Posts tagged ‘Louis XIV’

30/09/2018

Enough is enough!

I took what I considered a well-earned break after dealing with a number of the relevant documents identified during my most recent return to the Chronobibliography. Now it seems that I accidentally chose just the right place to do it. A quick sweep of the remaining ones, meant to organise them into the proper historical and in-fighting order, reveals that they are actually less relevant than it initially seemed.

Moreover, when I realised that in fact most of them refer right back to the reign of Charles, and re-hash all the same old stuff yet again—well, as I say, it was a case of enough is enough.

So I’m neither going to read or review (most of) these documents. Instead, I’ll post about them briefly – and for once I do mean briefly – and explain (i) what they are, and (ii) why not.

First and least on the list of rejects is The Pagan Prince: or, A Comical History Of The Heroick Achievements Of The Palatine Of Eboracum, published in 1690 “By the Author of the Secret History of King Charles II. and K. James II.” (who my research indicates was probably Nathaniel Crouch). This roman à clef is such a farrago of incomprehensible nonsense, it’s nearly impossible to tell who it is supposed to be about. Thus we find Srinivas Aravamudan, in his Enlightment Orientalism: Resisting The Rise Of The Novel, commenting that The Pagan Prince “…continues this literary obsession with Charles II’s love life…”; whereas the listing of the document in the Early English Books Online database describes it as, “A satire on James, Duke of York, later James II.” As for me, while trying to make head or tail of it I began to think it may even have been about Louis XIV, who inspired his own crop of scurrilous literature at about this time.

You can just imagine how well this thing works as a satire.

Anyway—one passage, slightly more interpretable than the rest, finally made it clear that, not surprisingly, the EEBO people were correct:

After this the Palatine sold the Reversion and Remainder of the three Kingdoms of Albion, Caledonia and Hibernia, with all the Giblets thereto belonging, after the King of Albions decease, to the King of Astopia and his Heirs forever; Provided that the Palatine should hold them in Vassalage of the King of Astopia during his own Life. On the other side it was covenanted and agreed that the King of Astopia should furnish the Palatine with whatever summ or summs of Money he should ask or demand, to be expended all toward the Extermination of the Christians from the face of the Earth…
 

 
Another 1690 publication which does continue the literary obsession with Charles II’s love life is the anonymous The Secret History Of The Dutchess Of Portsmouth: Giving an Account of the Intrigues of the Court, during her Ministry. And of the Death of K. C. II. The ‘Dutchess of Portsmouth’ was Louise de Kérouaille, the most hated of all of Charles’ mistresses because of the (probably correct) perception that she was really there to spy for Louis, or at least push French interests. Even so—five years after both Charles’ death and Louise’s return to France, this one seems like a piece of supererogation. Perhaps the persistence of the campaign against her was due to the widespread belief that she was involved in, if not outright responsible for, the sudden death of Charles. Like its similar predecessor, The Amours Of The Sultana Of Barbary, The Secret History Of The Dutchess Of Portsmouth concludes with “Francelia” (as she is called in this roman à clef) poisoning “the Prince” after he discovers her infidelity:

It was there, that a little before he fell ill of his last fit of Sickness, coming into her Chamber, and finding fault with some odd kind of smell, which did offend him, she treated him with some excellent Cordial, which she said, she had newly received from Spain or Italy, but the Prince did very much dislike the taste of it, and divers times found fault with it that night; however, he retired Indispos’d, and never held up his Head after that…

Actually—the more I look at this thing, the more it seems to me to be a plagiarised version of The Amours Of The Sultana Of Barbary, with the names changed and the story tweaked just a bit; which makes it ever more unnecessary.
 

 
Meanwhile, the same year gives us an example of the anti-Louis literature I mentioned, in—

—wait for it—

The Most Christian Turk: or, a view of the life and bloody reign of Lewis XIV. present King of France: Containing an account of his monstrous birth, the transactions that happened during his minority under Cardinal Mazarine; afterwards his own unjust enterprizes in war and peace, as breach of leagues, oaths, &c. the blasphemous titles given him, his love-intrigues, his confederacy with the Turk to invade Christendom, the cruel persecution of his Protestant subjects, his conniving with pirates, his unjustly invading the empire, &c. laying all waste before him with fire and sword, his quarrels with the Pope and Genoieze, his treachery against England, Scotland, and Ireland, the engagements of the confederate princes against him; with all the battles, sieges, and sea fights, that have happened of consequence to this time.

I see no need to add anything to that.

(Ooh! Except, now that I look at its title-page, to point out that this is the first publication I have so far noticed as emanating from Fleet Street!)
 

 
A more interesting subset of literature (if not interesting enough to make me read any of it) finds recent historical events being turned into plays, or pseudo-plays: it is not clear that any of them were ever performed, or indeed ever meant to be. Either way, these are really just romans à clef in a different format; there’s nothing new here but the presentation.

