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."
Louise de Querouaille.—The Triple Alliance.—Louise is created Duchess of Portsmouth.—Her grace and the impudent comedian.—Madam Ellen moves in society.—The young Duke of St. Albans.—Strange story of the Duchess of Mazarine.—Entertaining the wits at Chelsea.—Luxurious suppers.—Profligacy and wit.
The Duchess of Cleveland having shared the fate common to court favourites, her place in the royal affections was speedily filled by a mistress whose influence was even more baneful to the king, and more pernicious to the nation. This woman was Louise de Querouaille, the descendant of a noble family in Lower Brittany. At an early age she had been appointed maid of honour to Henrietta, youngest sister of Charles II., soon after the marriage of that princess, in 1661, with the Duke of Orleans, brother to Louis XIV. Fate decreed that Mademoiselle de Querouaille should be brought into England by means of a political movement; love ordained she should reign mistress of the king's affections.
It happened in January, 1668, that a Triple Alliance had been signed at the Hague, which engaged England, Sweden, and the United Provinces to join in defending Spain against the power of France. A secret treaty in this agreement furthermore bound the allies to check the ambition of Louis XIV., and, if possible, reduce his encroaching sway. That Charles II. should enter into such an alliance was galling to the French monarch, who resolved to detach his kinsman from the compact, and bind him to the interests of France. To effect this desired purpose, which he knew would prove objectionable to the British nation, Louis employed Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans, to visit England on pretext of pleasure and affection, and secretly persuade and bribe her brother to the measures required.
The young duchess, though an English princess, had at heart the interests of the country in which she had been reared, and which on her marriage she had adopted as her own. She therefore gladly undertook this mission, confident of her success from the fact that of all his family she had ever been the most tenderly beloved by Charles. Therefore she set out from France, and in the month of May, 1670, arrived at Dover, to which port the king, Queen, and court hastened, that they might greet and entertain her. For full ten days in this merry month, high revelry was held at Dover, during which time Henrietta skilfully and secretly effected the object of her visit. And her delight was now the greater, inasmuch as one item which this agreement entrusted her to make, engaged that Charles would, as soon as he could with safety, follow the example of his brother the Duke of York, and become a Catholic. In carrying out this purpose Louis promised him substantial aid and sure protection. Likewise, it may be mentioned, did the French king engrage to grant him a subsidy equal to a million a year, if Charles joined him in an attack on Holland.
The prospect of his sister's return filled the king with sorrow, which increased as the term of her visit drew to an end. "He wept when he parted with her," wrote Monsieur Colbert, the French ambassador, who significantly adds, "whatever favour she asked of him was granted."
Now Louis knowing the weakness of the English monarch's character, and aware of his susceptibility to female loveliness, had despatched Mademoiselle de Querouaille in the train of Henrietta. Satisfied that Charles could not resist her charms, the French monarch had instructed this accomplished woman, who was trusted in his councils, to accept the royal love, which it was surmised would be proffered her; so that by the influence which she would consequently obtain, she might hold him to the promises he might make the Duchess of Orleans.
As had been anticipated, the king became enamoured of this charming woman, who, before departing with the princess, faithfully promised to return and become his mistress. In his desire to possess her the merry monarch was upheld by his grace of Buckingham, who, continuing in enmity with the Duchess of Cleveland, resolved to prevent her regaining influence over the king by adding the beautiful Frenchwoman to the number of his mistresses. He therefore told Charles, in the sarcastic manner it was occasionally his wont to use, "it was a decent piece of tenderness for his sister to take care of some of her servants;" whilst on being sent into France, he assured Louis "he could never reckon himself sure of the king, but by giving him a mistress that should be true to his interests." But neither king required urging to a resolution on which both had separately determined; and soon Mademoiselle Querouaille was ready for her journey to England. A yacht was therefore sent to Dieppe to convey her, and presently she was received at Whitehall by the lord treasurer, and her arrival celebrated in verse by Dryden. Moreover, that she might have apartments in the palace, the king at once appointed her a maid of honour to her majesty, this being the first of a series of favours she was subsequently to receive. Evelyn, writing in the following October, says it was universally reported a ceremonious espousal, devoid of the religious rite, had taken place between his majesty and Mademoiselle Querouaille at Lord Arlington's house at Euston. "I acknowledge," says this trustworthy chronicler "she was for the most part in her undresse all day, and that there was fondnesse and toying with that young wanton; nay, 'twas said I was at the former ceremony, but 'tis utterly false; I neither saw nor heard of any such thing whilst I was there, tho' I had ben in her chamber, and all over that apartment late enough, and was myself observing all passages with much curiosity."
She now became a central figure in the brilliant court of the merry monarch, being loved by the king, flattered by the wits, and tolerated by the queen, to whom—unlike the Duchess of Cleveland—she generally paid the greatest respect. Her card tables were thronged by courtiers eager to squander large sums for the honour of playing with the reigning sultana; her suppers were attended by wits and gallants as merry and amorous as those who had once crowded round my Lady Castlemaine in the zenith of her power. No expense was too great for his majesty to lavish upon her; no honour too high with which to reward her affection. The authority just mentioned says her apartments at Whitehall were luxuriously furnished "with ten times the richnesse and glory beyond the Queene's; such massy pieces of plate, whole tables and stands of incredible value." After a residence of little more than three years at court she was raised by King Charles to the peerage as Baroness of Petersfield, Countess of Farnham, and Duchess of Portsmouth; whilst the French king, as a mark of appreciation for the services she rendered France, conferred upon her the Duchy of Aubigny, in the province of Berri in France, to which he added the title and dignity of Duchess and Peeress of France, with the revenues of the territory of Aubigny. And two years later King Charles, prodigal of the honours he conferred upon her, ennobled the son she had borne him in 1672. The titles of the Duke of Richmond and Lennox having lately reverted to the crown by the death of Frances Stuart's husband, who was last of his line, the bastard son of the French mistress was created Duke of Richmond and Earl of March in England, and Duke of Lennox and Earl of Darnley in Scotland. To these proud titles the present head of the noble house of Richmond and Lennox—by virtue of the grant made by Louis XIV. to his ancestress likewise adds that of Duc d'Aubigny in the peerage of France.
But though honoured by the king, and flattered by the court, the Duchess of Portsmouth was far from enjoying uninterrupted happiness; inasmuch as her peace was frequently disturbed by jealousy. The principal cause of her uneasiness during the first five years of her reign was the king's continued infatuation for Nell Gwynn; now, by reason of the elevated position she enjoyed, styled Madam Ellen. This "impudent comedian," as Evelyn calls her, was treated by his majesty with, extreme indulgence and royal liberality. In proof of the latter statement, it may be mentioned that in less than four years from the date of her first becoming his mistress, he had wantonly lavished sixty thousand pounds upon her, as Burnet affirms. Moreover, he had purchased as a town mansion for her "the first good house on the left-hand side of St. James's Square, entering Pall Mall," now the site of the Army and Navy Club; had given her likewise a residence situated close by the Castle at Windsor; and a summer villa located in what was then the charming village of Chelsea. To such substantial gifts as these he added the honour of an appointment at court: when the merry player was made one of the ladies of the privy chamber to the queen. Samuel Pegg states this fact, not generally known, and assures us he discovered it "from the book in the lord chamberlain's office."
From her position as the king's mistress, Madam Ellen moved on terms of perfect equality with the Duchess of Portsmouth's friends—supping with my Lady Orrery, visiting my Lord Cavendish, and establishing a friendship with the gay Duchess of Norfolk. This was a source of deep vexation to the haughty Frenchwoman; but Nell Gwynn's familiarity with the king was a cause of even greater mortification. Sir George Etherege records in verse when the monarch was "dumpish" Nell would "chuck the royal chin;" and it is stated that, mindful of her former conquests over Charles Hart and Charles Lord Buckley, it was her habit to playfully style his majesty "Charles the Third." Her wilfulness, wit, and beauty enabled her to maintain such a strong hold upon the king's heart, that he shared his time equally between her and the Duchess of Portsmouth. Indignant that a woman from the playhouse should receive such evidences of the royal affection, her grace lost no opportunity of insulting Nell, who responded by mimicry and grimaces, which threw those who witnessed the comedy into fits of laughter, and covered the wrathful duchess with confusion.
But though the light-hearted actress frequently treated disdain with ridicule, she could occasionally analyze the respective positions held by herself and the duchess with seriousness, Madame de Sevigne tells us, Nell would reason in this manner: "This duchess pretends to be a person of quality: she affirms she is related to the best families in France, and when any person of distinction dies she puts herself in mourning. If she be a lady of such quality, why does she demean herself to be a courtesan? She ought to die with shame. As for me, it is my profession. I do not pretend to anything better. The king entertains me, and I am constant to him at present. He has a son by me; I contend that he ought to acknowledge him—and I am well assured that he will, for he loves me as well as the duchess."
