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Corneille and the Théâtre du Marais

Pierre Corneille
1606-1684

Statue of Corneille outside the theatre in Rouen

On a bright but chilly December morning in Rouen, the Corneille Museum was a warm and welcome surprise … and my husband and I had it to ourselves.

The museum is situated in the house that was Corneille’s home for over fifty years.  A pleasant, welcoming building with two large, light rooms on each floor which, in additional to relevant theatrical memorabilia, also contain Corneille’s extensive library and his desk.

I should probably admit that I’m not actually a great fan of Corneille’s plays and much prefer those of Moliere.

But I wanted to use French theatre as a background to The King’s Falcon which is largely set in 1652  – and at that time, Moliere’s troupe was still touring the provinces.   Corneille, on the other hand – though his popularity had taken a bit of a hit in the late 1640s – was still the foremost French dramatist of his day.

He wrote some forty-two plays during his lifetime, many of which have been largely forgotten and only four are ever performed in any language other than French.

Horace (1640), Cinna (1641), Polyeucte (1642/3) … and the one for which Corneille is best known and which began his rise to theatrical stardom … Le Cid.

Le Cid was premiered at the Théâtre du Marais in 1637.  This had been founded only three years before by two actors (Lenoir and Montdory) who felt it was time to end the theatrical stranglehold of the King’s Players at the Hotel de Bourgogne … and it immediately gained the patronage of Cardinal Richelieu.  The theatre, which had begun life as a tennis-court, suffered a damaging fire in 1643 which resulted in some re-building – and the installation of the first proscenium stage.

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Richelieu had been Corneille’s patron as well as that of the Marais Theatre until the opening performance of Le Cid.  The play was an instant success but it was also controversial in that it departed from the existing form and style.  Richelieu didn’t like it; Corneille refused to accept the Cardinal’s criticisms and thus a parting of the ways became inevitable.  Richelieu, being a fan of Montdory, continued to support the Marais until his own death in 1642 … but Corneille now took his new plays to the Hotel de Bourgogne.

And then, in 1652, something occasioned a change of heart.  Perhaps because his recent offerings had been less than successful or perhaps because of some disagreement at the Bourgogne, Corneille gave permission for a revival of Le Cid on the stage of the Marais Theatre where it had premiered some fifteen years before. Readers of The King’s Falcon will recall that Athenais de Galzain took the leading role of Chimene … her first opportunity to play Corneille and an occasion of equal delight and terror.

This portrait is fitted above the fireplace in Corneille’s study.  The sun strikes it from windows to the right.

Like myself, many of you will have seen the epic film, El Cid, starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. It’s the tale of an 11th century Spanish warrior – which, naturally, was one of the things Richelieu had against it.

Perhaps, also like me, some of you will remember the final scenes when Rodrigue’s corpse is strapped into the saddle of his horse to put heart into the army for their next battle … and the epic closing line given in voice-over.

And so El Cid rode off the pages of history and into legend.

I can’t help wondering what Corneille would have made of that!

 

 

 

CHANGING THE FACE OF ENGLISH PORTRAITURE

Sir Anthony van Dyck

1599 to 1641

The last self-portrait

The last self-portrait, painted in 1640-41

Van Dyck was born in Antwerp and probably set up his first studio at the age of sixteen while, at around the same time, he began working as an assistant to Rubens.  He made his first brief visit to England in 1620 and was paid £100 by James I for some ‘special service’ the nature of which is unknown.  But whilst here he saw the Earl of Arundel’s collection of Italian art – which inspired a burning desire to visit Italy.  He went there in 1621 and stayed for six years, travelling extensively around the country and developing what was to become his own personal style.

By the time he returned to Antwerp in 1627 he had an international reputation and commissions flooded in both for portraits and for religious paintings.  In 1631, he visited the court of the Hague and there discovered that a Protestant court could provide as much patronage as a Catholic one … and this resulted in a second visit to England in 1632.

It is unlikely that van Dyck intended to settle here but, already familiar with his work, Charles I had other ideas and undertook to keep this talented artist at his own court.  Thus began the period in which van Dyck would transform the old stiff, formal face of English portraiture into something more real; something that suggested movement and individuality.

Van Dyck virtually painted an entire who’s who of the period – and if proof of this is needed, you need only look at my own Who’s Who – in particular those of Lucy Carlisle (The ‘Real’ Lady de Winter?’) and Lord George Stuart (The Price One Family Paid).  His many portraits of the Royal Family created a sense of both informality and noble elegance.  In reality, Charles I was neither a tall man nor a particularly imposing figure … but van Dyck gives him stature, nobility and power.

