based on Benjamin Woolley's 2017 biography "The King's Assassin: The Secret Plot to Murder James I," takes some liberties with the historical record, it paints a largely accurate portrait of the court of England's James I (and Scotland's James VI) and the constant jockeying for power among his courtiers.

Nicholas Galitzine as George Villiers in "Mary & George."
Nicholas Galitzine as George Villiers in "Mary & George."Starz

As the series depicts, George Villiers rose from minor, down-on-their-luck gentry to the first person not of royal blood to be given a dukedom. He was the second of Mary Villiers's four children with her husband, the elder Sir George Villiers. Sensing her son's preternatural charm and appeal early on, Mary spent what little money she had after her husband's death on sending him to France to be educated in dancing, fencing, and the general good manners needed for a courtier's life.

George returned to England in his early 20s and soon captured the king's attention — just as Mary had planned.

Speaking to Business Insider, D.C. Moore, the creator of "Mary & George," said that the "lack of pearl-clutching from Mary over what's she doing" drew him to this largely unexplored part of British history.

"It was common at the time to put hot young men in front of James in order to try and lure him and try and get a new favorite in place," he continued. "It was the game of the age. So these two people were just playing the game that already existed."

James already had a male favorite in his court at the time, a Scottish noble named Robert Carr, who held the title of Earl of Somerset and quite a lot of power thanks to the king's affection for him.

Laurie Davidson as Robert Carr and Tony Curran as King James in "Mary & George."
Laurie Davidson as Robert Carr and Tony Curran as King James in "Mary & George."Starz

As well as Mary, others would benefit from George replacing Carr as the king's favorite, according to another royal historian, Alan Stewart. As he wrote in his biography of King James I, money was raised by Carr's opponents to purchase George a new wardrobe and secure him a position as Royal Cup-bearer.

George soon supplanted Carr in the king's esteem. After Carr and his wife were implicated in a poisoning and imprisoned in the Tower of London, George cemented his position as the king's favorite with a promotion to Master of the Horse in 1616. The next year, he was made Earl and, in 1618, promoted to Marquess of Buckingham, then finally, in 1623, Duke of Buckingham.

Sexual or platonic? The nature of King James and George Villiers's relationship is debated

While historians have debated the nature of the relationship between James and his favorites, there is evidence to suggest that James and George enjoyed a romantic bond together, and possibly a sexual one too.

In a letter to George sent in 1623, the king ended with the salutation, "God bless you, my sweet child and wife."

Tony Curran and Nicholas Galitzine in "Mary & George."
Tony Curran as King James and Nicholas Galitzine as George Villiers in "Mary & George."Starz

In an undated message to the monarch, George reminisced about a night spent at Farnham in Surrey, where he wrote that the two men lay so close together that "the bed's head could not be found between" them.

According to the BBC, the restoration of one of the king's residences in the early 21st century revealed a previously unknown passage linking rooms belonging to James and George.

While Tony Curran, who portrays King James in "Mary & George," said that he believed George used his "sexual currency" to rise through the royal court, he also felt convinced that there was a genuine connection between the two, that may have even been love.

"I think his relationship with George was was one of was one of friendship, of respect and ultimately of love," he said. "There was tenderness there, but George was also someone he could lean on politically as well."

The three people in the room during the death of King James

Until James died in 1625, George was the king's constant companion and closest advisor, enjoying control of all royal patronage.

He married in 1620 to Katherine Manners, the daughter of the Earl of Rutland and one of the wealthiest heiresses in Britain. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the advantageous match was another of his mother's schemes; she forced Katherine to spend a night in the same house as George, which cast doubt on her honor and left her with no choice but to marry George to protect her reputation.

Nicholas Galitzine as George Villiers in "Mary & George."
Nicholas Galitzine as George Villiers in "Mary & George."Starz

Mary also benefited from George's elevated position; following the death of her second husband, she traded up to a richer husband and became a regular fixture at court.

When James I died at age 58 following a bout of malarial fever, both George and Mary were by his beside, according to Woolley. The pair are said to have sent for their own doctor, turning away royal physicians, applied poultices to his body, and even gave him poison they tricked him into believing was medicine.

Also in the room was James's son and heir, the future King Charles I, who colluded with George to ensure his ascendancy to the throne.

"No one was in that room other than those three people," Moore told BI. "There is some level of dramatic license that we've taken, but for me, it feels very true to the spirit of how Mary and George lived their lives."

Unsurprisingly, once Charles took power, George retained his powerful position in court for the first three years of his reign until he was assassinated in 1628 at age 35.

"We're dancing around the history. There is some creation on our side but I think also we're not that far from the truth."

"Mary & George" is released weekly on Fridays at midnight on the Starz app and the Starz linear channel at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

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