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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51

Charles II. (1660-1685.)

Charles II. (1660-1685.)

No sooner had the Cromwellian Protectorate collapsed than the arch traitor Monk set to work. The nation, ashamed as it were of the moral grandeur to which it had attained, with the exception always of such choice souls as Milton and Vane, threw itself in a delirium of servility at the feet of a shameless and treacherous libertine. Charles II. "enjoyed his own again," but for the English people, alas! "what a fall was there!" The rotting bodies of Cromwell, Ireton, and Bradshaw were dug up, hanged on the gallows at Tyburn, then decapitated, and the heads stuck on poles on Westminster Hall, by wretches who never would have dared to look them in the face had they been alive.

At his trial, Major-General Harrison, the bravest of the brave, whose aged frame bore many battle scars, had the hangman placed by his side, rope in hand, to give him a proper foretaste of death, the courtiers enjoying the spectacle in large numbers. He was cut down alive from the gibbet and disembowelled; he saw his entrails cast into the fire; his still beating heart was torn out and shown to the degraded herd. When Cook, the solicitor for the Republic, was quartered, the executioner, rubbing his bloody hands, was made to approach Hugh Peters, who was about to suffer, and ask him how he liked the work.

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Sir Harry Vane, the greatest and most spotless statesman of his age, was sentenced to death because, as Charles wrote, "He is too dangerous a man to let live if we can safely put him out of the way." Vane was protected alike by statute and by the solemn pledge of the king to the Convention Parliament. But what of that? Though he had declined to sit on the Commission that tried Charles I., he was the soul of the Republican party, altogether too dangerous a man to let live—nay, on the scaffold he was too dangerous to let speak to the multitude. Stretching out his hands, he had said, "I do here appeal to the Great God of Heaven and all this assembly, or any other power, to show wherein I have defiled my hands with any man's blood or estate, or that I have sought myself in any public capacity or place I have been in," when his voice was ordered to be drowned by drummers, kept in readiness under the scaffold, lest his words should find an echo in the bosoms of the people. The trumpeters were made to "murre" derisively in his face while his pockets were brutally rifled. As he laid his head on the block he prayed, "Father, glorify Thy servant in the sight of men that he may glorify Thee in the discharge of his duty to Thee and to his country." "The Lord Jesus go with your dear soul!" cried the agonised crowd. He wore a red silk vest, "the victorious colour" of the Commonwealth. He never once changed countenance, and his severed head was instantly still.

And what of the king who found this man too dangerous to be let live? Could he, in similar circumstances, have made Vane's boast? Assuredly not. On Charles II., if on any man, the terrible judgment may literally be pronounced—vendidit hic auro patriam—this man sold his country for gold. While good garrulous Pepys was jotting down, in his famous diary, in regard to the triple alliance between England, Holland and Sweden to curb the ambition of France, that "it is the only good public thing that hath been done since the king came to England," Charles was negotiating with Louis the Fourteenth the secret Treaty of Dover, to which none but himself, his brother James, and two of his ministers, Arlington and Clifford, both Catholics, were privy. For an annual pension of £200,000 from the most Christian king, Charles undertook to declare himself a Romanist, to join page 76 France in making war on Holland, and contingently on Flanders. If the English people should prove restive under so great a humiliation, it was stipulated that Louis should supply an army to "protect" his royal brother "in the execution," to use the language of the French ambassador, "of his design of changing the present state of religion in England for a better, and of establishing his authority so as to be able to retain his subjects in the obedience they owe him."

Like the first Defender of the Faith, Henry VIII., Charles was personally highly qualified to reform the religion of the State. His Court was a model. To his courtiers he was familiarly known as "the Old Goat." On the day that the Dutch fleet burned the English shipping in the Thames, the king supped with the Duchess of Monmouth, and amused himself by chasing a moth. He would quarrel with his mistress in public. She called him an idiot; he retorted, "You are a jade." She had two other lovers at the same time, actors, one of them a mountebank. In these circumstances the king not unnaturally, according to the unimpeachable Pepys, "declared that he did not get the child of which she is conceived at this time. But she told him, 'You—! You shall own it!' "And own it he did; but by way of consolation he took to himself a couple of actresses as a sort of set-off to the lady's actors.

On another occasion Pepys heard that the king had been "into corners with Mrs. Stewart, and will be with her half an hour, kissing her to the observation of all the world." Again, Captain Ferrers told him, "how, at a ball at Court a child was born by one of the ladies in dancing." It was taken off in a handkerchief. "And the king had it in his closet a week after, and did dissect it, making great sport of it." Pepys was loyal to the backbone, yet he characteristically concludes, "Having heard the king and the Duke (James) talk, and seeing and observing their habits and intercourse, God forgive me, though I admire them with all the duty possible, yet the more a man considers and observes them the less difference he finds between them and other men, though, blessed be God, they are both princes of great nobleness and spirits." What a libel is there here on "other men"!

