“…it would please God to give me the grace to make it
apparent to you how great is the fidelity
which is engraven within my heart, which will last eternally…”
– Esme Stewart, 1st Duke of Lennox, in a letter to James, 1581.
It was not what I expected, crossing the channel to his court –
for this quivering boy to grip me with a hunter’s courage.
I promised to forget my titles, leave my land and children.
For him I changed the way I spoke with God. My prayers
once floated, chanted on incense smoke, now replaced
with purest psalms sung solid and strong as pinewood pews.
And when they took him from me, sent me back to a life no
longer my own, his was still the only worship I knew. In my
heart, beneath sinew and skin, I have held every moment
with my king: the winding of his arms around my shoulders
reversing time, secret laughter from his lips to mine, bounding
as a hound on the chase between us in his bedchamber. When
death arrives to take me, open the casket of my ribs, remove
this heart, with all its secrets and devotion, dry it with mint
and myrrh and wrap it in linen. Send it home to Edinburgh.
He has long days left to live; let my promise linger with him.
This is from a pamphlet-in-progress of mine, which is half historical poems and half modern fictional ones. The historical side concerns the life, beliefs, and relationships of King James VI & I. He was widely known for loving men as well as women, from his teens until the day he died (in my opinion there doesn’t need to be a debate about his sexuality – being bisexual is valid). This is a poem from the perspective of Esme Stewart, 1st Duke of Lennox, an older cousin and nobleman from France who caught the young king’s eye almost immediately. Esme converted from Catholic to Presbyterian to prove his devotion to James, but the king was imprisoned by Scottish nobles following the Ruthven Raid in 1582, and Esme was returned to France. He died in 1583, still devoted to James. The epigram is from a letter Esme sent to James professing his sincerity, and after his death, his embalmed heart was sent home to the king.
Kate Garrett is a writer, editor, history lover, heritage volunteer, occasional folk percussionist, and folklore obsessive, among other things. Her writing is widely published online and in print, most recently in Up the Staircase Quarterly, Rogue Agent, After the Pause, and others. She is the author of several pamphlets, and her first full-length collection The saint of milk and flames was published by Rhythm & Bones Press in April 2019. Born and raised in rural southern Ohio, Kate moved to the UK in 1999, where she still lives in Sheffield with her husband, five children, and a cat. She can be found at kategarrettwrites.co.uk and on Twitter at @mskateybelle