Charles I_Anthony_Van_Dyck

Probably the most famous painting of Charles I – and certainly my own personal favourite – is the Triple Portrait showing the King full-face and in both right and left profiles which was painted in 1635-36 so that Bernini could carve a marble bust. (This was completed in 1637 and sent from Rome under special escort for presentation to Charles and Henrietta Maria.) Van Dyck’s Triple Portrait remained in the hands of the sculptor  and his descendants until 1822 when George IV bought it for £1000 guineas.  It is now part of the Royal Collection and housed in Windsor Castle.

During his years in England, Van Dyck continued to receive commissions from all over Europe, resulting in a great deal of travel but, when in London, he lived by the river in Blackfriars.  He married Mary Ruthven in February 1640 and by August 1641 was reputed to be in ill-health, due to over-work.
His daughter, Justiniana, was born on December 1st 1641 and was christened on the 9th … the day her father died.
Van Dyck was buried in the choir of St Paul’s cathedral … the one burned down during the Great Fire of London. His remarkable legacy, however, lives on.

The Architect of the Restoration

General George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle

1608 to 1670

George Monck was born near Torrington in Devon. His military career began at the age of sixteen when, having thrashed the sheriff who’d arrested his father for debt, he was packed off on the ill-fated expedition to Cadiz.  In the years that followed, he fought at La Rochelle and the Low Countries – distinguishing himself at the siege of Breda in 1637.  He fought for Charles l in the Bishops’ Wars, commanded a regiment of Foot against the rebels in Ireland and would have continued serving the King throughout the first Civil War had he not had the misfortune to be captured at the battle of Nantwich in January 1643 – with the result that he spent the remainder of that conflict in the Tower.  Had he agreed to turn his coat, he would have been released in an instant but he refused to do so and insisted on remaining loyal to the King. Instead, he passed the time writing a book – Observations upon Military and Political Affairs – and having an affair with his laundress, Nan Ratsford.

When the King’s cause was irretrievably lost, Monck finally agreed to fight for the Parliament and spent two years serving as Major-General of Ulster and a further two creating order  in Scotland. Then, in 1652  with the advent of the first Dutch War, he went to sea as an Admiral.  Not surprisingly, he didn’t have much of a grasp of nautical language and, according to his sailors, was more likely to shout ‘Wheel right!’ than ‘Hard to starboard!’  Yet he proved a successful naval commander and it was he who won the decisive battle which ended the war in 1654.

At around this time, Nan Ratsford was widowed and Monck married her – a happy and surprising ending to a long-standing love-affair.  Monck’s next posting was as Governor of Scotland where he ruled with moderation and was as popular as a man in that position was ever likely to be.  It was this part of his career which was to prove immensely important for, during it, he built up great authority in Scotland – along with his army and a full treasury.  All these placed him in a key position in the crisis which built up after the death of Cromwell in September 1658.  For six months, George Monck became a prominent and powerful figure in English politics and the use he made of this power changed the course of history.

He supported Richard Cromwell’s brief term in office and gave no support to the Royalist intrigues of 1659.  But when Lambert and Fleetwood expelled the Rump in October, Monck was moved to act and lead his army south.  By the time he crossed the Tweed on New Year’s Day in 1660, the Rump had been recalled but Monck marched on, arriving in London on February 3rd.  The chaos within government was such that he became convinced that only the return of Charles ll could prevent anarchy.  The advice, sent orally rather than on paper, to the king-in-exile formed the basis of the Restoration settlement.  Fresh elections brought a strong Royalist majority, causing Monck to reveal his approval of the return of the monarchy. And appropriately enough, it was he who greeted Charles ll on the beach at Dover in May, 1660 and, in effect, handed his kingdom back to him.

Although George – now created Duke of Albemarle – served Charles for ten more years, the most momentous moment of his career was over.  He had restored the monarchy without spilling a single drop of blood but, modest and old-fashioned, he was out of place at the Restoration court – though still respected in military matters. He dealt with the disbandment of Cromwell’s army and went to sea once more, less successfully than before, during the second Dutch War of 1664-67.  He died in 1670 and was buried with much ceremony in Westminster Abbey.