"Both princes of great nobleness and spirits!" There is a world of significance in this saving clause. It is like John page 77 Bright's great discovery that the Prince of Wales is "good-natured." So also was Charles II. an exceedingly good-natured man. On his death-bed he apologised to his courtiers for taking such an unconscionable time to die. Yet a more abominable scoundrel never breathed.

As was the "Old Goat" so were his courtiers. The future Duchess of Tyrconnel disguised herself as an orange-girl and cried her wares in the streets. Sedley and Buckhurst after midnight ran through the streets nearly nude. Another courtier addressed the people from a window naked.

"The Duke of Buckingham, a lover of the Countess of Shrewsbury, slew the Earl in a duel; the Countess, disguised as a page, held Buckingham's horse, while she embraced him, covered as he was with her husband's blood, and the murderers and adulterers returned publicly as in a triumphal march to the house of the dead man."

But Rochester was the model knight of the Court of the Restoration. He was a poet as well as a gallant. For five years running he was drunk. He and Buckingham rented an inn in the Newmarket Road, where they amused themselves by stupefying husbands with drink and debauching their wives. One of his happiest achievements was to introduce himself, disguised as an old woman, into the house of a miser, whose wife he bore off in triumph. Buckingham finally got the lady, and to the intense gratification of the two peers, the miser hanged himself. Eventually, Rochester turned astrologer, and sold drugs for the vilest purposes. His poems and pamphlets are so filthy that they can scarcely even be named. "Here I first understood by their talk," says the pious, domesticated Pepys, "the meaning of the company that lately were called Bailers; Harris telling how it was by a meeting of some young blades, where he was among them, and my Lady Bennett and her ladies, and their dancing naked and all the roguish things in the world."

Such was Charles and such his courtiers. The darker features to be gathered from the "Mémoires de Grammont" it is impossible to fill in. To compare them with goats were an odious libel on the goats.

By confiscating the principal of loans advanced to the Treasury, the king and his advisers contrived at a blow to make bankrupt half the goldsmiths, then the page 78 bankers, of London. The act was one of undisguised robbery unparalleled in the annals of English Governments. The Great Mogul never filled his coffers in a manner more reprehensible. Charles eventually reached a point when the case-hardened Shaftesbury said of him that he "had brought his affairs to that pass that there is not a person in the world, man or woman, that dares rely upon him or put any confidence in his word or friendship."

On Sunday, 1st February, 1685, when death laid his icy hand on Charles, he was thus surrounded, and thus employed, according to Lord Macaulay:—"A party of twenty courtiers were seated at cards round a large table, on which gold was heaped in mountains. . . . The king sat there, chattering and toying with three women, whose charms were the boast and whose vices were the disgrace of three nations. Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland, was then no longer young, but still retaining some traces of that superb loveliness which twenty years before overcame the hearts of all men. There, too, was the Duchess of Portsmouth, whose soft and infantine features were lighted up with the vivacity of France. Hortensia Marcini, Duchess of Mazarin, and niece of the great cardinal, completed the group. No gift of nature or of fortune seemed to be wanting to her. But her diseased mind required stronger stimulants, and sought them in gallantry, in basset, and in usquebaugh. While Charles flirted with his three sultanas, Hortensia's page, a handsome boy, whose vocal performances were the delight of Whitehall, and were rewarded by numerous presents of rich clothes, ponies, and guineas, warbled some amorous verses."

As the disease progressed, the queen, whom he had degraded to the level of his concubines, was summoned to the chamber of death, which was cleared of harlots. Last of all, an illiterate Catholic priest, named Huddleston, received the dying man's confession, and admitted him into the communion of the Church of Rome. Meanwhile, infatuated crowds thronged the churches, praying fervently that God would raise him up to be again the father of his people. Happily for themselves, their prayer was not answered, though certainly he was, as was wittily said of Henry IV. of France, the father of his people in more senses than one.

The Pension List is a perpetual reminder of his fatherhood. page 79 By Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, he had three sons, the Dukes of Southampton, Grafton, and Northumberland. By Louise de Querouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth, he had the Duke of Richmond; by Nell Gwynne, the actress, the Duke of St. Albans; and by Lucy Walters, the Duke of Monmouth. The costly trio of the present Dukes of Grafton, Richmond, and St. Albans are supposed to be the lineal descendants of the "Merry Monarch." Charles himself was more doubtful on the subject than the British taxpayer.