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The Duke of Buckingham
Portrait by Sir Peter Lely (c. 1675)
Personal details
Born(1628-01-30)30 January 1628
Died16 April 1687(1687-04-16) (aged 59)
SpouseMary Fairfax

George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, 20th Baron de Ros, KG, PC, FRS (30 January 1628 – 16 April 1687) was an English statesman and poet who exerted considerable political power during the reign of Charles II of England.

A Royalist during the English Civil War, in 1651 he joined Charles II's court-in-exile in France. He returned to England in 1657 after a disagreement with the king, but subsequently supported the Stuart Restoration in 1660. Buckingham was imprisoned by Charles on several occasions before rising to be one of his most influential advisors, becoming a key member of the Cabal ministry in 1668. In 1674 he was dismissed and driven into political opposition.

He was restored to the king's favour in 1684, but took no major part in public life after the accession of James II a year later. Buckingham had a lifelong interest in science and poetry, and was the author of several satires and plays.


Early life

George was the son of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham,[1] favourite of James I and Charles I, and his wife Katherine Manners. He was only seven months old when his father was assassinated at Portsmouth by the disaffected officer John Felton.[2] Subsequently, he was brought up in the royal household of Charles I, together with his younger brother Francis and the King's own children, the future Charles II and James II.[1][2] He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he obtained the degree of Master of Arts in 1642.[3] For a time he was taught geometry by Thomas Hobbes.[4] During this time he was also acquainted with George Aglionby, whose influence he later accredited with persuading him to follow the English King in the Civil War.[5]

Involvement in the English Civil War

In the Civil War he fought for the King, and took part in Prince Rupert of the Rhine's attack on Lichfield Close in April 1643.[1]

Under the care of the Earl of Northumberland, George and his brother travelled abroad and lived in Florence and Rome. When the Second English Civil War broke out they joined Royalists under the command of Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland in Surrey, in July 1648.[1]

Holland scraped together a small force of 600 men and appointed Buckingham as his General of the Horse.[6] This force was scattered after a minor engagement near Kingston upon Thames in which Buckingham's brother Francis was killed.[1] Buckingham himself escaped after a heroic stand against six Roundhead opponents, his back against an oak tree, which became the stuff of Cavalier legend.[6] After another doomed combat at St Neots the Duke succeeded in escaping to the Netherlands.[1]

Exile with Charles II

Because of his participation in the rebellion, his lands, which had been restored to him in 1647 on account of his youth, were confiscated and given to his future father-in-law, Thomas, Lord Fairfax. On 19 September 1649, Charles II conferred on him the Order of the Garter (KG) and admitted him to his Privy Council on 6 April 1650.[1]

In opposition to Hyde, Buckingham supported the alliance with the Scottish Presbyterians, accompanied Charles to Scotland in June, and allied himself with the Marquess of Argyll, dissuading Charles from joining the Royalist plot of October 1650, and being suspected of betraying the plan to the covenanting leaders. That May, he had been appointed general of the eastern association in England, and was sent to raise forces abroad; the following year, he was chosen to lead the projected movement in Lancashire and to command the Scottish royalists. He fought alongside Charles at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, but escaped alone to Rotterdam in October.[7]

His subsequent negotiations with Oliver Cromwell's government, and his readiness to sacrifice the interests of the church, separated him from the rest of Charles's advisers and diminished his influence. His estrangement from the royal family was completed by his audacious courtship of the king's widowed sister Mary, Princess of Orange, and by a money dispute with Charles.[8]

Return and imprisonment

In 1657, he returned to England, and on 15 September married Mary, daughter of Anne and Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron,[9] who had fallen in love with him although the banns of her intended marriage with Philip Stanhope, 2nd Earl of Chesterfield were being called in church.[10] Buckingham was soon suspected of organizing a Presbyterian plot against the government. An order was issued for his arrest[8] on 9 October, despite Fairfax's interest with Cromwell. He was placed under house arrest at York House in April 1658, escaped, and was rearrested on 18 August. He was then imprisoned in the Tower of London until his mother and father-in-law negotiated his release on 23 February 1659. He was freed after promising not to assist the enemies of the government, and on Fairfax's security of £20,000.[9] He joined Fairfax in his march against General John Lambert in January 1660, and afterwards claimed to have gained Fairfax to the cause of the Restoration.[8]

