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


The kingdom in peril.--The chancellor falls under his majesty's displeasure.--The Duke of Buckingham's mimicry.--Lady Castlemaine's malice.--Lord Clarendon's fall.--The Duke of Ormond offends the royal favourite.--She covers him with abuse.--Plots against the Duke of York.--Schemes for a royal divorce.--Moll Davis and Nell Gwynn.--The king and the comedian.--Lady Castlemaine abandons herself to great disorders.--Young Jack Spencer.--The countess intrigues with an acrobat.--Talk of the town.--The mistress created a duchess.

At this time the kingdom stood in uttermost danger, being brought to that condition by his majesty's negligence towards its concerns. The peril was, moreover, heightened from the fact of the king being impatient to rid himself of those who had the nation's credit at heart, and sought to uphold its interests. To this end he was led in part by his own inclinations, and furthermore by his friends' solicitations. Foremost amongst those with whose services he was anxious to dispense, were the chancellor, my Lord Clarendon, and the lord lieutenant of Ireland, his grace the Duke of Ormond.

The king's displeasure against these men, who had served his father loyally, himself faithfully, and their country honestly, was instigated through hatred borne them by my Lady Castlemaine. From the first both had bewailed the monarch's connection with her, and the evil influence she exercised over him. Accordingly, after the pattern of honest men, they had set their faces against her.

Not only, as has already been stated, would the chancellor refuse to let any document bearing her name pass the great seal, but he had often prevailed with the king to alter resolutions she had persuaded him to form. And moreover had his lordship sinned in her eyes by forbidding his wife to visit or hold intercourse with her. These were sufficient reasons to arouse the hatred and procure the revenge of this malicious woman, who was now virtually at the head of the kingdom. For awhile, however, Charles, mindful of the services the chancellor had rendered him, was unwilling to thrust him from his high place. But as time sped, and the machinations of a clique of courtiers in league with the countess were added to her influence, the chancellor's power wavered. And finally, when he was suspected of stepping between his majesty and his unlawful pleasures--concerning which more shall be said anon--he fell.

At the head and front of the body which plotted against Lord Clarendon, pandered to Lady Castlemaine, and, for its own purposes--politically and socially--sought to control the king, was his grace the Duke of Buckingham. This witty courtier and his friends, when assembled round the pleasant supper table spread in the countess's apartments, and honoured almost nightly by the presence of the king, delighted to vent the force of their humour upon the chancellor, and criticize his influence over the monarch until Charles smarted from their words. In the height of their mirth, if his majesty declared he would go a journey, walk in a certain direction, or perform some trivial action next day, those around him would lay a wager he would not fulfil his intentions; and when asked why they had arrived at such conclusions, they would reply, because the chancellor would not permit him. On this another would remark with mock gravity, he thought there were no grounds for such an imputation, though, indeed, he could not deny it was universally believed abroad his majesty was implicitly governed by Lord Clarendon. The king, being keenly sensitive to remarks doubting his authority, and most desirous of appearing his own master, would exclaim on such occasions that the chancellor "had served him long, and understood his business, in which he trusted him; but in any other matter than his business, he had no more credit with him than any other man." And presently the Duke of Buckingham--who possessed talents of mimicry to a surpassing degree--would arise, and, screwing his face into ridiculous contortions, and shaking his wig in a manner that burlesqued wisdom to perfection, deliver some ludicrous speech brimming with mirth and indecencies, assuming the grave air and stately manner of the chancellor the while. And finally, to make the caricature perfect, Tom Killigrew, hanging a pair of bellows before him by way of purse, and preceded by a friend carrying a fireshovel to represent a mace, would walk round the room with the slow determined tread peculiar to Lord Clarendon. At these performances the king, his mistress, and his courtiers would laugh loud and long in chorus, with which was mingled sounds of chinking glasses and flowing wine. ["Came my lord chancellor (the Earl of Clarendon) and his lady, his purse and mace borne before him, to visit me"-- Evelyn's "Diary."]

