The Dangerous Kingdom of Love

Written by Neil Blackmore
Review by Douglas Kemp

England, 1613, and Francis Bacon travels to the royal palace at Theobalds, to be told by King James that he will be elevated to the post of Attorney General. Bacon, the writer and intellectual, narrates in the first person the slippery, treacherous life of the Jacobin courtier and politician. King James is bewitched by his lover Robert Carr, who demands payment from Bacon to stop him from poisoning Bacon in the King’s ear. Bacon develops a strategy to displace the favourite and replace him with another beautiful and irresistible youth—and finds George Villiers in a country house in Leicestershire. But Bacon bites off a little more than he can chew, and Villiers, the future Duke of Buckingham, affects Francis Bacon more than he thought possible.

This is a violent, profanity-filled narrative of the despicable nature of human ambition and jealousy—where you either use others or are used and abused yourself—a cruel theatre of hatred, convenient and temporary alliances, and treachery. While the king is obsessed with his favourite boys, Bacon who is also gay, attempts to navigate the duplicitous and dangerous waters of court life, where a wrong word or a well-placed enemy can see you thrown into the Tower. Notwithstanding his intelligence, Bacon is by no means a wholly reliable narrator. The language is a strange amalgam of contemporary and archaic diction, which does seem to work, King James speaks in a kind of comedy current-day Glaswegian more like something from Irving Welsh than 17th-century wording. It is a romping read, a little overdramatic at times, which plays fast and loose with historical authenticity, but nonetheless is a most enjoyable novel.