After the Restoration

The returning King Charles at first received Buckingham (who met him at his landing at Dover) coldly, but Buckingham was soon back in favour. He was appointed a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, carried the Sovereign's Orb at the coronation on 23 April 1661, and was made Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire on 21 September. The same year, he accompanied Princess Henrietta to Paris to marry the Duke of Orleans, but made such shameless advances to her that he was recalled. On 28 April 1662, he was admitted to the Privy Council. His confiscated estates, amounting to £26,000 a year, were restored to him, and he was said to be the king's richest subject. He helped suppress the projected insurrection in Yorkshire in 1663, went to sea in the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1665, and took measures to resist the Dutch or French invasion in June 1666.[8]

He was, however, debarred from high office by the influence of Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, the Chancellor. Buckingham now plotted to effect the Chancellor's ruin. He organized parties in both Houses of Parliament to support the Importation Act 1667 prohibiting the import of Irish cattle, partly to oppose Clarendon and partly to thwart the Duke of Ormonde. Having asserted during the debates that "whoever was against the bill had either an Irish interest or an Irish understanding", he was challenged to a duel by Ormonde's son Lord Ossory. Buckingham avoided the encounter, and Ossory was sent to the Tower. A short time afterwards, during a conference between the two Houses on 19 December, he came to blows with the Marquess of Dorchester: Buckingham pulled off the marquess's periwig, and Dorchester also "had much of the duke's hair in his hand." According to Clarendon, no misdemeanour so flagrant had ever before offended the dignity of the House of Lords. The offending peers were both sent to the Tower, but were released after apologising; and Buckingham vented his spite by raising a claim to the title of Baron Ros, held by Dorchester's son-in-law. His opposition to the government had lost him the king's favour, and he was now accused of treasonable intrigues, and of having cast the king's horoscope. His arrest was ordered on 25 February 1667, and he was dismissed from all his offices. He avoided capture until 27 June, when he gave himself up and was imprisoned in the Tower.[8]

He was released by 17 July, was restored to favour and to his appointments on 15 September, and took an active part in the prosecution of Clarendon. When Clarendon fell, he became the chief minister, even though he held no high office except that of Master of the Horse, bought from the Duke of Albemarle in 1668.

Villiers was a signatory to The Several Declarations of The Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading into Africa, a document published in 1667 which led to the creation of the Royal Africa Company.[11][12]

In 1671 he was elected chancellor of Cambridge, and in 1672 high steward of the University of Oxford. He favoured religious toleration, and earned the praise of Richard Baxter; he supported a scheme of comprehension in 1668, and advised the Royal Declaration of Indulgence in 1672. He upheld the original jurisdiction of the Lords in Skinner's Case. With these exceptions, Buckingham's tenure of office was chiefly marked by scandals and intrigues. His illicit connection with the Countess of Shrewsbury led to a duel with her husband the Earl at Barn Elms on 16 January 1668, in which the Earl was fatally wounded. The tale that the countess witnessed the encounter disguised as a page appears to have no foundation; but Buckingham provoked outrage when he installed the "widow of his own creation" in his own and his wife's house, and sent his wife to her father's house.[8]

Buckingham was thought to be behind the idea of obtaining the divorce of the childless queen, Catherine of Braganza (though this never happened). He intrigued against James, Duke of York, against Sir William Coventry—one of the ablest statesmen of the time, whose fall he procured by provoking Coventry to send him a challenge—and against the Duke of Ormonde, who was dismissed in 1669. He was even suspected of having instigated Thomas Blood's attempt to kidnap and murder Ormonde, and was charged with the crime in the king's presence by Ormonde's son, Lord Ossory, who threatened to shoot him dead in the event of his father's meeting with a violent end. Arlington, next to Buckingham himself the most powerful member of the "Cabal" and a favourite of the king, was less easy to overcome; and he derived considerable influence from the control of foreign affairs entrusted to him. Buckingham always had been an adherent of the French alliance, while Arlington concluded through Sir William Temple the Triple Alliance of 1668. On the complete volte-face and surrender made by Charles to France in 1670, Arlington, a Roman Catholic, was entrusted with the first Treaty of Dover of 20 May—which besides providing for the united attack on the Dutch Republic, included Charles's undertaking to proclaim himself a Catholic and to reintroduce the Roman Catholic faith into England,—while Buckingham was sent to France to carry on the sham negotiations which led to the public treaties of 31 December 1670 and 2 February 1672. He was much pleased with his reception by Louis XIV, declared that he had "more honours done him than ever were given to any subject", and, was presented with a pension of 10,000 livres a year for Lady Shrewsbury.[8]