In this manner was the old man's power undermined; but a circumstance which hastened his fall occurred in the early part of 1667. In that year Lady Castlemaine had, for a valuable consideration, disposed of a place at court, which ensured the purchaser a goodly salary. However, before the bargain could finally be ratified, it was necessary the appointment should pass the great seal. This the chancellor would not permit, and accompanied his refusal by remarking, "he thought this woman would sell every thing shortly." His speech being repeated to her, she, in great rage, sent him word she "had disposed of this place, and had no doubt in a little time to dispose of his." And so great was the malice she bore him, that she railed against him openly and in all places; nor did she scruple to declare in the queen's chamber, in the presence of much company, "that she hoped to see his head upon a stake, to keep company with those of the regicides on Westminster Hall."

And some political movements now arising, the history of which lies not within the province of this work, the king seized upon them as an excuse for parting with his chancellor. The monarch complained that my Lord Clarendon "was so imperious that he would endure no contradiction; that he had a faction in the House of Commons that opposed everything that concerned his majesty's service, if it were not recommended to them by him; and that he had given him very ill advice concerning the parliament, which offended him most."

Therefore there were rumours in the air that the chancellor's fall was imminent; nor were the efforts of his son-in-law, the Duke of York, able to protect him, for the friends of my Lady Castlemaine openly told his majesty "it would not consist with his majesty's honour to be hectored out of his determination to dismiss the chancellor by his brother, who was wrought upon by his wife's crying." It therefore happened on the 26th of August, 1667, as early as ten o'clock in the morning, Lord Clarendon waited at Whitehall on the king, who presently, accompanied by his brother, received him with characteristic graciousness. Whereon the old man, acknowledging the monarch's courtesy, said he "had no suit to make to him, nor the least thought to dispute with him, or to divert him from the resolution he had taken; but only to receive his determination from himself, and most humbly to beseech him to let him know what fault he had committed, that had drawn this severity upon him from his majesty."

In answer to this Charles said he must always acknowledge "he had served him honestly and faithfully, and that he did believe never king had a better servant; that he had taken this resolution for his good and preservation, as well as for his own convenience and security; that he was sorry the business had taken so much air, and was so publicly spoken of, that he knew not how to change his purpose." To these words of fair seeming the troubled chancellor replied by doubting if the sudden dismissal of an old servant who had served the crown full thirty years, without any suggestion of crime, but rather with a declaration of innocence, would not call his majesty's justice and good nature into question. He added that men would not know how to serve him, when they should see it was in the power of three or four persons who had never done him any notable service to dispose him to ungracious acts. And finally, he made bold to cast some reflections upon my Lady Castlemaine, and give his majesty certain warnings regarding her influence.

At this the king, not being well pleased, rose up, and the interview, which had lasted two hours, terminated. Lord Clarendon tells us so much concerning his memorable visit, to which Pepys adds a vivid vignette picture of his departure. When my lord passed from his majesty's presence into the privy garden, my Lady Castlemaine, who up to that time had been in bed, "ran out in her smock into her aviary looking into Whitehall--and thither her woman brought her nightgown--and stood joying herself at the old man's going away; and several of the gallants of Whitehall, of which there were many staying to see the chancellor return, did talk to her in her birdcage--among others Blaneford, telling her she was the bird of paradise."

A few days after this occurrence the king sent Secretary Morrice to the chancellor's house, with a warrant under a sign manual to require and receive the great seal. This Lord Clarendon at once delivered him with many expressions of duty which he bade the messenger likewise convey his majesty. And no sooner had Morrice handed the seals to the king, than Baptist May, keeper of the privy purse, and friend of my Lady Castlemaine, sought the monarch, and falling upon his knees, kissed his hand and congratulated him on his riddance of the chancellor. "For now." said he, availing himself of the liberty Charles permitted his friends, "you will be king--what you have never been before." Finally, the chancellor was, through influence of his enemies, impeached in the House of Commons; and to such length did they pursue him, that he was banished the kingdom by act of parliament.