To have her son ennobled, and by this means raise him to an equality with the offspring of her grace, became the desire of Nell Gwynn's life. To her request that this favour might be granted, the king had promised compliance from time to time, but had as frequently postponed the fulfilment of his word. At last, weary of beseeching him, she devised a speech which she trusted might have the desired effect. Accordingly, when the monarch came to see her one day, he found her in a pensive mood, playing with her pretty boy; and the lad, being presently set upon his feet, he promptly tottered down the room, whereon she cried out to him, "Come here, you little bastard!" Hearing this word of evil import applied to his son, the monarch begged she would not use the expression, "I am sorry," said she regretfully, "but, alas, I have no other name to give him!" His majesty took the hint, and soon after bestowed on him that of Charles Beauclerk, and created him Baron of Heddington, in Oxon, and Earl of Burford in the same county; and finally, when he had reached the age of ten years, raised him to the dignity of Duke of St. Albans.
After a reign of five years in the court of the merry monarch, her Grace of Portsmouth was destined to encounter a far more formidable rival than Nell Gwynn, in the person of the Duchess of Mazarine. This lady, on her arrival in England in 1675, possessed most of the charms which had rendered her notable in youth. To the attraction they lent was added an interest arising from her personal history, in which King Charles had once figured, and to which fate had subsequently added many pages of romance.
Hortensia Mancini, afterwards Duchess of Mazarine, was descendant of a noble Roman family, and niece of the great Julius Mazarine, cardinal of the church, and prime minister of France. Her parents dying whilst she, her sister and brother were young, they had been reared under the care of his eminence. According to the memoirs of the duchess, the cardinal's peace must have frequently been put to flight by his charges, whose conduct, he declared, exhibited neither piety nor honour. Mindful of this, he placed his nieces under the immediate supervision of Madame de Venelle, who was directed to have the closest guard over them. A story related by the duchess shows in what manner this lady's duty was carried out, and what unexpected results attended it on one occasion.
When the court visited Lyons, in the year 1658, the cardinal's nieces and their governess lodged in a commodious mansion in one of the public squares. "Our chamber windows, which opened towards the market-place," writes Hortensia, "were low enough for one to get in with ease. Madame de Venelle was so used to her trade of watching us, that she rose even in her sleep to see what we were doing. One night, as my sister lay asleep with her mouth open, Madame de Venelle, after her accustomed manner, coming, asleep as she was, to grope in the dark, happened to thrust her finger into her mouth so far that my sister, starting out of her sleep, made her teeth almost meet in her finger. Judge you the amazement they both were in to find themselves in this posture when they were thoroughly awake. My sister was in a grievous fret. The story was told the king the next day, and the court had the divertisement of laughing at it."
Whilst the great minister's nieces were yet extremely young, Louis XIV. fell passionately in love with the elder, Maria, and his marriage with her was frustrated only by the united endeavours of the queen mother and the cardinal. A proposal to raise Hortensia to the nominal dignity of queen was soon after made on behalf of Charles II., who sought her as his bride. But he being at the time an exile, banished from his kingdom, and with little hope of regaining his throne, the offer was rejected by Cardinal Mazarine as unworthy of his favourite niece.
His eminence was, however, anxious to see her married, and accordingly sought amongst the nobility of France a husband suitable to her merits and equal to her condition, she being not only a beautiful woman but, through his bounty, the richest heiress in Christendom. It happened the cardinal's choice settled upon one who had fallen in love with Hortensia, and who had declared, with amorous enthusiasm, that if he had but the happiness of being married to her, it would not grieve him to die three months afterwards.
The young noble was Armand Charles de la Porte, Duke de Meilleraye, who had the sole recommendation of being one of the richest peers of France. On condition that he and his heirs should assume the name of Mazarine and arms of that house, the cardinal consented to his becoming the husband of his niece. And the great minister's days rapidly approaching their end, the ceremony was performed which made Hortensia, then at the age of thirteen, Duchess of Mazarine. A few months later the great cardinal expired, leaving her the sum of one million six hundred and twenty-five thousand pounds sterling. Alas that she should have died in poverty, and that her body should have been seized for debt!
Scarce had the first weeks of her married life passed away, when the young wife found herself mated to one wholly unsuited to her character. She was beautiful, witty, and frivolous; he jealous, dull, and morose. The incompatibility of their dispositions became as discernible to him, as they had become intolerable to her; and, as if to avenge the fate which had united them, he lost no opportunity of thwarting her desires, by such means striving to bend her lissom quality to the gnarled shape of his unhappy nature.
With such a purpose in view no opportunity was neglected to curb her pleasures or oppose her inclinations. He continually forced her to leave Paris, and even when her condition required rest and care, compelled her to accompany him on long and weary journeys, undertaken by him in consequence of his diplomatic missions. If she received two successive visits from one man, he was instantly forbidden the house. If she called her carriage, the coachman received orders not to obey. If she betrayed a preference for one maid more than another, the favourite was instantly dismissed, moreover, the duchess was surrounded by spies, her movements being rigorously watched, and invariably reported. Nor would the duke vouchsafe an explanation to his young wife regarding the cause of this severe treatment, but continued the even course of such conduct without intermission or abatement.
After displaying these eccentricities for some years, they suddenly associated themselves with religion, when he became a fanatic. Her condition was now less endurable than before; his whims more ludicrous and exasperating. With solemnity he declared no one could in conscience visit the theatre; that it was a sin to play blind man's buff, and a heinous crime to retire to bed late. And presently, his fanaticism increasing, he prohibited the woman who nursed his infant to suckle it on Fridays or Saturdays; that instead of imbibing milk, it might, in its earliest life, become accustomed to fasting and mortification of the flesh.
The young duchess grew hopeless of peace. All day her ears were beset by harangues setting forth her wickedness, by exortations calling her to repentance, and by descriptions of visions vouchsafed him. By night her condition was rendered scarcely less miserable. "No sooner," says St. Evremond, "were her eyes closed, than Monsieur Mazarine (who had the devil always present in his black imagination) wakes his best beloved, to make her partaker—you will never be able to guess of what—to make her partaker of his nocturnal visions. Flambeaux are lighted, and search is made everywhere; but no spectre does Madame Mazarine find, except that which lay by her in the bed."
The distresses to which she was subjected were increased by the knowledge that her husband was squandering her vast fortune. In what manner the money was spent she does not state. "If" she writes, "Monsieur Mazarine had only taken delight in overwhelming me with sadness and grief, and in exposing my health and my life to his most unreasonable caprice, and in making me pass the best of my days in an unparalleled slavery, since heaven had been pleased to make him my master, I should have endeavoured to allay and qualify my misfortunes by my sighs and tears. But when I saw that by his incredible dilapidations and profuseness, my son, who might have been the richest gentleman in France, was in danger of being the poorest, there was no resisting the force of nature; and motherly love carried it over all other considerations of duty, or the moderation I proposed to myself. I saw every day vast sums go away: moveables of inestimable prices, offices, and all the rich remains of my uncle's fortune, the fruits of his labours, and the rewards of his services. I saw as much sold as came to three millions, before I took any public notice of it; and I had hardly anything left me of value but my jewels, when Monsieur Mazarine took occasion to seize upon them."
She therefore sought the king's interference, but as the duke had interest at court, she received but little satisfaction. Then commenced disputes, which, after months of wrangling, ended by the duchess escaping in male attire out of France, in company with a gay young cavalier, Monsieur de Rohan. After various wanderings through Italy and many adventures in Savoy, she determined on journeying to England. That her visit was not without a political motive, we gather from St. Evremond; who, referring to the ascendancy which the Duchess of Portsmouth had gained over his majesty, and the uses she made of her power for the interests of France, tells us, "The advocates for liberty, being excluded from posts and the management of affairs, contrived several ways to free their country from that infamous commerce; but finding them ineffectual, they at last concluded that there was no other course to take than to work the Duchess of Portsmouth out of the king's favour, by setting up against her a rival who should be in their interest. The Duchess of Mazarine was thought very fit for their purpose, for she outshined the other, both in wit and beauty."
