And such sights were to be witnessed day after day as made the heart sick. "It would be endless," says the Rev. Thomas Vincent, "to speak what we have seen and heard; of some, in their frenzy, rising out of their beds and leaping about their rooms; others crying and roaring at their windows; some coming forth almost naked and running into the streets; strange things have others spoken and done when the disease was upon them: but it was very sad to hear of one, who being sick alone, and it is like frantic, burnt himself in his bed. And amongst other sad spectacles methought two were very affecting: one of a woman coming alone and weeping by the door where I lived, with a little coffin under her arm, carrying it to the new churchyard. I did judge that it was the mother of the child, and that all the family besides was dead, and she was forced to coffin up and bury with her own hands this her last dead child. Another was of a man at the corner of the Artillery Wall, that as I judge, through the dizziness of his head with the disease, which seized upon him there, had dashed his face against the wall; and when I came by he lay hanging with his bloody face over the rails, and bleeding upon the ground; within half an hour he died in that place."
And as the pestilence increased, it was found impossible to provide coffins or even separate graves for those who perished. And therefore, in order to bury the deceased, great carts passed through the streets after sunset, attended by linkmen and preceded by a bellman crying in weird and solemn tones, "Bring out your dead." At the intimation of the watchmen stationed before houses bearing red crosses upon their doors, the sad procession would tarry, When coffinless, and oftentimes shroudless, rigid, loathsome, and malodorous bodies were hustled into the carts with all possible speed. Then once more the melancholy cortege took its way adown the dark, deserted street, the yellow glare of links falling on the ghastly burden they accompanied, the dirge-like call of the bellman sounding on the ears of the living like a summons from the dead. And so, receiving additional freight upon its way, the cart proceeded to one of the great pits dug in the parish churchyards of Aldgate and Whitechapel, or in Finsbury Fields close by the Artillery Ground. These, measuring about forty feet in length, eighteen in breadth, and twenty in depth, were destined to receive scores of bodies irrespective of creed or class. The carts being brought to these dark and weirdsome gulphs, looking all the blacker from the flickering lights of candles and garish gleams of lanterns placed beside them, the bodies, without rite or ceremony, were shot into them, and speedily covered with clay. For the accomplishment of this sad work night was found too brief. And what lent additional horror to the circumstances of these burials was, that those engaged in this duty would occasionally drop lifeless during their labour. So that it sometimes happened the dead-carts were found without driver, linkman, or bell-man. And it was estimated that the parish of Stepney alone lost one hundred and sixteen gravediggers and sextons within that year.
During the month of September, the pestilence raged with increased fury; and it now seemed as if the merciless distemper would never cease whilst a single inhabitant remained in the city. The lord mayor, having found all remedies to stay its progress utterly fail, by advice of the medical faculty, ordered that great fires should be kindled in certain districts, by way of purifying the air, Accordingly, two hundred chaldrons of coal, at four pounds a chaldron, were devoted to this purpose. At first the fires were with great difficulty made to burn, through the scarcity, it was believed, of oxygen in the atmosphere; but once kindled, they continued blazing for three days and three nights, when a heavy downpour of rain falling they were extinguished. The following night death carried off four thousand souls, and the experiment of these cleansing fires was discontinued. All through this month fear and tribulation continued; the death rate, from the 5th of September to the 3rd of October, amounting to twenty-four thousand one hundred and seventy-one.
During October, the weather being cool and dry, the pestilence gave promise of rapid decrease. Hope came to the people, and was received with eager greeting. Once more windows were unshuttered, doors were opened, and the more venturous walked abroad. The great crisis had passed. In the middle of the month Mr. Pepys travelled on foot to the Tower, and records his impressions. "Lord," he says, "how empty the streets are and melancholy, so many poor sick people in the streets full of sores; and so many sad stories overheard as I walk, everybody talking of this dead, and that man sick, and so many in this place, and so many in that. And they tell me that in Westminster there is never a physician and but one apothecary left, all being dead; but that there are great hopes of a decrease this week. God send it."
