The Sinking of the Gloucester

Last month it was announced that the wreck of a ship known as the Gloucester had been found off the coast of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. The ship had been wrecked on the sandbanks in 1682, whilst carrying the then heir to the throne, James Stuart, Duke of York, who later became James II. Whilst I am interested in the Stuart era, I must admit, I didn’t know anything about the sinking of this ship, so  whilst it has been in the news a lot recently, I thought it best to explain the context around the sinking and why it has been such an important discovery. I also recently wrote a short piece on why this amazing discovery was needed by the town of Great Yarmouth, which can be viewed here.

Greenhill, John; James II (1633-1701), as Duke of York; Dulwich Picture Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/james-ii-16331701-as-duke-of-york-200078

James Stuart was heir to his older brother, Charles II, as Charles had had no legitimate children. As James was a Catholic in a Protestant country, this did cause issues. By the time of 1682, Charles had made James and his family live in Scotland, mainly due to the issues of the succession. Many had tried to bar James from becoming King, whilst there was also a Popish Plot in 1679, where Catholics had attempted a conspiracy to kill Charles in favour of his brother, James.[1] In early 1682, when these issues appeared to be settling down, James was allowed to return to England, with plans being made to allow him and his family, including his pregnant second wife, Mary of Modena, back to court. In order to do this, James was to collect Mary by boat from Scotland and bring her back to England, with the hopes that she would give birth to a boy and thus secure James’ claim to the throne.

The ship chosen for this journey was the Gloucester. It had been originally commissioned in 1652 and was launched in 1654, so by the time it was used by James, it was already of some age. In fact, it had been out of action due to a poor state of disrepair and had been refitted between 1878 and 1680.[2] In order to collect James from Margate in Kent, which is on the east coast, it had to leave the dock at Portsmouth on the south coast. As well as the Gloucester, there were also five other ships and four yachts that formed the escort.[3] When the time came for boarding, there was a bit of chaos. It took several hours to load the tons of baggage and the estimated 350 passengers on board. Some, passengers decided to change which boat last minute. One of these passengers was Samuel Pepys, the famous diary writer. As he suffered from sea sickness and was worried that the amount of people on board would make him worse, he decided to change boat.[4]

John Hayls, Samuel Pepys, oil on canvas, 1666, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Bad weather made the journey an awkward one. One the first day of sailing, the Gloucester decided to moor due to the terrible conditions. When this decision was made, the ship fired a cannon to announce the decision but this only caused confusion. Instead, some the ships in the escort took this as a sign to move seawards again and were separated from the rest.[5] When the ship got closer to the coast of North Norfolk, an argument ensued between the pilot, some of the crew and naval experts, and the Duke of York, as to which route would be best to take. The area was known for its treacherous sandbanks, so a wrong decision would have been fatal. This proved to be true in the case of the Gloucester.

At 5:30 am on the 6th of May, the ship hit two parallel sandbanks known as the Leman and Ower sandbanks off the coast from Yarmouth. James was reluctant to leave the ship, thinking that they could save it.[6] Instead the opposite was true. It only took the ship around an hour to sink. The rest of the passengers couldn’t leave as etiquette dictated that no one could leave until royalty had gone first. In the end, it has been estimated that around 130-250 people died that day, including some from the nobility. James had also lost a brother of his first wife, Anne Hyde, and according to one source, “all the Dukes cooks but one, all his footmen, and all the rest of his servants”.[7]

As would be expected, the sinking caused a lot of emotions within the witnesses and the families of those who had died, with all wanting answers. The pilot of the Gloucester, James Ayres, was sentenced to life in prison, although there were some, including the Duke of York, who were calling for his execution.[8] Instead, the pilot only served a year of his sentence. Others blamed James, for one being involved in the argument about navigation, and two, for taking so long leaving the ship, meaning others couldn’t escape.[9] No matter who was really to blame for the wreck, the reality was that many people had lost their lives in the tragic accident.

In the aftermath, James’ reputation was at stake. With his reputation only just beginning to rebuild, the Gloucester did little to help, despite some reporting hoping to diminish the collateral damage. Poems, ballads and plays were all written about the event, meaning the news of it was everywhere.[10] With the succession being so fragile already, this event was again another thing used by some against James to show he wasn’t the right person to become the next king. Others who did support him were willing to place the blame elsewhere and continue their support for him. One such way of doing this was by the production of a medal to commemorate the event and to circulate rumours that it was a republican plot to kill James and end monarchy in England once again.[11]

The future Charles II is pictured centre, with James being second left. After Sir Anthony van Dyck, Five Children of King Charles I, oil on canvas, 17th century, based on a work of 1637, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Whilst James did eventually become king in 1685, following the death of his brother, Charles II, he was ousted during the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which his own Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, were invited to take the throne. Perhaps the Gloucester was one of the many reasons used against James’ rule. Whatever the case may be, the discovery of the shipwreck has brought up many fascinating artifacts that capture the moment in time when it sank on the 6th May 1682, including spectacles that would have once been used by someone on board. I hope the discovery helps to add more context behind the life of James and of course be used as a way to remember those who lost their lives on that day. For that reason, I very much look forward to seeing what will happen with it in the future, starting with a planned exhibition next year.