His grace the Duke of Ormond was the next minister whom my Lady Castlemaine, in the strength of her evil influence, sought to undermine. By reason of an integrity rendering him too loyal to the king to pander to his majesty's mistress, he incurred her displeasure in many ways; but especially by refusing to gratify her cupidity. It happened she had obtained from his majesty a warrant granting her the Phoenix Park, Dublin, and the mansion situated therein, which had always been placed at service of the lords lieutenants, and was the only summer residence at their disposal. The duke, therefore, boldly refusing to pass the warrant, stopped the grant. [According to O'Connor's "Bibliotheca Stowensis," Lady Castlemaine soon after received a grant of a thousand pounds per annum in compensation for her loss of Phoenix Park.] This so enraged the countess, that soon after, when his grace returned to England, she, on meeting him in one of the apartments in Whitehall, greeted him with a torrent of abusive language and bitter reproaches, such as the rancour of her heart could suggest, or the license of her tongue utter, and concluded by hoping she might live to see him hanged. The duke heard her with the uttermost calmness, and when she had exhausted her abusive vocabulary quietly replied, "Madam, I am not in so much haste to put an end to your days; for all I wish with regard to you is, that I may live to see you grow old." And, bowing low, the fine old soldier left her presence. It may be added, though the duke was deprived of the lord lieutenancy, the countess's pious wish regarding him was never fulfilled.

It now occurred to those who had relentlessly persecuted the chancellor, that though they were safe as long as Charles reigned, his death would certainly place them in peril. For they sufficiently knew the Duke of York's character to be aware when he ascended the throne he would certainly avenge the wrongs suffered by his father-in-law. Accordingly these men, prominent amongst whom were the Duke of Buckingham, Sir Thomas Clifford, Lords Arlington, Lauderdale, and Ashley, and Baptist May, resolved to devise means which would prevent the Duke of York ever attaining the power of sovereignty. Therefore scarce a year had gone by since Lord Clarendon's downfall, ere rumours were spread abroad that his majesty was about to put away the queen, This was to be effected, it was said, by the king's acknowledgment of a previous marriage with Lucy Walters, mother of the Duke of Monmouth, or by obtaining a divorce on ground of her majesty's barrenness.

The Duke of Buckingham, who was prime mover in this plot, aware of the king's pride in, and fondness for the Duke of Monmouth, favoured the scheme of his majesty's admission of a marriage previous to that which united him with Catherine of Braganza. And according to Burnet, Buckingham undertook to procure witnesses who would swear they had been present at the ceremony which united him with the abandoned Lucy Walters. Moreover, the Earl of Carlisle, who likewise favoured the contrivance, offered to bring this subject before the House of Lords. However, the king would not consent to trifle with the succession in this vile manner, and the idea was promptly abandoned. But though the project was unsuccessful, it was subsequently the cause of many evils; for the chances of sovereignty, flashing before the eyes of the Duke of Monmouth, dazzled him with hopes, in striving to realize which, he, during the succeeding reign, steeped the country in civil warfare, and lost his head.

The king's friends, ever active for evil, now sought other methods by which he might rid himself of the woman who loved him well, and therefore be enabled to marry again, when, it was trusted, he would have heirs to the crown. It was suggested his union might, through lack of some formality, be proved illegal; but as this could not be effected without open violation of truth and justice, it was likewise forsaken. The Duke of Buckingham now besought his majesty that he would order a bill to divorce himself from the queen to be brought into the House of Commons. The king gave his consent to the suggestion, and the affair proceeded so far that a date was fixed upon for the motion. However, three days previous, Charles called Baptist May aside, and told him the matter must be discontinued.

But even yet my Lord Buckingham did not despair of gaining his wishes. And, being qualified by his character for the commission of abominable deeds, and fitted by his experience for undertaking adventurous schemes, he proposed to his majesty, as Burnet states, that he would give him leave to abduct the queen, and send her out of the kingdom to a plantation, where she should be well and carefully looked to, but never heard of more. Then it could be given out she had deserted him, upon which grounds he might readily obtain a divorce. But the king, though he permitted such a proposal to be made him, contemplated it with horror, declaring "it was a wicked thing to make a poor lady miserable only because she was his wife and had no children by him, which was no fault of hers."