The while, trade being discontinued, those who had lived by commerce or labour were supported by charity. To this good purpose the king contributed a thousand pounds per week, and Dr. Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury—who remained at Lambeth during the whole time—by letters to his bishops, caused great sums to be collected throughout the country and remitted to him for this laudable purpose. Nor did those of position or wealth fail in responding to calls made upon them at this time; their contributions being substantial enough to permit the lord mayor to distribute upwards of one hundred thousand pounds a week amongst the poor and afflicted for several months.
In October the death rate fell to nine thousand four hundred and forty-four; in November to three thousand four hundred and forty-nine; and in December to less than one thousand. Therefore, after a period of unprecedented suffering, the people took courage once more, for life is dear to all men. And those who had fled the plague-stricken city returned to find a scene of desolation, greater in its misery than words can describe. But the tide of human existence having once turned, the capital gradually resumed its former appearance. Shops which had been closed were opened afresh; houses whose inmates had been carried to the grave became again centres of activity; the sound of traffic was heard in streets long silent; church bells called the citizens to prayer; marts were crowded; and people wore an air of cheerfulness becoming the survivors of a calamity. And so all things went on as before.
The mortality bills computed the number of burials which took place in London during this year at ninety-seven thousand three hundred and six, of which sixty-eight thousand five hundred find ninety-six were attributed to the plague. This estimate has been considered by all historians as erroneous. For on the first appearance of the distemper, the number of deaths set down was far below that which truth warranted, in order that the citizens might not be affrighted; and when it was at its height no exact account of those shifted from the dead-carts into the pits was taken. Moreover, many were buried by their friends in fields and gardens. Lord Clarendon, an excellent authority, states that though the weekly bills reckoned the number of deaths at about one hundred thousand, yet "many who could compute very well, concluded that there were in truth double that number who died; and that in one week, when the bill mentioned only six thousand, there had in truth fourteen thousand died."
A cry of fire by night.—Fright and confusion.—The lord mayor is unmanned.—Spread of the flames.—Condition of the streets.—Distressful scenes.—Destruction of the Royal Exchange.—Efforts of the king and Duke of York.—Strange rumours and alarms.—St. Paul's is doomed.—The flames checked.—A ruined city as seen by day and night.—Wretched state of the people.—Investigation into the origin of the fire.—A new city arises.
Scarcely had the city of London recovered from the dire effects of the plague, ere a vast fire laid it waste. It happened on the 2nd of September, 1666, that at two o'clock in the morning, the day being Sunday, smoke and flames were seen issuing from the shop of a baker named Faryner, residing in Pudding Lane, close by Fish Street, in the lower part of the city. The house being built of wood, and coated with pitch, as were likewise those surrounding it, and moreover containing faggots, dried logs, and other combustible materials, the fire spread with great rapidity: so that in a short time not only the baker's premises, but the homesteads which stood next it on either side were in flames.
Accordingly, the watchman's lusty cry of "Fire, fire, fire!" which had roused the baker and his family in good time to save their lives, was now shouted down the streets with consternation, startling sleepers from their dreams, and awaking them to a sense of peril. Thereon they rose promptly from their beds, and hastily throwing on some clothes, rushed out to rescue their neighbours' property from destruction, and subdue the threatening conflagration.
And speedily was heard the tramp of many feet hurrying to the scene, and the shouting of anxious voices crying for help; and presently the bells of St. Margaret's church close by, ringing with wild uneven peals through the darkness, aroused all far and near to knowledge of the disaster. For already the flames, fanned by a high easterly wind, and fed by the dry timber of the picturesque old dwellings huddled close together, had spread in four directions.
