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/

Audley End- Aristocrats, Avenues and Espionage: a Guest Post by Laura Adkins

This guest post has kindly been written by Laura Adkins, the creator of the For The Love of History Blog, which I have been able to do a few guests posts for myself. She has worked at many historical sites and mainly posts about ones found in Essex, her home county. Do check her blog out if you can, I promise you it’s a very enjoyable read.

One of the grandest houses in England, Audley End stands proudly in the countryside of Saffron Walden. Its origins date back to the 10th Century, where it began life as Walden Abbey, given to Thomas, Lord Audley, by Henry VIII, who converted the monastery into a house. 

The rooms are high and hung with beautiful tapestries: the beds amply decorated with golden velvet and silk bed hangings and covers.’

From the account of the visit of Johann Ernst, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, to Audley End, September 1613

In this post, I will be exploring three parts of Audley’s history, those who lived there – the Howards, its beautiful gardens designed by the one and only Capability Brown and its role in WW2 and the polish resistance.

Aristocrats:

The creator of the current structure of Audley End was Thomas Howard, part of the infamous Howard family. He inherited the House in 1605 and set about transforming the site into a country estate fit enough for royalty as he wanted to show off his wealth. Unfortunately, not much survives of his transformations and what we know from his estate comes from archives and documentary evidence. We know work began in 1605 and completed around 1614. Along with his uncle Henry Howard and Bernard Janssen, a Flemish mason, the three set about creating one of the greatest houses in Jacobean England.[1] Audley End had all the parts one expects in a Jacobean Mansion including symmetrical inner court, lodgings for his guests, including one for both the King and a separate one for the Queen for when they would stay. Today the house is only half the size of what it once was.

Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk by Unknown Artist, National Portrait Gallery

The Howard family’s rise to power began in 1483, when King Richard III created John Howard the Duke of Norfolk. This was the third time that the Title of Duke of Norfolk had been used, and John had blood links to the first ever Duke of Norfolk – Thomas Mowbray (made 1st Duke of Norfolk in 1397). The head of the Howards would not only hold the title of Duke of Norfolk, but that of Earl of Arundel, Earl of Surrey, and Earl of Norfolk in addition to holding six baronies. They were a powerful family, who in the reign of the Tudors were ones to watch out for. Thomas Howard, son of John would be successful in defeating the Scots at the Battle of Flodden with two of his nieces – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard being married to King Henry VIII. Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, would hold the title of Lord Admiral and lead the English against the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588. For more on this infamous family, I suggest reading House of Treason by Robert Hutchinson.

In 1751, after the 10th Earl’s death, Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth brought Audley End which in turn would be inherited by her nephew, Sir John Griffin Whitwell, on the agreement that he took the surname of Griffin. John was a retired soldier and MP for Andover. He had fought and was wounded at the Battle of Kloster Kampen in 1760 during the Seven Years War.

Sir John, who became Lord Howard, would make more transformations to Audley End, most of which is what we can see today. He hired the architect Robert Adam to transform the house and Capability Brown the landscape. Adam’s work can be seen in the ground floor reception rooms on the south front today. Over time, Sir John started to pick up the architectural bug and his second wife, Katherine the decor. They both, respectively, became amateur architect and decorator and thus set about making many of their own changes to the house. The central range was rebuilt to reconnect the two wings of the house, along with a unique service gallery and detached service wing, all under the eye of Sir John.

Audley End would be one of the first houses to have a flushing water closet (installed in 1775) along with a bell system for the family of the house to call their domestic staff. Today, much of what can be seen at Audley End is a result of Richard Neville, who in the 1820s remodelled the house taking it back to its Jacobean roots.

Audley End, Wikimedia Commons

Avenues:

The beginnings of formal gardens at Audley End were started during the conversion of the monastery into house. It would be Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth, who would begin the transformation of the gardens into a more formal landscape. However, the landscape that we see today was mostly the result of one Capability Brown.