Ultimately these various schemes resolved themselves into a proposition which Charles sanctioned. This was that the queen's confessor should persuade her to leave the world, and embrace a religious life. Whether this suggestion was ever made to her majesty is unknown, for the Countess of Castlemaine, hearing of these schemes, and foreseeing she would be the first sacrificed to a new queen's jealousy, opposed them with such vigour that they fell to the ground and were heard of no more. The fact was, the king took no active part in these designs, not being anxious, now the Duchess of Richmond had accepted his love, to unite himself with another wife. Whilst her grace had been unmarried, the idea had indeed occurred to him of seeking a divorce that he might be free to lay his crown at the feet of the maid of honour. And with such a view in mind he had consulted Dr. Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury, as to whether the Church of England "would allow of a divorce, when both parties were consenting, and one of them lay under a natural incapacity of having children." Before answering a question on which so much depended, the archbishop requested time for consideration, which, with many injunctions to secrecy, was allowed him. "But," says Lord Dartmouth, who vouches for truth of this statement, "the Duke of Richmond's clandestine marriage, before he had given an answer, made the king suspect he had revealed the secret to Clarendon, whose creature Sheldon was known to be; and this was the true secret of Clarendon's disgrace." For the king, believing the chancellor had aided the duke in his secret marriage, in order to prevent his majesty's union with Miss Stuart, and the presumable exclusion of the Duke and Duchess of York and their children from the throne, never forgave him.

Though the subject of the royal divorce was no longer mentioned, the disturbances springing from it were far from ended; for the Duke of Buckingham, incensed at Lady Castlemaine's interference, openly quarrelled with her, abused her roundly, and swore he would remove the king from her power. To this end he therefore employed his talents, and with such tact and assiduity that he ultimately fulfilled his menaces. The first step he took towards accomplishing his desires, was to introduce two players to his majesty, named respectively Moll Davis and Nell Gwynn.

The former, a member of the Duke of York's troupe of performers, could boast of goodly lineage, though not of legitimate birth, her father being Thomas Howard, first Earl of Berkshire. She had, early in the year 1667, made her first appearance at the playhouse, and had by her comely face and shapely figure challenged the admiration of the town. Her winsome ways, pleasant voice, and graceful dancing soon made her a favourite with the courtiers, who voted her an excellent wench; though some of her own sex, judging harshly of her, as is their wont towards each other, declared her "the most impertinent slut in the world."

Now the Duke of Buckingham knowing her well, it seemed to him no woman was more suited to fulfil his purpose of thwarting the countess; for if he succeeded in awaking the king's passion for the comedian, such a proceeding would not only arouse my lady's jealousy, but likewise humble her pride. Therefore, when this court Mephistopheles accompanied his majesty to the playhouse, he was careful to dwell on Moll Davis's various charms, the excellency of her figure, the beauty of her face, the piquancy of her manner. So impressed was the monarch by Buckingham's descriptions, that he soon became susceptible to her fascinations. The amour once begun was speedily pursued; and she was soon enabled to boast, in presence of the players, that the king--whose generosity was great to fallen women--had given her a ring valued at seven hundred pounds, and was about to take, and furnish most richly, a house in Suffolk Street for her benefit and abode. Pepys heard this news in the first month of the year 1668; and soon afterwards a further rumour reached him that she was veritably the king's mistress, "even to the scorn of the world."

This intrigue affected Lady Castlemaine in a manner which the Duke of Buckingham had not expected. Whilst sitting beside Charles in the playhouse, she noticed his attention was riveted upon her rival, when she became melancholy and out of humour, in which condition she remained some days. But presently rallying her spirits, she soon found means to divert her mind and avenge her wrongs, of which more shall be recorded hereafter. Meanwhile, the poor queen, whose feelings neither the king nor his courtiers took into consideration, bore this fresh insult with such patience as she could summon to her aid, on one occasion only protesting against her husband's connection with the player. This happened when the Duke of York's troupe performed in Whitehall the tragedy of "Horace," "written by the virtuous Mrs. Phillips." The courtiers assembled on this occasion presented a brilliant and goodly sight. Evelyn tells us "the excessive gallantry of the ladies was infinite, those jewels especially on Lady Castlemaine esteemed at forty thousand pounds and more, far outshining ye queene." Between each act of the tradgedy a masque and antique dance was performed. When Moll Davis appeared, her majesty, turning pale from sickness of heart, and trembling from indignation at the glaring insult thrust upon her, arose and left the apartment boisterous with revelry, where she had sat a solitary sad figure in its midst. As a result of her intimacy with the king, Moll Davis bore him a daughter, who subsequently became Lady Derwentwater. But the Duke of Buckingham's revenge upon my Lady Castlemaine was yet but half complete; and therefore whilst the monarch carried on his intrigue with Moll Davis, his grace, enlarging upon the wit and excellency of Nell Gwynn, besought his majesty to send for her. This request the king complied with readily enough, and she was accordingly soon added to the list of his mistresses. Nell Gwynn, who was at this period in her eighteenth year, had joined the company of players at the king's house, about the same time as Moll Davis had united her fortunes with the Duke of York's comedians. Her time upon the stage was, however, but of brief duration; for my Lord Buckhurst, afterwards Earl of Dorset, a witty and licentious man, falling in love with her, induced her to become his mistress, quit the theatre, and forsake the society of her lover, Charles Hart, a famous actor and great-nephew of William Shakespeare. And she complying with his desires in these matters, he made her an allowance of one hundred pounds a year, on which she returned her parts to the manager, and declared she would act no more.

