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Royalty Restored or London under Charles II
Chapter XIII
by Molloy, J. Fitzgerald

The court repairs to Oxford.--Lady Castlemaine's son.--Their majesties return to Whitehall.--The king quarrels with his mistress.--Miss Stuart contemplates marriage.--Lady Castlemaine attempts revenge.--Charles makes an unpleasant discovery.--The maid of honour elopes.--His majesty rows down the Thames.--Lady Castlemaine's intrigues.--Fresh quarrels at court.--The king on his knees.

The while such calamities befell the citizens, the king continued to divert himself in his usual fashion. On the 29th of June, 1665, whilst death strode apace through the capital, reaping full harvests as he went, their majesties left Whitehall for Hampton Court, From here they repaired to Salisbury, and subsequently to Oxford, where Charles took up his residence in Christchurch, and the queen at Merton College.

Removed from harrowing scenes of ghastliness and distress, the court made merry. Joined by fair women and gallant men, their majesties played at bowls and tennis in the grassy meads of the college grounds; rode abroad in great hawking parties; sailed through summer days upon the smooth waters of the river Isis; and by night held revelry in the massive-beamed oak-panelled halls, from which scarce five-score candles served to chase all gloom.

It happened whilst life thus happily passed, at pleasant full- tide flow, my Lady Castlemaine, who resided in the same college with her majesty, gave birth on the 28th of December to another son, duly baptized George Fitzroy, and subsequently created Duke of Northumberland. By this time, the plague having subsided in the capital, and all danger of infection passed away, his majesty was anxious to reach London, yet loth to leave his mistress, whom he visited every morning, and to whom he exhibited the uttermost tenderness. And his tardiness to return becoming displeasing to the citizens, and they being aware of its cause, it was whispered in taverns and cried in the streets, "The king cannot go away till my Lady Castlemaine be ready to come along with him," which truth was found offensive on reaching the royal ears.

Towards the end of January, 1666, he returned to Whitehall, and a month later the queen, who had been detained by illness, joined him. Once more the thread of life was taken up by the court at the point where it had been broken, and woven into the motley web of its strange history. Unwearied by time, unsatiated by familiarity, the king continued his intrigue with the imperious Castlemaine, and with great longing likewise made love to the beautiful Stuart. But yet his pursuit of pleasure was not always attended by happiness; inasmuch as he found himself continually involved in quarrels with the countess, which in turn covered him with ridicule in the eyes of his courtiers, and earned him contempt in the opinions of his subjects.

One of these disturbances, which occurred soon after his return from Oxford, began at a royal drawing-room, in presence of the poor slighted queen and ladies of the court. It happened in the course of conversation her majesty remarked to the countess she feared the king had taken cold by staying so late at her lodgings; to which speech my Lady Castlemaine with some show of temper answered aloud, "he did not stay so late abroad with her, for he went betimes thence, though he do not before one, two, or three in the morning, but must stay somewhere else." The king, who had entered the apartment whilst she was speaking, came up to her, and displeased with the insinuations she expressed, declared she was a bold, impertinent woman, and bade her begone from the court, and not return until he sent for her. Accordingly she whisked from the drawing-room, and drove at once to Pall Mall, where she hired apartments.

Her indignation at being addressed by Charles in such a manner before the court, was sufficiently great to beget strong desires for revenge; when she swore she would be even with him and print his letters to her for public sport. In cooler moments, however, she abandoned this idea; and in course of two or three days, not hearing from his majesty, she despatched a message to him, not entreating pardon, but asking permission to send for her furniture and belongings. To this the monarch, who had begun to miss her presence and long for her return, replied she must first come and view them; and then impatient for reconciliation, he sought her, and they became friends once more. And by way of sealing the bond of pacification, the king soon after agreed to pay her debts, amounting to the sum of thirty thousand pounds, which had been largely incurred by presents bestowed by her upon her lovers.

His majesty was not only rendered miserable by the constant caprices and violent temper of the countess, but likewise by the virtue and coldness Miss Stuart betrayed since her return from Oxford. The monarch was sorely troubled to account for her bearing, and attributing it to jealousy, sought to soothe her supposed uneasiness by increasing his chivalrous attentions. Her change of behaviour, however, proceeded from another cause. The fair Stuart, though childlike in manner, was shrewd at heart; and was moreover guided invariably by her mother, a lady who reaped wisdom from familiarity with courts. Therefore the maid of honour, seeing she had given the world occasion to think she had lost her virtue, declared she was ready to "marry any gentleman of fifteen hundred a year that would have her in honour."