Charles de St. Denis, Seigneur de St. Evremond, was a soldier, philosopher, and courtier, who had distinguished himself by his bravery, learning, and politeness. Having fallen under the displeasure of the French court, he had, in the year 1662, sought refuge in England, where he had been welcomed with the courtesy due to his rank, and the esteem which befitted his merits. Settling in the capital, he mixed freely in the companionship of wits, gallants, and courtiers who constituted its society; and delighted with London as a residence, he determined on making England his country by adoption. An old friend and fervent admirer of the Duchess of Mazarine, he had received the news of her visit with joy, and celebrated her arrival in verse.
The reputation of her loveliness and the history of her life having preceded her, the court became anxious to behold her; the king, mindful of the relationship he had once sought; with the duchess, grew impatient to welcome her. After a few days' rest, necessary to remedy the fatigue of her journey, she appeared at Whitehall. By reason of her beauty, now ripened rather than impaired by time, and those graces which attracted the more from the fascination they had formerly exercised, she at once gained the susceptible heart of the monarch. St. Evremond tells us her person "contained nothing that was not too lovely." In the "Character of the Duchess of Mazarine," which he drew soon after her arrival in London, he has presented a portrait of her worth examining not only for sake of the object it paints, but for the quaint workmanship it contains. "An ill-natured curiosity," he writes, "makes me scrutinize every feature in her face, with a design either to meet there some shocking irregularity, or some disgusting disagreeableness. But how unluckily do I succeed in my design. Every feature about her has a particular beauty, that does not in the least yield to that of her eyes, which, by the consent of all the world, are the finest in the universe. One thing there is that entirely confounds me: her teeth, her lips, her mouth, and all the graces that attend it, are lost amongst the great variety of beauties in her face and what is but indifferent in her, will not suffer us to consider what is most remarkable in others. The malice of my curiosity does not stop here. I proceed to spy out some defect in her shape; and I find I know not what graces of nature so happily and so liberally scattered in her person, that the genteelness of others only seems to be constraint and affectation."
The king—to whom the presence of a beautiful woman was as sunshine to the earth—at once offered her his affections, the gallants tendered their homage, the ladies of the court volunteered the flattery embodied in imitation. And by way of practically proving his admiration, his majesty graciously allotted her a pension of four thousand pounds a year, with apartments in St. James's Palace.
The sovereignty which the Duchess of Portsmouth had held for five years over the monarch's heart was now in danger of downfall; and probably would have ended, but for Madame Mazarine's indiscretions. It happened a few months after her arrival in London, the Prince of Monaco visited the capital. Young in years, handsome in person, and extravagant in expenditure, he dazzled the fairest women at court; none of whom had so much power to please him in all as the Duchess of Mazarine. Notwithstanding the king's generosity, she accepted the prince's admiration; and resolved to risk the influence she had gained, that she might freely love where she pleased. Her entertainment of a passion, as sudden in development as fervid in intensity, enraged the king; but his fury served only to increase her infatuation, seeing which, his majesty suspended payment of her pension.
The gay Prince of Monaco in due time ending his visit to London, and leaving the Duchess of Mazarine behind him, she, through the interposition of her friends, obtained his majesty's pardon, was received into favour, and again allowed her pension.
She now ruled, not only mistress of the king's heart, but queen of a brilliant circle of wits and men of parts, whose delight it became to heed the epigrams and eccentricities which fell from her lips. Her rooms at St. James's, and her house in Chelsea, became the rendezvous of the most polite and brilliant society in England. In the afternoons, seated amongst her monkeys, dogs, parrots, and pets, she discoursed on philosophy, love, religion, politics, and plays; whilst at night her saloons were thrown open to such as delighted in gambling. Then the duchess, seated at the head of the table, her dark eyes flashing with excitement, her red lips parted in expectation, followed the fortunes of the night with anxiety: all compliments being suspended and all fine speeches withheld the while, nought being heard but the rustle of cards and the chink of gold.
Dainty and luxurious suppers followed, when rare wines flowed, and wit long suppressed found joyous vent. Here sat Charles beside his beautiful mistress, happy in the enjoyment of the present, careless of the needs of his people; and close beside him my Lord of Buckingham, watchful of his majesty's face, hatching dark plots whilst he turned deft compliments. There likewise were my Lord Dorset, the easiest and wittiest man living; Sir Charles Sedley, one learned in intrigue; Baptist May, the monarch's favourite; Tom Killigrew who jested on life's follies whilst he enjoyed them; the Countess of Shrewsbury, beautiful and amorous; and Madam Ellen, who was ready to mimic or sing, dance or act, for his majesty's diversion.
And so, whilst a new day stole upon the world without, tapers burned low within the duchess's apartments; and the king, his mistress, and a brave and gallant company ate, drank, and made merry.
A storm threatens the kingdom.—The Duke of York is touched in his conscience.—His interview with Father Simons.—The king declares his mind.—The Duchess of York becomes a catholic.—The circumstances of her death.—The Test Act introduced.—Agitation of the nation.—The Duke of York marries again.—Lord Shaftesbury's schemes.—The Duke of Monmouth.—William of Orange and the Princess Mary.—Their marriage and departure from England.
Whilst the surface life of the merry monarch sped onward in its careless course, watchful eyes took heed of potent signs boding storms and strife. The storm which shook the kingdom to its centre came anon; the strife which dethroned a monarch was reserved for the succeeding reign. These were not effected by the king's profligacy, indolence, or extravagance, but because of a change in the religious belief of the heir-apparent to the crown.
The cloud, no bigger than a man's hand, which presently spread and overcast the political horizon, was first observed towards the beginning of the year 1669. The Rev. J. S. Clarke, historiographer to George III., chaplain to the royal household, and librarian to the Prince Regent, in his "Life of James II., collected out of Memoirs writ of his own hand," tells us that about this time the Duke of York "was sensibly touched in his conscience, and began to think seriously of his salvation." Accordingly, the historian states, "he sent for one Father Simons, a Jesuit, who had the reputation of a very learned man, to discourse with him upon that subject; and when he came, he told him the good intentions he had of being a catholic, and treated with him concerning his being reconciled to the church. After much discourse about the matter, the Jesuit very sincerely told him, that unless he would quit the communion of the Church of England, he could not be received into the Catholic Church. The duke then said he thought it might be done by a dispensation from the pope, alleging the singularity of his case, and the advantage it might bring to the catholic religion in general, and in particular to those of it in England, if he might have such dispensation for outwardly appearing a protestant, at least till he could own himself publicly to be a catholic, with more security to his own person and advantage to them. But the father insisted that even the pope himself had not the power to grant it, for it was an unalterable doctrine of the Catholic Church, not to do ill that good might follow. What this Jesuit thus said was afterwards confirmed to the duke by the pope himself, to whom he wrote upon the same subject. Till this time his royal highness believed (as it is commonly believed, or at least said by the Church of England doctors) that dispensations in any such cases are by the pope easily granted; but Father Simons's words, and the letter of his holiness, made the duke think it high time to use all the endeavours he could, to be at liberty to declare himself, and not to live in so unsafe and so uneasy a condition."
Inasmuch as what immediately followed touches a point of great delicacy and vast importance, the words of the historian, mainly taken from the "Stuart Papers," are best given here, "His royal highness well-knowing that the king was of the same mind, and that his majesty had opened himself upon it to Lord Arundel of Wardour, Lord Arlington, and Sir Thomas Clifford, took an occasion to discourse with him upon that subject about the same time, and found him resolved as to his being a catholic, and that he intended to have a private meeting with those persons above named at the duke's closet, to advise with them about the ways and methods fit to be taken for advancing the catholic religion in his dominions, being resolved not to live any longer in the constraint he was under. The meeting was on the 25th of January. When they were met according to the king's appointment, he declared his mind to them on the matter of religion, and said how uneasy it was to him not to profess the faith he believed; and that he had called them together to have their advice about the ways and methods fittest to be taken for the settling of the catholic religion in his kingdoms, and to consider of the time most proper to declare himself, telling them withal that no time ought to be lost; that he was to expect to meet with many and great difficulties in bringing it about, and that he chose rather to undertake it now, when he and his brother were in their full strength and able to undergo any fatigue, than to delay it till they were grown older and less fit to go through with so great a design. This he spoke with great earnestness, and even with tears in his eyes; and added, that they were to go about it as wise men and good catholics ought to do. The consultation lasted long, and the result was, that there was no better way for doing this work than to do it in conjunction with France, and with the assistance of his Most Christian majesty." Accordingly the secret treaty with France was entered into, as already mentioned.
No further movement towards professing the catholic religion was made by the king or his brother for some time. The tendencies of the latter becoming suspected, his actions were observed with vigilance, when it was noted, that although he attended service as usual with the king, he no longer received the sacrament. It was also remarked the Duchess of York, whose custom it had been to communicate once a month, soon followed his example. Her neglect of this duty was considered the more conspicuous as she had been bred a staunch protestant, and ever appeared zealous in her support of that religion. Moreover, it was noted that, from the beginning of the year 1670, she was wont to defend the catholic faith from such errors as it had been charged withal.