The restored monarchy didn’t have the money to build a monument to General Monck and historians have tended to neglect him.  But it was he, believing that soldiers should be a tool in the hands of civil authority rather than weapons in those of ambitious generals, who put an end to military rule in England.  He said, ‘I am engaged in conscience and honour to see my country freed from that intolerable slavery of a sword government …’  If he truly believed this – and it seems that he did – I can’t help but wonder what he thought Cromwell had been doing from 1653 onwards and why, despite that, he continued to support him.  Loyalty, perhaps?

 

The Sixth Man

Sir Richard Willys     1614-1690

The Sealed Knot was a secret organisation formed between November 1653 and February 1654. It’s purpose was to co-ordinate and control all Royalist conspiracies in England,to keep the wilder elements in check and to prepare for an uprising against the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell.  Centuries later, this idea conjures up romantic images of gallant gentlemen risking their lives in Scarlet Pimpernel-like activities.  Sadly, the reality was rather different … because the Knot never really achieved anything.

It was made up of six members. Five were younger sons of influential and, in most cases, rich families; the sixth man wasn’t.

Lord Belasyse, the second son of Lord Fauconberg was related to both John Lambert and Thomas Fairfax.
Lord Loughborough was the second son of the Earl of Huntingdon.
Sir William Compton was a younger son of the Earl of Northampton.
Colonel John Russell,third son of the Earl of Bedford, was related to Lords Bristol and Newport.
Colonel Edward Villiers, also a younger son, was related to the Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Suffolk and Sir Edward Hyde – to name but a few.
Sir Richard Willys was the son of a Cambridgeshire lawyer and wasn’t related to anyone of note.

Willys fought abroad in the Thirty Years War before returning to serve King Charles in 1639.  He earned his knighthood and the rank of Colonel during a cavalry skirmish in October 1642.  Two months later, he was taken prisoner but managed to escape and in 1643 he became a Major-General of forces in Cheshire and Shropshire.  He was captured again in January 1644 and spent nine months in the Tower before being released in an exchange of prisoners. Once free, he joined forces with Prince Rupert at Bristol.

In May of 1645, Willys was appointed Governor of Newark … and this is where bad-timing, conflicting personalities and tactlessness all came into play.

In June, the King’s army was destroyed by the New Model at Naseby. In September, the surrender of Bristol cost Prince Rupert his commission, his uncle’s favour and his reputation. He was ordered to leave the country. He didn’t. Instead, he followed Charles 1 to Newark, intent on getting a court martial to clear his name.

Richard Willys was pro-Rupert and didn’t mind showing it. When the King arrived at Newark, Willys met him at the gate; by contrast, when Rupert turned up shortly afterwards, he greeted him two miles outside the town with a full military escort. Already critical of the behaviour of some of Willys’s men, Charles took this as an act of defiance and a personal affront. Although he allowed Rupert a court-martial (which found the Prince not guilty) he revoked Willys’s appointment as Governor of Newark and replaced him with Lord Belasyse.

The result was an angry, undignified and public quarrel. There were even treasonous rumblings about making Rupert King – an idea the Prince strongly repudiated.  (See A Splendid Defiance for more on this). Rupert’s friends took Willys’s dismissal as a further attack on them while Willys himself took umbrage at the slur on his ability to command and challenged Belasyse to a duel. Actually, provoking Belasyse wouldn’t have been very difficult his lordship already had a reputation for duelling. But the King forbade the two men to fight – with the result that ill-feeling between them lingered on and manifested itself a decade later in the affairs of the Sealed Knot.

In May 1654, Willys was arrested in the wake of a plot to assassinate Cromwell – a plot he’d had no part in – and was convinced that he had been betrayed to the authorities by Lord Belasyse.   In this, he was mistaken.  His arrest was merely one of many at this time – in fact, Edward Villiers was detained along with him. Interestingly, neither arrest was anything to do with the Sealed Knot … for though Secretary of State and Spymaster-General John Thurloe already knew it existed, he didn’t yet have any names.  If he’d known he had two of its members in custody, the next phase of Willys’s story might have happened sooner.

In the latter part of 1656 and while still a member of the Knot, Willys started supplying Thurloe with information. His reasons for this are unclear but the most likely one is that he thought the writing was on the wall and the King’s cause irretrievably lost.  At any rate, he seems to have been selective about what he told Thurloe and also made it a condition that no Royalist should be executed as a result of his information.