One of these being Thames Street, the consequence was terrible, for the shops and warehouses of this thoroughfare containing inflammable materials, required for the shipping trade, such as oil, pitch, tar, and rosin, the houses at one side the street were immediately wrapped, from basement to garret, in sheets of angry flame. And now flaunting its yellow light skywards, as if exulting in its strength, and triumphing in its mastery over men's efforts, the fire rushed to the church of St. Magnus, a dark solid edifice standing at the foot of London Bridge. The frightened citizens concluded the conflagration must surely end here; or at least that whilst it endeavoured to consume a dense structure such as this, they might succeed in subduing its force; but their hopes were vain. At first the flames shot upwards to the tower of the building, but not gaining hold, retreated as if to obtain fresh strength for new efforts; and presently darting forward again, they seized the woodwork of the belfry windows. A few minutes later the church blazed at every point, and was in itself a colossal conflagration.
From this the fire darted to the bridge, burning the wooden houses built upon it, and the water machines underneath, and likewise creeping up Thames Street, on that side which was yet undemolished. By this time the bells of many churches rang out in sudden fright, as if appealing to heaven for mercy on behalf of the people; and the whole east end of the town rose up in alarm. The entire city seemed threatened with destruction, for the weather having long been dry and warm, prepared the homesteads for their fate; and it was noted some of them, when scorched by the approaching fire, ignited before the flames had time to reach them.
Sir Thomas Bludworth, the lord mayor, now arrived in great haste, but so amazed was he at the sight he beheld, and so bewildered by importunities of those who surrounded him, that he was powerless to act. Indeed, his incapacity to direct, and inability to command, as well as his lack of moral courage, have been heavily and frequently blamed. Bring a weak man, fearful of outstepping his authority, he at first forebore pulling down houses standing in the pathway of the flames, as suggested to him, a means that would assuredly have prevented their progress; but when urged to this measure would reply, he "durst not, without the consent of the owners." And when at last, after great destruction had taken place, word was brought him from the king to "spare no house, but pull them down everywhere before the fire," he cried out "like a fainting woman," as Pepys recounts, "Lord! what can I do? I am spent; people will not obey me."
Meanwhile, great bodies of the citizens of all classes had been at work; some upon the cumbrous engines, others carrying water, others levelling houses, but all their endeavours seemed powerless to quell the raging flames. And it was notable when first the pipes in the streets were opened, no water could be found, whereon a messenger was sent to the works at Islington, in order to turn on the cocks, so that much time was lost in this manner. All through Sunday morning the flames extended far and wide, and in a few hours three hundred houses were reduced to ashes. Not at midday, nor yet at night, did they give promise of abatement. The strong easterly wind continuing to blow, the conflagration worked its way to Cannon Street, from thence gradually encompassing the dwellings which lay between that thoroughfare and the Thames, till the whole seemed one vast plain of raging fire.
The streets now presented a scene of the uttermost confusion and distress. The affrighted citizens, whose dwellings were momentarily threatened with destruction, hurried to and fro, striving to save those of their families who by reason of infancy, age or illness were unable to help themselves. Women on the eve of child-birth were carried from their beds; mothers with infants clinging to their naked breasts fled from homes which would shelter them no more; the decrepit were borne away on the shoulders of the strong. The narrow thoroughfares were moreover obstructed by furniture dragged from houses, or lowered from windows with a reckless speed that oftentimes destroyed what it sought to preserve. Carts, drays, and horses laden with merchandise jostled each other in their hurried way towards the fields outside the city walls. Men young and vigorous crushed forward with beds or trunks upon their backs; children laboured under the weight of bundles, or rolled barrels of oil, wine, or spirits before them. And the air, rendered suffocating by smoke and flame, was moreover confused by the crackling of consuming timber, the thunder of falling walls, the crushing of glass, the shrieks of women, and the imprecations of men.
