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.

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.