“and Captn. Ferrers telling me, among other Court passages…”
On one level Sam’s walk today with Captain Ferrers may simply seem to gloss over tidbits of Court gossip, yet two of these stories reflect re-occurring themes that will continue throughout the reign of Charles II and therefore be presented in Sam’s diary: 1) The mock marriage takes place amidst the unwieldy world where sex, money, power and politics overlap; 2) The Titling of Monmouth casts a shadow over the question of succession and increases an aura of unrest in a not so stable nation.
This essay provides some background information on each story, summarizing the resources cited below and by the nature of the subject matter will contain historical as opposed to daily entry spoilers.
I. The “Mock Marriage” of Lady Castlemaine and Mrs. Stuart
On January 4th 1662, Princess Henrietta (Minette) sent her brother King Charles a letter from France which read, “I would not miss the opportunity of writing to you but by Madam Stuart who is taking her daughter to be one of the maids of the queen, your wife. Had it not been for this purpose I assure you I should have been very sorry to let her go from here, for she is the prettiest girl imaginable and the most fitted to adorn a court.” Thus enters Frances Teresa Stuart.
Some historians believe that perhaps Minette wasn’t too pleased with Lady Castlemaine’s influence over Charles and thought that it might be wise to introduce a Catholic, with a French upbringing as a potential mistress. Frances had been raised in the Queen Mother’s exiled court in France and Henrietta Marie felt very protective of her. Her tremendous beauty, in spite of her young age (14 at the time of the letter) made a stunning impact on the English Court, especially the King. Historians/biographers will record that she had a very naïve manner, a beautiful figure and a freshness that set her apart from the other court ladies. She was a divine dancer, loved attention and laughed at Charles’ repetitive stories and jokes. She was “bubbly”, flirty, charming and interested in light-hearted games of making card houses, blind-man’s bluff and more “childish” interactions. Frances had an ample dose of vanity (most likely tied to immaturity as time will reveal) but a total lack of interest in politics, courtly ambition and/or greed, all of which combined to appeal quite strongly the King.
Lady Castlemaine, well known for her arrogance, never initially dreamed that any such “young silly thing” could be a match for her charms and encouraged the friendship between Frances and Charles. She treated Frances like a little ornament, inviting her to court games and entertainment. At times she invited Frances to sleep in her bed and then would invite Charles in to join them for playful little three in the bed antics. Frances would not allow for these games to proceed far enough to take away her virginity. Castlemaine may have thought it a calculated game to toy with the King’s roving eye, assuming Charles would soon get his fill when Frances succumbed (as he had done with other maids of honor in the past) and that soon the infatuation would pass. Needless to say, the Lady who had made herself infamous for manipulations and calculations had underestimated the King’s growing desire for Frances.
The story that Ferrers told Sam on February 8, 1663 is one of the many little entertainments instigated by Castlemaine, which were not unusual activities in Court life. In this case, Castlemaine staged this marital charade and took the role of the groom. As the play progressed and it was time to “bed” the little bride, Charles stepped in to take Castlemaine’s place. As other historians will note, which differs somewhat from Sam’s version, the little prey Frances, balked and the charade came to an end. She was not actually bedded by the King. Shortly after this episode, Castlemaine begins to get wind of the more serious interest Charles has developed and takes “alarm now and [will not be] such a fool as to bring down the very thing that would compass her own downfall”. (Hartmann p. 36).
Amidst all of these antics and seeming frivolous Court activities, there were maneuvers of a different kind afloat already. Others who had noticed the King’s wandering eyes were seeking to use this to their advantage. The Duke of Buckingham and some assorted followers of the King had formed a committee behind Castlemaine’s back to “pimp” the young, unsuspecting girl into the arms of the King. This pimping was a common practice among Charles’ close Court circle. Halifax, an observant contemporary and minister of the King who had long observed his manner, explains in his “Character of King Charles II” that “After he was restored, mistresses were recommended to him; which is no small matter in a Court, and not unworthy the thoughts even of a party. A mistress either dexterous in herself, or well-instructed by those that are so, may be very useful to her friends, not only in the immediate hours of her ministry, but by her influences and insinuations at other times. It was resolved generally by others, whom he should have in his arms, as well as whom he should have in his councils. Of a man who was so capable of choosing, he chose as seldom as any man that ever lived….” and “He lived with his ministers as he did with his mistresses; he used them , but he was not in love with them”. (Halifax, pps.28-29/39).