And those who lived near the waterside, or in houses on the bridges, hurried their goods and chattels into boats, barges, and lighters, in which they likewise took refuge. For the destruction of wharfs and warehouses, containing stores of most inflammable nature, was brief and desperate. The Thames, now blood-red from reflection of the fierce sky, was covered with craft of all imaginable shape and size. Showers of sparks blown by the high wind fell into the water with hissing sounds, or on the clothes and faces of the people with disastrous and painful effects; and the smoke and heat were hard to bear. And it was remarked that flocks of pigeons, which for generations had found shelter in the eaves and roofs of wooden houses by the riverside, were loath to leave their habitations; and probably fearing to venture afar by reason of the unwonted aspect of the angry sky, lingered on the balconies and abutments of deserted houses, until in some cases, the flames enwrapping them, they fell dead into the waters below.
On Sunday evening Gracechurch Street was on fire; and the flames spread onwards till they reached, and in their fury consumed, the Three Cranes in the Vintry. Night came, but darkness had fled from the city; and for forty miles round all was luminous. And there were many who in the crimson hue of the heavens, beheld an evidence of God's wrath at the sins of the nation, which it was now acknowledged were many and great.
Throughout Sunday night the fire grew apace, and those who, in the morning had carried their belongings to parts of the city which they believed would by distance ensure safety, were now obliged to move them afresh, the devastation extending for miles. Therefore many were compelled to renew their labours, thereby suffering further fatigue; and they now trusted to no protection for their property save that which the open fields afforded. Monday morning came and found the flames yet raging. Not only Gracechurch Street, but Lombard Street, and part of Fenchurch street, were on fire. Stately mansions, comfortable homes, warehouses of great name, banks of vast wealth, were reduced to charred and blackened walls or heaps of smoking ruins. Buildings had been pulled down, but now too late to render service; for the insatiable fire, yet fed by a high wind, had everywhere marched over the dried woodwork and mortar as it lay upon the ground, and communicated itself to the next block of buildings; so that its circumvention was regarded as almost an impossibility.
During Monday the flames attacked Cornhill, and then commenced to demolish the Royal Exchange. Having once made an entrance in this stately building it revelled in triumph; climbing up the walls, roaring along the courts and galleries, and sending through the broken windows volleys of smoke and showers of sparks, which threatened to suffocate and consume those who approached. Then the roof fell with a mighty crash, which seemed for a time to subdue the powerful conflagration; the walls cracked, parted, and fell; statues of kings and queens were flung from their niches; and in a couple of hours this building, which had been the pride and glory of British Merchants, was a blackened ruin.
The citizens were now in a state of despair. Upwards of ten thousand houses were in a blaze, the fire extending, according to Evelyn, two miles in length and one in breadth, and the smoke reaching near fifty miles in length. Mansions, churches, hospitals, halls, and schools crumbled into dust as if at blighting touch of some most potent and diabolical magician. Quite hopeless now of quenching the flames, bewildered by loss, and overcome by terror, the citizens, abandoning themselves to despair, made no further effort to conquer this inappeasable fire; but crying aloud in their distraction, behaved as those who had lost their wits. The king and the Duke of York, who on Sunday had viewed the conflagration from the Thames, now alarmed at prospect of the whole capital being laid waste, rode into the city, and by their presence, coolness and example roused the people to fresh exertions. Accordingly, citizens and soldiers worked with renewed energy and courage; whilst his majesty and his brother, the courtiers and the lord mayor, mixed freely with the crowd, commanding and directing them in their labours.
But now a new terror rose up amongst the citizens, for news spread that the Dutch and French—with whom England was then at war—and moreover the papists, whom the people then abhorred, had conspired to destroy the capital. And the suddenness with which the flames had appeared in various places, and the rapidity with which they spread, leading the distracted inhabitants to favour this report, a strong desire for immediate revenge took possession of their hearts.
Accordingly all foreigners were laid hold of, kicked, beaten, and abused by infuriated mobs, from which they were rescued only to be flung into prison. And this conduct was speedily extended to the catholics, even when such were known to be faithful and well-approved good citizens. For though at first it spread as a rumour, it was now received as a certainty that they, in obedience to the wily and most wicked Jesuits, had determined to lay waste an heretical city. Nor were there wanting many ready to bear witness they had seen these dreaded papists fling fire-balls into houses of honest citizens, and depart triumphing in their fiendish deeds. So that when they ventured abroad they were beset by great multitudes, and their lives were imperilled. And news of this distraction, which so forcibly swayed the people, reaching the king, he speedily despatched the members of his privy council to several quarters of the city, that in person they might guard such of his subjects as stood in danger.
