Pontefract Castle and John Morris: How an English Civil War Siege was Undone by Beds

Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire has been a place of power ever since he was originally built during the Norman Period. It became a place of royal power after it was brought into royal hands in the 12th century, after the power struggles during the reign of Henry I. For me, the castle means a lot as the place that Anthony Woodville, my favourite historical figure, his nephew, Richard Grey, and his friend, Thomas Vaughn, were executed in 1483. The years of the English Civil War in the 1640s continued this tumultuous history when it was besieged 3 times.[1] In fact, the consequences of the last siege in 1648, following the Parliamentarians gaining control of the castle ended in an interesting, even somewhat comical, way.

The Royalists were determined to again take possession of the castle. None was more enthusiastic than the Yorkshireman, Colonel John Morris. He was known for carrying on fighting at both the Battle of Nantwich and Middlewich, despite being on the losing side.[2] However, following the fall of Royal forces at Liverpool, he briefly switched sides. It is thought that this was because of a soldiers’ desire to win, rather than any heartfelt gesture. As Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon (also a very distant ancestor of mine), noted on Morris’ decision to change sides, this didn’t help him with the Parliamentarians either, for they “left him out in their compounding of their new army”.[3] The lack of acceptance made him once again return to his Royalist roots and he found himself assisting in the third siege at Pontefract Castle.

Pontefract Castle during the Siege of 1645 in, “Supplement to the Sieges of Pontefract Castle, etc”, British Library

The original plan was to scale the walls using ladders, but the men Morris commanded had got a little too drunk beforehand and they ended up being disturbed by the guards but weren’t captured.[4] Following this attempt at entering the castle, there were orders to employ more men at garrison inside the castle. This meant more beds were needed for these extra men, so Morris and his men were able to successfully disguise themselves by carrying beds into the castle.[5] It’s almost beyond belief, but this strategy worked, and the Royalists were able to take charge of the castle. The Parliamentarians were placed in the dungeons and many of their names were carved into the walls.[6] In direct response, other Parliamentarians in the area were sent to ransack John Morris’ house in the West Riding of Yorkshire. They stole £1,000 (around £103,500 in today’s money) in goods, and £1,800 (just over £186,000 in today’s money) in cash.[7]

The Royalists held Pontefract for around 9 months in total, even well after the Parliamentarians had officially won the war. It wasn’t until the execution of Charles I in January 1649 at Whitehall in London, that the garrison finally realised that they would have to surrender. Even so, just as before, Morris wasn’t willing to give in without having his final say. He made demands that he said had to be met before he would allow the garrison to surrender. He specifically asked for an armed convoy home and for all the men to be exempt from prosecution or being sued for their parts on the Royalist side.[8] These terms proved too much, and it was finally agreed that only Morris and 5 others would be exempt, but this proved to be a trick so they would leave the castle.[9] One man was shot when they left and Morris escaped, but went on the run. He was found 10 days later and sent to York to be condemned to death as a traitor, but again he briefly escaped.[10] He was eventually executed on 23rd of August 1649.

Pontefract Castle as of 2016 (Author’s Own Image)

The Parliamentarians, especially Oliver Cromwell, never forgot how stupid they were made to look when John Morris and his men had taken over the castle at Pontefract. Cromwell saw it as such a troublesome place than instead of the customary slighting, where a castle was partially damaged, he ordered and paid the townspeople of Pontefract to destroy it.[11] To this day, the castle is a former shadow of itself. It’s very hard to imagine what the castle had once looked like prior to the destruction as there is so little left of it. Thankfully, there are some lovely images available to give a sense of what that might have been like. Whatever that may have been, you can’t help but commend John Morris for his tenacity and quick thinking when it came to infiltrating Pontefract Castle by using just beds.

If you would like to learn more about the history of Pontefract Castle, please do take a look at the following website: https://pontefractsandalcastles.org.uk/. It’s run by an amazing team of volunteers for both Pontefract and nearby Sandal Castle, both with wonderful Wars of the Roses connections. The team are lovely and the website is full of information on all aspects of history connected to both sites.


[1] Exploring Castles, Pontefract Castle: History of England’s Most Fearsome Fort, https://www.exploring-castles.com/uk/england/pontefract_castle/

[2] Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier: John Morris & The Siege of Pontefract Castle, 1648-9 (2014), http://www.chivalryandwar.co.uk/Resource/THE%20BRAVEST%20CAVALIER.pdf, p. 21

[3] Clarendon cited in Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier, p. 21.

[4] Pontefract Castle, Stories, https://www.pontefractcastle.co.uk/Castle-Stories.aspx; Thomas Paulden cited in Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier, p. 21.

[5] Earls of Manchester, Sieging and besieged: who were the soldiers who fought to control Pontefract Castle?, https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/sieging-and-besieged-who-were-the-soldiers-who-fought-to-control-pontefract-castle/

[6] Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier, p. 49.

[7] Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier, p. 50.

[8] Earls of Manchester, Sieging and besieged: who were the soldiers who fought to control Pontefract Castle?, https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/sieging-and-besieged-who-were-the-soldiers-who-fought-to-control-pontefract-castle/

[9] Earls of Manchester, Sieging and besieged: who were the soldiers who fought to control Pontefract Castle?, https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/sieging-and-besieged-who-were-the-soldiers-who-fought-to-control-pontefract-castle/

[10] Earls of Manchester, Sieging and besieged: who were the soldiers who fought to control Pontefract Castle?, https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/sieging-and-besieged-who-were-the-soldiers-who-fought-to-control-pontefract-castle/; Pontefract Castle, Stories, https://www.pontefractcastle.co.uk/Castle-Stories.aspx;

[11] Exploring Castles, Pontefract Castle: History of England’s Most Fearsome Fort, https://www.exploring-castles.com/uk/england/pontefract_castle/

A Riot, a Dog and The George Hotel in Reading- Guest Post by Jo Romero

Jo Romero has been obsessed with history for as long as she can remember and gained her History degree at the University of Hull. Her articles have been published in online magazines The Historians and The C Word and she runs the blog Love British History.

Reading, King Street: September 1639. The town constables skidded to a stop outside The George hotel to shrieks of murder. Their eyes were met with a grisly scene. Moaning townsmen clutching their heads lay scattered across cobblestones, deep red blood oozing from their scalps and dripping down past their ears and onto their shoulders.

Reading in Berkshire was a small, prosperous town that had become famous for its Medieval abbey, founded by Henry I in 1121. Parliaments were held within its pale, cold walls and Edward IV chose it as the place to formally introduce his new bride, Elizabeth Woodville in 1464. Trades sprang up to cater for travellers who came to worship and do business with the abbey –  the royalty, nobles and pilgrims. But since Henry VIII’s dissolution, Reading concentrated on its market days and clothing industry with clothiers and shoemakers working in the town.

Photograph of The George by Jo Romero

Seventeenth-century Reading was the smell of bonfires, the barking of dogs and the furtive, eager glances of pick-pockets and cut-purses loitering in the busy market square. The malty scent of alehouses and taverns and the sharp, musty tang of leather workshops. The earthy, metallic sting of fresh meat wafted out from Butcher’s Row and the bells clanged out from church towers. Alehouses, taverns and inns were always in demand, tucked awkwardly into timber-framed streets, signs swinging above their doors with names like The Katherine Wheele, The Bear and The Sun.

Samuel Pepys visited Reading in the summer of 1668 and wrote that the town “is a very great one, I think bigger than Salsbury: a river runs through it, in seven branches, and unite in one, in one part of the town, and runs into the Thames half-a-mile off one odd sign of the Broad Face.”(1) The Broad Face was another pub on the High Street almost opposite The George.