As we watch this develop over time through Sam’s diary entries, the pimping committee will assemble and develop their plans to entice and/or trick Frances into the role of mistress. Of note to the readers, it will be most interesting to watch exactly who gets drawn into the planning. The participants in these efforts may be surprising to some, as they may not be people one would normally associate with this type of seemingly immoral activity. It should be noted that throughout Charles’ reign, many seasoned courtiers, ministers, ambassadors, etc., even those from the old school of the strict moral conduct of Charles I, were drawn into the link between politics, money and sex. This was almost a “required” means to ensure that their international/political/personal needs and/or ambitions were met. Case in point, even the dignified and morally principled Ormond (Clarendon’s best friend from the ‘old school’) was a realist enough to “know that when it came to payments to be made out of Irish revenues he made sure that Barbara [Castlemaine, and other mistresses de jour] … ..came up well in the pecking order”. (Wilson, p. 295). These types of pay-offs, political alliances and feeding of funds were quite common. Those seasoned political courtiers/ministers who were “in it for the long haul” knew that when building their alliances they had to consider the influence of mistresses as they played such a central part of Charles’ Court life and personal inclinations. Although historians will debate the actual influence that these ladies had in his lifetime, what is clear is that among the Court, the perception of their power was strong and perception meant everything in the world of Court politics.
If any one potential candidate for mistress broke through the ‘mistress model’ set forth by Halifax above, and excited Charles’ actual inclinations to “fall in love” it was Frances Stuart. The light hearted writers of the day (Grammont), and the more serious diarists like Sam recorded details of the antics, gossip and “cat fights” as these ladies interacted. Much was made of the “pawning” of Frances Stuart, and the long line of other ladies that fluttered in and out of this Court. Behind these anecdotes, no matter how seedy, frivolous and/ or sensationalized there was usually some level of personal/political underlying maneuvering which was targeted at the securing of these ladies for the King. In the meantime and on a much more frivolous note, it will also be “fun” to see these events unfold through Sam’s eyes.
II. The Titling of Monmouth
Charles decided to grant James Crofts, his illegitimate son by Lucy Waters, a peerage with the designation of Duke of Monmouth. The titling of Monmouth and placement in the peerage rank of the Dukes was not something to be taken lightly and inferred many levels of political implications, anxiety among legitimate parties of nobility, as well as adding fuel to the fired frenzy of court gossip.
Hutton, Charles’ biographer believed this status elevation was more politically motivated than anything else and states that, “It was a political move, for mere affection would have impelled Charles to keep the boy near him in a less illustrious capacity. In default of any evidence, one can only ascribe it to a desire to parade his potency before the world or (more likely) to a hazy design to secure the Stuart succession in the event of the death of his brother. The second supposition is supported by a search which the King launched in the winter of 1662-1663 to find a precedent in Scottish history (English tradition being hostile) for a monarch legitimizing his bastard son. There was no suggestion that he was contemplating the exclusion of his brother from the succession and the object seemed to be to secure young James [Crofts] princely dignities and some eventual claim to the throne… If nothing else, this attempt suggests powerfully that Charles had not married Lucy [Walters—Monmouth’s mother, a rumor that will play out throughout his reign] and so did not have the means of establishing his son for use in emergency. ” (p 188). Although Scottish royalty did not provide the much desired protocol which Charles desired, he continued to load his son with honors, but not without bringing forth some discord in the process.
Those most openly irritated by this granting of honors to Charles’ bastard were his brother James, his mother Henrietta Maria, Lady Castlemaine (the grants to Monmouth gave him a higher status then her children by Charles) and Clarendon (James’ father-in-law), but the individual most hurt by these events was Charles’ wife, Queen Catherine. Her despair is recorded in this letter from the Duke of York to his father-in-law the Lord Chancellor, Clarendon.
My brother hath spoken with the Queen yesterday concerning the owning of his sonne, and in much passion she told him that from the time he did any such thing she would never see his face more. I would be glad to see you before you go to the Parliament that I may advise with you what is to be done, for my brother tells me he will do whatever I please.