Lord Hollis and Lord Ashley were assigned Newgate Market and the streets that lie around, as parts where they were to station themselves. And it happened that riding near the former place they saw a vast number of people gathered together, shouting with great violence, and badly using one who stood in their midst. Whereon they hastened towards the spot and found the ill-treated man to be of foreign aspect. Neither had he hat, cloak, nor sword; his face was covered with blood, his jerkin was torn in pieces, and his person was bedaubed by mud. And on examination it was found he was unable to speak the English tongue; but Lord Hollis, entering into conversation with him in the French language, ascertained that he was a servant of the Portuguese ambassador, and knew not of what he was accused, or why he had been maltreated.
Hereon a citizen of good standing pressed forward and alleged he had truly seen this man put his hand in his pocket and throw a fire-ball into a shop, upon which the house immediately took flame; whereon, being on the other side of the street, he called aloud that the people might stop this abominable villain. Then the citizens had seized upon him, taking away his sword, and used him according to their will. My Lord Hollis explaining this to the foreigner, he was overcome by amazement at the charge; and when asked what he had thrown into the house, made answer he had not flung anything. But he remembered well, whilst walking in the street, he saw a piece of bread upon the ground, which he, as was the custom in his country took up. Afterwards he laid it upon a shelf in a neighbouring house, which being close by, my Lords Hollis and Ashley, followed by a dense crowd, conducted him thither, and found the bread laid upon a board as he had stated. It was noted the next house but one was on fire, and on inquiry it was ascertained that the worthy citizen, seeing a foreigner place something inside a shop without tarrying, and immediately after perceiving a dwelling in flames, which in his haste he took to be the same, he had charged the man with commission of this foul deed. But even though many were convinced of his innocence, my Lord Hollis concluded the stranger's life would be in safer keeping if he were committed to prison, which was accordingly done.
Meanwhile the fire continued; and on Monday night and Tuesday raged with increasing violence. The very heart of the city was now eaten into by this insatiable monster: Soper Lane, Bread Street, Friday Street, Old Change, and Cheapside being in one blaze. It was indeed a spectacle to fill all beholding it with consternation; but that which followed was yet more terrible, for already St. Paul's Cathedral was doomed to destruction.
Threatened on one side by the flames devastating Cheapside, and on the other from those creeping steadily up from Blackfriars to this great centre, it was now impossible to save the venerable church, which Evelyn terms "one of the most ancient pieces of early Christian piety in the world." Seen by this fierce light, and overhung by a crimson sky, every curve of its dark outline, every stone of its pillars and abutments, every column of its incomparable portico, stood clearly defined, so that never had it looked so stately and magnificent, so vast and majestic, as now when beheld for the last time.
Too speedily the fire advanced, watched by sorrowful eyes; but even before it had reached the scaffolding now surrounding the building, the vaulted roof, ignited by showers of sparks, burst into flames. Then followed a scene unspeakably grand, yet melancholy beyond all telling. In a few moments a pale yellow light had crept along the parapets, sending faint clouds of smoke upwards, as if more forcibly marking the course of destruction. Then came the crackling, hissing sounds of timber yielding to the fire, and soon a great sheet of lead which covered the roof, and was said to measure six acres, melting by degrees, down came on every side a terrible rain of liquid fire that seamed and burned the ground, and carried destruction with it in its swift course towards the Thames.