In June 1672, during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, he accompanied Arlington to Nieuwerbrug to impose terms on the Prince of Orange, and when these were refused with Arlington arranged a new treaty, the Accord of Heeswijk with Louis. After all this activity he suffered a keen disappointment in being passed over for the command of the newly formed Blackheath Army in favour of the Duke of Schomberg. Buckingham was given command of a regiment, but resented serving under Schomberg. He now knew of the secret treaty of Dover, and towards the end of 1673, his jealousy of Arlington became open hostility. He threatened to impeach him, and endeavoured with the help of Louis to stir up a faction against him in parliament.[8]


This, however, was unsuccessful, and in January 1674 both houses of Parliament attacked Buckingham. In the Lords, the trustees of the young Earl of Shrewsbury complained that Buckingham publicly continued his affair with the Countess, and that a son of theirs had been buried in Westminster Abbey with the title of Earl of Coventry; Buckingham and the countess were required to apologize and give security for £10,000 not to cohabit together again. In the House of Commons he was attacked as the promoter of the French alliance, of "popery" and arbitrary government. He defended himself chiefly by endeavouring to blame Arlington; but the house approved a petition to the king to remove Buckingham from his councils, presence and from employment forever. Charles, who had been waiting for a favourable opportunity, and who was enraged at Buckingham's disclosures, quickly consented.[8]

Buckingham retired, reformed his ways, attended church with his wife, began to pay his debts, became a "patriot", and was claimed by the country or opposition party as one of their leaders. In the spring of 1675 he was conspicuous for his opposition to the Test Oath and for his abuse of the bishops, and on 16 November he introduced a bill for the relief of the nonconformists. On 15 February 1677 he was one of the four lords who tried to embarrass the government by raising the question of whether the parliament, not having assembled according to the act of Edward III once in the year, had not been dissolved by the recent prorogation. The motion was rejected and the four lords were ordered to apologize. When they refused, they were sent to the Tower, Buckingham, in particular, exasperating the House by ridiculing its censure. He was released in July, and immediately entered into intrigues with Paul Barillon, the French ambassador, with the object of hindering the grant of supplies to the king; and in 1678 he visited Paris to get the assistance of Louis XIV for the opposition's cause.[13]

He took an active part in prosecuting those implicated in the "Popish Plot", and accused the lord chief justice (Sir William Scroggs) in his own court while on circuit of favouring the Roman Catholics. Because of this, a writ was issued for his arrest, but it was never served. He promoted the return of Whig candidates to Parliament, constituted himself the champion of the dissenters, and was admitted a Freeman of the City of London. He, however, separated himself from the Whigs on the exclusion question, probably on account of his dislike of the Duke of Monmouth and the Earl of Shaftesbury, was absent from the great debate in the Lords on 15 November 1680, and was restored to the king's favour in 1684.[14]


The Death of Buckingham by Victorian artist Augustus Egg. The scene of his death derives from the exaggerated account in Alexander Pope's Epistle to Bathurst:

In the worst inn’s worst room, with mat half-hung,
The floors of plaster, and the walls of dung,
On once a flock-bed, but repaired with straw,
With tape-tied curtains never meant to draw,
The George and Garter dangling from that bed
Where tawdry yellow strove with dirty red.

He took no part in public life after James II's accession, but returned to his manor of Helmsley in Yorkshire, probably because of poor health and exhausted finances. In 1685 he published a pamphlet, entitled A short Discourse on the Reasonableness of Man's having a Religion in which after discussing the main subject he returned to his favourite topic, religious toleration. The tract provoked some rejoinders and was defended, amongst others, by William Penn, and by the author himself in The Duke of Buckingham's Letter to the unknown author of a short answer to the Duke of Buckingham's Paper (1685). In hopes of converting him to Roman Catholicism, James sent him a priest, but Buckingham ridiculed his arguments. He died on 16 April 1687, from a chill caught while hunting, in the house of a tenant in Kirkbymoorside in Yorkshire (it is known as Buckingham House and it is located in the town centre), expressing great repentance and feeling himself "despised by my country and I fear forsaken by my God".[14]