[1] The Gloucester Project, https://www.gloucestershipwreck.co.uk/

[2] Ibid

[3] Claire Jowitt, ‘The Last Voyage of the Gloucester (1682): The Politics of a Royal Shipwreck’, English Historical Review (2022), p. 2

[4] Claire Tomalin, Samuel Pepys : The Unequalled Self (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 331

[5] National Maritime Museum, The Sinking of the HMS Gloucester, https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/hms-gloucester-shipwreck-history-james-ii

[6] Ibid; Claire Jowitt, ‘The Last Voyage of the Gloucester’, p. 12

[7] Letter from Scotland Giving a True Relation of the Unhappy Loss of the Gloucester-frigot, Whereof Sir John Berry was Commander. With a Particular Account of the Persons of Quality Drowned therein, and the Miraculous Escape of His Royal Higness the Duke of York (London, 1682), cited in Claire Jowitt, ‘The Last Voyage of the Gloucester’, p. 13

[8] Meilan Sully, ‘Wreck of Long-Lost Royal Battleship Discovered Off English Coast’, Smithsonian Magazine, 14 June 2022, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/shipwreck-gloucester-james-king-england-180980250/

[9] Claire Jowitt, ‘The Last Voyage of the Gloucester’, p. 15

[10] Ibid, pp. 16-17

[11] National Maritime Museum, The Sinking of the HMS Gloucester, https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/hms-gloucester-shipwreck-history-james-ii

Jane Lane: The Woman who Helped Charles II to Escape

The English Civil War, fought between the Parliamentarians and Royalists, had started as a direct result of grievances about the way in which Charles I had ruled, largely without Parliament, as well as fears about the Catholics, most notably his wife, Henrietta Maria, he had become associated with. Whilst there are many more reasons for the Civil War, these are most commonly cited. When Charles I was executed at Whitehall in January 1649, England became a republic led by Oliver Cromwell. Still, Royalist hopes were kept alive in Charles, the Prince of Wales. Scotland had been horrified and proclaimed the young Charles as their king. On 1 January 1651, Charles was crowned as Charles II, with the promise that Scottish forces would follow him to England to help him reclaim his throne.[1]

The forces led by Charles met with Parliamentary resistance at the battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651. It was not the Royalist victory that was hoped for as the Parliamentarians defeated them. Despite reports that Charles had been killed in the fighting, he had managed to escape and had gone into hiding. A huge £1,000 reward (around £103,000 in today’s money) for his capture was given. This reward would make his escape even harder. Whilst in hiding, the famous incident of Charles hiding in an oak tree at Boscobel House when Parliamentarian soldiers came looking for him happened.

Plan showing the route Charles took on his escape from England following the Battle of Worcester in 1651, from Fea, Allan, The flight of the king : a full, true, and particular account of the miraculous escape of His Most Sacred Majesty King Charles II after the battle of Worcester, (1908), p. 2

This, as well as other close shaves, made him realise a better plan was needed to get him out of the country and away from danger. Lord Henry Wilmot, a close confidant of Charles, who had also been at Worcester, was also in hiding, but was staying at Bentley Hall, the home of John Lane. John Lane was a known Royalist sympathiser who had been a Royalist cavalry officer during the Civil War. He had led a band of Royalists who made the journey to Worcester but didn’t get there in time for the battle.[2] The original plan was to use John’s sister, Jane, to help Wilmot escape, as she had been granted a pass to visit a pregnant cousin in Bristol so she could help with the birth. This pass covered her, a servant, and her cousin Henry Lascelles. As both Royalist and Catholic, the family needed these passes to be able to move further than 5 miles away from their home.[3] This was the perfect excuse to help Charles, rather than Wilmot to escape to the safety of the continent.