These matters becoming subjects of conversation at court soon reached the ears of Bishop Morley, who had acted as her confessor since her twelfth year, confession being then much practised in the English Church. Thereon he hastened to her, and spoke at length of the inferences which were drawn from her neglect of receiving the sacrament, in answer to which she pleaded business and ill-health as sufficient excuses. But he, suspecting other causes, gave her advice, and requested she would send for him in case doubts arose in her mind concerning the faith she professed. Being now free from all uncertainties, she readily promised compliance with his desire, and added, "No priest had ever taken the confidence to speak to her on those matters."
The fact that she no longer communicated becoming more noticed as time passed, the king spoke to his brother concerning the omission, when the duke told him she had become a catholic. Hearing this, Charles requested him to keep her change of faith a secret, which was accordingly done, none being aware of the act but Father Hunt, a Franciscan friar, Lady Cranmer, one of her women of the bedchamber, and Mr. Dupuy, servant to the duke. In a paper she drew up relative to her adoption of the catholic religion, preserved in the fifth volume of the "Harleian Miscellany," she professes being one of the greatest enemies that faith ever had. She likewise declares no man or woman had said anything, or used the least persuasion to make her change her religion. That had been effected, she adds, by a perusal of Dr. Heylin's "History of the Reformation;" after which she spoke severally to Dr. Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury and Dr. Blandford, Bishop of Worcester, who told her "there were many things in the Roman Church which it was very much to be wished they had kept—as confession, which was no doubt commanded by God; and praying for the dead, which was one of the ancient things in Christianity—that for their parts they did it daily, though they would not own to it."
The duchess pondered over what she had read and heard, and being a woman accustomed to judge for herself, and act upon her decisions, she, in the month of August, 1670 became a member of the Catholic Church, in which communion she died seven months later. For fifteen months previous to her demise she had been suffering from a complication of diseases, with which the medical skill of that day was unable to cope, and these accumulating, in March, 1671, ended her days. The "Stuart Papers" furnish an interesting account of her death. Seeing the hour was at hand which would sever her from all earthly ties, she besought her husband not to leave her whilst life remained. She likewise requested that in case Dr. Blandford or any other of the bishops should come to visit her, he would tell them she had become a member of the Catholic Church; but if they insisted on seeing her she was satisfied to admit them, providing they would not distress her by arguments or controversy.
Soon after she had expressed these desires, Bishop Blandford arrived, and begged permission to see her, hearing which the duke went into the drawing-room, where his lordship waited, and delivered the message with which the duchess had charged him. Thereon the bishop said, "he made no doubt but that she would do well since she was fully convinced, and had not changed out of any worldly end." He then went into the room, and having made "a short Christian exhortation suitable to the condition she was in," took his departure. Presently the queen came and sat by the dying woman, with whom she had borne many wrongs in common; and later on, the Franciscan friar being admitted, the duchess "received all the last sacraments of the Catholick Church, and dyed with great devotion and resignation."
Though no mystery was now made concerning the faith in which she died, the duke, from motives of prudence, continued to preserve the secret of his having embraced the same religion. He still publicly attended service on Sundays with the king, but continued to absent himself from communion. At last, the Christmastide of the year 1672 being at hand, his majesty besought Lord Arundel and Sir Thomas (now Lord) Clifford to persuade the duke to take the sacrament with him, "and make him sensible of the prejudice it would do to both of them should he forbear so to do, by giving the world so much reason to believe he was a catholick." To this request these honest gentlemen replied it would be difficult to move the duke to his majesty's desires; but even if they succeeded, it would fail to convince the world his royal highness was not a catholic. With these answers Charles seemed satisfied; but again on Christmas Eve he urged Lord Clifford to advise the duke to publicly communicate on the morrow. His royal highness, not being so unscrupulous as the king, refused compliance with his wishes.
The following Easter he likewise refrained from communicating. Evelyn tells us that "a most crowded auditorie" had assembled in the Chapel Royal on this Sunday; possibly it had been drawn there to hear the eloquence of Dr. Sparrow, Bishop of Exeter—probably to observe the movements of the king's brother. "I staied to see," writes Evelyn, "whether, according to costome, the Duke of York received the communion with the king; but he did not, to the amazement of everybody. This being the second year he had forborn and put it off, and within a day of the parliament sitting, who had lately made so severe an act against ye increase of poperie, gave exceeding griefe and scandal to the whole nation, that the heyre of it, and ye sonn of a martyr for ye Protestant religion, should apostatize. What the consequence of this will be God only knows, and wise men dread."
That the nation might no longer remain in uncertainty concerning the change the duke was suspected to have made, a bill, commonly called the "Test Act," was, at the instigation of Lord Shaftesbury, introduced into the House of Commons, on its reassembling. In substance this set forth, that all persons holding office, or place of trust, or profit, should take the oaths of supremacy and allegiance in a public court; receive the sacrament according to the Church of England in some parish church on the Lord's Day; and deliver a certificate of having so received communion, signed by the respective ministers and church-wardens, and proved by two credible witnesses on oath. After prolonged debates upon this singular bill, it was passed through both houses of parliament, and received a reluctant consent from the king. [This act continued in force until the reign of George IV.]
A great commotion followed the passing of this Act. Immediately the Duke of York resigned his post of lord high admiral of England. Suspicion now became certainty; he was truly a papist. His enemies were elated with triumph, his friends dejected by regret. Before public feeling had time to subside, it was thoroughly startled by the news that Lord Clifford, who was supposed to be a staunch protestant, had delivered up his staff of office as lord treasurer; and Lord Bellasis and Sir Thomas Strickland, papists both, "though otherwise men of quality and ability," had relinquished their places at court. The king was perplexed, the parliament divided into factions, the nation disturbed. No man knew who might next proclaim himself a papist. As days passed, excitement increased; for hundreds who held positions in the army, or under the crown—many of whom had fought for the king and his father—by tendering their resignations, now proved themselves slaves of what a vigorous writer calls the "Romish yoke: such a thing," he adds, "as cannot, but for want of a name to express it, be called a religion."
Public agitation steadily rose. Evelyn tells us, "he dare not write all the strange talk of the town." Distrust of the king, fear of his brother, hatred of popery and papists, filled men's minds and blinded their reason with prejudice. That the city had seven years ago been destroyed by fire, in accordance with a scheme of the wicked Jesuits, was a belief which once more revived: the story of the gunpowder plot was again detailed. Fearful suspicions sprang up and held possession of the vulgar mind, that the prosecutions suffered by protestants under Queen Mary might be repeated in the reign of the present monarch, or of his brother. That heaven might defend the country from being overrun by popery, the House of Commons besought his majesty to order a day of fasting and humiliation. And by way of adding fury to the gathering tempest, the bishops, Burnet states, "charged the clergy to preach against popery, which alarmed the court as well as the city, and the whole nation."
The king therefore complained to Dr. Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury, that the discourse heard in every pulpit throughout the capital and the kingdom was "calculated to inflame the people, and alienate them from him and his government." Upon which Dr. Sheldon called the bishops together, that he might consult with them as to what answer he had best make. Whereon these wise men declared "since the king himself professed the protestant religion, it would be a thing without a precedent that he should forbid his clergy to preach in defence of a religion, while he himself said he was of it." The next action which served to inflame public prejudice against catholicism, was the marriage of the Duke of York to a princess professing that faith.
Soon after the death of his wife, it was considered wise and well his royal highness should marry again. Of the four sons and four daughters the duchess had borne him, three sons and one daughter had died before their mother, and the surviving son and another daughter quickly followed her to the tomb; therefore, out of eight children but two survived, Mary and Anne, at this time respectively aged nine and seven. It being desirable there should be a male heir-presumptive to the crown, the king was anxious his brother should take unto himself a second wife. And that a lady might be found worthy of the exalted station to which such a union would raise her, the Earl of Peterborough was sent incognito to report on the manners and appearance of the princesses of the courts of Neuburg and of Modena. Not being impressed by the merits of those belonging to the former, he betook himself to the latter, where, seeing the young Princess d'Este, then in her fifteenth year, he came to the conclusion no better choice could be made on behalf of the duke than this fair lady. On communicating this opinion to his royal highness and to his majesty, the king commissioned him to demand the hand of the princess in marriage for his brother.