And now, by reason of the fearful heat, great projections of Portland stone, cornices, and capitals of columns, flew off before the fire had time to reach them. Windows melted in their frames, pillars fell to the ground, ironwork bent as wax; nay, the very pavements around glowed so that neither man nor horse dared tread upon them. And the flames, gradually gaining ground, danced fantastically up and down the scaffolding, and covered the edifice as with one blaze; whilst inside transom beams were snapped asunder, rafters fell with destruction, and the fire roaring through chapels and aisles as in a great furnace, could be heard afar. And that which had been a Christian shrine was now, a smoking ruin.
Raging onward in their fierce career, the flames darted towards such buildings in the neighbourhood as had been previously untouched, so that Paternoster Row, Newgate Street, the Old Bailey and Ludgate Hill were soon in course of destruction. And from the latter spot the conflagration, urged by the wind, rapidly rushed onwards towards Fleet Street. On the other hand, it extended from Cheapside to Ironmongers' Lane, Old Jewry, Lawrence Lane, Milk Street, Wood Street, Gutter Lane, and Foster Lane; and again spreading from Newgate Street, it surrounded and destroyed Christ Church, burned through St. Martin's-le-Grand towards Aldgate, and threatened to continue its triumphant march to the suburbs.
For several miles nothing but raging fire and smoking ruins was visible, for desolation had descended on the city. It was now feared the flames would reach the Palace of Whitehall, and extend towards Westminster Abbey, a consideration which caused much alarm to his majesty, who prized the sacred fane exceedingly. And now the king was determined the orders he had already issued should be obeyed, and that houses standing in direct path of the fire should be demolished by gunpowder; so that, a greater gap being effected than any previously made by pulling them down, the conflagration might have no further material wherewith to strengthen and feed its further progress.
This plan, Evelyn states, had been proposed by some stout seamen early enough to have saved nearly the whole city; "but this some tenacious and avaricious men, aldermen, etc., would not permit, because their houses would have been the first." Now, however, this remedy was tried, and with greater despatch, because the fire threatened the Tower and the powder magazine it contained. And if the flames once reached this, London Bridge would assuredly be destroyed, the vessels in the river torn and sunk, and incalculable damage to life and property effected.
Accordingly Tower Street, which had already become ignited, was, under supervision of the king, blown up in part, and the fire happily brought to an end by this means in that part of the town. Moreover, on Wednesday morning the east wind, which had continued high from Sunday night, now subsided, so that the flames lost much of their vehemence, and by means of explosions were more easily mastered at Leadenhall and in Holborn, and likewise at the Temple, to which places they had spread during Wednesday and Thursday.
During these latter days, the king and the Duke of York betrayed great vigilance, and laboured with vast activity; the latter especially, riding from post to post, by his example inciting those whose courage had deserted them, and by his determination overcoming destruction. On Thursday the dread conflagration, after raging for five consecutive days and nights, was at length conquered.
On Friday morning the sun rose like a ball of crimson fire above a scene of blackness, ruin, and desolation. Whole streets were levelled to the ground, piles of charred stones marked where stately churches had stood, smoke rose in clouds from smouldering embers. With sorrowful hearts many citizens traversed the scene of desolation that day; amongst others Pepys and Evelyn. The latter recounts that "the ground and air, smoke and fiery vapour, continu'd so intense, that my haire was almost sing'd, and my feete unsuffurably surbated. The people who now walk'd about ye ruines appear'd like men in some dismal desert, or rather in some greate citty laid waste by a cruel enemy; to which was added that stench that came from some poore creatures' bodies, beds, and other combustible goods."
It would have been impossible to trace the original course of the streets, but that some gable, pinnacle, or portion of walls, of churches, halls, or mansions, indicated where they had stood. The narrower thoroughfares were completely blocked by rubbish; massive iron chains, then used to prevent traffic at night in the streets, were melted, as were likewise iron gates of prisons, and the hinges of strong doors. Goods stored away in cellars and subterranean passages of warehouses yet smouldered, emitting foul odours; wells were completely choked, fountains were dried at their sources. The statues of monarchs which had adorned the Exchange, were smashed; that of its founder, Sir Thomas Gresham, alone remaining entire. The ruins of St. Paul's, with its walls standing black and cheerless, presented in itself a most melancholy spectacle. Its pillars were embedded in ashes, its cornices irretrievably destroyed, its great bell reduced to a shapeless mass of metal; whilst its general air of desolation was heightened by the fact that a few monuments, which had escaped destruction, rose abruptly from amidst the charred DEBRIS.