Charles was to pretend to be Jane’s manservant, taking on the name Will Jackson. Only a few, including Jane, know the true identity of this man. Charles’ acting skills really had to be excellent to pull off this disguise as he was easily noticeable with his dark complexion and 6 ft 2 stature. Despite many dangers along the way, including a horse losing a shoe and a brush with Parliamentarian soldiers, the gang, which included John and Jane Lane, as well as their sister Withy and her husband, John Petre, arrived at the home of Ellen Norton, their pregnant cousin. Whilst there, a butler recognised the king but rather than think of taking the £1,000 reward, offered his silence and assistance.[4] It was decided that Charles wouldn’t be able to take a boat from Bristol, as had originally been planned, but that it was best to try the south coast. To be able to do this, the party needed some sort of excuse to leave, which was now harder when Ellen had suffered a late-term miscarriage. Jane herself forged a letter saying her father was seriously ill and she had to return home.[5]

Isaac Fuller, King Charles II and Jane Lane riding to Bristol (1660s), NPG 5251, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The ruse worked and the group managed to get to Dorset, where Wilmot and Charles were safely reunited. Despite all the dangers they had faced in their journey to get to this point, Jane and her family had to return to Bentley Hall to make their plan appear real, leaving Charles to escape to France. It’s quite possible that Jane and Charles thought that would be the last they saw of each other. However, fate had other ideas. News of a woman matching Jane’s description had helped Charles in his escape began to spread. Her life was now in danger and it was her turn to take on a disguise. She walked all the way to Yarmouth in Norfolk and escaped to France, where she was warmly welcomed by Charles.[6]

In return for saving his life, Charles offered Jane many personal gifts, including miniature portraits of himself, a lock of his hair, and a gold pocket watch, which had been a gift given to him by his father.[7] The pair remained firm friends and even continued corresponding together when in 1652, Jane became a part of the household of Charles sister, Mary of Orange, in Holland.[8] Following the Restoration of Charles as King in 1660, Jane was given a £1,000 a year pension for her services to the monarchy.[9] The pair continued their friendly correspondence, even after Jane became Lady Fisher after her marriage to Sir Clement Fisher in December 1662, right up until Charles death in 1685.[10]

The bravery of Jane in helping the young Charles is evident. What is most remarkable is the platonic nature of her relationship with Charles, an open and well known philanderer. He was less than subtle when it came to his womanising ways and yet, with Jane, it appears that it never went beyond a friend-like relationship. However, he did admire Jane and was always keen to tell everyone that it was her who had saved his life.


[1] ‘Charles II’, https://www.royal.uk/charles-ii#:~:text=On%201%20January%201651%2C%20the,Worcester%20on%203%20September%201651.

[2] Beardsley, Martyn R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2019), p. 55

[3] Lawless, Erin, ‘Hidden historical heroines: Jane Lane’, https://erinlawless.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/hidden-historical-heroines-28-jane-lane/

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid; Whipp, Koren, ‘Jane Lane, Lady Fisher’, https://www.projectcontinua.org/jane-lane-lady-fisher/

[7] Ibid

[8] Lawless, Erin, ‘Hidden historical heroines: Jane Lane’, https://erinlawless.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/hidden-historical-heroines-28-jane-lane/

[9] Whipp, Koren, ‘Jane Lane, Lady Fisher’, https://www.projectcontinua.org/jane-lane-lady-fisher/

[10] Ibid

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.

Buckingham’s Hitman: Colonel Thomas Blood

Colonel Thomas Blood, is well known for his attempt to steal the crown jewels from the Tower of London. What is less well known is his possible employment as the Duke of Buckingham’s hitman in an assassination attempt on the Duke of Ormond in 1670. The underground criminal life was also something his son, also called Thomas Blood, inherited. Blood Junior went by the alias of Thomas Hunt. He was a professional highwayman and also involved in many of his father’s criminal schemes, including both the attempt on Ormonde and the infamous theft of the crown jewels.[1] Their attempted kidnap and murder of the Duke of Ormonde would have had much more disastrous consequences, if it had been successful, than the theft of the crown jewels. The event shocked many including members of the court, mainly because of its closeness to St James’ Palace, but also the nonconformists that Blood believed he was a figurehead for.[2]

3629804
Colonel Blood (engraving), Nineteenth Century/ Private Collection, Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

Thomas Blood was only a self-titled colonel, his actual military service remains contradictory, what is known is that it was either made up or over exaggerated by Blood himself.[3] This is mainly because of there being no firm evidence to back the claims he made during an interview with Charles II, which he made after he had stolen the crown jewels. In this he suggested he had once served under Prince Rupert.[4] Blood’s notoriety became known well before he became involved in the plot against the Duke of Ormonde. His involvement in an attempt to seize Dublin Castle and numerous political plots to either overthrow or kill Charles II made him a newspaper’s dream.[5] The reports on his exploits helped to spread his name across most of England, Ireland and Scotland.