Difficulties regarding this desired union now arose. The young lady, having been bred in great simplicity and ignorance, had never heard of such a country as England, or such a person as the Duke of York; and therefore had no mind to adventure herself in a distant land, or wed a man of whom she knew nought. Moreover, she had betrayed an inclination to spend her days in the seclusion of a convent, and had no thought of marriage. Her mother, the Duchess of Modena, then regent, by reason of her husband's death and her son's minority, was anxious for so advantageous an alliance. And being unable to gain her daughter's consent, she sought the interference of the pope, who wrote to the young princess, that compliance with her mother's request would "most conduce to the service of God and the public good." On this, Mary Beatrice Eleonora, Princess d'Este, daughter of the fourth Duke of Modena, consented to become Duchess of York. Whereon the Earl of Peterborough made a public entry into Modena, as ambassador extraordinary of Charles II.; and having agreed to all the articles of marriage, wedded her by proxy for the royal duke.
Meanwhile, news that the heir to the crown was about to wed a papist spread with rapidity throughout the kingdom, carrying alarm in its course. If sons were born of the union, they would, it was believed, undoubtedly be reared in the religion of their parents, and England in time became subject to a catholic king. The possibility of such a fate was to the public mind fraught with horror; and the House of Commons, after some angry debates on the subject, presented an address to the king, requesting he would abandon this proposed marriage. To this he was not inclined to listen, his honour being so far involved in the business; but notwithstanding his unwillingness, his councillors urged him to this step, and prayed he would stop the princess, then journeying through France on her way to England. This so incensed him that he immediately prorogued parliament, and freed himself from further interference on the subject.
On the 21st of November, 1673, the future duchess landed at Dover, where the duke awaited her, attended by a scant retinue. For the recent protestations, made in the House of Commons against the marriage, having the effect of scaring the courtiers, few of the nobility, and but one of the bishops, Dr. Crew of Oxford, ventured to accompany him, or greet his bride. On the day of her arrival the marriage was celebrated, "according to the usual form in cases of the like nature." The "Stuart Papers" give a brief account of the ceremony. "The Duke and Duchess of York, with the Duchess of Modena her mother, being together in a room where all the company was present, as also my Lord Peterborough, the bishop asked the Duchess of Modena and the Earl of Peterborough whether the said earl had married the Duchess of York as proxy of the duke? which they both affirming, the bishop then declared it was a lawful marriage."
This unpopular union served to strengthen the gathering storm; Protests against popery were universally heard; an article in the marriage settlement, which guaranteed the duchess a public chapel, was broken; and the duke was advised by Lord Berkshire to retire into the country, "where he might hunt and pray without offence to any or disquiet to himself." This counsel he refused to heed. Until his majesty should command him to the contrary, he said, he would always attend upon him, and do such service as he thought his duty and the king's security required of him. His enemies became more wrathful at this reply, more suspicious of popery, and more fearful of his influence with the king, They therefore sought to have him removed from his majesty's councils and presence by act of parliament.
Consequently, when both Houses assembled on the 7th of January, 1674, the lords presented an address to the monarch, praying he would graciously issue a proclamation, requiring all papists, or reputed papists, within five miles of London, Westminster, or Southwark, to depart ten miles from these respective cities, and not return during this session of Parliament. A few days afterwards an act was introduced into the House of Commons proposing a second test, impossible for catholics to accept, the refusal of which would not only render them incapable of holding any office, civil or military, or of sitting in either House of Parliament, but "of coming within five miles of the court." This unjust bill, to which, if it passed both houses, Charles dared not refuse assent, threw the court and country into a state of renewed excitement. Knowing it was a blow levelled at the duke, his friends gathered round him, determined to oppose it by might and main; and after great exertions caused a clause to be inserted excepting his royal highness from the test. This was ultimately carried by a majority of two votes, which, says Clarke, "put the little Earl of Shaftesbury so out of humour, that he said he did not care what became of the bill, having that proviso in it."
This noble earl, who was chief among the royal duke's enemies, was a prominent figure in the political history of the time. Mr. Burnet tells us his lordship's strength lay in the knowledge of England, and of all considerable men. "He understood," says the bishop, "the size of their understandings and their tempers; and he knew how to apply himself to them so dexterously, that though by his changing sides so often it was very visible how little he was to be depended on, yet he was to the last much trusted by all the discontented party. He had no regard to truth or justice." As rich in resources as he was poor in honour, he renewed a plan for depriving the Duke of York from succession to the crown; which, though it had failed when formerly attempted, he trusted might now succeed. This was to declare the Duke of Monmouth the king's legitimate son and heir to the throne of England, a scheme which the ambitious son of Lucy Walters was eager to forward.
His majesty's affection for him had strengthened with time, and his favours had been multiplied by years. On the death of the Duke of Albemarle, Captain General of the Forces, Monmouth had been appointed to that high office; and some time later had been made General of the Kingdom of Scotland, posts of greatest importance. Relying on the monarch's love and the people's admiration for this illegitimate scion of royalty, Lord Shaftesbury hoped to place him on the throne. As the first step necessary in this direction was to gain his majesty's avowal of a union with Lucy Walters, he ventured on broaching the subject to the king; at which Charles was so enraged that he declared, "much as he loved the Duke of Monmouth, he had rather see him hanged at Tyburn than own him as his legitimate son." There was, however, another man engaged in a like design to the noble earl, who, if not less scrupulous, was more daring.
This was one Ross, a Scotsman, who had been made governor of the young duke on his first coming into England, and who had since acted as his friend and confidant. Now Ross, who had not failed to whisper ambitious thoughts into his pupil's head, at this time sought Dr. Cosin, Bishop of Durham, and according to the "Stuart Papers," told him "he might do a great piece of service to the Church of England in keeping out popery, if he would but sign a certificate of the king's marriage to the Duke of Monmouth's mother, with whom that bishop was acquainted in Paris. Ross also told the bishop, to make the thing more easy to him, that during his life the certificate should not be produced or made use of." The same papers state that, as a bishop's certificate is a legal proof of marriage, Dr. Cosin's compliance would have been invaluable to the duke and his friends. His lordship, however, rejected the proposition, and laid the matter before the king, who expelled Ross from court.
Horror of popery and fear of a papist sovereign increased with time, care having been taken by my Lord Shaftesbury and his party that the public mind, once inflamed, should be kept ignited. For this purpose he spread reports abroad that the Irish were about to rise in rebellion, backed by the French; and that the papists in London had entered into a vile conspiracy to put their fellow citizens to the sword on the first favourable opportunity. To give this latter statement a flavour of reality he, assuming an air of fright, betook himself one night to the city, and sought refuge in the house of a fanatic, in order, he said, that he might escape the catholics, who had planned to cut his throat.
A tempest, dark and dangerous, was gathering fast, which the court felt powerless to subdue. The king's assurance to parliament that "he would endeavour to satisfy the world of his steadfastness for the security of the protestant religion," had little avail in soothing the people. Many of them suspected him to be a catholic at heart; others knew he had accepted the bounty of a country feared and detested by the nation. Deeds, not words, could alone dispel the clouds of prejudice which came between him and his subjects; and accordingly he set about the performance of such acts as might bring reconciliation in their train.
The first of these was the confirmation, according to the Protestant Church, of the Lady Mary, eldest daughter of the Duke of York, and after him heir presumptive to the crown; the second and more important was the marriage of that princess to William of Orange. This prince was son of the king's eldest sister, and therefore grandson of Charles I. As a hero who, by virtue of his statesmanship and indomitable courage, had rescued Holland from the hateful power of France, he was regarded not only as the saviour of his country, but as the protector of protestantism. Already a large section of the English nation turned their eyes towards him as one whom they might elect some day to weald the sceptre of Great Britain. Subtle, ambitious, and determined, a silent student of humanity, a grave observer of politics, a sagacious leader in warfare, he had likewise begun to look forward towards the chances of succeeding his uncle in the government of England—in hopes of which he had been strengthened by the private overtures made him by Shaftesbury, and sustained by the public prejudices exhibited against the Duke of York.
The proposed union between him and the heiress presumptive to the crown was regarded by the nation with satisfaction, and by the prince as an act strongly favouring the realization of his desires for sovereignty. Cold and grave in temperament, sickly and repulsive in appearance, blunt and graceless in manner, he was by no means an ideal bridegroom for a fair princess; but neither she nor her father had any choice given them in a concern so important to the pacification of the nation. She, it was whispered at court, had previously given her heart to a brave young Scottish laird; and her father, it was known, had already taken an instinctive dislike to the man destined to usurp his throne. In October, 1677, the Prince of Orange came to England, ostensibly to consult with King Charles regarding the establishment of peace between France and the Confederates; but the chief motive of his visit was to promote his marriage, which had some time before been proposed, and owing to political causes had been coolly received by him. Now, however, his anxiety for the union was made plain to the king, who quickly agreed to his desires. "Nephew," said he to the sturdy Dutchman, "it is not good for man to be alone, and I will give you a help meet for you; and so," continues Burnet, "he told him he would bestow his niece on him."