This determination she was obliged to keep-secret from the king, lest his anger should fall upon such as sought her, and so interfere with her matrimonial prospects. Now with such intentions in her mind she pondered well on an event which had happened to her, such as no woman who has had like experience ever forgets; namely, that amongst the many who professed to love her, one had proposed to marry her. This was Charles Stuart, fourth Duke of Richmond, a man possessed of neither physical gifts nor mental abilities; who was, moreover, a widower, and a sot.

However, the position which her union with him would ensure was all she could desire, and he renewing his suit at this time, she consequently consented to marry him. Now though it was probable she could keep her design from knowledge of her royal lover, it was scarcely possible she could hide it from observation of his mistress. And the latter, knowing the extent to which fair Frances Stuart shared his majesty's heart, and being likewise aware of the coldness with which his protestations were by her received, scorned the king and detested the maid. Lady Castlemaine therefore resolved to use her knowledge of Miss Stuart's contemplated marriage, for purpose of enraging the jealousy of the one, and destroying the influence of the other. In order to accomplish such desirable ends she quietly awaited her opportunity. This came in due time.

It happened one evening when his majesty had been visiting Frances Stuart in her apartments, and had returned to his own in a condition of ill-humour and disappointment, the countess, who had been some days out of favour, suddenly presented herself before him, and in a bantering tone, accompanied by ironical smiles, addressed him.

"I hope," said she, "I may be allowed to pay you my homage, although the angelic Stuart has forbidden you to see me at my own house. I will not make use of reproaches and expostulations which would disgrace myself; still less will I endeavour to excuse frailties which nothing can justify, since your constancy for me deprives me of all defence, considering I am the only person you have honoured with your tenderness, who has made herself unworthy of it by ill-conduct. I come now, therefore, with no other intent than to comfort and condole with you upon the affliction and grief into which the coldness or new-fashioned chastity of the inhuman Stuart has reduced your majesty."

Having delivered herself of this speech she laughed loud and heartily, as if vastly amused at the tenour of her words; and then before the impatient monarch had time to reply, continued in the same tone, with quickening breath and flashing eyes, "Be not offended that I take the liberty of laughing at the gross manner in which you are imposed upon; I cannot bear to see that such particular affection should make you the jest of your own court, and that you should be ridiculed with such impunity. I know that the affected Stuart has sent you away under pretence of some indisposition, or perhaps some scruple of conscience; and I come to acquaint you that the Duke of Richmond will soon be with her, if he is not there already. I do not desire you to believe what I say, since it might be suggested either through resentment or envy. Only follow me to her apartment, either that, no longer trusting calumny and malice you may honour her with a just preference, if I accuse her falsely; or, if my information be true, you may no longer be the dupe of a pretended prude, who makes you act so unbecoming and ridiculous a part."

The king, overwhelmed with astonishment, was irresolute in action; but Lady Castlemaine, determined on not being deprived of her anticipated triumph, took him by the hand and forcibly pulled him towards Miss Stuart's apartments. The maid of honour's servants, surprised at his majesty's return, were unable to warn their mistress without his knowledge; whilst one of them, in pay of the countess, found means of secretly intimating to her that the Duke of Richmond was already in Miss Stuart's chamber. Lady Castlemaine, having with an air of exultation led the king down the gallery from his apartments to the threshold of Miss Stuart's door, made him a low courtesy savouring more of irony than homage, bade him good-night, and with a subtle smile promptly retired.