But if the ruins of the capital looked sad by day, their appearance was more appalling when seen by light of the moon, which rose nightly during the week following this great calamity. From the city gates, standing gaunt, black, and now unguarded, to the Temple, the level waste seemed sombre as a funeral pall; whilst the Thames, stripped of wharves and warehouses, quaintly gabled homes, and comfortable inns—wont to cast pleasant lights and shadows on its surface—now swept past the blackened ruins a melancholy river of white waters.
In St. George's Fields, Moorfields, and far as Highgate for several miles, citizens of all degrees, to the number of two hundred thousand, had gathered: sleeping in the open fields, or under canvas tents, or in wooden sheds which they hurriedly erected. Some there were amongst them who had been used to comfort and luxury, but who were now without bed or board, or aught to cover them save the clothes in which they had hastily dressed when fleeing from the fire. And to many it seemed as if they had only been saved from one calamity to die by another: for they had nought wherewith to satisfy their hunger, yet had too much pride to seek relief.
And whilst yet wildly distracted by their miserable situation, weary from exhaustion, and nervous from lack of repose, a panic arose in their midst which added much to their distress. For suddenly news was spread that the French, Dutch and English papists were marching on them, prepared to cut their throats. At which, broken-spirited as they were, they rose up, and leaving such goods that they had saved, rushed towards Westminster to seek protection from their imaginary foes. On this, the king sought to prove the falsity of their alarm, and with infinite difficulty persuaded them to return to the fields: whence he despatched troops of soldiers, whose presence helped to calm their fears.
And the king having, moreover, tender compassion for their wants, speedily sought to supply them. He therefore summoned a council that it might devise means of relief; and as a result, it published a proclamation ordering that bread and all other provisions, such as could be furnished, should be daily and constantly brought, not only to the markets formerly in use, but also to Clerkenwell, Islington, Finsbury Fields, Mile End Green, and Ratcliffe, for greater convenience of the citizens. For those who were unable to buy provisions, the king commanded the victualler of his navy to send bread into Moorfields, and distribute it amongst them. And as divers distressed people had saved some of their goods, of which they knew not where to dispose, he ordered that churches, chapels, schools, and such like places in and around Westminster, should be free and open to receive and protect them. He likewise directed that all cities and towns should, without contradiction or opposition, receive the citizens and permit them free exercise of their manual labours: he promising, when the present exigency had passed away, to take care the said persons should be no burden to such towns as received them.
The people were therefore speedily relieved. Many of them found refuge with their friends and relatives in the country, and others sought homes in the districts of Westminster and Southwark: so that in four days from the termination of the fire, there was scarce a person remaining in the fields, where such numbers had taken refuge.
The first hardships consequent to the calamity having passed away, people were anxious to trace the cause of their sufferings, which they were unwilling to consider accidental. A rumour therefore sprang up, that the great fire resulted from a wicked plot, hatched by Jesuits, for the destruction of an heretical city. At this the king was sorely troubled; for though there was no evidence which led him to place faith in the report, yet a great body of the citizens and many members of his council held it true. Therefore, in order to appease such doubts as arose in his mind, and likewise to satisfy the people, he appointed his privy council to sit morning and evening to inquire into the matter, and examine evidences set forth against those who had been charged with the outrage and cast into prison during the conflagration.