The same afternoon the monarch informed his council that "the Prince of Orange, desiring a more strict alliance with England by marriage with the Lady Mary, he had consented to it, as a thing he looked on as very proper to unite the family, and which he believed would be agreeable to his people, and show them the care he had of religion, for which reason he thought it the best alliance he could make." When his majesty had concluded this speech, the Duke of York stepped forward, and declared his consent to the marriage. He hoped "he had now given a sufficient testimony of his right intentions for the public good, and that people would no more say he designed altering the government in church or state; for whatever his opinion on religion might be, all that he desired was, that men might not be molested merely for conscience' sake."
The duke then dined at Whitehall with, the king, the Prince of Orange, and a noble company; after which he returned to St. James's, where he then resided. Dr. Edward Luke, at this time tutor to the Lady Mary, and subsequently Archdeacon of Exeter, in his interesting manuscript diary, informs us that on reaching the palace, the duke, with great tenderness and fatherly affection, took his daughter aside, "and told her of the marriage designed between her and the Prince of Orange; whereupon her highness wept all that afternoon and the following day." Her tears had not ceased to flow when, two days after the announcement of her marriage, Lord Chancellor Finch, on behalf of the council, came to congratulate her; and Lord Chief Justice Rainsford, on the part of the judges, complimented her in extravagant terms.
This union, which the bride regarded with so much repugnance, was appointed to take place on the 4th of November, that date being the bridegroom's birthday, as likewise the anniversary of his mother's nativity. Dr. Luke gives a quaint account of the ceremony. "At nine o'clock at night," he writes, "the marriage was solemnized in her highness's bedchamber. The king; who gave her away, was very pleasant all the while; for he desired that the Bishop of London would make haste lest his sister [the Duchess of York] should be delivered of a son, and so the marriage be disappointed. And when the prince endowed her with all his worldly goods [laying gold and silver on the book], he willed to put all up in her pockett, for 'twas clear gains. At eleven o'clock they went to bed, when his majesty came and drew the curtains, saying, 'Hey! St. George for England!'"
For a time both court and town seemed to forget the trouble and strife which beset them. Bonfires blazed in the streets, bells rang from church towers, the populace cheered lustily; whilst at Whitehall there were many brilliant entertainments. These terminated with a magnificent ball, held on the 15th instant, the queen's birthday; at the conclusion of this festivity the bride and bridegroom were to embark in their yacht, which was to set sail next morning for Holland. For this ball the princess had "attired herself very richly with all her jewels;" but her whole appearance betrayed a sadness she could not suppress in the present, and which the future did not promise to dispel. For already the bridegroom, whom the maids of honour had dubbed the "Dutch monster" and "Caliban," had commenced to reveal glimpses of his unhandsome character; "and the court began to whisper of his sullennesse or clownishnesse, that he took no notice of his princess at the playe and balle, nor came to see her at St. James', the day preceding that designed for their departure."
The wind being easterly, they were detained in England until the 19th, when, accompanied by the king, the Duke of York, and several persons of quality, they went in barges from Whitehall to Greenwich. The princess was sorely grieved, and wept unceasingly. When her tutor "kneeled down and kissed her gown" at parting, she could not find words to speak, but turned her back that she might hide her tears; and, later on, when the queen "would have comforted her with the consideration of her own condition when she came into England, and had never till then seen the king, her highness replied, 'But, madam, you came into England; but I am going out of England.'"
The threatened storm bursts.—History of Titus Oates and Dr. Tonge.—A dark scheme concocted.—The king is warned of danger.—The narrative of a horrid plot laid before the treasurer.—Forged letters.—Titus Oates before the council.—His blunders.—A mysterious murder.—Terror of the citizens.—Lord Shaftesbury's schemes.—Papists are banished from the capital.—Catholic peers committed to the Tower.—Oates is encouraged.
The marriage of the Lady Mary, though agreeable to the public mind, by no means served to distract it from the turmoil by which it was beset. Hatred of catholicism, fear of the Duke of York, and distrust of the king, disturbed the nation to its core. Rumours were now noised abroad, which were not without foundation, that the monarch and his brother had renewed the treaty with France, by which Louis engaged to send troops into England to support Charles, when the latter saw fit to lay aside duplicity, and proclaim himself a catholic. And, notwithstanding the rigorous Test Acts, it was believed many high positions at court were held by those who were papists at heart. Occasion was therefore ripe for the invention of a monstrous fraud, the history of which has been transmitted under the title of the Popish Plot.
The chief contrivers of this imposture were Titus Oates and Dr. Tonge. The first of these was son of a ribbon-weaver, who, catching the fanatical spirit of the Cromwellian period, had ranted as an Anabaptist preacher. Dissent, however, losing favour under the restoration, Oates, floating with the current of the times, resolved to become a clergyman of the Church of England, He therefore took orders at Cambridge, officiated as curate in various parishes, and served as chaplain on board a man-of-war. The time he laboured as spiritual shepherd to his respective flocks was necessarily brief; for his grossly immoral practices becoming notable, he was in every case ousted from his charge. The odium attached to his name was moreover increased by the fact, that his evidence in two cases of malicious prosecution had been proved false; for which he had been tried as a perjurer. Deprived of his chaplaincy for a revolting act of profligacy, driven from congregations he had scandalized, homeless and destitute, he in an evil hour betook himself to Dr. Ezrael Tonge, to whom he had long been known, and besought compassion and relief.
The Rev, Dr. Tonge, rector of St. Michael's, Wood Street, was a confirmed fanatic and political alarmist. For some years previous to this time, he had published quarterly treatises dealing with such wicked designs of the Jesuits as his heated brain devised. These he had printed and freely circulated, in order, as he acknowledged, "to arouse and awaken his majesty and the parliament" to a sense of danger. He had begun life as a gardener, but left that honest occupation that he might cultivate flowers of rhetoric for the benefit of Cromwell's soldiers. Like Titus Oates, he had become suddenly converted to orthodox principles on return of the king, and had, through interest, obtained the rectorship of St. Michael's. Bishop Burnet considered him "a very mean divine, (who) seemed credulous and simple, and was full of projects and notions."
Another historian who lived in those days, the Rev. Laurence Eachard, Archdeacon of Stowe, states Dr. Tonge was "a man of letters, and had a prolific head filled with all the Romish plots and conspiracies since the reformation." According to this author, Tonge took Oates into his house, provided him with lodging, diet, and clothes; and when the latter complained he knew not where to get bread, the rector told him "he would put him in a way." After this, finding Oates a man of great ingenuity and cunning, "he persuaded him," says Archdeacon Eachard, "to insinuate himself among the papists, and get particular acquaintance with them; which being effected, he let him understand that there had been several plots in England to bring in popery, and that if he would go beyond sea among the Jesuits, and strictly observe their ways, it was possible there might be one at present; and if he could make that out, it would be his preferment for ever; but, however, if he could get their names, and some information from the papists, it would be very easy to rouse people with the fears of popery."
Hungering for gold, and thirsting for notoriety, Oates quickly agreed to the scheme laid before him. Accordingly he became acquainted with, and was received into the Catholic Church by, Father Berry, a Jesuit, and in May, 1677, was sent by the Jesuits to study in one of their seminaries, situated in Valladolid, in Spain. Oates, however, though he had proved himself an excellent actor, could not overcome his evil propensities, and before seven months had passed, he was expelled from the monastery.
Returning to England, he sought out Dr. Tonge, to whom he was unable to recount the secret of a single plot. Confident, however, that wicked schemes against the lives and properties of innocent protestants were being concocted by wily Jesuits, the fanatical divine urged Oates to present himself once more before them, bewail his misconduct, promise amendment, and seek readmission to their midst. Following his advice, Oates was again received by the Jesuits, and sent to their famous seminary at St. Omer's; where, though he had reached the age of thirty years, he was entered among the junior students. For six months he remained here, until his vices becoming noted, he was turned away in disgrace. Again he presented himself before the rector of St. Michael's, knowing as little of popish plots as he did on his previous return. But Tonge, though disappointed, was not disheartened; if no scheme existed, he would invent one which should startle the public, and save the nation. Such proposals as he made towards the accomplishment of this end were readily assented to by Oates, in whose breast wounded pride and bitter hate rankled deep. Therefore, after many consultations they resolved to draw up a "Narrative of a Horrid Plot." This was repeatedly changed and enlarged, until eventually it assumed the definite shape of a deposition, consisting of forty-three distinct articles, written with great formality and care, and embodying many shocking and criminal charges.
