In the 17th century there were two dukes, father and son, both called George Villiers, who were the first two holders of the title of Duke of Buckingham. The father was the original owner of York House (once the palace of the Archbishop of York) and the surrounding land. He was also a favourite of King James I, who referred to him affectionately as ‘Steenie’, a diminutive of Stephen (according to the Bible, Stephen had a face like an angel) and told his privy councillors that he “loved the Earl of Buckingham more than any other man”.
Opinion appears divided as to whether or not the men were lovers; one argument in favour of that thesis is that the 2004-8 restoration of Apethorpe Hall (a manor house where royalty and their courtiers were entertained) revealed a previously unknown passage linking the bedchambers of James and Villiers. The first Duke continued to be a royal favourite when Charles I acceded to the throne, but was murdered by a professional soldier who had served under Buckingham and blamed him for lack of promotion.
Opinion is also divided as to whether or not George the father was the inspiration for the nursery rhyme ‘George Porgie, pudding and pie’.
George the son is described as a politican, a poet, and a wit, and was a loyal follower of Charles II, fleeing the country with his king when England became an unhealthy place for monarchs and royalists. Although his property was confiscated by Cromwell’s Parliament, Villiers regained it after the Restoration of the monarchy and his own return to England.
At one point the second Duke owned the Cliveden estate and built the first grand house there in which to entertain his mistress, whose husband he later fatally in a duel. Cliveden achieved notoriety in the 1960s when it transpired that it was where John Profumo met Christine Keeler, a meeting that led to the political scandal known as the Profumo Affair. The movie Scandal is based on that particular scandal and the events surrounding it.
The second duke was less than sensible with money. He never got around to restoring the house either, and managed to run up so much in the way of debt that he was forced to sell his land. In 1674 it became the possession of a property developer on the condition that the streets built on the land were given Villers’ name. All of them. There were five in total, and they became George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street (now gone), Of Alley, and Buckingham Street.
The name may have been changed, but the street signs there still proclaim that it is York Place, formerly Of Alley.