The miserable picture of his end drawn by Alexander Pope is greatly exaggerated. Buckingham was buried on 7 June 1687 in Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey, with greater splendour than the late king. With his death, the family founded by the extraordinary rise to power and influence of the first duke ended. As he left no legitimate children, the title became extinct, and his great estate was completely dissipated; of the enormous mansion[14] he constructed at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire only the arcaded terrace remains.[15]


The Life and Death of Buckingham: The Life of Buckingham, c. 1855, by Augustus Egg

Buckingham was one of the archetypal Restoration rakes, part of the "Merry Gang" of courtiers whose other members included John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, Sir Charles Sedley, Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset, and the playwrights William Wycherley and George Etherege.[16] Following the tone set by the monarch himself, these men distinguished themselves in drinking, sex and witty conversation. Buckingham is often judged ostentatious, licentious, and unscrupulous, the "Alcibiades of the seventeenth century". One occasion saw Buckingham invite a man to a pub in Newmarket to distract him while his friend Rochester broke into the man's home, drugged and raped his wife, and then brought the woman to the pub so that Buckingham could also rape her.[17] The woman's husband later committed suicide.[17]

But even the duke's critics agree that he was good-humoured, good-natured, generous, an unsurpassed mimic, and the leader of fashion. His good looks and amusing wit made him irresistible to his contemporaries, in spite of his moral faults and even crimes. A contemporary observer at the Court of Charles II found him: "Courteous, affable, generous, magnanimous...he is adored by the people....On the other hand he is an atheist, blasphemer, violent, cruel and infamous for his licentiousness, in which he is so wrapped up that there is no sex, nor age, nor condition of persons who are spared from it".[18] His portrait has been drawn by Burnet, Count Hamilton in the Memoires de Grammont, John Dryden, Alexander Pope in the Epistle to Lord Bathurst, and Sir Walter Scott in Peveril of the Peak. John Reresby calls him "the first gentleman of person and wit I think I ever saw", and Burnet bears the same testimony. Dean Lockier, after alluding to his unrivalled skill in riding, dancing and fencing, adds, "When he came into the presence-chamber it was impossible for you not to follow him with your eye as he went along, he moved so gracefully". Racing and hunting were his favourite sports, and his name long survived in the hunting songs of Yorkshire.[14]

The Duke was the patron of Abraham Cowley, Thomas Sprat, Matthew Clifford and William Wycherley. He dabbled in chemistry and set up the Vauxhall glassworks at Lambeth, (see below). John Dryden described him under the character of Zimri in celebrated lines in the poem Absalom and Achitophel (to which Buckingham replied in Poetical Reflections on a late Poem ... by a Person of Honour, 1682):[14]

A man so various that he seemed to be/Not one, but all mankind's epitome;/Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,/Was everything by starts and nothing long;/But, in the course of one revolving moon/Was chymist, fiddler, statesman and buffoon../..Beggar'd by fools, whom still he found too late,/He had his jest, but they had his estate.[14]

"He saw and approved the best", says Brian Fairfax, "but did too often deteriora sequi (Latin > "follow the worst")". Buckingham himself wrote "Methinks, I see the wanton houres flee, And as they passe, turne back and laugh at me"; his last recorded words, "O! what a prodigal have I been of that most valuable of all possessions—Time!"[14]


Buckingham wrote occasional verses, pamphlets, lampoons, satires and plays showing undoubted (but undeveloped) poetic gifts, a collection of which, containing however many pieces not from his pen, was first published by Tom Brown in 1704; while a few extracts from a commonplace book of Buckingham of some interest are given in an article in the Quarterly Review of January 1898. He was the author of The Rehearsal, an amusing and clever satire on the heroic drama and especially on Dryden's The Conquest of Granada (first performed on 7 December 1671, at the Theatre Royal, and first published in 1672), a deservedly popular play which was imitated by Henry Fielding in Tom Thumb the Great, and by Sheridan in The Critic. It is believed that Samuel Butler had a hand in it. Dryden had his revenge in his picture of Buckingham as Zimri in Absalom and Achitophel. Buckingham also published two adapted plays: a version of John Fletcher's The Chances (1682) and The Restoration or Right will take place, from Beaumont and Fletcher's Philaster (publ. 1714); and also The Battle of Sedgmoor and The Militant Couple (publ. 1704). The latest edition of his works is that by T. Evans (2 vols. 8vo, 1775). Another work is named by Wood, A Demonstration of the Deity, of which there is now no trace.[14]