I mentioned above that in 1763, Griffin hired John Adam to assist with the interior development, he had Capability Brown do the same with the estate. Brown’s brief was to widen the river running through the estate, building a ha-ha and transforming the overall look of the gardens into Brown’s ‘naturalistic style’. He would create new roads towards the house, including one with a bridge, which was designed by Adam’s and is a Grade I listed structure. Brown was to be paid £660 (around £1,150,000 today) for his work in three payments, the last being on completion.

The two would eventually fall out with the result being Griffin dismissing Brown and getting the unknown Joseph Hicks to finish the work. However, the elements of Brown’s work are there for all to see and appreciate, including sweeps of grass, water flowing towards the house, long curving drives with stunning views for visitors and wooded areas to hide service buildings.

Espionage:

When I visited Audley End many years ago, I did not really pay much attention to a monument within the estate, remembering fallen soldiers from WW2. It was not until planning this post that Danielle mentioned the Polish secret missions that made me go back and re look at Audley End’s history in the 20th Century.

In 1941, like a number of other country estates, Audley End was requisitioned by the Army to be used as a training facility. By 1943, those who trained there was exclusively Polish Soldiers. They were undergoing training to assist them when they were secretly returned to German occupied Poland and assist the Polish resistance.

WWII Reenactment at Audley End

Code named station 43 (overseen by the Special Operations Executive), the Polish agents, under the command of Captain Alfons Mackowiak (Alan Mack). They would undergo various training in guerrilla warfare which included close combat, assignation, forgery, planting booby traps and of course learning how to parachute out of a plane. In total 527 soldiers passed the training and were sent into Poland. Sadly, 108 of these were either killed in action or at concentration camps and are remembered on the memorial I mentioned above. The soldiers would be known as the Cichociemni (the silent and Unseen). They would be involved in many missions, including recovering a German V2 rocket and smuggling into England.

‘Between 1942 and 1944 Polish members of the Special Operations Executive trained in this house for missions in their homeland. This memorial commemorates those who parachuted into enemy occupied Poland and gave their lives for the freedom of this and their own country.’ Listed Grade II © Historic England Archive PLB/K030323

In 1948, the house was handed over to the nation. Today it is managed by English Heritage, and accessible to the public, for more information on visiting times, exhibitions and events head to https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/audley-end-house-and-gardens/

[1] Drury, P (…) English Heritage Guidebooks – Audley End

Sources:

Borger, J (2016) Honouring ‘silent and unseen’ fighters who led Polish resistance. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/10/honouring-poland-silent-unseen-fighters-resistance-nazi-british [Accessed 04.08/20]

English Heritage (2020) Audley End House and Gardens. Available from:  www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/audley-end-house-and-gardens/ [Accessed 25/07/20]

Historic England (2020) Audley End. Available from: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000312 [Accessed 25/07/20]

Historic England (2019) The Secret War: Resistance in Britain During the Second World War. Avalbne from: https://heritagecalling.com/2019/11/05/the-secret-war-resistance-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war/ [Accessed 05/08/20] Landscape Institute(2016) About Capability Brown. Available from:  http://www.capabilitybrown.org/  [Accessed 4/8/20]

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.

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.

William Hiseland: the Oldest of the Original Chelsea Pensioners

The pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea are iconic with their red coats and tricorn hats. After recently reading a book on the hospital, I was surprised to learn that this uniform is only the ceremonial uniform and not the everyday wear of the pensioners. I was even more surprised to learn about one rather special resident, William Hiseland (is also seen spelt as Hiseland/Hizeland or Hadeland), who lived until he was 111. It is believed that William was born on the 6th of August 1620 and he died 7th of February 1732. Even today anyone living over 100 is an amazing achievement, but to have managed this in the late 17th and early 18th century seems more surreal!

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E. R. White, A group of Chelsea Pensioners disputing in the Hall at the Royal Hospital Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

As if living to over 100 wasn’t an achievement enough, that is only part of his story and how he ended up as a Chelsea Pensioner. First of all, he was actually one of the first Chelsea Pensioners to live at the hospital as it had only opened its doors in 1692 to elderly veterans.[1] It’s uncertain as to when exactly he first came to live at the hospital, but its thought to have been around 1713.[2] When the hospital was first established, they served ‘in pensioners’, who lived within the hospital and had forfeited their pension to pay for their care, or those ‘out pensioners’, who were paid their army pension by the hospital but were living elsewhere.

