Tag Archives: Charles II

Mary of Modena

mary_of_modena_pieterszToday’s figure is Catherine of Modena, James II’s wife because it was on the 9th December 1688 that James II lost the Battle of Reading which marked the moment when his son-in-law William of Orange effectively deposed the hapless Stuart with the help of his people. James  having deposited his wife and son with his French cousin Louis XIV returned  and the whole sorry matter dragged on for a while longer  as he tried to hang on to the throne. He was caught by his son-in-law there was some umming and ahhing whilst the English worked out what to do with him and then they just quietly let him go rather than having to go through the tricky business of trying and executing him as they had done with his father.

 

We’re often taught at school that it was because of James II’s catholicism that the political elite of England toppled the second of Charles I’s sons to wear the crown but actually his lack of popularity was not for his personal beliefs alone. It was due to the laws he passed from 1685 onwards which offered religious toleration to everyone whether they were Catholic or Quaker. Other factors in the unrest included James’ links to France.  James was not so good at dissimulating about a french pension as big brother Charles had been. There is  also the fact that he didn’t have Charles II’s ability to juggle the different factions around him with good humour – his personality was a bit on the prickly side.

 

On the 10 June 1688 Mary of Modena gave birth to a boy – Charles Edward Stuart a.k.a. ‘The Old Pretender.’ This added to James’ woes because up until that point folk were prepared to tolerate him knowing that upon his death the throne would go to his eldest daughter Mary (if only  she’d been called something different this would have been a far easier post to write) by his first wife Anne Hyde (James should have married a princess rather than the daughter of  his brother’s leading minister but James had made Anne pregnant and had to be forced to the altar by his exasperated brother and future father-in-law). Mary (James’ daughter) was the protestant wife of the staunchly protestant William of Orange. Mary and her sister Anne conspired with one another to suggest that their half-brother wasn’t actually their half brother thus giving William the excuse he needed to accept the invitation to take the English crown. I’m not sure how Mary (daughter) squared that particular circle in her mind given that she was supposed to be friends with her slandered step-mother.

 

By December 1688 there had been anti-Catholic riots, plotting aplenty and rumour. James dithered. This was followed on the 9 December by the Battle of Reading, which James lost, and it was off to France for Mary of Modena the following day.

 

So who was she apart from James II’s second queen? Mary Beatrice d’Este, born 1658, was related to everyone important in Europe – the Bourbons and the Medicis. Her great uncle was the hugely influential Cardinal Mazarin. Her mother was very pious and little Mary grew up the same way.

 

Mary’s father died when she was just four. When she was eleven she contemplated becoming a nun  but it was evident that a child with so much important ancestry wasn’t going to be allowed to do that.  The Papacy, the French and even her own mother, who was acting as regent for her brother until he came of age, wanted to ensure the best and most beneficial marriage for themselves. Mary found herself being married off to Prince James a.k.a the Duke of York as the result of the usual diplomatic intriguing that went into most royal marriages the negotiations were strained. The pair eventually married by proxy and Mary, by now fifteen, left Italy to meet her new husband in 1673.

James was twenty-five years older than her, widowed with two daughters who weren’t terribly keen on their new step-mother. James was very admiring of his new bride but when she finally met him she is said to have burst into tears. Things probably didn’t get any better when James introduced her to her new step-daughters with the words “I’ve brought you a new play fellow.”  Mary (the new duchess of York) was four years older than Mary (James’ daughter) and some six years older than Anne. She did try to befriend Anne by playing with her.

 

Elsewhere in the country even though as an individual it is clear that Mary was a hugely sincere and likeable person (Charles II regarded her highly) the population called her ‘The Pope’s Daughter” and muttered darkly – so darkly in fact that Charles II sent his brother and bride out of London to let the matter cool down.

 

Gradually the resentment became an undercurrent. The problem seemed to be one that would resolve itself in time.  Charles II died. Prince James the duke of York became King James II.  Mary’s relationship with her step-daughters had resolved itself into dislike by Anne and warmth with Mary.  Mary had no real nursery to tend. Young Charles Edward was actually one of seven but all of them had died either at birth or before they reached the age of five up until that time – one little princess died as the result of illness caught from half-sister Anne. It can’t have helped Mary that there were plenty of other little Stuarts kicking about as James II had the same problems with fidelity as his elder brother.