Like his father, the younger Duke makes an appearance in Alexandre Dumas père's "Musketeer" novels. The Vicomte de Bragelonne sees him escorting Charles II's sister, Henrietta, to France to be married to Philippe I, Duke of Orléans. He is soon smitten with the young lady, which Philippe perceives quickly, and appeals to his mother, Anne of Austria. Anne, whose love for Villiers Senior was chronicled in The Three Musketeers, convinces him that, due to his feelings, it would be best for French-English relations if he returned home. While in France, however, he earns the enmity of Comte de Wardes, whose father was the lover of Milady de Winter, who was responsible for the old Villiers' death. De Wardes escorts him to a boat destined for England, but before departing, the two men duel and de Wardes is injured.

Scientific interests

The Duke had a lifelong interest in science, acquired during the civil war, while he was exiled in France. There, he carried out a variety of laboratory experiments assisted by Prince Charles (the future Charles II).[19] He was especially interested in alchemy, and hoped to find a method of producing the philosopher's stone[20][21] This obsession with alchemy continued throughout his lifetime so that his frequent absences from court, mistakenly attributed to visits to a lover were, very often, periods when the Duke was engrossed in his experiments.[22]

During his lifetime, Buckingham set up a number of laboratories, where he would carry out his experiments. The first was a purpose-built facility in the grounds of Fairfax Hall, which he had acquired through his marriage to Mary Fairfax, the daughter of Lord Fairfax.[23][24][25] He also had a laboratory installed in Wallingord House, in Westminster,[26] a property which was restored to him after the restoration of the monarchy. Later in life, when he was out of favour at court, he retired back to Fairfax Hall to pursue his favourite pastimes, hunting and working in his laboratory.[22][13] Later still, when he was sent to the Tower, accused of treason, he was permitted to set up his own private laboratory, so he could continue with his experiments.[27][28]

In addition to his personal interests, Buckingham was also involved with the wider scientific activities of the time. He was appointed a fellow of the Royal Society on 15 May 1661.[29] The society listed his specialist expertise as "Chemical".[30] The duke maintained a regular but low-level interest in the society. For example, he was requested by the society, to instruct his chemist to distil charcoal for their weekly experiments[31] and to supply a sample of unicorn horn for investigation by the members.[31] Later, on 4 December 1666, the Earl of Northampton and the Bishop of Exeter were tasked with asking the Duke to accommodate the society with some rooms in York House, Strand.[32]

The Duke had other scientific activities including his frequent visits to the king's own laboratory, which was situated in Whitehall, where he would observe the experiments and dissections in the company of the king.[33] Also, Buckingham acquired the Vauxhall Glassworks and enlarged the factory there.[28][34] Evelyn praised the quality of its products, in his diary on 19 September 1676.[35] However, unlike king Charles, he showed no interest in botany. John Evelyn, visiting Cliveden House (which Brian Fairfax[22][36][37] considered to be one of Buckingham's expensive Substructiones Insanae), on 23 July 1679, was disappointed to find a garden containing mainly ferns.[38]

Unfortunately, the many hours the Duke spent in his laboratories damaged his health, so that later in life he showed the symptoms of mercury poisoning.[39]: 477 [40]


In the 2003 British television mini-series Charles II: The Power and The Passion, Villiers is portrayed by the British actor Rupert Graves.