The scene which followed is best painted by Hamilton's pen. "It was near midnight; the king on his way met the chambermaids, who respectfully opposed his entrance, and, in a very low voice, whispered his majesty that Miss Stuart had been very ill since he left her; but that being gone to bed, she was, God be thanked, in a very fine sleep. 'That I must see,' said the king, pushing her back, who had posted herself in his way. He found Miss Stuart in bed, indeed, but far from being asleep; the Duke of Richmond was seated at her pillow, and in all probability was less inclined to sleep than herself. The perplexity of the one party, and the rage of the other, were such as may easily be imagined upon such a surprise. The king, who of all men was one of the most mild and gentle, testified his resentment to the Duke of Richmond in such terms as he had never before used. The duke was speechless and almost petrified; he saw his master and his king justly irritated. The first transports which rage inspires on such occasions are dangerous. Miss Stuart's window was very convenient for a sudden revenge, the Thames flowing close beneath it; he cast his eyes upon it, and seeing those of the king more incensed than fired with indignation than he thought his nature capable of, he made a profound bow, and retired without replying a single word to the vast torrent of threats and menaces that were poured upon him.

"Miss Stuart having a little recovered from her first surprise, instead of justifying herself, began to talk in the most extravagant manner, and said everything that was most capable to inflame the king's passion and resentment: that if she were not allowed to receive visits from a man of the Duke of Richmond's rank, who came with honourable intentions, she was a slave in a free country; that she knew of no engagement that could prevent her from disposing of her hand as she thought proper; but, however, if this were not permitted her in his dominions, she did not believe that there was any power on earth that could hinder her from going over to France, and throwing herself into a Convent, to enjoy there that tranquillity which was denied her in his court. The king, sometimes furious with anger, sometimes relenting at her tears, and sometimes terrified at her menaces, was so greatly agitated that he knew not how to answer either the nicety of a creature who wanted to act the part of Lucretia under his own eye, or the assurance with which she had the effrontery to reproach him. In this suspense love had almost entirely vanquished all his resentments, and had nearly induced him to throw himself upon his knees, and entreat pardon for the injury he had done her, when she desired him to retire, and leave her in repose, at least for the remainder of that night, without offending those who had either accompanied him, or conducted him to her apartments, by a longer visit. This impertinent request provoked and irritated him to the highest degree: he went out abruptly, vowing never to see her more, and passed the most restless and uneasy night he had ever experienced since his restoration."

Next morning, his majesty sent orders to the Duke of Richmond to quit the court, and never appear again in his presence. His grace, however, stayed not to receive this message, having betaken himself with all possible speed into the country. Miss Stuart, who likewise feared the king's resentment, hastened to the queen, and throwing herself at her majesty's feet, entreated forgiveness for the pain and uneasiness she had caused her in the past, and besought her care and protection in the future.

She then laid bare her intentions of marrying the Duke of Richmond, who had loved her long, and was anxious to wed her soon; but since the discovery of his addresses had caused his banishment, and created disturbances prejudicial to her good name, she begged the queen would obtain his majesty's consent to her retiring from the vexations of a court to the tranquillity of a convent. The queen raised her up, mingled her tears with those of the troubled maid, and promised to use her endeavours towards averting the king's displeasure.

On consideration, however, the fair Stuart did not wait to hear his majesty's reproaches, or receive his entreaties; for the duke, being impatient to gain his promised bride, quietly returned to town, and secretly communicated with her. It was therefore agreed between them she should steal away from the palace, meet him at the "Bear at the Bridge Foot," situated on the Southwark side of the river, where he would have a coach awaiting her, in order they might ride away to his residence at Cobham Hall, near Gravesend, and then be legally and happily united in the holy bonds of matrimony. And all fell out as had been arranged: the time being the month of March, 1667.

Now when the king discovered her flight, his anger knew no bounds, though it sought relief in uttering many violent threats against the duke, and in sending word to the duchess he would see her no more. In answer to this message, she, with some show of spirit, returned him the jewels he had given her, principal amongst which were a necklace of pearls, valued at over a thousand pounds, and a pair of diamond pendants of rare lustre.

Neither she nor her husband paid much heed to the royal menaces, for before a year elapsed they both returned to town, and took up their residence at Somerset House. Here, as Pepys records, she kept a great court, "she being visited for her beauty's sake by people, as the queen is at nights: and they say also she is likely to go to court again and there put my Lady Castlemaine's nose out of joint. God knows that would make a great turn." But to such proposals as were made regarding her return to Whitehall, her husband would not pay heed, and she therefore remained a stranger to its drawing-rooms for some time longer. And when two years later she appeared there, her beauty had lost much of its famed lustre, for meantime she was overtaken by smallpox, a scourge ever prevalent in the capital. During her illness the king paid her several visits, and was sorely grieved that the loveliness he so much prized should be marred by foul disease. But on her recovery, the disfigurement she suffered scarce lessened his admiration, and by no means abated his love; which seemed to have gained fresh force from the fact of its being interrupted awhile.