The narrative declared that in April, 1677, the deponent was employed to carry letters from the Jesuits in London to members of their order in Spain; these he broke open on the journey, and discovered that certain Jesuits had been sent into Scotland to encourage the presbyterians to rebel. Arrived in Valladolid, he heard one Armstrong, in a sermon delivered to students, charge his majesty with most foul and black-mouthed scandals, and use such irreverent, base expressions as no good subjects could repeat without horror. He then returned to England, and was soon after sent to St. Omer with fresh letters, in which was mentioned a design to stab or poison his majesty—Pere la Chaise, the French king's confessor, having placed ten thousand pounds at the disposal of the Jesuits that they might, by laying out such a sum, the more successfully accomplish this deed. While abroad the deponent had read many letters, relating to the execution of Charles II., the subverting of the present government, and the establishment of the Romish religion. Returning again to England, he became privy to a treaty with Sir George Wakeham, the queen's physician, to poison the king; and likewise with an agreement to shoot him, made between the Jesuits and two men, named Honest William and Pickering. He had heard a Jesuit preach a sermon to twelve persons of quality in disguise, in which he asserted "that protestants and other heretical princes were IPSO FACTO deposed because such; and that it was as lawful to destroy them as Oliver Cromwell or any other usurper." He also became aware that the dreadful fire had been managed by Strange, the provincial of the Jesuits, who employed eighty-six men in distributing seven hundred fire-balls to destroy the city; and that notwithstanding his vast expenses, he gained fourteen thousand pounds by plunder carried on during the general confusion, a box of jewels, consisting of a thousand carat weight of diamonds, being included in the robbery.
The document containing these remarkable statements was finished in August, 1678. It now remained to have it brought before the king or the council. Tonge was resolved this should be done in a manner best calculated to heighten the effect of their narrative; at the same time he was careful to guard the fact that he and Oates had an intimate knowledge of each other. Not knowing any one of interest at court, he sought out Christopher Kirby, a man employed in the king's laboratory, of whom he had some slight knowledge, and, pledging him to the strictest secrecy, showed him the "Narrative of the Horrid Plot," and besought his help in bringing it under the notice of his majesty in as private a manner as possible.
This aid was freely promised; and next day, the date being the 13th of August, when the monarch was about to take his usual airing in the park, Kirby drew near, and in a mysterious tone bade his majesty take care, for his enemies had a design against his life, which might be put into execution at any moment. Startled by such words, the king asked him in what manner was it intended his life should be taken; to which he replied, "It might be by pistol; but that to give a more particular account of the matter, required greater privacy." The monarch, who quickly recovered his first surprise, resolved to take his usual exercise; and, subduing his curiosity, he bade Kirby attend him on his return from the park, and tell him what he knew of the subject.
When the time arrived, Kirby saw his majesty alone, and related to him in brief that two men waited but an opportunity to shoot him; and Sir George Wakeham had been hired to poison him; which news, he concluded, had been imparted to him by a worthy man living close at hand, who would attend his majesty's pleasure when that was manifested.
Bewildered by such intelligence, yet suspicious of its veracity, the king ordered Kirby to summon his informant that evening by eight o'clock. When that hour came his majesty repaired to the Red Room, and there met Dr. Tonge, who delivered his narrative into his hands. The rector was convinced the great moment he had so long awaited, in which he would behold the monarch aroused to a sense of his danger, had arrived. He was doomed to bitter disappointment. His majesty coolly took the narrative, and without opening it, said it should be examined into. On this Tonge begged it might be kept safe and secret, "lest the full discovery should otherwise be prevented and his life endangered." The monarch replied that, before starting with the court to-morrow for Windsor, he would place it in the hands of one he could trust, and who would answer for its safety. He then bade him attend on the Lord Treasurer Danby next morning.
In obedience to this command, Tonge waited on his lordship at the appointed time, and by the character of his replies helped to develop his story of the plot. When asked if the document he had given his majesty was the original of the deponent, Tonge admitted it was in his own handwriting. On this, Lord Danby expressed a desire to see the original, and likewise become acquainted with its author. Nothing abashed, the rector replied the manuscript was in his house, and accounted for its possession by stating that, singularly enough, it had been thrust under his door—he did not know by whom, but fancied it must be by one who, some time before, had discussed with him on the subject of this conspiracy. Whereon his lordship asked him if he knew the man, and was answered he did not, but he had seen him lately two or three times in the streets, and it was likely he should see him soon again.
Being next questioned as to whether he had any knowledge of Honest William, or Pickering, the villains who sought the king's life, he answered he had not. Immediately, however, he remembered it was their habit to walk in St. James's Park, and said, if any man was appointed to keep him company, he was almost certain he would have opportunities of letting that person see these abominable wretches. Finally, Lord Danby asked him if he knew where they dwelt, for it was his duty to have them arrested at once; but of their abode Tonge was completely ignorant, though he was hopeful he should speedily be able to obtain the required information.
He was therefore dismissed, somewhat to his satisfaction, being unprepared for such particular examination; but in a couple of days he returned to the charge, determined his tale should not be discredited for lack of effrontery, On this occasion he said he had met the man he suspected of being author of the document, who owned himself as such, and stated that his name was Titus Oates, but requested Tonge would keep it a strict secret, "because the papists would murder him if they knew what he was doing." Moreover, Oates had given him a second paper full of fresh horrors concerning this most foul plot. Taking this with him, the lord treasurer hastened to Windsor, that he might consult the king, having first left a servant with Tonge, in hopes the latter might catch sight of Honest William and Pickering in their daily walk through the park, and have them arrested. On Danby recounting Tonge's statements to the king, his majesty was more convinced than before the narrative was wholly without foundation, and refused to make it known to his council or the Duke of York. Therefore the lord-treasurer, on conclusion of a brief visit, left Windsor for his country residence, situated at Wimbledon.
For some days no fresh disclosure was made concerning this horrid plot, until late one night, when Dr. Tonge arrived in great haste at Lord Danby's house, and informed him some of the intended regicides had resolved on journeying to Windsor next morning, determined to assassinate the king. He added, it was in his power to arrange that the earl's servant should ride with them in their coach, or at least accompany them on horseback, and so give due notice of their arrival, in order that they might be timely arrested. Alarmed by this intelligence, Danby at once hastened to Windsor, and informed the king of what had come to his knowledge. Both endured great suspense that night, and next day their excitement was raised to an inordinate pitch by seeing the earl's servant ride towards the castle with all possible speed. When, however, the man was brought into his majesty's presence, he merely delivered a message from Dr. Tonge, stating the villains "had been prevented from taking their intended journey that day, but they proposed riding to Windsor next day, or within two days at farthest." Before that time had arrived, another message came to say, "one of their horses being slipped in the shoulder, their trip to Windsor was postponed."
Taking these foolish excuses, as well as Dr. Tonge's prevaricating answers and mysterious statements, into consideration, the king was now convinced the "Narrative of a Horrid Plot" was an invention of a fanatic or a rogue. He was, therefore; desirous of letting the subject drop into obscurity; but Lord Danby, foreseeing in the sensation which its avowal would create, a welcome cloud to screen the defects of his policy, which parliament intended to denounce, urged his majesty to lay the matter before his privy council. This advice the king refused to accept, saying, "he should alarm all England, and put thoughts of killing him into people's heads, who had no such ideas before." Somewhat disappointed, the lord treasurer returned once more to Wimbledon, the king remaining at Windsor, and no further news of the plot disturbed the even tenour of their lives for three days.
At the end of that time Dr. Tonge, now conscious of the false steps he had taken, conceived a fresh scheme by which his story might obtain credence, and he gain wealth and fame. Accordingly he wrote to Danby, informing him a packet of letters, written by the Jesuits and concerning the plot, would, on a certain date, be sent to Mr. Bedingfield, chaplain to the Duchess of York. Such information was most acceptable to Danby at the moment; he at once started for Windsor, and laid this fresh information before the king. To his lordship's intense surprise, his majesty handed him the letters. These, five in number, containing treasonable expressions and references to the plot, had been some hours before handed by Mr. Bedingfield to the Duke of York, saying, he "feared some ill was intended him by the same packet, because the letters therein seemed to be of a dangerous nature, and that he was sure they were not the handwriting of the persons whose names were subscribed to the letters." On examination, they were proved to be most flagrant forgeries. Written in a feigned hand, and signed by different names, they were evidently the production of one man; the same want of punctuation, style of expression, and peculiarities of spelling being notable in all. The Duke of York, foreseeing malice was meant by them, forcibly persuaded the king to place the epistles before the privy council. Accordingly, they were handed to Sir William Jones, attorney general, and Sir Robert Southwell, who stated, upon comparing them with Dr. Tonge's narrative, they were convinced both were written by the same hand.