William himself was given a pension of 1 crown (5 shillings) when he retired aged 93, which was paid by Charles Lennox, the 1st Duke of Richmond, and Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister. To actually be a part of the army until such an old age is something amazing, but when you look further into his military career, things get even more interesting. It’s believed that he first entered the army at the age of 13 in 1633, but unfortunately there was nothing to corroborate this. Whether this is true or not, it is known that the first significant battle he took part in was at Edgehill, the first pitched battle of the English Civil War.[3] Having survived the Civil War, he also fought in William III’s wars in Ireland in 1689, by which time he would have been nearly 70.[4] By this point, you’d have expected the elderly veteran to think about taking things easy, especially as he had already gone past the average life expectancy at the time of 35-40.[5] He literally kept soldiering on!

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The Royal Hospital, Chelsea: viewed from the Surrey bank with boats on the river (1776) Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The next war he was to be found in was as part of the Grand Alliance army made up of Britain, the Holy Roman Empire, Austria, United Provinces (now Holland) and Danish Auxiliary Corps during the War of Spanish Succession against France. At the Battle of Malplaquet, William was believed to have been 89. Whatever his real age was, he was definitely the oldest man on the battlefield.[6] It’s not known as to how much fighting personally did whilst serving in his older years, but to even still be part of the army was a major achievement. From all this dedication to his country, it’s no wonder that William Hiseland became one of the first pensioners to live at the Royal Chelsea Hospital.

The adventurousness in his character didn’t stop when he became a resident at the hospital. In 1723, he left the comfort of the hospital to get married. In pensioners were not allowed to be married as the pension would be forfeited and as a dependent, any wife would need support. Some sources claim that this was his only marriage, but others suggest he may have had up to 3 wives after the age of 100.[7] Whichever of those statements is right, William’s wife died and he returned to being a pensioner at the Chelsea Hospital, living there until his own death as the last living soldier of the English Civil War.[8] His grave can be found in the cemetery in the grounds of the hospital and is located near to the first ever pensioner admitted, Simon Box.[9]

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William Hiseland Portrait, Royal Chelsea Hospital Museum

The fact that a portrait of this extraordinary veteran survives (see above) shows just how much others at the time believed this man should be remembered. The epitaph carved into his gravestone also tells the story and brings his character to life:

Here lies William Hiseland a veteran if ever a soldier was, who merited well a pension. If long service be a merit having served upwards of the days of man ancient but not superannuated, engaged in a series of wars, civil as well as foreign, yet not maimed or worn out by either. His complexion was fresh and florid, his health, hale and hearty, his memory exact, and ready in stature. He surpassed the prime of youth and what rendered his age, still more patriarchal, when above one hundred years old he took unto him a wife. Read fellow soldiers and reflect that there is a spiritual welfare as well as a welfare temporal.”

I think William’s obvious patriotism and love for the career he had chosen for 70 odd years is an inspiration to us all.

[1] Rochester, J., The Royal Hospital Chelsea: a Brief History, talk given to the Sherbourne Historical Society, 5 November 2019, https://www.sherbornehistoricalsociety.co.uk/upcoming-talks/the-royal-hospital-chelsea-a-brief-history/57

[2] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, 1682-2017 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2019), p. 44.

[3] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 43.

[4] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 43.

[5] Lambert, T., A Brief History of Life Expectency http://www.localhistories.org/life.html

[6] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 43.

[7] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 43; Faulkner, T., An Historical and Typographical Description of Chelsea, and its Environs, Vol 2 (1829), p. 265.

[8] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, pp. 43-44.

[9] Rochester, J., The Royal Hospital Chelsea: a Brief History, talk given to the Sherbourne Historical Society, 5 November 2019, https://www.sherbornehistoricalsociety.co.uk/upcoming-talks/the-royal-hospital-chelsea-a-brief-history/57

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.