For three years, apparently unsuspected by his friends and associates, Willys remained a double-agent,  contributing to the Sealed Knot’s consistent lack of success. And when his treachery finally came to light in July 1659, it wasn’t thanks to the Knot.  He nefarious doings were revealed to Sir Edward Hyde by one of Thurloe’s assistants.

As a consequence and regardless of his military achievements, Sir Richard Willys has gone down in history as the man who betrayed the Sealed Knot.

At the Restoration in 1660, he was denounced as a traitor and condemned to death. He was later pardoned on condition that he never attended court or came into the presence of Charles ll. He lived quietly in Cambridgeshire until his death in 1690.

Duvall … the ladies’ joy

It’s impossible to determine how much of the following is actually true and how much a romantic legend. But when, centuries after a man’s death, his charm, good looks and daring cause plays and comic books to be written about him, perhaps the legend is what matters most. And so, for the first (and probably the last) time in my Who’s Who, I give you a biography of Claude Duvall that probably owes as much to fiction as to fact.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He was born in Domfront, Normandy in 1643. His family was a poor one – possibly aristocratic but probably not.

At the age of 14, Claude went to Paris where it would seem he entered the employment of the Duke of Richmond for, when Charles ll was restored in 1660, our hero came to England in the Duke’s service. Richmond paid him well enough to rent a house in Wokingham – but presumably not enough to indulge his taste for fashionable clothes. At any rate, at some point between 1660 and 1666, Claude turned his hand to highway robbery.

Like many other Gentlemen of the Road, one of his favourite haunts was Hounslow Heath in Middlesex.  Here, he soon gained a reputation for devil-may-care charm and sophistication … and it is this that has survived rather than the darker picture painted of him in the Newgate Calendar.

 

His most famous escapade took place one moonlit night when he waylaid a coach in which a gentleman and his lady were travelling – apparently with £400 in cash. Oddly enough, the lady happened to have a flageolet (a sort of small recorder) with her and, even more oddly, decided to play it.  This prompted Claude to invite her to dance a couranto with him – which, presumably with some enthusiasm, she did.  As for what happened next, there are several versions.  Some say the gentleman handed over his £400 but Claude, having enjoyed both the dance and the lady’s music, accepted only £100 of it.  In another account, Claude said, ‘Sir, you have forgot to pay for the entertainment’, upon which the gentleman replied, ‘No, sir, I have not’ – and cheerfully paid the highwayman £100.  Either way, it was this episode that created the gallant fable of Monsieur Duvall and which William Powell Frith immortalised in his painting.

He was eventually captured whilst drunk in a tavern popularly known as the Hole-in-the-Wall in Chandos Street.  A public house, The Marquis, still exists on this spot and celebrates Claude at its entrance.  But the gentleman himself was taken to Newgate Prison, tried, found guilty of six robberies and duly sentenced to death.  Many ladies visited him in prison and many more begged the King to grant him mercy;  so many, in fact, that Charles ll might have done so had not the presiding judge – one Sir William Morton – threatened to resign his position if his verdict was over-turned.  And so it was that, on January 21st, 1670 and watched by numerous sobbing ladies, Claude Duvall was hanged at Tyburn.

After being cut down from the gallows, his body was removed to the Tangier Tavern in St Giles and laid in state – where so many people were determined to pay their last respects that there were fears of public disorder.   In his pocket, a friend found the following note.

I should be very ungrateful to you, fair English ladies, should I not acknowledge the obligations you have laid me under.  I could not have hoped that a person of my birth, nation, education and condition could have had charms enough to captivate you all; though the contrary has appeared, by your firm attachment to my interest, which you have not abandoned even in my last distress.  You have visited me in prison and even accompanied me to an ignominious death.  From the experience of your former loves, I am confident that many among you would be glad to receive me to your arms, even from the gallows.

The legend (if legend it is) says that Claude was buried in the centre aisle of St Paul’s church in Covent Garden beneath a white marble stone inscribed with this epitaph.

Here lies Duvall, Reader if Male though art look to thy purse
If Female, to thy heart
Much havoc has he made of both;
For all Men he made to stand and Women he made to fall
The second Conqueror of the Norman race
Knights to his arms did yield and Ladies to his face
Old Tybyrn’s glory; England’s illustrious thief
Duvall, the Ladies joy; Duvall, the Ladies grief.