Accordingly in the month of July, 1667, she was living at Epsom with my Lord Buckhurst and his witty friend Sir Charles Sedley, and a right merry house they kept for a time. But alas, ere the summer had died there came a day when charming Nell and his fickle lordship were friends no more, and parting from him, she was obliged to revert to the playhouse again.

Now Nell Gwynn being not only a pretty woman, but moreover an excellent actress, her return was welcomed by the town. Her achievements in light comedy were especially excellent, and declared entertaining to a rare degree. Pepys, who witnessed her acting "a comical part," in the "Maiden Queen," a play by Dryden, says he could "never hope to see the like done again by man or woman. So great performance of a comical part," he continues, "was never, I believe, in the world before as Nell do this, both as a mad girle, then most and best of all when she comes in like a young gallant; and hath the motions and carriage of a spark the most that ever I saw any man have. It makes me, I confess, admire her." In the part of Valeria, in "Tyrannic Love," she was also pronounced inimitable; especially in her delivery of the epilogue. The vein of comedy with which she delivered the opening lines, addressed to those about to bear her dead body from the stage, was merry beyond belief. "Hold!" she cried out to one of them, as she suddenly started to life--
  "Hold!  are you mad?  you damned confounded dog!
   I am to rise and speak the epilogue."
Before the year 1667 ended, she had several times visited his majesty at Whitehall. The king was now no less assured of her charms as a woman, than he had previously been convinced of her excellence as an actress. In due time, her intimacy with the monarch resulted in the birth of two sons; the elder of which was created Duke of St. Albans, from whom is descended the family now bearing that title: the second died young and unmarried.

Through influence of these women, my Lady Castlemaine's power over the king rapidly diminished, and at last ceased to exist; seeing which, as Burnet says, "She abandoned herself to great disorders; one of which by the artifice of the Duke of Buckingham was discovered by the king in person, the party concerned leaping out of the window." The gallant to whom the worthy bishop refers was John Churchill, afterwards the great Duke of Marlborough, at this time a handsome stripling of eighteen summers. In his office as page to the Duke of York, he frequently came under notice of her ladyship, who, pleased with the charms of his boyish face and graceful figure, intimated his love would not prove unacceptable to her. Accordingly he promptly made love to the countess, who, in the first fervour of her affection, presented him with five thousand pounds. With this sum he purchased a life annuity of five hundred pounds, which, as Lord Chesterfield writes, "became the foundation of his subsequent fortune." Nor did her generosity end here: at a cost of six thousand crowns she obtained for him the post of groom of the bedchamber to the Duke of York, and was instrumental in subsequently forwarding his advancements in the army.

My Lady Castlemaine was by no means inclined to spend her days in misery because the royal favour was no longer vouchsafed her; and therefore, by way of satisfying her desires for revenge, conducted intrigues not only with John Churchill and Harry Jermyn, but likewise with one Jacob Hall, a noted acrobat. This man was not only gifted with strength and agility, but likewise with grace and beauty: so that, as Granger tells us, "The ladies regarded him as a due composition of Hercules and Adonis." His dancing on the tight rope at Bartholomew Fair was "a thing worth seeing and mightily followed;" whilst his deeds of daring at Southwark Fair were no less subjects of admiration and wonder. The countess was so charmed by the performance of this athlete in public, that she became desirous of conversation with him in private; and he was accordingly introduced to her by Beck Marshall, the player. The countess found his society so entertaining that she frequently visited him, a compliment he courteously returned. Moreover, she allowed him a yearly salary, and openly showed her admiration for him by having their portraits painted in one picture: in which she is represented playing a fiddle, whilst he leans over her, touching the strings of a guitar.