The Construction of the Male Dominated Narrative of Pocahontas

I have always had an interest in the lives and culture of Native Americans. In the stories that have been told about the violent struggles between settlers and the Native Americans, I have always found my sympathies lay with the Native Americans. As a very young child, I must admit this probably stemmed from Disney’s Pocahontas, but my parents always taught me, when I was old enough to understand, the hardships and discrimination the Native American nations were forced to endure, most notable the Trail of Tears and the forced movement away from their ancestral land to reservations on the other side of America.

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Pocahontas and Thomas Rolfe, Lebrecht History / Bridgeman Images

As a bit of a whim recently, I decided to investigate where this anti-Native American sentiment came from. I guess this was probably from my knowledge that their culture is focused around hospitality and the greater good of the tribe. Did the early settlers experience this side of the Native American culture and how did things manage to turn violent? These were the questions I wanted to answer for myself. What became clear is that despite the early settlers portraying the Powhatan nation as pagans and fundamentally different, Pocahontas was regarded, and has continued to be, a large part of the founding story of English settlement in America.[1] Unfortunately this founding myth has been based on what has been written by the white men who encountered her and her people, as Pocahontas left no written record for herself. This has meant that a very Western and male view has been placed upon her.

Pocahontas’ narrative has had two main focuses placed upon it: her friendship and/or possible relationship with John Smith and her eventual conversion and marriage to John Rolfe.[2] These have tried to place her in contexts that could be understood from the contemporary viewpoint that the New World was a female figure, hence the naming of Virginia by Walter Raleigh.[3] From this viewpoint various images were used to symbolise the New World. First, the New World became a female gendered space to suggest that it was just passively waiting to be conquered by male settlers.[4] Secondly, America was later represented by a Native American princess in some form, whether this be an unclothed one, one as the daughter of Britannia or as the embodiment of qualities that would later be attributed to United States sovereignty.[5] With Pocahontas’ role as the first female native the settlers mixed with, it was clear that she easily mixed with these ideas. It has led to the story of her and her relationship with the early settlers to be retold more “than any other American historical incident” during the colonial period.[6]

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Simon de Passe, Captain John Smith, Private Collection, Peter Newark American Pictures / Bridgeman Images

The first misunderstanding about Pocahontas that has been inherited is how she became acquainted with the early settlers. A letter from John Chamberlain to the Hague ambassador during her visit to James I’s court in 1617 suggested that Pocahontas had “ben with the King and graciously used, and both she and her assistant placed at the maske. She is on her return (though sore against her will)”.[7] Chamberlain in his description of Pocahontas made her seem to be at the mercy of others but still able to have her own will.[8] The theme of Pocahontas using her own will derives from the belief that settlers had about her early visits to Jamestown. They believed she had flouted the will of her father in order to meet and know the new Englishmen. However, this was a misunderstanding of how Powhatan society and Pocahontas’ own status within it worked.

Pocahontas was the favourite of Powhatan’s many children. This was because her mother was his love match made before he became the paramount chief of the Tsenacomoca nation. In Powhatan tradition, it was custom for the paramount chief to marry women from each of the tribes he controlled to create unity and relationships between each of them.[9] No woman was forced to marry any man, not even the paramount chief, but it would have meant higher status for the woman and it was only a temporary match until they gave birth.[10] Once they had given birth, they were free to choose whether to stay in the capital Werowocomoco as a wife of the chief, or to return to their village to find a love match.[11] This meant that Pocahontas meant a lot to Powhatan, even more so as her mother died giving birth to her. Due to this bond that subsequently formed between Powhatan and his daughter, it is clear that if Powhatan had believed the English to be a threat, he wouldn’t have let a child, and his favourite child at that, go to Jamestown. Instead, in the Powhatan culture, a child was often placed at the front of a group entering the village of another tribe to show they came in peace.[12] Pocahontas was also still a child and so would have had supervision, as a royal child, she would have also had a large amount of bodyguards as well as Powhatan’s permission to visit the Jamestown settlers.[13] As selfishness and the advancement of personal welfare over others and the greater good of the tribe was seen as one of the worst things a person could do, it would not have been in Pocahontas’ nature to go to Jamestown against her father’s will.[14]