Since St Paul’s, Covent Garden caught fire in 1795 causing the roof to collapse, this stone now lies amidst piles of other rubble beneath the existing church

A long-serving church caretaker informed me that there is no record this stone ever existed.
I like to believe that it did.

THE MARTYR OF THE PEOPLE

Today is the 369th anniversary of the execution of Charles l and I’ll be attending the annual commemoration of it in Whitehall. Then, off to the Royal Academy of Art for Charles l: King and Collector … the first time this collection has been assembled since being sold off piecemeal after the king’s death.

On January 30th 1649 at around two o’clock in the afternoon, Charles 1 walked through his Banqueting House for the last time.  It was no longer the beautiful room it had once been.  It was dark and bare and the exquisite paintings by Rubens that graced its ceiling must scarcely have been visible in the dim light.  But Charles knew those paintings well.  They represented the triumph of wisdom and justice over rebellion and falsehood … an irony, given his current situation, that cannot have escaped him. Then, leaving them behind him, he stepped out through a window and on to the scaffold.


It was an exceptionally cold day.  Charles had taken the precaution of wearing two shirts so that he wouldn’t shiver and be thought afraid.  Outside in Whitehall, crowds of people had been waiting for several hours … stamping their feet and blowing on their fingers … and wondering if this unheard-of thing was actually going to happen.

The scaffold was draped in black and already crowded with people.   Colonels Tomlinson and Hacker, several soldiers, two or three journalists and the executioner – who wore, not only a mask, but also a wig and a false beard;  and between the platform and the waiting crowd, mounted troops stood ready to crush the first sign of trouble.  They also created a barrier beyond which the King’s last words would not reach the ears of his people

Recognising this, Charles chose to address those around him.  He spoke of his duty to both God and his country … of his innocence and the injustice of his sentence … and he forgave those who had brought him to this place.  Finally, he handed the insignia of the Garter to Bishop Juxon with a single word.  ‘Remember.’

The block was so low he had to lie flat in order to place his neck on it.  A terrible silence fell over those on the scaffold, on the surrounding troops and on the crowd.

When the King stretched out his hands in signal and the executioner severed his head with a single blow there came from the people ‘such a groan as was never heard before‘.

In his words from the scaffold, Charles referred to himself as ‘the Martyr of the people’.  Colonel Harrison (first of the regicides to be hanged, drawn and quartered) called him ‘that man of blood‘.  Neither is completely true.  My own view is that Charles was neither a particularly bad man nor even a particularly bad King.  His problems were born of obstinacy, an unshakable belief in Divine Right … and an unfortunately tendency to play both ends against the middle; faults which don’t make him one whit worse than the fifty-nine men who signed his death warrant.

‘The most cunning of Machiavellians’?

Henry Ireton  1611 to 1651

Ireton was born in Nottinghamshire, the son of Puritan gentry. He was educated at Trinity College, Oxford and then the Middle Temple. In 1642,serving under Lord Essex, he led a troop of Horse before Edgehill but doesn’t seem to have met Cromwell until the following year.  From then on, Ireton’s career was closely linked with that of Oliver. They make an interestingly contrasting pair. Cromwell the emotional extrovert, passionate and ebullient; and Ireton … the dark, ice-cold, ruthless intellectual.

Ireton fought at Marston Moor, Naseby and Bristol. And after the surrender of Oxford in June, 1646,he married Cromwell’s daughter, Bridget.  Although he was a brave soldier, he wasn’t a particularly distinguished military commander. He did, however, have a very sharp intellect and managed to combine constitutional law with political reality – a rare gift among his fellow officers in the New Model.

He was effective if somewhat long-winded orator. Judging from the Putney Debates of 1647, he seems to have had a habit of saying that he desired ‘but one word’ and then remaining on his feet for half an hour or more at a time. The Debates were complex; an attempt to deal with the Army’s negotiations with the King, the Presbyterians in the Commons, the Agitators in the rank and file and, in time, the newly emerging Levellers. It was John Lilburne who described Ireton as ‘the cunningest of Machiavellians’ – a description open to argument. Certainly, during the talks at Putney, Ireton’s aim was to create a settlement which would guarantee peace, religious toleration and reasonable terms of disbandment for the common soldier.
Ireton was the principal architect of the Heads of the Proposals – the terms offered to Charles l in 1647. Terms which, though he didn’t immediately say so, the King had no intention of accepting.