Then came the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

So, where does that leave Mary?  Louis XIV provided the royal fugitives with a home, the Chateau de Saint- Germain-en-Laye just outside Paris and a pension. Mary bore James another child, the Princess Louisa Mary (one of England’s forgotten princesses) but she died of smallpox when she was nineteen.

 

James made a number of attempts to reclaim his throne. Mary’s jewels had to be sold to finance the ventures. Gradually James sank into bitterness and then, it has been suggested, senility before dying in 1701.

Mary who’d cried at first sight of her husband had grown to love him over the years. She wore black for the rest of her life and became increasingly withdrawn to the contemplative life that she’d hoped for as a child in the company of the nuns of the Convent of the Visitations. She died in 1718 in poverty and was buried by the nuns.

 

Her only surviving child – the so-called “baby in the bedpan” after the claim that the royal child was stillborn and a substitute smuggled into the royal bedchamber – proclaimed himself King James III. If you feel the urge you can still see the bed where Charles Edward Stuart was born or emerged from the bedpan. http://www.hrp.org.uk/exhibition-archive/secrets-of-the-royal-bedchamber/the-royal-beds/#gs.hTi2n=Y

 

I think that Mary was the only Italian queen England has had. She was also England’s last Catholic queen as the 1689 act of succession, or more correctly Bill of Rights, which invited William and Mary to become joint sovereigns, identified the order of succession specifically excluding potential catholic heirs. The 1701 Act of Settlement which identified where the crown would go after Queen Anne popped her clogs specified that no one married to a catholic could become monarch either.  This was confirmed in 1714 when George, elector of Hanover was invited to become King George I.

That’s not to say there might never be another catholic queen.  The Crown Act of 2013 ended those restrictions along with the system whereby a younger son displaces an elder sister from the succession – now the first born is the heir to the crown irrelevant of their gender or the gender of any siblings they may subsequentially acquire.

 

There’s even a biography freely available if you feel the urge:

https://archive.org/details/queenmaryofmoden00hailuoft

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Filed under December, On this day..., Queens of England, Seventeenth Century, The Stuarts

John Barwick of Witherslack

NPG D29584; John Barwick by George VertueJohn was born in 1612 so was in the prime of life just in time for the English Civil War. Cumberland was largely Royalist.  Perhaps its remoteness meant that being so far from London they weren’t as caught up in events as folk further south; or perhaps it was the fact that they were great traditionalists.  Whatever the reason the English Civil War saw many a Cumbrian Gentleman ruin himself financially in the king’s name as well as laying down their lives.  Carlisle was reduced to starvation during the siege that is amply documented by Isaac Tullie.

 

Elsewhere, John Barwick having made his way from the delightfully named Witherslack to Cambridge where he attained his degree and went on to become a Doctor of Divinity put down his books and pens when the king raise this standard.  He became a courier for Charles I bringing the money and silver plate of St John’s College to Nottingham rather than allowing it to fall into Parliamentary hands.  He then set about writing tracts promoting Charles’ cause.  It cost him his position in Cambridge but nothing daunted he moved his operation to London- into the Archbishop of London’s house in fact- where he continued to write for the king.

It was only after Charles’ execution that John was captured and confined in the Tower of London.  He was eventually released and John took up his pen once more on behalf of Charles II sending ciphered letters from London to Europe.  His reward was to be made Dean of Old St Paul’s.

He died in 1664 but he never forgot the village of his birth.  His will left a bequest enabling ground to be purchased for burials, a school to be built, dowries to be given to girls and the old and infirm to be provided with fuel.  His will also provided for a curate to tend to the flock where two of his brothers had lived their lives as farmers.

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Kirkby Stephen

DSC_0020At Kirkby Stephen I am hard on the trail of Sir Andrew de Harcla, First Earl of Carlisle – hero and traitor.  I’ve posted elsewhere about his treaty with Robert Bruce that left Edward II so enraged that he had Sir Andrew arrested, stripped of his titles and sent to a traitor’s death on Harraby Hill in 1325 despite the fact that Edward owed his crown to Sir Andrew.  Various bits of Sir Andrew’s anatomy were nailed to various city gates but eventually his sister was allowed to gather his remains together and bury him near his childhood home- Hartley Castle- which is just down the road from Kirkby Stephen.