All important town business – debts, rents and petty crime – was written down in the Corporation Diary. They were mostly concerned with mundane minutes of council meetings, the execution of wills and enforcing trade regulations, but on 21st September 1639, we can almost detect the breathless excitement of the minute-taker, as they recorded the events at the inn:

“Then complaynt was made that murder was likely to be commytted in The George backside, for there was fyghting; whereupon the Constables were presently called, and at their comynge to keep the peace they found a number of people, amongest whiche some had their heades broken and cutt with swordes and staves, and some of the fighters and quarrellers gone.” They add, with a trace of both bewilderment and derision: “And beinge brought before the Maiour, upon examynacion, it apeared the quarrell arose about a dogge.” (2)

At first glance, it seems far too serious a fight to have been over a dog. Could it have been that some drunken haggling over the sale of a dog spiralled out of control? Or perhaps the dog had been stolen and was recognised by the original owner leading to a confrontation?

A detail in the town’s diary for January 1641 might give us a clue. It records the case of a butcher named Edward Vindge who “caused a tumult in The George gate-house, by settinge and causinge dog-fightinge and other brabbles.” He also struck a man called Humfrey Dewell, and “abused him in wordes”.(3) Edward Vindge isn’t mentioned as being involved in the 1639 attack, but the fact that we have evidence of dog fighting in Reading, in this very spot, suggests that it may have been common and certainly had the potential to disturb the peace. Perhaps one of the two men implicated in 1639 (William Keate and a certain man named Cumber of Tilehurst) were training dogs to fight, or it was a bet placed on a disputed winner?

While many people think of Stuart life as a cosy huddle of timber-framed houses and cobbled streets there was, to us looking back today, a darker side, particularly in their choice of entertainment. Dog fights and bear baiting were famously enjoyed by Elizabeth I and continued into the reigns of the Stuarts. In 1666 Samuel Pepys travelled to Southwark to watch a bull baiting, “and saw some good sport of the bull’s tossing of the dogs.”(4) A dog fight in 1629 in Greenwich was one of the events blamed for the onset of Queen Henrietta Maria’s early labour after they did “snatch at her and pull her by the gown.” (5)

Baiting a live bull with dogs before it was slaughtered by a butcher wasn’t just for entertainment – the Stuarts also believed that it made the meat more tender, perhaps explaining the temperament of butcher Edward Vindge’s dogs at The George in 1641. A writer who in 1660 spoke out to discourage these baiting sports proclaimed that although ‘the baiting of the bear, and cockfights, are no meet recreations,’ he drew attention to this practice, accepting that ‘the baiting of the bull has its use.’(6)

The Stuart townspeople of Reading might not have blinked an eye at a dog fight or a bull being baited outside the butcher’s shop, but the loud clatter of swords clashing at the local inn must have been a subject of local gossip.

The men who were injured – five men are recorded as having been at the scene, but it’s possible there were others – lived to tell the tale. Two men blamed for inflicting injuries fled the scene, but Thomas Soundey is recorded as suffering cuts to his head, and Morrice Nashe, for whom “blood was seene run about his eares.” The Constables called the surgeon, who confirmed the men were in “no danger of death.”(2)

For the town’s mayor, Richard Burren, it was business as usual. First mentioned in the diary in 1618 as a Constable of the town, he was a clothier by trade and sworn in as Mayor in October 1638. Unusual for Reading mayors, who tended to be re-elected more than once, he served just one year. This incident would have come during his last serving month. He would stay on in a different role as a town justice and overseer of St Laurence’s parish. He dutifully brought in the people involved, questioned the ones that hadn’t run away and concluded the cause.

It’s true that daily Stuart life was probably not as inherently violent as most TV dramas and films make it out to be, but this case shows that there were occasional hot-tempered outbursts involving weapons and risk to life. The exact details of the cause of the fight are missing from the records, and so we can only speculate as to the real trigger. This scrawled entry in the town’s diary does give us a glimpse into how crime was dealt with in Stuart towns and how important the clothing industry still was to Reading, with a wealthy clothier able to advance to various positions within town administration, including Mayor. Today, as shoppers grab coffee and chat with friends they would have no idea that on this spot blood was violently spilled on the cobblestones of The George on that late September day in 1639.

Notes:

  1. The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 16 June 1668.
  2. The Reading Records, The Diary of the Corporation, entry for 21 September 1639. Ed. JM Guilding. Vol 3. p464. 1892.
  3. The Reading Records, The Diary of the Corporation, entry for 12 January 1641. Ed. JM Guilding, Vol 4. p37. 1892.
  4. The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 14 August 1666.
  5. Katie Whitaker, A Royal Passion: The Turbulent Marriage of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, 2010, Google Books.
  6. The Harleian Miscellany, vol 7. The Opinion of Mr Perkins, and Mr Bolton, and Others Concerning The Sport of Cock-Fighting, 1660. Ed. by R Dutton, 1810. Accessed via Google Books.

William and Winifred Maxwell’s Escape from the Tower of London

After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (where Protestant William and Mary replaced the Catholic James II as joint monarchs of England, Wales and Scotland) tensions rose within the nobility and people at large, depending on which monarch they supported. At this time large pockets of Scotland in particular were Catholic, meaning they had a natural leaning towards King James. They, alongside others supporting James, became known as Jacobites, so named because it was similar to the Latin for James. This period in history is fascinating to me, not just because I love the Stuarts, but a few years ago during researching our family history, my dad discovered that my mum’s family are descended from James II’s first wife, Anne Hyde. The Glorious Revolution is literally my ancestors having a family fall out.

The tensions finally began to come to a head in late 1715 when forces mustered in the name of James’ son, James Francis Edward Stuart, known as the ‘Old Pretender’. It wasn’t well supported as Louis XIV of France, a previous supporter of the Jacobite cause, had died in September. The Duke of Orleans, who became the Regent took a rather different approach, choosing to instead become friends with the Hanoverians, the Protestant line that had been invited to the English throne following the end of the remaining Protestant Stuarts.[1] Despite this, the forces marched through Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire, until they eventually surrendered in Preston.[2] Amongst them was William Maxwell, the 5th Earl of Nithsdale. He and others were taken to London as prisoners and placed either in the Newgate Prison or the Tower of London. William was taken to the Tower, awaiting execution.

The BL King’s Topographical Collection: “THE TOWER OF LONDON”, British Library

William would probably be forgotten to history if it wasn’t for his wife, Winifred, who’s family had been closely linked to the exiled Jacobite court[3]. She was full of dedication, love and loyalty for her husband. Once news of his capture reached her at the family home in Terregles House, just outside Dumfries. Winifred bravely decided to take the month-long ride down to London through terrible winter weather, including deep snow, alone, other than for her maid.[4] After taking lodgings in the city, she wrote a petition to King George I, asking for clemency, after there was no forthcoming help from other Jacobite supporters. When none of this worked, she even visited the King in person, some sources saying she clung to his robes with her begging.[5] Still none of this worked, and Winifred knew she could only rely on herself and a few close friends to help William escape.

W. B. Blaikie, William Maxwell, Earl of Nithsdale, National Library of Scotland

Planning to escape from the Tower of London was a dangerous thing to do and was fraught with danger. Many had attempted it, but few had successfully managed it. Winifred was willing to play the long game though, and purposefully built up trust with the guards so that she was allowed to visit William regularly. This was a good way to lay the ground for the escape attempt which was scheduled for the day before William’s execution.

