Saturday, 23 May 2009

The Cabal Ministry of Charles II

After the dismissal of Edward Hyde, Earl Clarendon, and in order to extend his own power at the expense of Parliament, King Charles II gathered five staunch supporters and peers of the realm around him to promote his own policies.

The Cabal’s main achievement, if it could be called that, was to sign the (Secret) Treaty of Dover that allied England to France in a prospective war against the Dutch. It required France to assist England in her aim to rejoin the Roman Catholic Church and England to assist France in her war of conquest against the Dutch Republic, of which the Anglo Dutch war was a direct consequence of this treaty.

This Cabal never really unified in its members' aims and sympathies and by 1672 no longer existed. That the word originated as an acronym from the ministers’ names is a myth, although the coincidence was noted at the time and is likely to have popularized its use.

The Scot, Lauderdale was not much involved in English governance, while the Catholic Clifford and Arlington, were never much in sympathy with the Protestants, Buckingham and Ashley, nor did Buckingham and Ashley get on very well with each other. The Earl of Shaftesbury became one of Charles II's fiercest opponents when he championed the Exclusion Bill in his quest to remove the Catholic Duke of York from the line of succession. The two most dominant members were Clifford and Arlington. The latter was a Member of Parliament and sat on the Committee for Foreign Affairs. Their quarrels did not go unnoticed, including the French Ambassador to England who reported:

“The council (Cabal) consists of ministers with a mortal hatred of one another, who seek only to be avenged upon each other at the expense of their master’s service; this means that there is great uncertainty in the resolutions which are taken….that one can never be sure of anything.”

Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, 1621-1683

Reluctant to take sides in the Civil War, but in the spring of 1643 declared for the King and joined the Marquis of Hertford in the West Country. Early in 1644, Cooper unexpectedly changed sides and declared for Parliament. Associated with the early Whigs and plots against the King, he fled to the Netherlands in 1682 and died at Amsterdam early in 1683.

Thomas Clifford, (1630 - 1673)

Created 1st Baron Clifford of Chudleigh in 1672 for his suggestion that the King supply himself
with money by stopping, for one year, all payments out of the Exchequer. He became Comptroller of the Household in 1666, a member of the Privy Council and Lord High Treasurer in 1672 but resigned in 1673 when, as a Roman Catholic, he was unable to comply with the Test Act. He died by his own hand (perhaps "strangled with his cravatt upon the bed-tester") a few months after his retirement.

George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, 1628-1687

Son of the 1st Duke of Buckingham who was murdered in 1628, he and his younger brother Francis were taken in by King Charles I and brought up with the royal children. Buckingham joined the Royalist army in 1642 and fought at the battle of Worcester in September 1651. He escaped to Rotterdam and eventually joined Charles at his court-in-exile in France.

Buckingham quarrelled with Charles and secretly returned to England in 1657, hoping to recover his estates, which had been granted to Lord Fairfax. He courted and married Fairfax's daughter, Mary, but when imprisoned in the Tower, Fairfax interceded for him, quarrelling bitterly with Cromwell just before the Protector's death.

At the Restoration, Charles was cold toward Buckingham, but was soon back in favour, being appointed a Gentleman of the Bedchamber and then Lord-Lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington (1618 –1685)

Originally destined for holy orders, he became a secretary to Lord Digby at Oxford in 1643, employed as a messenger between the queen and Ormonde in Ireland. He received a wound on the bridge of his nose in the skirmish at Andover in 1644 while fighting for the Royalists. He covered the scar with black plaster that he wore all his life. He joined the exiled royal family in 1650, and in 1654 became official secretary to James Duke of York, and was rumoured to have fathered an illegitimate child by Lucy Walter.

At the Restoration he was made keeper of the privy purse, and became responsible for procuring and management of the royal mistresses. Allying himself with Lady Castlemaine, he encouraged Charles's increasing dislike of Clarendon.

John Maitland, 1st Duke and 2nd Earl of Lauderdale, 3rd Lord Thirlestane (1616- 1682)
A zealous Covenanter and an elder in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In the spring of 1648, Lauderdale joined Hamilton in alliance with the English royalists and was defeated at Preston. On an expedition into England, he was taken prisoner at Worcester in 1651, and remained imprisoned until March 1660.