In the 2004 motion picture Stage Beauty, Ben Chaplin plays him.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Yorke 1911, p. 724.
  2. ^ a b Linnane 2006, p. 68.
  3. ^ ACAD & VLRS641G.
  4. ^ Hobbes & Malcolm 1994, p. 778.
  5. ^ Ferguson 1871, p. 30.
  6. ^ a b Linnane 2006, p. 69 ff..
  7. ^ Yorke 1911, pp. 724–725.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Yorke 1911, p. 725.
  9. ^ a b Eales 2004.
  10. ^ Yardley 2009.
  11. ^ Davies, K. G. (Kenneth Gordon) (1999). The Royal African Company. London: Routledge/Thoemmes Press. ISBN 0-415-19072-X. OCLC 42746420.
  12. ^ Pettigrew, William A. (William Andrew), 1978-. Freedom's debt : the Royal African Company and the politics of the Atlantic slave trade, 1672–1752. Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture. Chapel Hill [North Carolina]. ISBN 978-1-4696-1183-9. OCLC 879306121.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ a b Yorke 1911, pp. 725–726.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Yorke 1911, p. 726.
  15. ^ Oxford Archaeology 2002, pp. 1–2 (PDF 4–5).
  16. ^ Linnane 2006, p. 19–20.
  17. ^ a b Bryant 2017, p. 212.
  18. ^ Middleton 1980, pp. 47–48.
  19. ^ Falkus, Christopher (1972). Charles II. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. p. 30.
  20. ^ Burghclere 1903, p. 27.
  21. ^ Airy 1847, p. 182.
  22. ^ a b c Fairfax 1758, p. 37.
  23. ^ Fairfax 1758, p. 32.
  24. ^ Burghclere 1903, p. 147.
  25. ^ Drake, F. (1736). History and Antiquities of the City of York. London: William Boyer. p. 269.
  26. ^ Fairfax 1758, p. 33.
  27. ^ Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. Seventh Report, Part 1, for March 1667, Report and Appendix. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode. pp. 468, 469 (for 1879).
  28. ^ a b Hanrahan 2006, p. 175.
  29. ^ Birch 1756a, p. 23.
  30. ^ Birch 1756a, p. 406.
  31. ^ a b Birch 1756a, p. 26.
  32. ^ Birch 1756b, p. 132.
  33. ^ Blomberg, W.N. (1738). An Account of the Life and Writings of Edmund Dickinson. London: Montagu. p. 86.
  34. ^ Spratt, Thomas (1667). The History of the Royal Society of London. London. p. 251.
  35. ^ Evelyn 1952, p. 113.
  36. ^ Firth, Charles H. (1899). Dictionary of National Biography, 1885–1900, Volume 58 — Villiers, George (1628–1687). Smith, Elder & Co. p. 25.
  37. ^ Hanrahan 2006, p. 131.
  38. ^ Evelyn 1952, p. 138.
  39. ^ Burnet, "History of my Own Time", Part 1, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1847
  40. ^ Burghclere 1903, p. 229.



External links

10 Annotations

First Reading

mary  •  Link

vILLIERS (GEORGE) 2nd Duke of Buckingham.

Memorably satirised by Dryden in 'Absalom and Achitophel' as Zimri

In the first rank of these did Zimri stand;
A man so various that he seemed to be
Not one, but all mankind's epitome;
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts and nothing long;
But in the course of one revolving moon
Was chymist, fiddler, statesman and buffoon;
Then all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking,
Besides then thousand freaks that died in thinking.
Blest madman, who could every hour employ
With something new to wish or to enjoy;
Railing and praising were his usual themes,
And both, to show his judgment, in extremes:
So over violent or over civil
That every man with him was God or Devil.
In squandering wealth was his peculiar art;
Nothing went unrewarded but desert.
Beggared by fools whom still he found too late,
He had his jest, and they had his estate.
He laughed himself from Court; then sought relief
By forming parties, but could ne'er be chief;
For spite of him, the weight of business fell
On Absalom and wise Achitophel;
Thus wicked but in will, of means bereft,
He left not faction, but of that was left.

Jim Rain  •  Link

From the National Portrait Gallery’s website (where you can see Buckingham’s picture): "George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (1628-1687), Statesman and dramatist. The son of James I’s favourite, Buckingham fought for the royalist side during the Civil War and was exiled, but he later returned to England and married the daughter of the parliamentarian General Fairfax, in the hope of regaining his lands. At the Restoration he was favoured by Charles II, helped to engineer the downfall of Clarendon and became a member of the Cabal. Famous for his intrigues and immorality, he seduced the Countess of Shrewsbury and killed her husband in a duel in 1668. Described as 'one of the worst men alive', he was eventually dismissed from office in 1674. He wrote a number of witty satirical comedies."…

The story goes that the Countess of Shrewsbury held her lover’s horse while Buckingham killed Shrewsbury in the duel.

Vicente  •  Link

George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (January 10, 1628 - April 16, 1687), English statesman, son of the 1st Duke of the second creation (1623) of that title. for some background: This was the guy at the coronacion:…

Pedro.  •  Link

On Buckingham.