Winifred, along with her maid and two friends, were granted a last visit to say goodbye to William when they offered the guards drinking money and began friendly conversation with the wives of the guards.[6] Each of the women had the cloaks of their hoods up and were crying into handkerchiefs every time they left the cell, creating a confusing situation for the guards. It also gave Winifred the time to dress William up in spare women’s clothing that had been smuggled in under the clothing of her friends, and place make up on his face.[7] The funny thing is that William hadn’t had time to shave, so the make up didn’t stick to his face well. However, he was able to leave his cell and get past the guards pretending to be another of the grieving entourage. This was only made possible because Winifred stayed in the cell, pretending to have a conversation with William, and later telling the guards to leave him to his prayers.[8]

Illustration of William Maxwell’s Escape from the Tower of London from T. Archer’s Pictures and Royal Portraits illustrative of English and Scottish History … With descriptive … sketches (1878), British Library

The alarm wasn’t raised until much later after the party had managed to leave the Tower without suspicion. The pair were never caught as William was smuggled out of the country using a carriage with the Venetian ambassador’s coat of arms on, whilst Winifred made the journey back to Scotland to organise family papers and how the estate would be run whilst they were in exile.[9] By the time Winifred made the journey back to Scotland, she was pregnant and sadly after all her hard work, miscarried on the boat over to France to find her husband.[10] They did reunite and moved to Rome, where the rest of the exiled Jacobite court was living. However, despite happily being reunited, their life was still filled with varying degrees of poverty. They were helped with money and things did improve when Winifred became governess to Henry Stuart, the younger brother of Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.[11]

Winifred Maxwell, Countess of Nithsdale (née Winifred Herbert) from a drawing by C. Kirkpatrick Sharpe, Wikimedia Commons

William and Winifred did continue to be in love, and it is lovely to know that love never wavered, despite imprisonment, rebellion, and poverty. The pair did have two children, William, and Anne, but it is thought there were further miscarriages.[12] William Junior did return to the family home following his father’s death in 1744 and reconciled himself with the Hanoverian regime and continued to tell the tale of his parents’ escape from the Tower of London. This was especially important as his mother continued to live in exile until her own death in 1749.

This story of love is perhaps a rather bizarre one, but I must admit there is something endearing that Winifred was so instrumental in saving her husband’s live, despite the obvious risks she was taking. It’s certainly one I hadn’t heard of until recently and I hope it will continue to live on as one of the stranger parts of the Jacobite Rebellions and the history of the Tower of London. Thank you to Lauren Johnson’s talk on women and the Tower of London for bringing it to my attention. The story of the Maxwells certainly shows that whilst the Jacobite Rebellions is often told from the male perspective, just like Flora MacDonald, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape following his rebellion, women played an important, if forgotten role during that time.


[1] Burke, S., ‘Women of Merit Connected with Criminal Trials: The Countess of Nithsdale’, The Rose, Shamrock, and the Thistle, 5.25 (1864), p. 50.

[2] Burke, S., ‘Women of Merit Connected with Criminal Trials: The Countess of Nithsdale’, p. 50.

[3] ‘Lady Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/m/winifredmaxwell.html

[4] ‘Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maxwell-winifred-1672-1749; Burke, S., ‘Women of Merit Connected with Criminal Trials: The Countess of Nithsdale’, p. 50.

[5] Burke, S., ‘Women of Merit Connected with Criminal Trials: The Countess of Nithsdale’, p. 50.

[6] ‘Lady Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/m/winifredmaxwell.html

[7] Davis, J. P., ‘The 5 Most Daring Escapes from the Tower of London’, History Hit, https://www.historyhit.com/most-daring-escapes-from-the-tower-of-london/; ‘Lady Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/m/winifredmaxwell.html

[8] ‘Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maxwell-winifred-1672-1749; Davis, J. P., ‘The 5 Most Daring Escapes from the Tower of London’, History Hit, https://www.historyhit.com/most-daring-escapes-from-the-tower-of-london/

[9] ‘Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maxwell-winifred-1672-1749; Davis, J. P., ‘The 5 Most Daring Escapes from the Tower of London’, History Hit, https://www.historyhit.com/most-daring-escapes-from-the-tower-of-london/; ‘Lady Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/m/winifredmaxwell.html

[10] ‘Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maxwell-winifred-1672-1749

[11] ‘Lady Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/m/winifredmaxwell.html

[12] ‘Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maxwell-winifred-1672-1749

Margaret Cavendish (nee Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle

I first came across Margaret’s story during my volunteering at Bolsover Castle. I admired her determination to be what we would view as a modern woman, which during the seventeenth century, was an incredibly difficult thing to do. The saddest thing is that she was often nicknamed ‘Mad Madge’, when really, the exact opposite was true. Margaret was a highly intelligent woman who was interested in science, art, laboratories, and literature.[1] She was a prolific writer of books and essays on these topics and much more, including a biography of her husband, William Cavendish, poetry, and plays which often reflected her life experience. Best of all, William actively encouraged these interests his wife, who was 30 years younger than himself, had. He often spoke out about the reasons her being criticised as being unladylike and socially inappropriate in her pursuits, as pure sexism.[2] In Margaret he saw an intellectual equal, which it a very unique relationship for the times. I completely commend them for it. They received a huge amount of criticism for this, meaning they often spent long periods away from court, but that didn’t stop them from showing genuine love and acceptance of each other’s talents.

P. Lely, Margaret Cavendish, Wikimedia Commons

Margaret was born Margaret Lucas in 1623 to a respectable, royalist leaning family, in Colchester. We know little as to how she became interested in the usually male reserved topic of science and literature, but it is probable that she accessed these during her private tutoring at home.[3] What is clear is that she had an innate understanding of these topics. It was this that probably attracted William Cavendish when they met at the exiled court of Henrietta Maria in 1645. By this time, Margaret was a lady-in-waiting to the exiled Queen of England and William’s first wife, Elizabeth, had died. This first marriage, although is deemed to have eventually become a love match, was more a typical match of convenience, despite it producing 8 children. In Margaret, William had found his equal in all things, other than age and status.  

The couple’s early courtship was full of romance, despite the unhappiness that Henrietta Maria felt about the match.[4] From these letters we can clearly see the emotions that William felt for Margaret. They often referenced the large age gap between them, hoping that it would not hinder their love.

“I know that I’m old, it is too true,

Yet love, nay, I am in love with you.

Do not dispise me, or be cruell

For thus I am loues best fuell

No man can love more, or loves higher

Old, and dry wood, makes the best fier.”[5]

Even more touching is the references made to the lack of financial stability during his time in exile on the continent, following on from the Battle of Marston Moor and the English Civil War.

“The Princess Mary, marrys Kinge of Poland,

And you my Deer, do marry Prince of Noland”[6]

These letters offer us an incite into what appears to have been a genuine love between William and Margaret. It would appear that William didn’t hide his faults at this time, but he certainly made it no secret that he had a true love for Margaret, despite the small differences between them. However, they also had a lot in common.

William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Margaret Cavendish (née Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne by Peter van Lisebetten, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The exile they endured until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 didn’t hinder their enthusiastic collecting of books and scientific instruments, amongst other things, a hobby they often shared together. The couple amassed a large collection of microscopes and telescopes during this period. Margaret even had her own ones to use personally, which was why she later went on to critique the use of them in the Royal Society. Many at the time used this to rubbish her opinion, believing that them as childlike. However, as she used such instruments herself, she knew very well that the instruments could offer imprecise readings, especially as the grinding of lenses was a common problem.[7] These critiques of microscopes would later be reflected in the work of John Locke and Thomas Sydenham, but were largely brushed off.[8] These were not the only dealings Margaret had with the Royal Society, she often attended their public experiments, much to the comment of others. Sadly, this meant that after Margaret, women were excluded from the Royal Society until 1945.[9]

Science wasn’t the only interest Margaret had. She also published a lot of material, starting with Poems and Fancies in 1653. At the time, as William also was a writer, they believed it was truly her husband, using his wife’s name as a pen name. William always supported his wife, claiming it was always her own work. Margaret did the same but did credit William as a writing mentor. As Billing suggests, the pair actually relied on each other in print, in order to maintain a certain reputation in the public sphere: William as a supportive husband and loyal subject to the king, Margaret as a dutiful wife and writer in her own right.[10] It was for this that Margaret so wished to be remembered. Instead, society wished to rubbish her as a woman whose opinion on usually male dominated topics wasn’t required.