The band of warriors and priests that would have accompanied Pocahontas were showing the English settlers the general sharing of food and hospitality customs that were second nature to their people.[15] This helped the unprepared settlers to survive during the periods of harsh weather and poor health that threatened the entire existence of the settlement. However, it is also due to the status the Powhatans placed on John Smith. Just as the settlers saw Powhatan as a King, the Powhatans saw Smith as the ‘chief’ of the English.[16] The position that the Powhatan’s viewed Smith as having sheds light onto the infamous saving of Smith by Pocahontas.

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Pocahontas saves Captain Smith’s Life (19th century), Private Collection / © Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

There has been much debate about whether Pocahontas really did save John Smith from a near death by the hands of her father. What makes the difficult to understand is Pocahontas real motivations behind the act, we only have Smith’s side of the story.[17] The early seventeenth century writings on Jamestown are surprisingly quiet on the matter. Smith himself didn’t even mention the rescue until 1624, seventeen years after the event was supposed to have occurred and ironically after both Pocahontas and Powhatan had died.[18] Among many interpretations that have been put forward, most have been sceptical about its occurrence. It may have been added for political reasons after the 1622 massacre of the settlers by the Powhatans as a response for the increasingly violent treatment towards them, in order to vilify the Powhatans.[19] Another option for it not appearing is that if it did happen, Smith had purposefully emitted it for as long as possible as it ruined his reputation as a military and brave man.[20] Philip Barbour suggests a more logical explanation that runs alongside the contemporary explanation given by the narrative passed down through the Mattaponi people’s oral history. He argues that the rescue did happen but as Smith was not aware of local customs, he misinterpreted the situation. Both the Powhatans and the settlers have been known to misinterpret each other’s cultures in these early interactions as they could only base their knowledge of it on their own assumptions as a comparison to their own culture. Barbour argues that it may have been a ritual re-enacting a fake execution, rather than an actual one, to show that he was accepted by the nation and was seen as a chief in his own right.[21]

Unfortunately, we may never know the exact truth of some of the things that occurred in those early stages of the English colonisation of America. What is known that the early settlers began a narrative that was to be seen as mainstream until fairly recently (in some ways still is). It paved the way for Pocahontas being the embodiment of voluntary cultural connection and assimilation, whilst forgetting that she was in fact a captive between the ‘rescue’ and her marriage to John Rolfe.[22] This narrative became especially prevalent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when a lot of the legend of Pocahontas started to become invented by various writers.[23] The creation of this narrative coincided with wider circulation of John Smith’s writings, which portrayed her as saviour of Jamestown, and also to create a founding myth to justify the increasingly despicable treatment of Native Americans.[24] Pocahontas’ marriage to John Rolfe was also more prevalent at this time to provide evidence of the supposed harmony and less cultural violence more interracial marriages would have created.[25]

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The marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe in 1613, From The History of Our Country, published 1899 / Bridgeman Images

The only thing that is certain is that without contact with the English, Pocahontas’ life would have carried on much the same as her predecessors. Powhatan’s sister was a village chief in her own right, so Pocahontas probably could have easily followed in her footsteps.[26] She also wouldn’t have died from the Western disease that killed her, of which there is also much speculation. However, whatever the ifs and buts of her life, she has remained one of the key figures of Native American history and I hope will continue to be for centuries to come.

[1] Paul, H., The Myths that Made America (London: Trascript Verlag, 2014), p. 89.

[2] Paul, H., The Myths that Made America, p. 90.

[3] Paul, H., The Myths that Made America, pp. 91-92.

[4] S. Schulting, Wilde Frauen, Fremde Welten: Kolonisierungsgeschichten aus Amerika cited in Paul, H., The Myths that Made America, p. 92.