During the Second Civil War in 1648 Ireton was responsible for putting Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle before a firing squad after the fall of Colchester. Then, later that same year, Ireton set in motion the moves which culminated in Pride’s Purge.

At the King’s trial, Ireton’s name was 4th on the list of Commissioners, only preceded by those of Bradshaw, Cromwell and Fairfax.

After the execution of Charles l, Ireton was appointed as Cromwell’s second-in-command in Ireland and, in 1650, he became Lord Deputy there. He took both Waterford and Limerick and gained a reputation for the ruthlessness with which he crushed the Irish. After the summary executions of Lucas and Lisle, this is hardly a surprise.

Weakened by incessant work and recurrent bouts of fever, he died in Ireland in November 1651 and was given a state funeral in Westminster Abbey.
After the Restoration, his remains were dug up and, along with those of Cromwell and Bradshaw, taken to Tyburn and hung there for a day. His head was cut off and exhibited in Westminster Hall where it remained for the next twenty-four years.

One final, interesting thought is this; if Ireton had survived Cromwell, might he have prevented the Restoration? Might he, indeed, have ended his days as Lord Protector? It’s not impossible.

Cancel Christmas!

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Before the English Civil War, Christmas continued to be celebrated in England much as it had always been.  December 25th was a public holiday on which shops and businesses were closed and special church services were held.  Buildings were decorated with rosemary, holly and ivy and  people did pretty much the same kind of thing we do today.  Eating, drinking, carol singing, drinking, dancing, drinking, perhaps watching a play … and yet more drinking.  And, to a greater or lesser degree, it went on for the full twelve days and culminated in the biggest knees-up of all on the Last Day of Christmas.

Inevitably, all this drinking led to drunken brawls and Lewd or Promiscuous Behaviour.  Or so the killjoys said.  They may have had a point.  On the other hand … cancelling Christmas?  It’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?

But that’s exactly what they did.

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In 1644, two years after the start of the Civil War, Christmas was banned by Act of Parliament and decreed, henceforth, to be an ordinary working day.  The Puritans considered twelve days of roistering and jollification wasteful, decadent, morally deficient and almost unchristian.  Some of them  blamed it on on the Catholics; others said it was Pagan.  None of them liked it.

So Christmas became illegal and went underground – taking the mince pies, plum puddings and Christmas songs with it.  Officials roamed the streets, ready to arrest anyone caught burning a Yule Log or doing anything the least bit Merry. Wassailing was now a thing of the past. Presumably, the Puritans were happy – mostly because no one else was.

Illicit pamphlets were printed containing verses about Old Christmas so everyone remembered what they were missing.

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Naturally, not everyone took the new law lying down. Yuletide discontent was responsible for angry mobs, riots and would-be Wassailers knocking seven bells out of the officials trying to arrest them.   Everybody (except the Puritans) felt strongly about their Right To Party.

 

Unfortunately, they had to wait until 1662 before the Merry Monarch made it legal again and Old Christmas was finally able to come out of the closet.

Love and joy come to you and to you your Wassail too

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year

And God send you a Happy New Year!

And my own very best wishes to everyone for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

 

THE CAVALIER-POET WHO INVENTED CRIBBAGE

Sir John Suckling

1609 to 1642

Sandy-haired and slightly-built, Sir John Suckling had a passion for clothes, cards and women. He was also a courtier, an MP, a soldier, a wit and a poet. In January of 1641, he attended the marriage festivities of the Earl of Suffolk’s daughter, Margaret, to a son of the wealthy Earl of Cork and composed a ballad for the bride.
Her feet beneath her petticoat like little mice, stole in and out as if they feared the light;
But oh she dances such a way!  No sun upon an Easter-day is half so fine a sight.

Within eighteen months of this happy occasion, Suckling would be dead.

He was born in Twickenham, Middlesex, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and inherited his father’s estate at the age of eighteen. After a couple of years travelling abroad, he returned to England in 1630 and was knighted by Charles l but the following year saw him volunteering to fight in Germany under Gustavus Adolphus, one of the best military brains of his day. Once more back in England, Suckling turned his attention to less war-like pursuits.

He was a highly-adept  card-player, his preferred game being Cribbage which he is reputed to have invented himself.  He apparently travelled around the homes of various friends with whom he played ‘crib’ – from which he seems to have won an extraordinary amount of money.  Perhaps as much as £20,000 which would equate to something in the region of four million by today’s values.  If this was so, later events shed some light on what he did with this fortune.