Margaret Cavendish (née Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne by Pieter Louis van Schuppen, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The relationship she had with William’s children and household also proved to be a rocky affair, probably not helped by the fact her marriage proved childless. Margaret blamed Henry, William’s longest surviving son, for abandoning his father during the exile. This alongside her unusual approach to societal norms caused a lot of tension within the family.[11] In October 1670, not long before the death of both William and Margaret, these tensions came to a head. William wrote over more of his lands to Margaret in the hope of sustaining her during her widowhood, believing he would die first (although sadly that was not to be the case).[12] This move angered William’s children, especially Henry, who believed she had had enough lands and was now stealing the inheritance. At the same time, William’s steward, Andrew Clayton, began to spread malicious rumours about Margaret, suggesting she was being unfaithful, and was purposefully stockpiling money and land to fund a second marriage after William’s death.[13] However, Margaret herself died on the 15th of December 1673 at their main house of Welbeck Abbey, nearly 3 years before William himself. Probably still hurt by the turn of events in 1670, William instead used the money he had saved for Margaret to begin reworking Nottingham Castle.[14]

Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire, England from Jones’s Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, 1829

Sadly, I don’t have enough time or words to go into depth about the many works published by Margaret, or the influence they had. If you would like to know more, I would recommend looking into The Blazing World, often referenced as a proto-science fiction novel, almost Jules Verne in character. For now though, I hope this post has managed to highlight the unfair attitude that Margaret Cavendish was treated with in her own time. During the Seventeenth Century, intelligence in a woman, whilst accepted to a small degree, was often seen as far too dangerous, and in the case of Margaret, was dismissed as childish. However, she did have similar views to men in her field, but she was always excluded. From this, it is no surprise that she advocated for better education for women and believed that women were being forced to obey men.[15] That is why I am glad she married William, because without his support and understanding her as an equal to him, she wouldn’t have been allowed to follow her interests and talents. This can be seen in the epitaph he gave her tomb:

This Dutches was a wife wittie and learned lady, which her many books do well testifie. She was a most virtuous and a louieng and careful wife and was with her lord all the time of his banishment and miseries and when he came home never parted from him in his solitary retirements.[16]


[1] Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy (London: Fabor and Faber Ltd, 2007), p. 219.

[2] Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 223.

[3] British Library, Margaret Cavendish, https://www.bl.uk/people/margaret-cavendish

[4] Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 177.

[5] BL Add MS 32497, f. 11or, cited in Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 178.

[6] BL Add MS 32497, f. 11or, cited in Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 179.

[7] Wilkins, E., ‘Margaret Cavendish and the Royal Society’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 68.3 (2014), p. 247.

[8] Wilkins, E., ‘Margaret Cavendish and the Royal Society’, p. 248.

[9] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook (London: English Heritage, Revised Edition, 2016), p. 43.

[10] Billing, V., ‘”Treble marriage”: Margaret Cavendish, William Newcastle, and Collaborative Authorship’, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, 11.2 (2011), p. 95.

[11] Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, pp. 229-230.

[12] Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 230.

[13] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 43; Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 230.

[14] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 43.

[15] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 43; Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 223.

[16] Lees, L. E., ‘Introduction: A Glorious Resurrection’ in Lees, L. E. (ed), Margaret Cavendish (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), p. 1.

The Star Chamber at Bolsover Castle

Since 2016, I have volunteered at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire every summer as a guide. Sadly, this year I haven’t been able to return due to the pandemic, but the site is open daily between 10 am and 5 pm for pre-booked slots only.[1] I know I’m biased, but I would really recommend a visit if you can. It has a fascinating history and some wonderful period paintings which are well worth seeing. The castle is a wonderful mix of Stuart pleasure with the sense of nostalgia towards the medieval, as designed by father and son team Robert and John Smythson for the father and son owners, Charles and William Cavendish.[2] It has been recognised by some as “the most beautiful house in England, and one of the treasures of Western Europe”.[3] I will leave that judgement up to you if you ever visit, but I can imagine in its heyday, it would have been a spectacular sight to behold.

The first building phase of the current castle was between 1611 and 1617, following the footprint of an older medieval castle that was once in existence. This included the building known as the Little Castle, which was the main living accommodation until the Terrace Range was built in anticipation of a visit from Charles I and his wife, Henrietta Maria in 1634. The Little Castle was built as William Cavendish’s pleasure holiday home, as he mainly lived at Welbeck Abbey nearby. For this reason, it was sumptuously decorated and furnished. Each room had a theme and relevant imagery was used to show the classical and biblical knowledge of William.

The Little Castle (Author’s Own Image)

One of the most popular rooms in the Little Castle is the Star Chamber, mainly as it was refurnished in 2014 to replicate what it may have once looked like in the Stuart era, and as many visitors have noted, it feels the most homely. The tapestries are not original to the house, they are actually reproduced versions of original 17th century tapestries found at Blickling House in Norfolk. They were recreated by 3D printing onto linen but are still very effective.

The original interiors of the Little Castle, including the Star Chamber were completed roughly between 1619 and 1921. The Star Chamber itself was created as the main entertaining and reception space for the Castle. It would have originally been furnished with a large table to eat from, as well as many seats to be used either during banqueting or for watching or listening to entertainment, with a raised dais to be used by William and either his first wife, Elizabeth Basset, or his second wife, Margaret Lucas.

The Raised Dais (Author’s Own Image)

The theme of this room is biblical, with painted panels depicting old and new testament figures, the largest of which are King David and King Solomon. These contrast with the two painted panels in the corner, which would have once formed a door to a concealed privy. These depict men in armour, and it has been debated about who these are.[4] Some have claimed that it could be William and his brother. There was once another panel depicting a young boy with a pet cat, but sadly this was stolen.[5] Raylor argues that all the paintings in this room are an allegory for political and religious authority, which originated with these biblical figures, and was passed down not just to himself as the local landowner, but replicated in the monarchy.[6] This can be seen in the use of family crests, indicating where William’s personal authority comes from.

Interior of Star Chamber, showing ceiling, Wikimedia Commons

The reason the room is called the Star Chamber is because at some point following William’s death, an auditor named the rooms in an inventory. The Star Chamber took its name from the wonderfully elaborate ceiling, featuring 254 gold leaf stars. This was restored in 2000, when the coving had to be redone. During this process, the ceiling colour was changed. Prior to this, the colour had been a dark blue, to represent the night sky. During the investigation work, an original light blue colour was found underneath, and it was decided to return it to its sky-blue colour. The ceiling would have originally cost a fortune, as the sky-blue colour is blue verditer, which is created by smelting silver.[7] Also during the restoration, an original 17th century playing card was found underneath the coving. It was probably put there by one of the craftsmen who worked there, hoping to be remembered in some way centuries after he had completed his work. Unfortunately, the card is now at the British Museum, but it is only one of many hidden treasures found secreted away in many country houses across the country.