He joined Charles at Breda, and in spite of the opposition of Edward Hyde and George Monck, was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland. Lauderdale was "never from the king's ear nor council," and maintained his position with a fearless unscrupulousness, which overcame all opposition. Created Duke of Lauderdale, Earl of March, Knight of the Garter and Lord President of the Privy Council of Scotland from 1672 to 1681.

In November 1680, failing health and his vote for the execution of Lord Stafford resulted in him being stripped of all his offices, and he died in August. Lauderdale’s second wife was Lady Elizabeth Tollemache, daughter of the 1st Earl of Dysart and widow of Sir Lionel Tollemache.

Monday, 18 May 2009

The Ecstasies of Isobel Gowdie, Scottish Witch

Of all the historical witches whose stories have survived, Isobel Gowdie remains one of the most compelling.

Objective facts about her life are sparse. Her date of birth is unknown. Hailing from Auldhearn in Nairnshire, Scotland, she was a married woman at the time of her interrogation in 1662. As to her fate after her trial, there is no record of her execution, even though she confessed to practising every kind of black and white witchcraft, from healing sciatica to using a clay poppet to kill her landlord's child.

Gowdie's 1662 confessions, supposedly elicited without torture, are among the most detailed ever recorded, providing an intruiging glimpse into alleged witchcraft practises in early modern Britain. Her testimony first introduces the word "coven" into the trial records--although demonologists such as James I firmly believed in the existence of witches' covens, accused British witches never mentioned them in their confessions before this time. Gowdie's evocatively-worded spells and charms involving shape-shifting, spirit flight and ecstatic journeys to the Queen of Elfhames's hall have strongly influenced ritual traditions in modern neopagan Wicca.

Before setting off into fairyland for their sabbat adventures, Gowdie and her coven members left a besom beside their sleeping husbands. They would:

fly away where (ever we would); and lest our husbands should miss us out of our beds, we put in a besom, or a three-legged stool, and say over it, 'I lay down this besom (or stool) in the devil's name. Let it not stir till I came home again! And immediatedly it seemed like a woman beside her husband. (From Robert Pitcairn's Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland, cited by Emma Wilby in Cunningfolk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic, Sussex Academic Press, page 101; I have modernised the language.)

To ride the wind, Gowdie straddled a winnowed straw or beanstalk and shouted:

Horse and hattock in the devil's name! (From Domestic Annals of Scotland, from the Reformation to the Revolution, Robert Chambers, Oxford, 1858)

Gowdie and her fellow witches travelled as far as the Downy Hills where the earth opened and the Queen of Elfhame received them in her hall.

Gowdie claimed that she and her friends could shapeshift from human to animal form. Variations on her shapeshifting chants are still sung by modern neopagan witches to this day:

I shall go into a hare
With sorrow and such a mickle care
And I shall go out in the devil's name
Ay, till I come home again. (Ibid.)

To return to human form, she used this charm:

Hare, hare, God send thee care!
I am in the hare's likeness just now,
But I shall be in a woman's likeness even now. (Ibid.)

Gowdie's extraordinary confessions have inspired different modern interpretations. Some scholars believe she was deluded or psychotic while others suggest that she offered a made-up story in hope of a more merciful death or to avoid torture.

Emma Wilby, in her book Cunningfolk and Familiar Spirits, cites Gowdie's confessions as evidence of shamanistic visionary traditions of pre-Christian origins. Gowdie's experience reflects the way that the fairy faith and witchcraft beliefs co-existed in the early modern mind. Gowdie's interrogators, however, far more interested in finding evidence of alleged diabolical beliefs and malificient magic, found her references to the fairy faith irrelevant and attempted to either omit them or redefine them as devil worship. When Gowdie describes how she journeyed into fairyland while leaving a besom beside her husband in bed, Wilby speculates that Gowdie underwent her experiences in the sort of deep catatonic trance described in Carlo Ginzburg's Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath.