23509
Lely, James, Duke of Ormond (1660), York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery), UK / Bridgeman Images

On 6th of December 1670, the Duke of Ormonde was in his coach on his way home to Clarendon House, after a state function in the City of London, when he was attacked by six or seven men. Three of these men were later identified as Colonel Blood, his son Thomas, and Richard Halliwell.[6] The coachman was told of a dead man in the road ahead and was forced to stop. Once stopped, two riders threatened the coachman and a footman with pistols after the other retainers had run off.[7] Ormonde was dragged from the coach and placed on Blood Junior’s horse and tied to the rider.[8] It is believed that the conspirators’ plan was to hang Ormonde from the public gallows at Tyburn, so that was the direction they rode off in.[9]

However, despite being aged sixty, Ormonde put up a fight against his kidnappers, managing to knock a firearm out of Blood Junior’s hand, whilst heaving both himself and the rider to the ground.[10] This would have been a hard thing to do whilst riding a horse and showed just how much of a determined man he was! By this time, the coachman had managed to raise the alarm at Clarendon House and Ormonde’s household were out looking for him, so the kidnappers, quite literally, cut ties with the Duke in a rather confused getaway that resulted in Junior’s sword and pistol being left at the scene.[11] If the Duke hadn’t have fought his way out of the situation, then the damning evidence of the weapons wouldn’t have been left. The pistol was later identified as belonging to Lieutenant Colonel Moore (a previous associate of Blood’s) and the sword was initialled as T. H., which was Blood Junior’s highwayman alias.[12] These pieces of evidence, as well as an investigation into the incident led by the secretary of state, the Earl of Arlington, helped to identify most of the kidnappers.[13] However, when their homes were later raided, the assailants were long gone and limited resources meant that they couldn’t be tracked further.[14]

654492.jpg
Attack on the Duke of Ormond (engraving), from John Cassell’s Illustrated History of England (W Kent, 1857/1858) / Private Collection, Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

In an age when news mostly travelled by word of mouth with rumours of political intrigue at court being “fair game for gossip”, the events of 6th of December 1670 were to be the talk of the country for weeks to come.[15] It was helped that the assassination attempt was done by the ‘Father of all Treasons’.[16] What was even worse was the implication of the Duke of Buckingham. Court rumours circulated that Buckingham had actually hired Blood to assassinate Ormonde because of a court rivalry. Whilst no one was ever brought to justice over the incident, it was always believed that this was the case. Buckingham is known to have had connections with radicals, dissidents and republicans because he saw them as “useful for his political ambitions”.[17] Shortly before the attempt on Ormonde’s life, Buckingham had spread tales that Ormonde’s eldest son had employed men to kill him, but these men were conveniently poisoned before they could be arrested and evidence extracted from them.[18] This same son, after the incident, publicly accused Buckingham of involvement in the assassination attempt by saying “I know well that you are at the bottom of this late attempt of Blood upon my father.”[19] The accusations were believed to be accurate as Buckingham had been responsible for contriving Ormonde’s removal from his post as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and continued a feud with him long after that.[20]

1161757
After P. Lely, George Villiers Second Duke of Buckingham, Clivendon/National Trust Photographic Library/Bridgeman Images

Despite Blood, or his possible employer Buckingham, never being brought to justice over the crime, it set the outrageous tone that would continue to define Blood’s criminal finger print. The lack of nonconformist backing after the attempt on Ormonde’s life, might have been reason for his later stealing of the crown jewels.[21] Whether or not that is true, what is certain is that Colonel Blood definitely enjoyed doing these outrageous crimes “simply because they are there to be undertaken”.[22]

[1] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2015), p. 91.

[2] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 99; Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, The Historical Journal, 32.3 (1989), p. 581.

[3] The Remarks on the Life and Death of the Famed Mr Blood and by R.H. (1680) cited in Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, The Historical Journal, 32.3 (1989), p. 561.

[4] Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 562.

[5] Jordan, D. and Walsh, M., The King’s Revenge: Charles II and the Greatest Manhunt in British History (London: Abacus, 2013), p. 297; Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. xv.

[6] H.M.C., 8th Report cited in Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 566; Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 100.

[7] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 96; House of Lords Record Office, MS HL/PO/JO/10/1/344/352 (0) cited in Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 96.

[8] R.L. Greaves, Enemies Under His Feet: Radicals and Nonconformists in Britain, 1664-77 cited in Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 96.

[9] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 97.

[10] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 97.

[11] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, pp. 97-98.

[12] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 98.

[13] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 99; Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 566.

[14] Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 562; Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 113.

[15] Fox, A., ‘Rumour, News and Popular Political Opinion in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England’, The Historical Journal, 40.3 (1997), p. 614.

[16] The National Archives, SP4434/110, F.111, cited in Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. xv.

[17] Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 565.

[18] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 110.

[19] M. Petherick, Restoration Rogues cited in Whitehead, J., Rebellion in the Reign of Charles II (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2017), p. 114.

[20] Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 566; Whitehead, J., Rebellion in the Reign of Charles II, p. 112.

[21] Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 581.

[22] Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 582.

Charles II’s Search for His Royal Image

cropped-820083.jpg
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).

399127
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]

1126581
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.