The Star Chamber Fireplace (Author’s Own Image)

The fireplaces throughout the Little Castle, are all made from Derbyshire stone and marble (other than the Italian Marble used in the Marble Closet) either mined in the Peak District, or more locally to the Castle. They all feature slightly different imagery, but the fireplace in the Star Chamber is the most carved and represents different parts of the Cavendish family. The Talbot dogs on the front are to remember George Talbot, the last of William’s grandmother, Bess of Hardwick’s husbands, and through who’s son, sold Bolsover to this side of the Cavendish family. The Cavendish crest is also wrapped around the sides. This is also the only fireplace to have received some damage. It was probably done by Parliamentarian forces who lived here during the Civil War, following William’s forced personal exile after his defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor in July 1644. Luckily for William, despite instructions to have the place destroyed, the Parliamentarians never did, instead choosing to sell it on in 1650.[8] William’s brother, Charles, saved stopped this sale by returning apologetically to England and brought back William’s estates.[9]

Despite not being able to return to Bolsover myself this year, I have extremely fond memories and hope to return next summer. I gave my first ever guided tour last year and it was received very well by visitors and was hoping to do some more this time, but sadly that wasn’t to be. I hope that this short history of one of the most popular rooms, although not my personal favourite (that’s the Heaven Closet), has been a guided tour of sorts, even if it’s in a very different way. By knowing the history and style of the house, it is almost like knowing William Cavendish himself. This very unique house is said to openly reflect his style and character.[10] If you ever have the chance to visit, remember that as you look around the rooms that are full of imagery that often seems to be puzzling to us. It’s just that for whatever reason, the meaning has somehow been lost to us to a certain extent.


[1] Bolsover Castle, English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/bolsover-castle/

[2] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook (London: English Heritage, Revised Edition, 2016), p. 3.

[3] T. Mowl, Elizabethan and Jacobean Style (1993), cited in Raylor, T., ‘“Pleasure Concealed as Virtue”: William Cavendish, Ben Jonson, and the Decorative Scheme of Bolsover Castle’, Renaissance Quarterly, 52.2 (1999), p. 402.

[4] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 20.

[5] Raylor, T., ‘“Pleasure Concealed as Virtue”, p. 420.

[6] Raylor, T., ‘“Pleasure Concealed as Virtue”, p. 420.

[7] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 20.

[8] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 41.

[9] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 41.

[10] Raylor, T., ‘“Pleasure Concealed as Virtue”, p. 404.

Christian Davies: First Woman to be Paid an Army Pension in her Own Right

Female veterans were officially accepted into the Royal Hospital at Chelsea in 2009 but there was one who arrived in the 1730s. Her name was Christian Davies and she certainly had a story to tell. She lived a life that wasn’t available to most women of the eighteenth century and quite a lot of it was spent on the battlefield. The idea of war would have been known to her as she was born in 1667, the English Civil War would have been within living memory. Her protestant father had also supported James II during the Williamite War in Ireland, dying from wounds following the Battle of Aughrim in July 1691.[1] At some point after the death of her father, she went to live with an aunt who ran a pub and it would be this move that set her life on a very different path.

Whilst living with her aunt, Christian fell in love with a servant at the pub by the name of Richard Welsh. They were married and ended up having 3 children together. Their life together seemed rather ordinary until during the last pregnancy, Richard disappeared without a trace. It turned out he had been signed up for the army and shipped off to the Netherlands to fight. A letter was sent home by him explaining that he had been drunk and had woken up on a ship surrounded by other soldiers on their way to war.[2] There would have been a social stigma attached to Christian if word had got out her husband had abandoned her, regardless of the real facts. Rather than face the sad situation, she left her children with her mother and made the rather unusual choice to join the army herself and find Richard. Whether her intention was solely to find her husband or to use his disappearance as an excuse to find the opportunity for adventure, we’ll never know, but whatever those reasons, her choice to join the army herself was an incredibly brave one.[3]


Kit Cavenaugh, aka Mother Ross and Christian Davies (1706), from the Scottish Military Historical Society

Christian changed her name to Kit Cavanagh and became a rather skilful soldier, fighting in both the Nine Years War and the War of Spanish Succession. The first battle it is known she fought at was the Battle of Landen in July of 1693, where she was wounded and taken prisoner by the French.[4] She was released in a prisoner swap a year later but her secret was still not known. How Christian managed to keep her gender a secret for upwards of 13 years is a miracle, especially considering some of the situations she found herself in. She fought a duel with a sergeant in the same regiment for attacking a young woman in hopes of defending the woman’s honour.[5] The sergeant was killed and she was dismissed but soon after reenlisted in the Royal North British Dragoons, which later became the Scots Greys.[6] As if that wasn’t awkward enough, a prostitute later claimed that Kit Cavanagh was the father of her child but instead of telling the truth and decrying the other woman as a liar, Christian instead paid for the baby’s maintenance.[7] The bizarre situations the imposter found herself in didn’t stop there. In a biography later published in 1740 following her death, which claimed to have come from her own words, Cavanagh said she managed to fool the rest of her regiment into believing she was a man by using a tube with leather straps to pee through.[8] If that part was true, it shows how much effort she put into her disguise and possibly how stupid the other men around her were.


L. Laguerre, The Battle of Malplaquet (Tanières), 1709: The Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene Entering the French Entrenchments, Wiki Commons/Art UK

Following the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, Christian finally found Richard after she was put in charge of some French prisoners. Richard was getting flirty with a Dutch woman and Christian’s anger showed her true identity. Begging to still remain a soldier, Christian insisted the pair act as brothers.[9] It was not until a more serious injury of a fractured skull from the Battle of Ramillies that the truth was discovered by an army doctor. Instead of instantly sending her home, the regiment’s commanding officer recognised Kit’s bravery and allowed her to keep her pay until she was fully recovered, then would be allowed to stay as a camp follower as a soldier’s wife.[10] This situation continued for 3 years until Richard was finally killed at the Battle of Malplaquet on the 11th of September 1709.

The army life still called to her and Christian decided to stay following the Scots Greys. This led to a brief relationship with a Captain Ross, hence the nickname Mother Ross, and a 3 month marriage with a man called Hugh Jones, before he died also.[11] The wandering life never left her even when she returned to Ireland. She owned many pubs but never settled on one, despite her third and final marriage. Despite her return to a somewhat normal life, Christian remained a celebrity from her life in the army, so in some ways the army had never left her. She was presented to Queen Anne and received a £50 and 1 shilling pension from her, besides a separate pension from the Duke of Marlborough.[12] In her final years she was accepted as a pensioner at the Royal Chelsea Hospital and died there on the 7th of July 1739, later to be given a funeral with full military honours.[13]


The Royal Hospital, Chelsea: viewed from the Surrey bank with boats on the river. Coloured engraving. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Whilst there is debate as to whether the posthumous biography on Christian Davies, under the name of Kit Cavanagh, used her own words, it does certainly shed light on life in an army camp at that time.[14] It became a go-to book on women’s experience of war during the early part of the eighteenth century, which was often overlooked at the time.[15] Yet there is a more complex context behind it than who’s words were used to create this biography. It did one of two things; help promote nationalism for men and women at a time of further conflict during the Anglo-Spanish War and the War of Austrian Succession and celebrated a woman who was able to defy the typical gender roles that were expected of her.[16]


[1] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, 1682-2017 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2019), p. 192.

[2] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 193; Broderick, M., Wild Irish Women (Dublin: O’Brien Press, 2012).

[3] Traynor, J., ‘The crossdresser from Dublin who tricked the British Army’, The Irish Times, 27 June 2018, https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/abroad/the-crossdresser-from-dublin-who-tricked-the-british-army-1.3544764

[4] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 193.