Wilby's forthcoming book Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Shamanism and Witchcraft in Seventeenth Century Scotland is based on the author's discovery of Gowdie's original trial records, deemed lost for nearly 200 years. The trial records are currently being authenticated by the National Archives of Scotland.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

THE GREAT ESCAPE Part 2: To Catch a King

Lord Wilmot had a problem. After the crushing defeat at the battle of Worcester (September 3 1651), he had safely brought the King to a sympathetic Catholic house (“Whiteladies”). However the fact remained that they were many, many miles away from the coast and with every road in England bristling with soldiery all on the look out for “a tall dark man some two yards high” (in an age when the average height of a man was about 5’ 10” – being over 6’ set him apart from his fellows) , their chances of getting the defeated King safely back to France seemed slim.

The King was stripped of his distinctive clothes and dressed in a green jerkin, grey cloth breeches, leather doublet and greasy soft hat – “a la mode the woodman”. His precious Order of St. George was given to one of his party and after surviving its own adventures (including being hidden in a refuse heap) it would eventually be reunited with its owner. His hair was cut and his face and hands were stained with walnut juice.

Charles first struck out for Wales but was forced to turn back when he found the access routes across the Severn heavily guarded. He turned back to Boscobel where he took refuge in a massive oak tree in company with a Major Carlis (also on the run from Worcester). The two remained secure in their tree (a descendant of which still exists today) while below them the soldiers scoured the wood. After a few days rest at Boscobel, he began his journey to freedom. He reunited with Wilmot at Moseley Old Hall, where he was forced to take refuge in a priest hole while the house was searched.

From Moseley he and Wilmot travelled to Bentley Hall, the home of a Colonel Lane. There one of the great heroines of history enters the tale – Jane Lane. As Jane had planned to travel to Abbot’s Leigh ( a few miles beyond Bristol) to visit her sister, who was about to give birth, it was agreed that Charles would travel with her, as her servant. His disguise moved up market and he became William Jackson, servant to Mistress Lane. A servant who had no idea how to ride a double horse or even how to doff his hat with proper subservience. Lord Wilmot, whose idea of a disguise, was to carry a falcon on his wrist, rode with them.

They reached Abbots Leigh on September 12, after encountering troops on the road and hearing from a blacksmith that “that rogue Charles Stuart had been captured, who deserved to hang…”. There he was forced to keep to his room on pretence of fever when he discovered one of the household had served in his regiment. With a hefty reward on his head, his former soldier posed more of a risk than a regiment of roundheads.

Unable to find a boat in Bristol and with the Welsh ports watched, the party decided to head south still with Jane Lane to provide the cover story. They passed through Somerset and were forced to bypass the most obvious point of escape, Dorset because of the heavy enemy presence. Their aim was to reach Lyme (later awarded the “Regis” in recognition of its loyalty). There a boat was arranged to depart from nearby Charmouth. Charles parted company with the courageous Jane Lane and in company of another fearless woman, Juliana Coningsby, the party went down to meet their boat. The boat never arrived (the skipper having been locked in his bedroom by his outraged wife!) and once more the King’s party were forced back on their own resources. They were now in a part of the country where Charles was well known and he risked detection at every turn.

His refuge (or his “Ark” as it was described by the lady of the house) was the home of Colonel Wyndham, Trent Manor. There the King spent two weeks while Wilmot scoured the coast looking for a boat. On 13 October, Charles set out again, heading for Sussex. A boat had been arranged under the cover story of transporting a pair of illegal duelists and for the price of 60 pieces of silver, a boat was arranged to leave from Shoreham harbor. On Wednesday 15 October at 4am, King Charles II finally sailed away from England to spend the next nine years in penniless exile in France.

Some interesting facts about the great escape:
• Some 60 people were “in” on the secret (and ‘so many of them women’!) but not one claimed the reward
• Despite being forced to sleep on hard pallets, being squashed into priest holes or forced to spend days in trees, the main source of discomfort for the King were his shoes. Shoes could not be found to fit his feet and so he suffered dreadful blisters and in his later years developed something of an obsession for well fitting shoes!
• The King learned more about the way his people lived than any other monarch. While he was at Boscobel he asked for mutton for his supper. Mutton was a meat reserved only for the most special of occasions and could not be readily provided.
• In his travels he encountered for the first time the hidden world of the English catholics and his talks with Father Huddleston would have a profound effect on him.
The "Royal Oak" became a cult, a "symbol of royalty and romance" (Fraser). After the Restoration the King's birthday, May 29th was designated "Oak Apple Day" and remained a public holiday until the 1850s.