[5] E. McClung Fleming, ‘The American Image as Indian Princess, 1765-1783’, Winterthur Portfolio, 2 (1965) cited in Paul, H., The Myths that Made America, p. 93.

[6] Tilton, R. S., Pocahontas: The Evolution of an American Narrative (Cambridge: Press Syndicate, 1994), p. 1.

[7] John Chamberlain, The Letters of John Chamberlain, ed. Norman Egbert Chirelstien cited in Robertson, K., ‘Pocahontas at the Masque’, Signs, 21.3 (1996), p. 552.

[8] Robertson, K., ‘Pocahontas at the Masque’, p. 552.

[9] Custalow, L. and Daniel, A. L., The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History (Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 2007), p. 5.

[10] Custalow, L. and Daniel, A. L., The True Story of Pocahontas, pp. 5-6.

[11] Custalow, L. and Daniel, A. L., The True Story of Pocahontas, p. 6.

[12] Custalow, L. and Daniel, A. L., The True Story of Pocahontas, p. 26.

[13] Custalow, L. and Daniel, A. L., The True Story of Pocahontas, p. 25.

[14] Custalow, L. and Daniel, A. L., The True Story of Pocahontas, p.

[15] Custalow, L. and Daniel, A. L., The True Story of Pocahontas, p. 23.

[16] Custalow, L. and Daniel, A. L., The True Story of Pocahontas, p. 24.

[17] Paul, H., The Myths that Made America, p. 95.

[18] Paul, H., The Myths that Made America, p. 96.

[19] Paul, H., The Myths that Made America, p. 90.

[20] G. Mackenthun, Metaphors of Dispossession: American Beginnings and the Translation of Empire, 1492-1637 cited in Paul, H., The Myths that Made America, p. 96.

[21] Philip Barbour, Pocahontas and Her World cited in Paul, H., The Myths that Made America, p. 90.

[22] Paul, H., The Myths that Made America, p. 102.

[23] Paul, H., The Myths that Made America, p. 102; Tilton, R. S., Pocahontas: The Evolution of an American Narrative, p. 10.

[24] Paul, H., The Myths that Made America, p. 103; Tilton, R. S., Pocahontas: The Evolution of an American Narrative, p. 11.

[25] Tilton, R. S., Pocahontas: The Evolution of an American Narrative, p. 12.

[26] Tremblay, G., ‘Reflecting on Pocahontas’, Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 23.3, p. 121.

Claude Du Val: the Original Gentleman Highwayman

The image of highwaymen that has been handed down through history is a mixture of fact and legend merged together. It consists of conflicting images of heroism of the poor, robbing the rich, and the violence of criminality. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw an increase in criminality in general, but none more so than highway robbery. The highwayman became the image of the ‘gentleman’ criminal. Whilst in more recent times, this has been posthumously attributed to Dick Turpin, the ‘actual’ gentleman highwaymen was a Frenchman, Claude Du Val.

Whilst most criminals were usually criticised for turning to criminality due to their own greed for luxury, idleness, poor education or parental neglect, there was a ‘separate class’ of criminal, of which Claude Duval was included, where they used glorified stories of themselves to build upon their own reputation.[1] Increasingly, this status was given to highwaymen. They were characters to be romanticised by fashionable hostesses in their high society salons.[2]

The term highwayman is believed to have become a popular term in the seventeenth century, when the amount of highway robberies began to increase.[3] Highwaymen were most popular from the English Civil War until the mid-eighteenth century, which was fuelled by their legendary representations through storytelling, ballads, novels and plays.[4] Many highwaymen had originally been soldiers or cavalrymen who had fallen on hard times and so, they turned to a new profession that still used the same horseman skills.[5] Most importantly for Claude Duval in particular, he was known for his gallantry and portrayed himself as a version of Robin Hood.[6]

As Du Val’s name suggests, he was a Frenchman and was born in Normandy in 1643.[7] Like most highwaymen, he had turned to a life of crime because of bankruptcy, which also triggered his move to England. His reputation was built on his fashionable appearance and gallant treatment of his victims, as he was known for never using physical violence.[8] For these actions Du Val became a popular figure for the ladies of the court to admire, but most importantly, Charles II admired him too.[9]