[5] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 194; Broderick, M., Wild Irish Women.

[6] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 194.

[7] Broderick, M., Wild Irish Women.

[8] Broderick, M., Wild Irish Women.

[9] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, pp. 194-195.

[10] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 195.

[11] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 196.

[12] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 196; Broderick, M., Wild Irish Women.

[13] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 196.

[14] Lynn, J. A., ‘Essential Women, Necessary Wives, and Exemplary Soldiers: The Military Reality and Cultural Representation of Women’s Military Participation (1660-1815)’, in Hacker, B. C. and Vining, M. (eds), A Companion to Women’s Military History (Leiden: Brill, 2012), p. 127.

[15] Lynn, J. A., ‘Essential Women, Necessary Wives, and Exemplary Soldiers’, p. 127.

[16] Bowen, S., ‘”The Real Soul of a Man in her Breast”: Popular Opposition and British Nationalism in Memoirs of Female Soldiers, 1740-1750’, Eighteenth-Century Life, 28.3 (2004), p. 20; J. Wheelwright, ‘”Amazons and Military Maids”: An Examination of Female Heroines in British Literature and the Changing Construction of Gender’, Women’s Studies International Forum, 10.5 (1987), cited in Bowen, S., “The Real Soul of a Man in her Breast”, p. 21.

Royal Boats owned by Charles II

The 29th of May marks the birth of Charles II, one of my favourite historical figures. To celebrate this, and what is known as Oak Apple Day, I thought it rather fitting to look into some of the boats owned by the King. These two boats, the Royal Escape, used as a yacht and a royal barge. Both boats have interesting stories and quite personal connections for the Merry Monarch. Before talking about these boats, it is best to first of all explain what Oak Apple Day is and how it was celebrated.

Oak Apple Day was made a national holiday following the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660. It was named Oak Apple to remember the oak tree Charles hid in during his 6 weeks trying to escape England following the Royalist defeat at the Battle of Worcester. The 29th of May was chosen for this because it was the Charles’ birthday and the day he made his triumphal entry into London in 1660. This national holiday was celebrated until the Victorian period, when it was abolished by Parliament in 1859.[1] It is still commemorated in small pockets of the country, most notably at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, who use the time to celebrate Charles II as their founder.[2] It is usually marked with a visit by a member of the royal family, but unfortunately like so many other things at the moment, it will be marked in some other way this year.



The Royal Hospital, Chelsea: view of the Pensioners cheering and waving their hats and sticks, at a King Charles’s Day Parade. Wood engraving. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

For Charles, his escape from the Battle of Worcester must have been an experience full of fear, uncertainty and exhilaration. At the time he would have had no idea whether he would make it to France safely or ever see England again if he got there. It is no wonder that he made Oak Apple Day a national holiday. The boat that was instrumental in his escape was called the Surprise. It was owned by a man called Tatersal who lived on the south coast near Brighton. Ironically, the ship had been intercepted by a Royalist squadron in the years before the Battle of Worcester, but Charles had intervened and let Tatersal go.[3] Little did they know then the part they’d later play in each other’s lives. When Charles escaped on the Surprise, Tatersal was the only crew member who knew Charles and his plans to escape to France, the rest of the crew instead believed he was a fellow merchant wanting to go further along the coast to escape debts.


Willem van de Velde the Younger, The Royal Escape Close-Hauled in a Breeze, Late 17th Century, National Maritime Museum Greenwich/WikiCommons

Following the Restoration, the Surprise was purchased for Charles, renamed the Royal Escape, and turned into a royal yacht as a tourist attraction to show visiting dignitaries.[4] Owning a royal yacht sounds like a modern thing for British royalty but actually, Charles was the first monarch to own one.[5] Tatersal was greatly rewarded, despite his cheekiness in asking for more payment once he realised who Charles really was. He was given a pension and a captaincy in the Navy, as well as being given a role in the procession following Charles’ return from Holland.[6] This new lifestyle in the Navy didn’t last long for Tatersal as he went back to owning smaller ships and in his final years he became a landlord at the Old Ship Hotel before dying aged 60 in 1674.[7] His body was buried in St Nicholas’ Church in Brighton with a rather grand tombstone, with the inscription saying how he had “preserved the Church, Crown and the Nation”.[8] The Royal Surprise was rebuilt as a transport ship in 1714 and 1736 before being sold on in 1750, but it’s name was reused for subsequent ships.[9]

As a bit of a research rabbit hole when trying to find out more about the Surprise/Royal Escape, I found another interesting story of Charles II’s royal barge. This barge as another of Charles’ boats to have a fascinating life upon the waves, albeit on the River Thames as well as the ocean at Portsmouth. It is now housed at the National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth, which is a fitting home considering its main role to ferry Charles around the fleet of the Navy on inspections.[10] The woman sculptured at the stern (back) of the boat was Louise de Kerouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth, a mistress of Charles, thus cementing the boat’s connections with Portsmouth itself even more.[11] After Charles’ death in 1685, that was not the end of the life for the royal barge. Whilst it probably lay dormant for many decades, it was brought back to life for the funeral of Horatio Nelson, the most famous of British seaman.


Royal Barge of Charles II, Flickr: Andrea Vail

Charles’ royal barge was used to carry Nelson’s coffin to the Admiralty Building amongst a flotilla of other boats along the Thames after the body had laid in state at Greenwich for 3 days.[12] The choice of a royal barge in Nelson’s state funeral showed the high esteem the Admiral was held in. During this first part of the funeral along the Thames, was a solemn affair but the Navy played a large part too, providing an escort and giving gun salutes.[13] Trafalgar veterans were also used during the funeral, mainly to take the coffin off the royal barge when it arrived at the Admiralty. This, alongside the 20,000-30,000 people who were in attendance along the funeral route to St Pauls the following day, created a patriotic image that helped cement Nelson as an immortal figure in the naval legacy of Britain.[14] As the royal barge used during this procession had originally been used by Charles II to inspect the navy, it was fitting to use it for the funeral of the hero of Trafalgar.


The funeral procession on the River Thames of Lord Nelson seen from Bankside. Coloured etching by John Thomas Smith, 1806. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

On the 390th anniversary of the birth of Charles II and Oak Apple Day, I hope this blog post has highlighted some of the boats used by the monarch that have incredible, if somewhat forgotten, stories behind them. Charles himself did love ships himself and wanted to improve the navy but unfortunately there was never enough money to do these improvements. However, during his reign the Act of Establishing Articles and Orders for the Regulating and Better Government of His Majesty’s Navies, Ships of War and Forces by Sea was passed, the first set of articles that made the navy a professional fighting force.[15] Perhaps Charles himself would have been proud that one of his barges was used in a funeral for the man who had helped make the British Navy become a legend of sorts following the Battle of Trafalgar.

[1] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2019), p. 148.

[2] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile, p. 149.

[3] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile, p. 116.

[4] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile, p. 116.

[5] Royal Yacht Britannia,  https://www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk/about/history/

[6] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile, p. 116.

[7] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile, p. 116.

[8] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile, p. 116.

[9] Colledge, J. J. and Warlow, B., Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy from the 15th Century to the Present (Havertown, PA: Casemate, 2010), p. 347;  Winfield, R., British Warships in the Age of Sail 1714-1792: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates (Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2007), p. 367.