Bishop Gilbert Burnet (1643-1715) History of His Own Time.

jeannine  •  Link

From Grammont's footnotes

George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham, was born 30th January, 1627. Lord Orford observes, "When this extraordinary man, with the figure and genius of Alcibiades, could equally charm the presbyterian Fairfax and the dissolute Charles; when he alike ridiculed that witty king and his solemn chancellor; when he plotted the ruin of his country with a cabal of bad ministers, or, equally unprincipled, supported its cause with bad patriots,-- one laments that such parts should have been devoid of every virtue; but when Alcibiades turns chemist; when he is a real bubble and a visionary miser; when ambition is but a frolic; when the worst designs are for the foolishest ends,-- contempt extinguishes all reflection on his character.
"The portrait of this duke has been drawn by four masterly hands. Burnet has hewn it out with his rough chisel; Count Hamilton touched it with that slight delicacy that finishes while it seems but to sketch; Dry-den catched the living likeness; Pope completed the historical resemblance." -- Royal and Noble Authors, vol. ii. p. 78.

Of these four portraits, the second is in the text; the other three will complete the character of this extraordinary nobleman.

Bishop Burnet says, he "was a man of noble presence. He had a great liveliness of wit, and a peculiar faculty of turning all things into ridicule, with bold figures, and natural descriptions. He had no sort of literature, only he was drawn into chymistry; and for some years he thought he was very near the finding the philosopher's stone, which had the effect that attends on all such men as he was, when they are drawn in, to lay out for it. He had no principles of religion, virtue, or friendship; pleasure, frolic, or extravagant diversion was all that he laid to heart. He was true to nothing; for he was not true to himself. He had no steadiness nor conduct; he could keep no secret, nor execute any design without spoiling it. He could never fix his thoughts, nor govern his estate, though then the greatest in England. He was bred about the king, and for many years he had a great ascendant over him; but he spake of him to all persons with that contempt, that at last he drew a lasting disgrace upon himself. And he at length ruined both body and mind, fortune and reputation equally. The madness of vice appeared in his person in very eminent instances; since at last he became contemptible and poor, sickly, and sunk in his parts, as well as in all other respects; so that his conversation was as much avoided as ever it had been courted." -- Burnet's Own Times, vol. i. p. 137.

Pope describes the last scene of this nobleman's life in these lines:--

"In the worst inn's worst room, with mat half hung,
The floors of plaster, and the walls of dung,
On once a flock-bed, but repair'd with straw,
With tape-tied curtains, never meant to draw;
The George and Garter dangling from that bed,
Where tawdry yellow strove with dirty red,
Great Villiers lies: -- alas ! how chang'd from him,
That life of pleasure, and that soul of whim!
Gallant and gay, in Clieveden's proud alcove,
The bower of wanton Shrewsbury and love;
Or, just as gay, at council, in a ring
Of mimic'd statesmen, and their merry king.
No wit, to flatter, left of all his store!
No fool to laugh at, which he valued more.
There, victor of his health, of fortune, friends,
And fame, this lord of useless thousand ends."
Moral Essays, Epist. iii. 1. 299.

He died 16th April, 1688, at the house of a tenant, at Kirby Moorside, near Helmsly, in Yorkshire, aged 61 years, and was buried in Westminster-abbey.

Though this note is already long, the reader will hardly complain at an extension of it, by the addition of one more character of this licentious nobleman, written by the able pen of the author of Hudibras. "The Duke of Bucks is one that has studied the whole body of vice. His parts are disproportionate to the whole, and, like a monster, he has more of some, and less of others, than he should have. He has pulled down all that nature raised in him, and built himself up again after a model of his own. He has dammed up all those lights that nature made into the noblest prospects of the world, and opened other little blind loop-holes backward, by turning day into night, and night into day. His appetite to his pleasures is diseased and crazy, like the pica in a woman, that longs to eat that which was never made for food, or a girl in the green sickness, that eats chalk and mortar. Perpetual surfeits of pleasure have filled his mind with bad and vicious humours (as well as his body with a nursery of diseases), which makes him affect new and extravagant ways, as being sick and tired with the old. Continual wine, women, and music, put false values upon things, which, by custom, become habitual, and debauch his understanding so, that he retains no right notion nor sense of things. And as the same dose of the same physic has no operation on those that are much used to it, so his pleasures require a larger proportion of excess and variety, to render him sensible of them. He rises, eats, and goes to bed by the Julian account, long after all others that go by the new style, and keeps the same hours with owls and the antipodes. He is a great observer of the Tartar customs, and never eats till the great cham, having dined, makes proclamation that all the world may go to dinner. He does not dwell in his house, but haunts it like an evil spirit, that walks all night, to disturb the family, and never appears by day. He lives perpetually benighted, runs out of his life, and loses his time as men do their ways in the dark: and as blind men are led by their dogs, so is he governed by some mean servant or other, that relates to his pleasures. He is as inconstant as the moon which he lives under; and although he does nothing but advise with his pillow all day, he is as great a stranger to himself as he is to the rest of the world. His mind entertains all things very freely that come and go, but, like guests and strangers, they are not welcome if they stay long. This lays him open to all cheats, quacks, and impostors, who apply to every particular humour while it lasts, and afterwards vanish. Thus, with St. Paul, though in a different sense, he dies daily, and only lives in the night. He deforms nature, while he intends to adorn her, like Indians that hang jewels in their lips and noses. His ears are perpetually drilled with a fiddlestick. He endures pleasures with less patience than other men do their pains." -- Butler's Posthumous Works, vol. ii. p. 72.… see note 89

