It’s February, which means it’s LGBTQI+ History Month! This focus on LGBTQI+ history, the history of gay rights and related civil rights movements occurs every year, and is an important month of education and celebration.
Nottingham Castle is proud to support LGBTQI+ communities. We’re keen to shed light on the LGBTQI+ stories that are woven into the Castle’s history, not only this month, but throughout the year.
Read on to discover more, and keep your eyes peeled for more stories shared this month and beyond.
William and John
William Neville was Constable of the Castle from 1381 to 1388. William had a strong bond with fellow knight and poet Sir John Clanvowe, as commented upon in contemporary chronicles. The two men were inseparable, and even went on a pilgrimage to the holy land together. Evidence allows us to speculate that the two were engaged in a ‘wedded brotherhood’ – a form of union, often between those of the same sex, which are seen by some scholars as an early form of same sex marriage or civil partnership. John’s poetry often mentions love between men, and has been interpreted as the work of an early gay writer by experts.
William and John are also buried together. John sadly died when on pilgrimage and, distraught with “such inconsolable sorrow that he never took food again”, William died two days later.
Their tomb, at a church in Constantinople, shows their helmets facing towards each other (possibly a sign of kissing), with their two families’ coats of arms ‘impaled’, as was usual for married couples.
To celebrate William and John’s story, Isaac, a graduate designer from Nottingham Trent University who worked with us as part of the #Grads4Nottm scheme, created our ‘Pride Knight’, pictured here.
Piers Gaveston and King Edward II
Piers Gaveston was also a constable of Nottingham Castle during the 14th Century, and it is often suggested that he was the lover of King Edward II. Gaveston was the son of one of Edward’s father’s household knights, and the two struck up a friendship as teenagers. A contemporary chronicler wrote of them: ‘upon looking on him [Gaveston] the son of the king immediately felt such love for him that he entered into a covenant of constancy, and bound himself with him before all other mortals with a bond of indissoluble love, firmly drawn up and fastened with a knot.’. The two are also depicted as a couple in Christopher Marlowe’s play “Edward II”.
Piers and Edward remained close even after Edward became king himself and was married to Isabella of France. The very first charter passed in his reign was to grant Gaveston the Earldom of Cornwall – which wasn’t a smart move, angering many of the country’s more powerful earls. This also ultimately led to the death of Gaveson, who was condemned to death for treachery, and executed in 1312. Edward was left humiliated and grief-stricken. This humiliation was also the first step on the road that led to Nottingham Castle being the scene of a coup by Edward’s son (also Edward, this time III) against his mother and her lover Roger Mortimer. But that’s another story, for another time!
Pride at the Castle
Nottinghamshire Pride began as ‘Pink Lace’ in 1997, a volunteer-led festival that showcased LGBT+ groups and organisations, and celebrated the community, with stalls and live music on Nottingham’s Broad Street.
In its second year, 1998, the festival grew – and moved to the Castle grounds. This meant that there was space for more people, more stalls, more music – and more celebration! It was such a success that Pink Lace was held at the castle again in 1999, growing bigger yet again.
By this point, the volunteer organisers decided to pass the baton to ‘Nottinghamshire Pride’, and it was also decided to move the festival away from the Castle grounds.
Flying the LGBTQI+ Flag at Nottingham Castle
The rainbow flag is raised every year at Nottingham Castle for LGBTQI+ History Month and IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia). You may have seen it proudly raised above the Ducal Palace in past years.
We’re excited to continue this tradition when we reopen to the public this year.
Zanele Muholi’s “Faces and Phases”
We are proud to hold 11 portraits by South African photographer Zanele Muholi (they/them) in our collection from the series Faces and Phases (2006-present). The series captures black lesbian, trans and gender non-conforming South Africans through powerful black and white photographs.
The series is deeply personal, as the sitters are often friends of the artist. The photographs empower the sitters to present themselves to the world as they would like to be seen. There is also a political angle to the series, as Muholi considers themself a “visual activist”, and sees the act of mapping and preserving the presence of the LGBTQI+ community as one of resistance against oppression and the threat of violence. Faces and Phases is a response to the absence of black LGBTQI+ people in South Africa’s visual history through documentation and the power of portraiture.
Of the 11 portraits, 2 are of sitters who have passed away. The series memorialises their loss and celebrates their life.
The series will allow us to build on our collection’s existing history of protest and rebellion – giving a global perspective on this, as well as a focus on the discrimination and violence faced by the LGBTQI+ community.
Find out more about Muholi’s work here. The portraits were acquired for us through the Contemporary Art Society and the Frieze Collection Fund.