[10] The National Royal Navy Museum, Curator’s Choice: The Royal Barge https://www.nmrn.org.uk/news-events/nmrn-blog/curators-choice-royal-barge

[11] The National Royal Navy Museum, Curator’s Choice: The Royal Barge https://www.nmrn.org.uk/news-events/nmrn-blog/curators-choice-royal-barge

[12] The National Royal Navy Museum, Curator’s Choice: The Royal Barge https://www.nmrn.org.uk/news-events/nmrn-blog/curators-choice-royal-barge; Heard, S., ‘Sir Isaac Heard: the man who helped the nation mourn Nelson’, Royal Museums Greenwich Blog, 12 June 2019, https://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/behind-the-scenes/blog/sir-isaac-heard-man-who-helped-nation-mourn-nelson

[13] Heard, S., ‘Sir Isaac Heard: the man who helped the nation mourn Nelson’, Royal Museums Greenwich Blog, 12 June 2019, https://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/behind-the-scenes/blog/sir-isaac-heard-man-who-helped-nation-mourn-nelson; Konstam, A., Horatio Nelson (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011), p. 56.

[14] Konstam, A., Horatio Nelson, p. 57; Jenks, T., ‘Contesting the Hero: The Funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson’, Journal of British Studies, 39.4 (2000), pp. 423 and 437.

[15] Davies, J. D., ‘The Navy, Parliament and Political Crisis in the reign of Charles II’, The Historical Journal, 36.2 (1992), p. 272.

Henry Frederick Stuart: the Lost Prince

When James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603, he came with a royal family, something that England hadn’t known for many generations. This included Henry, the oldest son, who would unfortunately die aged eighteen in 1612. There hadn’t been a male heir to the throne since Henry VIII’s son, Edward, but he became king at a young age and was never officially invested as Prince of Wales. The last prince to be invested with this title was Prince Arthur, back in 1504. What exactly would the new role as heir to the recently connected Scottish and English throne mean? Upon his progress to England, James wrote to Henry what type of character he would need for this, suggesting that it shouldn’t “make you proude or insolent” and to ensure “kyndnes but in honorable sort”.[1] Other than this guidance, it would be up to Henry to shape what it would mean to be the heir. Of course, what no one knew, was just how short lived the poor prince’s life would eventually be. It was this that would define his life in the psyche of the nation at the time, but first he would prove himself to shine his light in a way that would show he would have been a very capable king.

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Robert Peake the Elder, Portrait of Prince Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, Private Collection / Photo © Philip Mould Ltd, London / Bridgeman Images

Henry would prove himself to be a well-rounded renaissance prince, who was equally interested in the arts, science, travel and military activities.[2] In this respect he was seen as everything James wasn’t, especially in his interest in foreign wars and the wish to assert English authority abroad, much to the frustration of seeing friends and other protestant nations across Europe fight for their religion.[3] The friendship he struck up with Henri IV of France, who came from a Huguenot background, made this more acute. Upon Henri’s assassination in 1610 made Henry appear to be the next hope for Protestant Europe, so “that he might marshal a decisive protestant victory”.[4] As this was in direct opposition to James’ peaceful style of monarchy, Henry’s circle attracted many protestants, as well as those of an artistic background, who felt alienated in James’ court, which was known for its direct style of order.[5]

It was this opposition that postponed Henry’s investiture. It was only with Henry’s supporters pushing for an official investiture ceremony, hoping that once confirmed as Prince of Wales, he would be allowed military roles.[6] When the celebrations finally came, they lasted over several days and included many masques and a river pageant, all of which surrounded the main place of power at Whitehall. There was disagreement as to whether a street or river pageant would be best. As the investiture was not long after Henri IV’s assassination, it was decided a river pageant from Richmond to Whitehall would be best. Another reason for the celebrations to be placed in Whitehall was because the majority of the money financing it came from the City of London.[7] Despite these reasons, there were some contemporaries who thought a street procession wasn’t chosen as James was jealous of the Prince’s popularity with the people, and this would have been a more open way of showing this popularity, rather than a river pageant.[8] Whatever the motives behind it, it was an opportunity to show a collective love for Henry, especially with the City funding it, as this showed loyalty towards a future sovereign.[9]

The whole point of these few days of celebrations was to represent the court culture, most notably that of masques, in a way that would show adoration of Henry.[10] These masques, as with any masques at the time, were a way of expressing royal power.[11] In the context of Henry’s investiture, this would have related to allegories of the power in royal succession and the celebration of him becoming Prince of Wales. The allegorical nature of masques was often meant to symbolise current political rhetoric, but on the day of the masque for the investiture, the allegory alluded to the celebrations themselves.[12] Queen Anne, Princess Elizabeth and Lady Arbella Stuart acted as the personification of rivers, including the River Thames, thus alluding to the previous river pageant during the celebrations.[13]

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Isaac Oliver (after), Henry, Prince of Wales, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK / Bridgeman Images

The pageants and ceremony that followed Henry in life would also follow him in death. Between his death and the funeral, life in Henry’s chambers carried on almost as normal, as washbasins and his favourite meals were still delivered.[14] Despite this sense of normality, the grief of the royal family was evident in the fact that it was forbidden to mention Henry’s name in the company of King James and Queen Anne.[15] The sudden death of their eldest son created issues as to how to best continue with Prince Charles as the next heir. James was advised to not simply swap Henry for Charles, so most of Henry’s belongings were quickly sold, other than some of his art collection.[16] This part of Henry’s legacy would create major issues in the lead up to the English Civil War, as many of those who had been in Henry’s circle believed that Charles had betrayed what “they and their prince stood for”.[17]

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The arms of Henry Prince of Wales (1594-1612), possibly early 17th century, Salisbury Museum / Bridgeman Images

In preparation for the funeral, an effigy was created that was made to look as realistic as possible. It was even dressed in some of Henry’s finest clothes to ensure it still looked alive.[18] It was thought that it would help the nation to grieve and showed the status others had placed upon him as effigies were usually reserved for monarchs.[19] The immense grief the nation felt was likened to that of the death of the Black Prince 300 years before, especially as the untimely death went against his heroic and chivalric nature.[20] With the nation in mourning, a large state funeral full of magnificence was required. The total cost for it would total around £16,000, even more than the cost of celebrations for Princess Elizabeth’s wedding.[21]

effigy
Funeral effigy of Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales, Westminster Abbey

Despite the success of the funeral and the love for Henry it fuelled in the nation, the Prince appears to have been lost to the history books and in the current understanding of the Stuart era. There are many reasons for this, mainly because in some respects, the suppression of remembering his life by James following the funeral, meant he was forgotten, but also the events of the Civil War decades later would overshadow it. The lack of physical points of remembrance have also made it hard. Due to the cost of the funeral, ideas for a permanent tomb were put on hold, only to be forgotten about.[22] This left only the effigy as a focus point for people. However, visitors who came to see it often took relics from it, leaving it now completely unrecognisable.[23] Now it is only an indistinguishable pile of wood, hiding its royal image and the hope of a better monarch that were once had in Henry whilst he was alive.

[1] James writing to Henry (1603), cited in Gardener, E. E., ‘A British Hunting Portrait’, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 3.5 (1945), p. 113.

[2] Gardener, E. E., ‘A British Hunting Portrait’, p. 114.

[3] Streete, A., ‘Elegy, Prophecy, and Politics: Literary Responses to the Death of Prince Henry Stuart, 1612-1614’, Renaissance Studies, 31.1 (2017), pp. 87-88.

[4] David Norbrook, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance, 2nd Edition, cited in Streete, A., ‘Elegy, Prophecy, and Politics: Literary Responses to the Death of Prince Henry Stuart, p. 87; Woodward, J., The Theatre of Death: The Ritual Management of Royal Funerals in Renaissance England, 1570-1625 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1997), p. 154.

[5] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, Comparative Drama, 42.4 (2008), p. 434.

[6] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, p. 434.

[7] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, p. 435.

[8] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, p. 435.