Hartley Castle lies beneath the Eighteenth/Nineteenth Century house that stands on the castle’s outer court.  On Sir Andrew’s death all his property was forfeit to the crown.  It passed from Harcla or Hartley hands into those of Ralph Neville of Raby.  He sold it on to Thomas de Musgrave. The stones from Hartley Castle were used by the Musgraves to build a manor house at Edenhall.

There are two memorials to the Musgraves in Kirkby Stephen Church and until I read the notes in the church I assumed the knightly effigy in the Hartley Chapel belonged to Sir Andrew.  It turns out that the knightly chap is Sir Richard de Musgrave- a good century later than the earl (note to self revisit medieval costume)- while the humble red sandstone slab next to the altar belongs to Sir Andrew.  It makes sense because this is, after all, the position with most honour attached to it.

The church really is well worth a visit. The Norman church stands on the site of an earlier Saxon church.  This in itself sums up Kirkby Stephen.  It’s knee-deep in history  going back to the Stone Age and Bronze Age.  But back to the church.  You enter the church precincts through a cloistered area built in 1810.  Once inside the church, known as ‘the Cathedral of the Dales,’ as well as the mellow smell of wax and polish there’s plenty of evidence of generations of worshippers.  There’re eighteenth century shelves for bread to be given as alms to the poor.

And a Loki stone.  There are only two Loki stones in the whole of Europe and one of them is in Kirkby Stephen.  Loki was the Norse god of mischief.  The other Norse gods chained him up because he was a very naughty god…or words to that effect.  Kirkby Stephen’s Loki stone has been Christianised as he comes from the shaft of a tenth century Anglo-Danish cross shaft.  Loki has been transformed into the devil in chains.

After all that excitement it was time to brave the rain once again and go in search of tea and scones – all of which, I think you will find, are essential to most acts of historical research.

The sun had come out by the time we’d had a nice cup of tea and I was able to explore the town.  It was once on the borders and the inhabitants built it so that the streets were deliberately narrow.  They’ve been widened but it is easy to see how the people of Kirkby Stephen set about protecting themselves from the Scots.

There  was also a fascinating leaflet in the tourist information office about Kirkby Stephen’s secret tunnels.  One of the suggestions made is that there is a tunnel leading to Hartley Castle as part of the defences against the aforementioned Scots- having said that the leaflet also suggests tax avoidance, plague tombs and links with Pendragon Castle which is just down the road.  And yes, Pendragon Castle does have links with King Arthur.  He gets everywhere.

On a more historically viable basis I discovered that Kirkby Stephen was heavily involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536/7 which was the North’s response to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.  James I managed to irritate the citizens of the town when he tried to confiscate some of their land and perhaps unsurprisingly in the light of the previous two facts the town supported Parliament during the English Civil War.  They even managed to get themselves involved with a plot against Charles II in 1663.  The Kaber Rigg Plot failed and its leaders were hung in Appleby.  Who would have thought that such a tranquil little place could have so much fascinating history?

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The Tower of London and its Ravens

I learned about the Tower of London ravens as a small child.  Should they ever leave the Tower something terrible would befall the nation.  I’ve always wanted to see them and this week I had my chance.  Even better the sun shone.  On my return home I dug out my London Lore by Steve Roud – an excellent book I might add- and got ready to research this blog post.  To my horror I discovered that the ‘fact’ that I’ve known for as long as I’ve known about the Tower is in actual fact a tall story put around by the Victorians.  I don’t suppose I should grumble too much .  They did considerable restoration work on the tower and launched it as a tourist attraction.

So – I thought they’d been in residence for the last nine hundred or so years.  Certainly, that’s what the nice Beefeater, sorry – Yeoman of the Guard- told the group of assorted tourists during his very entertaining talk. Roud, by contrast, reveals that it may have been Charles II who handed the first pair over into the care of the yeoman raven master but that it is more than likely that there were no ravens in the tower prior to the nineteenth century.

Despite this rather disappointing discovery, a half hour watching a raven who knows how important he- or possibly she- is can only be described as a joy.  This one, having dissected a privet hedge and strutted his- or her- stuff for an admiring audience lavished time and care on a bath in the sunshine.

 

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Roud, Steven. (2008).  London Lore. London:Random House

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