(Davidson, p 165)
In regards to the Queen, the granting of this title to James Crofts was a blatant insult. Davidson explains that “to create the son of another woman a Duke of the Royal House was an outrage on herself and any future children she may have. Charles, only bent on reparation to women whom, like Lady Castlemaine, he had injured in reputation, and to their children, was determined to openly acknowledge his son, and load him with honors. He was always extremely fond of his left-handed children, and it gave him pleasure to shower favors on them. In spite of Catherine’s declaration that she would see his face no more, the patent was granted, and throughout his life Catherine treated the Duke of Monmouth, as she treated all the rest of Charles’s children, with sweet and unvarying kindness. He was granted precedence over every other Duke in the Realm, except the Duke of York, and loaded with such distinctions and favor that people whispered he was Charles’s lawful son, and would be his successor”. (Davidson, p. 165). It should be noted, as Fraser points out that when James was actually created Duke of Monmouth that the “baton sinister, which proclaimed his illegitimate birth, [was] omitted from his coat of arms [and] Catherine felt it necessary to protest. A second grant of arms included it”. (Fraser, p. 275)
Although the fact that the York-Hyde letter infers that Charles will “do whatever I please”, the outcome may not have truly reflected James’ wishes. “In his own self-defense the Duke of York asked his brother the King for security that the young lad would not eventually hopscotch over him in precedence to become heir to the throne if the Queen failed to bear children - an assurance which for long the King would not specifically give. The only immediate reaction which the Duke could control was to engender another child [his wife was pregnant and a short lived son James was born July 12, 1663] at which, within wedlock, he was more adept than the King”. ( Allen p 75-76).
On a broader scale Sir Henry Craik, Clarendon’s biographer explains that the moral sense of the nation was already starting to disintegrate and that these domestic scandals of the Court had begun to “outrage the nations’s sense of decency; and when outraged decency is combined with increased pressure on taxation and decreasing prosperity the united force becomes a menacing threat. It was a comparative trifle that the King’s alleged bastard by the notorious Lucy Waters, was now favorably introduced at Court… and speedily created Duke of Monmouth. Such relationships had before been tacitly recognized but not explicitly avowed; now for the first time the patent of nobility declared the youth to be the natural son of the King. Vice laid aside that homage of hypocrisy which it had before paid to virtue. It was an innovation which Clarendon firmly opposed. “It would have” he told the King quite plainly, “an ill sound in England with all his people, who thought that these unlawful acts ought to be concealed, and not published and justified.” Precedents from France and Spain would not pass current in England; and even if these precedents were admitted, they would hardly parallel the ennobling of the bastard of a notorious courtesan, born when the King was scarcely sixteen years of age, and whose parentage was, to say the least, doubtful.” (Craik, p. 171) Although these domestic scandals may seem to amount to little, when taken in the context of growing discontent and the declining English market now was not the time to add to the decaying reverence to the crown, but, Charles, as always, acted on his own.
Without the King giving a firm statement regarding his succession plans and in light of the gnawing away at the status of the monarchy, rippling effects of uneasiness continued. There were on-going themes of conflict, upheavals and drama over the course of Charles’ reign regarding the future monarchy, which Charles chose not to address until his later years, thus feeding into a somewhat unsettling atmosphere. Halifax, who well noted Charles as one who could not always be trusted at his word, noted that “Dissimulation is like most other Qualities, it hath two Sides; it is necessary, and yet it is dangerous too”. As Charles will be a master of Dissimulation throughout his life, only he will ever know the motives, purposes and objectives of this titling, and unfortunately he will bear the brunt of his decision in his lifetime. But for February 8, 1663 and in years to come these issues will leave the Court much to discuss and offer our Sam bountiful tidbits to record.
Books consulted and/or quoted
- Andrews, Allen: The Royal Whore, 1970
- Clarendon, Earl of (Edward Hyde): The Life of Edward Earl of Claredon, Lord High Chancellor of England and Chancellor of the University of Oxford Containing An Account of His Life from his birth to the Restoration in 1660, 1761.
- Craik, Sir Henry: The Life of Edward Earl of Clarendon, Lord High Chancellor of England, 1911
- Davidson, Lillias Campbell: Catherine of Braganca, 1908.
- Fraser, Antonia: King Charles II, 1979
- Hartmann, Cyril: La Belle Stuart, 1924
- Hutton, Ronald: Charles II, 1989.
- Ollard, Richard: Clarendon and His Friends, 1988.
- Ponsoby, Dorothy: The King’s Ladies, 1936.
- Savile, George Marquis of Halifax: Character of K. Charles II 1750 1927
- Wilson, Derek: All The King’s Ladies, 2003.