This soon became perceptible to all, and rumour whispered that the young duchess would shortly return to Whitehall in a position which she had declined before marriage. And amongst other stories concerning the king's love for her, it was common talk that one fair evening in May, when he had ordered his coach to be ready that he might take an airing in the park, he, on a sudden impulse, ran down the broad steps leading from his palace gardens to the riverside. Here, entering a boat alone, he rowed himself adown the placid river now crossed by early shadows, until he came to Somerset House, where his lady-love dwelt; and finding the garden-door locked, he, in his impatience to be with her, clambered over the wall and sought her. Two months after the occurrence of this incident, the young duchess was appointed a lady of the bedchamber to the queen, and therefore had apartments at Whitehall. There was little doubt now entertained she any longer rejected his majesty's love; and in order to remove all uncertainties on the point which might arise in her husband's mind, the king one night, when he had taken over much wine, boasted to the duke of her complaisancy. Lord Dartmouth, who tells this story, says this happened "at Lord Townshend's, in Norfolk, as my uncle told me, who was present." Soon after his grace accepted an honourable exile as ambassador to Denmark, in which country he died.

During the absence of the Duchess of Richmond, my Lady Castlemaine, then in the uninterrupted possession of power, led his majesty a sorry life. Her influence, indeed, seemed to increase with time, until her victim became a laughing-stock to the heartless, and an object of pity to the wise. Mr. Povy, whose office as a member of the Tangier Commission brought him into continual contact with the court, and whose love of gossip made him observant of all that passed around him, in telling of "the horrid effeminacy of the king," said that "upon any falling out between my Lady Castlemaine's nurse and her woman, my lady hath often said she would make the king make them friends, and they would be friends and be quiet--which the king had been fain to do." Nor did such condescension on his majesty's part incline his mistress to treat him with more respect; for in the quarrels which now became frequent betwixt them she was wont to term him a fool, in reply to the kingly assertion that she was a jade.

The disturbances which troubled the court were principally caused by her infidelities to him, and his subsequent jealousies of her. Chief among those who shared her intrigues at this time was Harry Jermyn, with whom she renewed her intimacy from time to time, without the knowledge of his majesty. The risks she frequently encountered in pursuit of her amours abounded in comedy. Speaking of Harry Jermyn, Pepys tells us the king "had like to have taken him abed with her, but that he was fain to creep under the bed into the closet." It being now rumoured that Jermyn was about to wed my Lady Falmouth, the countess's love for one whom she might for ever lose received a fresh impulse, which made her reckless of concealment. The knowledge of her passion, therefore, coming to Charles's ears, a bitter feud sprang up between them, during which violent threats and abusive language were freely exchanged.

At this time my lady was far gone with child, a fact that soon came bubbling up to the angry surface of their discourse; for the king avowed he would not own it as his offspring. On hearing this, her passion became violent beyond all decent bounds. "God damn me, but you shall own it!" said she, her cheeks all crimson and her eyes afire; and moreover she added, "she should have it christened in the Chapel Royal, and owned as his, or otherwise she would bring it to the gallery in Whitehall, and dash its brains out before his face."

After she had hectored him almost out of his wits, she fled in a state of wild excitement from the palace, and took up her abode at the residence of Sir Daniel Harvey, the ranger of Richmond Park. News of this scene spread rapidly through the court, and was subsequently discussed in the coffee-houses and taverns all over the town, where great freedom was made with the lady's name, and great sport of the king's passion. And now it was said the monarch had parted with his mistress for ever, concerning which there was much rejoicement and some doubt. For notwithstanding the king had passed his word to this effect, yet it was known though his spirit was willing his flesh was weak. Indeed, three days had scarcely passed when, mindful of her temper, he began to think his words had been harsh, and, conscious of her power, he concluded his vows had been rash. He therefore sought her once more, but found she was not inclined to relent, until, as Pepys was assured, this monarch of most feeble spirit, this lover of most ardent temper, "sought her forgiveness upon his knees, and promised to offend her no more."


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