And in order that the investigation might be conducted with greater rigour he sent into the country for the lord chief justice, who was dreaded by all for his unflinching severity. The lord chancellor, in his account of these transactions, assures us many of the witnesses who gave evidence against those indicted with firing the capital "were produced as if their testimony would remove all doubts, but made such senseless relations of what they had been told, without knowing the condition of the persons who told them, or where to find them, that it was a hard matter to forbear smiling at their declarations." Amongst those examined was one Roger Hubert, who accused himself of having deliberately set the city on fire. This man, then in his twenty-fifth year, was son of a watchmaker residing in Rouen. Hubert had practised the same trade both in that town and in London, and was believed by his fellow workmen to be demented. When brought before the chief justice and privy council, Hubert with great coolness stated he had set the first house on fire: for which act he had been paid a year previously in Paris. When asked who had hired him to accomplish this evil deed, he replied he did not know, for he had never seen the man before: and when further questioned regarding the sum he had received, he declared it was but one pistole, but he had been promised five pistoles more when he should have done his work. These ridiculous answers, together with some contradictory statements he made, inclined many persons, amongst whom was the chief justice, to doubt his confession. Later on in his examinations, he was asked if he knew where the house had stood which he set on fire, to which he replied in the affirmative, and on being taken into the city, pointed out the spot correctly.
In the eyes of many this was regarded as proof of his guilt; though others stated that, having lived in the city, he must necessarily become acquainted with the position of the baker's shop. Opinion was therefore somewhat divided regarding him. The chief justice told the king "that all his discourse was so disjointed that he did not believe him guilty." Yet having voluntarily accused himself of a monstrous deed, and being determined as it seemed to rid himself of life, he was condemned to death and speedily executed.
Lord Clarendon says: "Neither the judges nor any present at the trial did believe him guilty; but that he was a poor distracted wretch, weary of his life, and chose to part with it in this way. Certain it is that upon the strictest examination that could be afterwards made by the king's command, and then by the diligence of the House, that upon the jealousy and rumour made a committee, that was very diligent and solicitous to make that discovery, there was never any probable evidence (that poor creature's only excepted) that there was any other cause of that woful fire than the displeasure of God Almighty: the first accident of the beginning in a baker's house, where there was so great a stock of faggots, and the neighbourhood of such combustible matter, of pitch and rosin, and the like, led it in an instant from house to house, through Thames Street, with the agitation of so terrible a wind to scatter and disperse it."
But belief that the dreaded papists had set fire to the city, lingered in the minds of many citizens. When the city was rebuilt, this opinion found expression in an inscription cut over the doorway of a house opposite the spot where the fire began, which ran as follows:
"Here, by the permission of heaven, hell broke loose on this protestant city from the malicious hearts of barbarous papists, by the hand of their agent Hubert, who confessed, and on the ruins of this place declared the fact, for which he was hanged. Erected in the mayoralty of Sir Patience Ward, Knight."
The loss caused by this dreadful conflagration was estimated at ten million sterling. According to a certificate of Jonas Moore and Ralph Gatrix, surveyors appointed to examine the ruins, the fire overrun 373 acres within the walls, burning 13,200 houses, 89 parish churches, numerous chapels, the Royal Exchange, Custom House, Guildhall, Blackwell Hall, St. Paul's Cathedral, Bridewell, fifty-two halls of the city companies, and three city gates.
As speedily as might be, the king and his parliament then sitting at Oxford, sought to restore the city on a scale vastly superior to its former condition. And the better to effect this object, an act of parliament was passed that public buildings should be rebuilt with public money, raised by a tax on coals; that the churches and the cathedral of St. Paul's should be reconstructed from their foundations; that bridges, gates and prisons should be built anew; the streets made straight and regular, such as were steep made level, such as were narrow made wide; and, moreover, that every house should be built with party walls, such being of stone or brick, and all houses raised to equal height in front.
And these rules being observed, a stately and magnificent city rose phoenix-like from ruins of the old; so that there was naught to remind the inhabitants of their great calamity save the Monument. This, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and built at a cost of fourteen thousand five hundred pounds, was erected near where the fire broke out, the better to perpetuate a memory of this catastrophe in the minds of future generations, which purpose it fulfils unto this day.
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."
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.