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Powell Frith, Claude Duval (1859), Manchester Art Gallery

The crime he is most famous for is when he tried to rob a couple and the woman challenged Du Val to a flageolet (a type of flute) and dancing contest. This incident amused Du Val very much and helped to reduce the husband’s payment owed to Du Val from £400 to £100.[10] It is gentlemanly acts like this that I believe set Du Val out from other highwaymen. Most, such as Dick Turpin, where prone to using acts of extreme violence, which has since been forgotten over time and due to literary depictions referring to them as some form of romantic hero.[11]

Unfortunately for Du Val, his gallantry was unable to save him from the eventual fate that would await him. He was eventually captured after a rather heavy drinking session in December 1669.[12] After his trial, which was viewed with much intrigue by his many fans and the jury alike, he was sentenced to hang at Tyburn on 21st January of that year.[13] What makes Du Val’s fate seem unusual is that both the women of the court and Charles II tried to intervene in the case, protesting about his good character and habit of not showing any violence, but the judge didn’t pay any attention to these protests.[14] Still, his celebrity status certainly followed him to the grave. The Newgate Calendar describes his funeral as a large affair. He was laid in state as if he was a person of significant importance and many people attended the funeral.[15] His tomb was also to be a fine affair where “a white marble stone was laid over him”, again suggesting that he was more than a condemned criminal.[16] This headstone had the inscription of:

Here lies Du Vall, Reader, if male thou art,

Look to thy purse. If female, to thy heart.

Much havoc has he made of both; for all

Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall

The second Conqueror of the Norman race,

Knights to his arm did yield, and ladies to his face.

Old Tyburn’s glory; England’s illustrious Thief,

Du Vall, the ladies’ joy; Du Vall, the ladies’ grief.[17]

Du Val is a perfect example of the criminal as celebrity. He helped to create the cultural identity of the ‘gentlemen highwayman’, which would help to mask the violence of others. It was Du Val who I believe should be recognised more than any other highwaymen for this, even though he has been posthumously overtaken by Dick Turpin as the most famous highwayman. Du Val, whilst a criminal at heart, never allowed it to corrupt his gentlemanly character and didn’t use the highwayman profession to take out personal revenge on the world as his contemporaries where known to do in the post-Civil War Era.[18]

[1] Emsley, C., Crime and Society in England, 1750-1900, Second Edition (Harlow: Longman, 1996), pp. 58 and 71.

[2] Arnold, C., Underworld London: Crime and Punishment in the Capital City (London: Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 90.

[3] McDonald, F., Gentleman Rogues and Wicked Ladies: a Guide to British Highwaymen and Highwaywomen (Stroud: The History Press, 2012), p. 20.

[4] McDonald, F., Gentleman Rogues and Wicked Ladies, pp. 10 and 21.

[5] Adkins, R. and L., Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago (London: Abacus, 2014), p. 269.

[6] Adkins, R. and L., Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England, p. 269.

[7] Arnold, C., Underworld London, p. 83.

[8] Peel, W., Stand and Deliver (Milverton: Giete, 2012), p. 42.

[9] Arnold, C., Underworld London, p. 83.

[10] Peel, W., Stand and Deliver, pp. 42-43.

[11] Arnold, C., Underworld London, p. 92.

[12] Basdeo, S., The Lives and Exploits of the Most Notes Highwaymen, Rogues and Murderers (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2018), p.44.

[13] Peel, W., Stand and Deliver, p. 43.

[14] Peel, W., Stand and Deliver, p. 43.

[15] Claude Du Val, Newgate Calendar, Part 1 (1740) http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/newgate1.txt

[16] Claude Du Val, Newgate Calendar, Part 1 (1740) http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/newgate1.txt

[17] Claude Du Val, Newgate Calendar, Part 1 (1740) http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/newgate1.txt

[18] Peel, W., Stand and Deliver, p. 46.

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.