[9] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, p. 439 and 441.

[10] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, p. 446.

[11] S. Orgel, The Illusion of Power cited in Bergeron, D. M., ‘Court Masques about Stuart London’, Studies in Philology, 113.4 (2016), p. 822.

[12] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Court Masques about Stuart London’, p. 832; Marcus, L. S., ‘”Present Occasions” and the Shaping of Ben Jonson’s Masques’, ELH, 45.2 (1978), p. 206.

[13] Bergeron, D. M., ‘Creating Entertainments for Prince Henry’s Creation (1610)’, p. 444.

[14] Fraser, S., The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart (London: William Collins, 2017), p. 255.

[15] Fraser, S., The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, p. 254.

[16] Fraser, S., The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, p. 256.

[17] Fraser, S., The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, p. 265.

[18] Fraser, S., The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, p. 260.

[19] Woodward, J., The Theatre of Death, p. 161.

[20] Woodward, J., The Theatre of Death, p. 155.

[21] Woodward, J., The Theatre of Death, p. 148.

[22] Woodward, J., The Theatre of Death, p. 162.

[23] Fraser, S., The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, p. 266.

Charles II’s Search for His Royal Image

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John Gilbert, The Restoration of Charles II,  engraving from the Illustrated London News, 1 June 1861, Private Collection/Bridgeman Images.

For me, Charles II so rightly deserves the title given to him by the BBC children’s TV series, Horrible Histories, as the ‘King of Bling’. In the few essays I’ve written about him during my time as a student, I will confess that is how I address him in my personal notes. I did this even more so on an essay I did on the material culture of the Restoration period being a product of power, especially Charles’ royal power at the time. The most interesting part of this was his search for the art that was looted and sold on from his father, Charles I’s, collection after his execution.

The royal image during the Restoration period needed to be re-established in order to reflect the new role of a constitutional monarchy. Charles II needed to prove he was worthy of being King, whilst also separating himself from the unsuccessful regimes of his father, Charles I, and Oliver Cromwell.[1] However, this was a complicated process. First of all, Charles had to reclaim his father’s art, then create new meanings to them that would apply to his political restoration.[2] The main aim of the Restoration period was to find a midway between the absolutism Charles I had practised, and the Puritanism practised by Cromwell. The way Charles did this was by making luxury consumption an essential part of the pageantry of the royal court.[3] This performance element was most noticeable in the art created for Charles II, as it was essential in creating and maintaining his own form of power.

Upon Charles II’s restoration as King of England, he had stated that his rule would be one of peace and reconciliation.[4] Upon the restoration, symbols of the Commonwealth were destroyed in celebration of what was to come.[5] What is interesting to note is that the political peace was actually closely linked with the retrieval of the goods, jewels and pictures once owned by Charles I. Within a few days of the restoration of the monarchy, a committee was held to find out what had happened to the old king’s collection. It soon became clear that the political restoration of Charles II couldn’t happen “without the material restitution of the trappings of royal power”.[6]

So why was it so important for Charles II to reinstate his father’s collection when it had connections to the absolutism that caused Charles I to lose his head and the destructiveness of the Commonwealth under Cromwell? Art was seen as part of the royal image and it was important to use the old images of the previous king who practised absolute authority in order to show how the new constitutional monarchy would be under the reign of Charles II. The main way to do this was for a shift in the types of artists used for royal art commissions. Charles II didn’t want to repeat his father’s mistakes by buying art for the sake of it and so only brought and commissioned art he believed would be for his own political benefit.[7]

As Charles II hadn’t actually lived in England since he was a teenager, art was needed to familiarise his subjects with what he looked like now.[8] Depictions of him were hung up in many streets so that the ordinary man could know who was going to be in charge of this new political regime.[9] Nothing was more important to spread this message than Charles’ coronation portrait (see below).

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John Michael Wright, Charles II,  Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2018 / Bridgeman Images

The portrait by John Michael Wright was seen as a definite portrayal of the restoration of royal power.[10] The tapestry behind him is The Judgement of Solomon and was one of the pieces of his father’s recovered collection, showing how important the reclamation process to Charles’ royal image and comparing his own rule to that of his father’s.[11] The comparison with his father goes even deeper when used in connection with the Latin inscription of the portrait. It is taken from 1 Chronicles 29:23 and compares Solomon’s rule with that of his father, King David (of David and Goliath fame): “Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as King instead of David, his father, and prospered; and all Israel obeyed him”.[12] This clarifies Charles relationship with his father in terms of monarchy. He knew that if his regime was to survive, he had to separate his way of ruling with the absolute monarchy that had been practised previously. Still, there was also some expectation that he would be obeyed as a king for the Order of the Garter symbol still appears. Whilst this is not used to claim divine status as Charles I would have once used it, it still showed links to royalist loyalty and confirmed his new level of authority.[13]

Art was the way Charles reinforced ideas of his own authority onto others. It also helped to solidify the royal image after decades of it being undermined by his father’s eventual fate and the Commonwealth[14]. It helped to define exactly what the new image of constitutional monarchy was by describing it as different to the absolutist monarchical image practised by Charles I. Using art to portray this was vitally important as a monarch’s life and image was meant to reflect the state he was in control of.[15] After the horrors and uncertainty of the English Civil War and the Commonwealth under Cromwell, it was necessary for Charles to create an image that would portray himself as a magnificent monarch who was the answer to the country’s hopes of stability and as someone who would bring glory back to the nation.[16] Most of this was actually illusion, for he was only a constitutional monarch and parliament had more power, but it still had the desired effect.[17] It did largely make Charles a popular monarch at the start of his reign, but this dwindled the longer his reign continued. Still, he was more successful than his two predecessors as he was able to maintain more stability for the nation. All of this was down to how he presented himself in the royal image due the way he imposed his power through portraiture that would be seen throughout the country.[18]

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Smiadecki, F., Charles II, Private Collection/Philip Mould Ltd/Bridgeman Images

[1] Uglow, J., A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration (London: Faber and Faber, 2009), p. 2.

[2] Brotton, J., The Sale of the Late King’s Goods: Charles I and His Art Collection (London: Macmillan, 2006), p. 316.

[3] Jacobsen, H., ‘Luxury Consumption, Cultural Politics, and the Career of the Earl of Arlington, 1660-1685’, The Historical Journal, 52.2 (2009), p. 297.

[4] Malcolm, J. L., ‘Charles II and the Reconstruction of Royal Power’, The Historical Journal, 32.5 (1992), p. 317.

[5] Porter, S., Pepys’ London: Everyday Life in London, 1650-1703 (Stroud: Amberley, 2011), p. 46.

[6] Cited in Brotton, J., The Sale of the Late King’s Goods, p. 316.

[7] Brotton, J., The Sale of the Late King’s Goods, p. 326.

[8] Jackson, C., Charles II: The Star King (London: Penguin, 2016), p. 42.

[9] E. Scott, The Travels off the King: Charles II in Germany and Flanders, 1654-1660 cited in Jackson, C., Charles II: The Star King, p. 42.

[10] Brotton, J., The Sale of the Late King’s Goods, p. 340.

[11] Brotton, J., The Sale of the Late King’s Goods, p. 340.

[12] Jackson, C., Charles II: The Star King, p. 45.

[13] Jackson, C., Charles II: The Star King, pp. 43 and 45.

[14] Uglow, J., A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration, p. 2.

[15] Uglow, J., A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration, p. 2.

[16] Uglow, J., A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration, p. 51.

[17] Uglow, J., A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration, p. 77.

[18] Veblen, T., Theory of the Leisure Class, Reprint (Breman: Outlook, 2011), p. 26.