Meanwhile, Tonge and Oates, aware of the coldness and doubt with which his majesty had received the "Narrative of the Horrid Plot," and ignorant of the fact he had placed the letters before his privy council, resolved to make their story public to the world. It therefore happened on the 6th of September they presented themselves before Sir Edmondbury Godfrey, a justice of the peace, in the parish of St. Martin's, who, not without considerable persuasion, consented to receive a sworn testimony from Titus Oates regarding the truth of his narrative, which had now grown from forty-three to eighty-one articles. This action prevented further secrecy concerning the so-called plot.
A few days later the court returned to town for the winter, when the Duke of York besought the privy council to investigate the strange charges made in the declaration. Accordingly, on the 28th of the month, Tonge and Oates were summoned before it, when the latter, making many additions to his narrative, solemnly affirmed its truth. Aghast at so horrible a relation, the council knew not what to credit. The evil reputation Oates had borne, the baseness of character he revealed in detailing his actions as a spy, the mysterious manner in which the fanatical Tonge accounted for his possession of the document, tended to make many doubt; whilst others, believing no man would have the hardihood to bring forward such charges without being able to sustain them by proof, contended it was their duty to sift them to the end. Believing if he had been entrusted with secret letters and documents of importance, he would naturally retain some of them in order to prove his intended charges, the council asked Oates to produce them; but of these he had not one to show. Nor, he confessed, could he then furnish proof of his words, but promised if he were provided with a guard, and given officers and warrants, he would arrest certain persons concerned in the plot, and seize secret documents such as none could dispute. These being granted him, he immediately caused eight Jesuits to be apprehended and imprisoned. Then he commenced a search for treasonable letters, not only in their houses, but in the homes of such catholics as were noted for their zeal. His investigations were awaited with impatience; nor were they without furnishing some pretext for his accusations.
One of the first dwellings which Titus Oates investigated was that of Edward Coleman. This gentleman, the son of an English divine, had early in life embraced catholicity, for the propagation of which he thenceforth became most zealous. Coming under notice of the court, he became the confidant of the Duke of York, and by him was made secretary to the duchess. A man of great mental activity, religious fervour, and considerable ambition, he had, about four years previous to this time, entered into a correspondence with the confessor of the French king and other Jesuits, regarding the hopes he entertained of Charles II. professing catholicity. Knowing him to be bold in his designs and incautious in his actions, the duke had discharged him from his post as secretary to the duchess, but had retained him in his dependence. This latter circumstance, together with a suspicion of the confidence which had existed between him and his royal highness, prompted Oates to have him arrested, and his house searched. Coleman, having received notice of this design, fled from his home, incautiously leaving behind him some old letters and copies of communications which had passed between him and the Jesuits. These were at once seized, and though not containing one expression which could be construed as treasonable, were, from expectations they set forth of seeing catholicity re-established in England, considered by undiscerning judges, proofs of the statements made by Oates.
On the strength of his discovery, Oates hastened to Sir Edmondbury Godfrey, and swore false informations; becoming aware of which, Coleman, conscious of his innocence, delivered himself up, in hopes of meeting a justice never vouchsafed him.
The Privy council now sat morning and evening, in order to examine Oates, whose evidence proved untrustworthy and contradictory to a bewildering degree. When it was pointed out to him the five letters, supposed to come from men of education, contained ill-spelling, bad grammar, and other faults, he, with much effrontery, declared it was a common artifice among the Jesuits to write in that manner, in order to avoid recognition; but inasmuch as real names were attached to the epistles, that argument was not considered just. The subject was not mentioned again. When an agent for these wicked men in Spain, he related, he had been admitted into the presence of Don John, and had seen him counting out large sums of money, with which he intended to reward Sir George Wakeham when he had poisoned the king. Hearing this, his majesty inquired what kind of person Don John was. Oates said he was tall, lean, and black; whereas the monarch knew him to be small, stout, and fair. And on another occasion, when asked where he had heard the French king's confessor hire an assassin to shoot Charles, he replied, "At the Jesuits' monastery close by the Louvre;" at which the king, losing patience with the impostor, cried out, "Tush, man! the Jesuits have no house within a mile of the Louvre!" Presently Oates named two catholic peers, Lord Arundel of Wardour and Lord Bellasis, as being concerned in the plot, when the king again spoke to him, saying these lords had served his father faithfully, and fought his wars bravely, and unless proof were clear against them, he would not credit they sought him ill. Then Oates, seeing he had gone too far, said they did not know of the conspiracy, but it had been intended to acquaint them with it in good time. Later on he swore falsely against them.
Meanwhile the wildest sensation was caused by the revelations of this "hellish plot and attempt to murder the king." The public mind, long filled with hatred of papacy, was now inflamed to a degree of fury which could only be quenched by the blood of many victims. To the general sensation which obtained, a new terror was promptly added by the occurrence of a supposed horrible and mysterious murder.
On the evening of Saturday, the 12th of October, Sir Edmondbury Godfrey was missing from his home in the parish of St. Martin's. The worthy magistrate was an easy going bachelor of portly appearance, much given to quote legal opinions in his discourse, and to assert the majesty of the law as represented in his person. He was alike respected for his zeal by the protestants, and esteemed for his lenity by the catholics. Bishop Burnet records the worthy knight "was not apt to search for priests or mass-houses;" and Archdeacon Eachard affirms "he was well known to be a favourer rather than a prosecutor of the papists." Accordingly, his disappearance at first begot no evil suspicions; but as he did not return on Monday, his servants became alarmed at the absence of a master whose regularity was proverbial. His brothers were of opinion he was in debt, and sought escape from his creditors; whilst his friends, after their kind, were ready to name certain houses of doubtful repute in which they were certain he had taken temporary lodgings. On his papers being examined, it was found he had set his affairs in order, paid all his debts, and destroyed a quantity of his letters and documents. It was then remembered he had been occasionally susceptible to melancholia—a disease he inherited from his father, who had perished by his own hand. It was noted some days before that on which he was missed, he had appeared listless and depressed. It was known the imprisonment of his friend Coleman had weighed heavily on his spirits. A terrible fear now taking possession of his relatives and friends, thorough search was made for him, which proved vain until the Thursday following his disappearance, when he was accidentally discovered lying in a ditch, a cloth knotted round his neck, and a sword passed through his body, "at or near a place called Primrose Hill, in the midway between London and Hampstead."
If he had been murdered, no motive appeared to account for the deed; neither robbery nor revenge could have prompted it. His rings and money, gloves and cane, were found on and near his body; and it was known he had lived in peace with all men. Nor did an inquest lasting two days throw any light upon the mystery. If it were proved he had died by his own hand, the law of that day would not permit his brothers to inherit his property, which was found to be considerable. It was therefore their interest to ignore the fact that strangulation pointed to FELO DE SE, and to assume he had been murdered. Accordingly they prohibited the surgeons from opening the body, lest examination should falsify conclusions at which they desired to arrive. A verdict was ultimately returned "that he was murdered by certain persons unknown to the jurors, and that his death proceeded from suffocation and strangling by a certain piece of linen cloth of no value."
Occurring at such a moment, his death was at once attributed to the papists, who, it was said, being incensed that the magistrate had received the sworn testimonies of Oates, had sought this bloody revenge. Fear now succeeded bewilderment; desires of vengeance sprang from depths of horror. For two days the mangled remains of the poor knight were exposed to public view, "and all that saw them went away inflamed." They were then interred with all the pomp and state befitting one who had fallen a victim to catholicism, a martyr to protestantism. The funeral procession, which took its sad way through the principal thoroughfares from Bridewell to St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, numbered seventy-two divines, and over twelve hundred persons of quality and consideration. Arriving at the church, Dr. Lloyd, a clergyman remarkable for his fine abhorrence of papists, ascended the pulpit, where, protected by two men of great height and strength, he delivered a discourse, pointing to the conclusion that Sir Edmondbury Godfrey had been sacrificed to the catholic conspiracy, and instigating his hearers to seek revenge. Sir Roger North tells us the crowd in and about the church was prodigious, "and so heated, that anything called papist, were it cat or dog, had probably gone to pieces in a moment. The catholics all kept close in their houses and lodgings, thinking it a good composition to be safe there."