Suckling and his friends William Davenant, Richard Lovelace and Edmund Waller have become known to us as the Cavalier Poets.  There were other Cavaliers who wrote poetry but these four are considered a case apart – mainly because of their involvement in the conflict between Charles l and his Parliament.  Of the four of them, Suckling probably took his poetry least seriously but much of it remains known to us.  In 1638 he published his play Aglaura which, though not a critical success, was performed twice at the palace of Whitehall.  Later in the same year, he followed Aglaura up with The Goblins which may have been his best work – although it was clearly influenced by Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  A collection of his poems was first published in 1646 and would have included well-known verses such as Out Upon It I Have Loved, Why So Pale And Wan Fond Lover and When Dearest I But Think On Thee.

In 1639 and at a personal cost of £12,000, Suckling raised a troop of Horse to serve the King in the first Bishops’ War in Scotland.  But by May of 1641, the world was rapidly changing as relations between King and Parliament deteriorated.  Suckling took an active part in a plot to rescue the imprisoned Earl of Strafford and then in the so-called Army Plot, the aim of which was to seize the Tower of London.  His involvement in both of these enterprises was betrayed to the Parliament by his brother-in-law, George Goring and, having been declared guilty of treason, Sucking was forced to flee the country.

He died a year later  in Paris, utterly penniless and was buried there in a Protestant cemetery.  Some say his death was caused by a razor-blade or nail driven into the sole of his boot by a thieving and ill-natured servant.  The truth, sadly, is that he almost certainly perished by his own hand, having taken poison.

I prithee send me back my heart since I cannot have thine
For if from yours you will not part – why then shouldst thou have mine?
Yet now I think on’t, let it lie … to find it were in vain
For thou hast a thief in either eye to steal it back again.

 

‘A Welshwoman of no good fame, but handsome …’

LUCY  WALTER

1630 – 1658

Lucy was born in Roch Castle near Haverfordwest in Wales, the daughter of middle-class gentry.  Her family supported Charles 1 and, as a consequence, Roch Castle was burned by Parliamentary forces in 1644.  Lucy lived in London for a time before travelling to The Hague where, in the summer of 1648, she caught the eye of the young Prince of Wales.  She may have been Charles’s first real mistress but he was certainly not her first lover.  An earlier affair had taken place with Colonel Robert Sidney – whose brother, Algernon, had paid fifty gold pieces for Lucy’s favours but been forced to rejoin his regiment before he could claim them.  This seems to say everything we need to know about Lucy’s morals.

In April 1649, Lucy bore a son, James.  Charles acknowledged paternity and later created the boy, Duke of Monmouth.  Then, in June of the following year, Charles sailed to Scotland where he was crowned in January 1651 and led the ill-fated Worcester campaign in an attempt to regain his throne.  While he was away, Lucy had an affair with Viscount Taafe and produced a daughter, Mary.

On his return to Paris from Worcester in the autumn of 1651, Charles officially ended his liaison with Lucy with a gift of pearls – though it’s hard to say how he afforded them.  Lucy then set about trying to get his attention by involving herself in a series of embarrassing scandals that rocked and dismayed the English court-in-exile.  Charles wanted to remove young James from her influence – even attempting to kidnap the child – but to no avail.  In 1656, Lucy took both children to London where she was arrested as a spy and incarcerated in the Tower of London for a couple of weeks before being released and deported to the Low Countries.

She died in in Paris in 1658 – probably of venereal disease.

Lucy’s importance to history is solely through her son, James.  When, in the mid to late 1670’s, it became clear that Charles ll would never have a legitimate son and that his successor would therefore be his Catholic younger brother, the Country Party in England devised something they called the Exclusion Bill.  Its purpose was to exclude the Duke of York from the succession and replace him with Lucy’s son, the Protestant Duke of Monmouth. This meant it would be extremely convenient if  Monmouth could be proved (or at least seen to be) legitimate.  And since Charles stubbornly refused to budge on the issue, many people chose to believe that he and Lucy Walter had been secretly married … and that their marriage-lines reposed in a mysterious Black Box belonging to the bishop who’d heard Lucy’s final confession.

It is certainly true that, when Charles first terminated their affair, Lucy went around calling herself his wife.  But is it really likely that, either during the last months of his father’s life or in the first months of his own kingship, Charles would have done anything so rash and stupid?  I think not.

You can meet Lucy in The King’s Falcon, due for release soon.