To read more on the Great escape:
Antonia Fraser KING CHARLES II
and for the best fictional account:
Georgette Heyer THE ROYAL ESCAPE
(I had a lot of fun with this story in my own BY THE SWORD )

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Y'all, Afeared, and Woebegone

After spending several years writing about 19th-century Virginia, imagine my surprise when I switched my setting to the 17th century and the language change wasn't as great as I had expected. While the writing style is definitely very different, the Southern accent was familiar. How could that be? It's actually quite simple: the English dialects that arrived with the colonists flourished in Virginia.

Over the span of the 17th century, colonists continued to arrive and what became the distinctive accents in Virginia trace their origins to the south and west of England. Compared to northern states, the South was agricultural with isolated populations. Regional accents prospered. Although speech patterns softened over time, slowed, and became a melodic drawl, they closely resembled Shakespeare's English.

Royalists fleeing from the English Civil War brought their indentured servants to Virginia--and their dialect. Words such as "ain't" were common, as were accenting words on the first syllable, rather than the second. The "d" after another consonant was lost altogether [an(d)].

By the 18th century, words such as afeared (afraid), woebegone (distress or sorrow), botch (to bungle), and skillet (frying pan) had fallen into disuse in polite society in England. Out was pronounced "oat," and house was "hoose." The "r" tended to only be pronounced when following a vowel, and at the end of most words they're dropped altogether. Many single syllable words were stretched to two.

Linguists disagree about the origin of "de (the)," "dis (this)," and "dat (that)," which are commonly regarded as slave or poor white dialect. Some argue that it came from Africans that couldn't pronounce the "th" sound. Dr. David Hacket Fischer, author of Albion's Seed, traces a similar speech pattern to a Sussex dialect that became almost extinct by the 19th century.

When it comes to "y'all," there are a couple of theories as to its origin. Michael Montgomery, a former linguistics professor at University of South Carolina at Columbia, argues that y'all came from the Scots-Irish phrase "ye aw," and uses a letter from 1737 as evidence. However, Dr. Fischer states that "you all," which became "y'awl" goes back to Virginia servant ballads during the 17th century. Though I have yet to uncover "you all" in any of my 17th-century readings, I find Dr. Fischer's discovery more plausible. And for those who are unsure, the proper spelling is y'all, not ya'll. It's one of those frequently misspelled words, and both linguists agree, it originally came from a contraction for "you all."

Kim Murphy

Friday, 1 May 2009

Theatre in the 17th century

What would it have been like to go to the theater in 17th century France? From what I've read, it would rather be like going to a baseball game today — but worse. People would be talking and yelling. Vendors would be lacing their way through the crowd. Some in the audience would actually be watching — but not many. (At least, now, at baseball games, people don't stroll onto the field. Not so in the 17th century theatre.)

The premium seats were the five or six rows set on either side of the stage: in short, on the stage. These were the banquettes, and they were the most expensive, and exclusively male. Members of the audience strolled freely from one side of the stage to the other, yelling out to friends on the other side.

As women began to appear in the audience, loges — or boxes — were created, which were rented for a season. These loges were treated like an extension of a person's home: one entertained there, people came and went. (Sometimes making themselves too much at home: there's a story related by comte de Bussy-Rabutin of a woman emptying her chamber pot onto the spectators below, much as she would have emptied it out a window of her house.)

The ground floor was the parterre (par terreby the ground). These people stood to watch the show, and it could get quite rowdy: as well as the usual pick-pockets, murders were committed. Meanwhile, vendors worked the crowds, selling macaroons, wine and bread.

When Royalty came, that was the show. All the audience watched the sovereign: Did the King laugh? Ah, how delightful! Did he frown? What a terrible show.

(I should note that although the world of the theater was a half-century advanced in England, the manners of the crowds would likely have been similar.)


Reference: The Contested Parterre; Public Theater and French Political Culture 1680 — 1791, by Jeffrey S. Ravel.