Her amours in general, and her intimacy with the rope-dancer in particular, becoming common talk of the town, his majesty became incensed; and it grieved him the more that one who dwelt in his palace, and was yet under his protection, should divide her favours between a king and a mountebank. Accordingly bitter feuds arose between her and the monarch, when words of hatred, scorn, and defiance were freely exchanged. His majesty upbraiding her with a love for the rope-dancer, she replied with much spirit, "it very ill became him to throw out such reproaches against her: that he had never ceased quarrelling unjustly with her, ever since he had betrayed his own mean low inclinations: that to gratify such a depraved taste as his, he wanted the pitiful strolling actresses whom he had lately introduced into their society." Then came fresh threats from the lips of the fury, followed by passionate storms of tears.

The king, who loved ease greatly, and valued peace exceedingly, became desirous of avoiding such harrowing scenes. Accordingly, he resolved to enter into a treaty with his late mistress, by which he would consent to grant her such concessions as she desired, providing she promised to discontinue her intrigues with objectionable persons, and leave him to pursue his ways without reproach. By mutual consent, his majesty and the countess selected the Chevalier de Grammont to conduct this delicate business; he being one in whose tact and judgment they had implicit confidence. After various consultations and due consideration, it was agreed the countess should abandon her amours with Henry Jermyn and Jacob Hall, rail no more against Moll Davis or Nell Gwynn, or any other of his majesty's favourites, in consideration for which Charles would create her a duchess, and give her an additional pension in order to support her fresh honours with becoming dignity.

And as the king found her residence in Whitehall no longer necessary to his happiness, Berkshire House was purchased for her as a suitable dwelling This great mansion, situated at the south- west corner of St. James's Street, facing St. James's Palace, was surrounded by pleasant gardens devised in the Dutch style, and was in every way a habitation suited for a prince. This handsome gift was followed by a grant of the revenues of the Post Office, amounting to four thousand seven hundred pounds a year, which was at first paid her in weekly instalments. On the 3rd of August, 1670, Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine, was created Baroness Nonsuch, of Nonsuch Park, Surrey; Countess of Southampton; and Duchess of Cleveland in the peerage of England. The reasons for crowding these honours thick upon her were, as the patent stated, "in consideration of her noble descent, her father's death in the service of the crown, and by reason of her personal virtues."

Nor did his majesty's extravagant favours to her end here. She was now, as Mr. Povy told his friend Pepys, "in a higher command over the king than ever--not as a mistress, for she scorns him, but as a tyrant, to command him." In consequence of this power, she was, two months after her creation as duchess, presented by the monarch with the favourite hunting seat of Henry VIII., the magnificent palace and great park of Nonsuch, in the parishes of Cheam and Malden, in the county of Surrey. And yet a year later, she received fresh proofs of his royal munificence by the gift of "the manor, hundred, and advowson of Woking, county Surrey; the manor and advowson of Chobham, the hundred of Blackheath and Wootton, the manor of Bagshot (except the park, site of the manor and manor-house, and the Bailiwick, and the office of the Bailiwick, called Surrey Bailiwick, otherwise Bagshot Bailiwick), and the advowson of Bisley, all in the same county."

Her wealth, the more notable at a time when the king was in debt, and the nation impoverished from expenditure necessary to warfare, was enormous. Andrew Marvell, writing in August, 1671, states: "Lord St. John, Sir R. Howard, Sir John Bennet, and Sir W. Bicknell, the brewer, have farmed the customs. They have signed and sealed ten thousand pounds a year more to the Duchess of Cleveland; who has likewise near ten thousand pounds a year out of the new farm of the country excise of Beer and Ale; five thousand pounds a year out of the Post Office; and they say, the reversion of all the King's Leases, the reversion of places all in the Custom House, the green wax, and indeed what not? All promotions spiritual and temporal pass under her cognizance."

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