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, a man of great wit and humour, and of the most whimsical caprice, was the admiration and the jest of the reign of Charles the Second. He was the alchymist and the philosopher; the fiddler and the poet; the mimic and the statesman. How shall I sketch the portrait of one who had such a variety of faces, or draw him in miniature who was of so great, and at the same time of so little a character? He has left us a specimen of his admirable wit in his "Rehearsal" which is a creation of his own, and had a considerable effect in reforming the stage. Ob. April 16, 1687, Æt. 60.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1779.

Bill  •  Link

VILLIERS, GEORGE, second Duke of Buckingham (1628-1687), son of George Villiers, first duke of Buckingham; succeeded, August 1628; brought up with Charles I's children; studied at Trinity College, Cambridge; M.A., 1642; joined Charles I in Oxford, winter, 1643; served under Rupert, 1643; travelled in Italy; received back his sequestered estates, on the plea of youth, 1647; joined the Surrey insurgente, was routed at St. Neots, and fled to Holland, 1648; his estates definitely confiscated, 1651; admitted privy councillor, 1650; urged conciliation of the presbyterians; accompanied Charles II to Scotland, 1650, and to Worcester, 1651; escaped to Holland, 1651; tried to make peace with parliament, 1652 and 1653; was in disgrace with the queen-mother, 1652, with Charles II, 1654, and Clarendon, 1656; returned to England, 1657; married Fairfax's daughter, 1657; prisoner in tbe Tower of London, 1658-9; recovered estates at the Restoration; gentleman of the bedchamber, 1660-7; lord-lieutenant of the West Riding, 1661-7; privy councillor, 1662-7; intrigued against Clarendon, 1663-7; served at sea against the Dutch, 1665; influential member of the 'Cabal' administration, 1667-9; advocated alliance with France and toleration at home; seduced the Countess of Shrewsbury and mortally wounded the earl in a duel, January 1668, but was pardoned, February; master of the horse, by purchase, July 1668; at feud with York and with Ormonde; displaced by Arlington in Charles II's confidence and kept ignorant of tbe private negotiations with Louis, April 1669, and the secret treaty of Dover, May 1670; envoy to Paris, July 1670, to the Prince of Orange, and to Paris, June 1672; lieutenant-general, May 1673; quarrelled openly with Arlington, 1673, whom Charles supported; being attacked by the Lords for the Shrewsbury scandal, and by the Commons for the French treaty, January 1674, was dismissed from his offices; joined the country party; opposed tbe non-resistance oath, and moved a bill to relieve protestant dissenters, 1675; prisoner in the Tower of London, 1677; intrigued against Charlas II getting supplies, 1678-9, and laboured to have a whig parliament; disapproved of the Exclusion Bill, 1680-1; the Zimri of Dryden's 'Absalom and Achitophel,' 1681; restored to court favour, 1683; published pamphlets in favour of toleration, 1685; lived in retirement in Yorkshire, 1686. He had dabbled in chemistry, and spent much in building and laying out gardens. He wrote verses, satires, and some pieces for the stage, particularly 'The Rehearsal,' brought out 1671, ridiculing contemporary dramatists. His 'Miscellaneous Works' were first collected, 1704-5.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

I think Charles II and his "brother" George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, must have read THE PRINCE by Machiavelli as teenagers. Pity George forgot this one:

"He who blinded by ambition, raises himself to a position whence he cannot mount higher, must thereafter fall with the greatest loss." -- Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.






  • Aug