Three of these would seem to be the work of the same anonymous author. The first is actually an account of the Monmouth Rebellion: The Abdicated Prince: or, The Adventures of Four Years. A Tragi-Comedy, As it was lately Acted at the Court of ALBA REGALIS, By Several Persons of Great Quality. This was followed by The Bloody Duke: Or, The Adventures for a Crown (which has the same subtitle), an account of the reign and downfall of James; with the trilogy completed by The Late Revolution: Or, The Happy Change. A Tragi-Comedy, As it was Acted throughout the ENGLISH DOMINIONS In the Year 1688. This last signs itself, “Written by a Person of Quality.”

I gather that these documents were a revival of sorts of something that went on during the English Civil War; that seems to be where the term ‘tragi-comedy’ originated, in any event.

Possibly not by the same author but cashing in on the same idea is 1693’s The Royal Cuckold: Or, Great Bastard. Giving an account of the Birth and Pedigree of Lewis le Grand, The First French King of that Name and Race. A TRAGY-COMEDY, As it is Acted by his Imperial Majesty’s Servants.
 

 
And this, by a circuitous path, brings me to the one piece of this literature that I did read, and do want to comment upon: The Great Bastard, Protector Of The Little One, from 1689.

“The Little One” is of course the infant Prince of Wales…or the Sham Prince, if you prefer. However, he really figures only in passing in this short piece of writing, which instead is an attack upon Louis XIV. It starts well and amusingly:

We find in holy writ, that, in the Jewish law, it was expresly provided by the supreme legislator, That a bastard should not enter into the congregation of the Lord, even to the tenth generation: but it seems the unhappy kingdom of France allows the bastard himself, not only to enter into the congregation, but to settle himself upon the throne, and to bear it higher than all the preceding kings before him, which had a better right to do it, as being the offspring of kings, and not the sons of the people, the proper term the Roman law gives to bastards. We have heard of the Salick law, in force in that kingdom, for a great many ages, by which the crown of France cannot fall from the sword to the distaff; but, ’till the blessed days of our august monarch, we never had the happiness to be acquainted with a law or custom, by which that was in the power of a Queen of France, to provide us an heir to the crown, without the concurrence of her husband, and to impose upon us, for our king, a brat of another man’s making. All the reign of our invincible monarch has been a constant series of wonders; but, amongst them all, this is none of the least, That he, who was, in the opinion of all the world, the son of a private gentleman, from his birth to the end of the Prince of Conde’s wars, has had the good fortune to be ever since, no less than the son of Lewis the Thirteenth.

Unfortunately, the tone is not maintained throughout. Instead, the author devotes most of the document to “proving” that Louis XIII could not have been the father of Louis XIV due to his impotence, and that Cardinal Mazarin probably was. (Whatever the whole truth, historians have established that Mazarin was in Rome at the time of Anne’s conception.) Most of this is tiresome, except for a reference to something I certainly hope was a real phenomenon—

Common fame was ever looked upon as a great presumption of the truth of a thing, especially if joined to other concurring circumstances; and never did that prating goddess extend her voice louder, than in proclaiming to the world the spurious birth of our august monarch. Time was, when she did not whisper it in corners, but expressed it in publick pictures, plays, farces, and what not? Modesty will not allow me to mention the bawdy shapes of these two sorts of bread, called to this day the Queen’s Bread, and the Cardinal’s Bread, sold through Paris, and in most places of France; so that, at that time, one could scarce sit down to eat, but he was put in mind of the queen and the cardinal’s amours…

Without getting into the details, it seems that doubt over Louis XIV’s parentage has long been a point of argument amongst historians (and others with an axe to grind). It is not the doubt itself, but the reason – or excuse – for it that caught my interest. I was unaware, until now, that a similar situation surrounded the birth of the future Louis XIV, as did that of—well, let’s call him James Francis Edward Stuart: that is, that Louis XIII and Anne of Austria had been married for twenty-three years before the birth of their first surviving child, with several stillbirths preceding that event, and with several long periods of estrangement punctuating those years. As with the pregnancy of Mary of Modena, there was widespread suspicion about the baby’s paternity, partly because of the long unproductive years, partly because of Anne’s behaviour, but also, I gather, because Louis may well have been homosexual and therefore a bit lax about his royal duties. (“Impotence” was probably a euphemism.)

In any event, when the boy was born, he was seen (ironically or not) as a miracle; and consequently he was baptised Louis Dieudonné, literally Louis the God-Given.

There is, as I say, a body of anti-Louis literature that emerged towards the end of the 1680s, and which tends to fall into one of two categories—both of which we’ve seen here. Most are straightfaced denunciations of Louis as a tyrant: The Most Christian Turk is an example. A few, however, question Louis’ parentage, and therefore his right to the throne—as in The Great Bastard, Protector Of The Little One.

But all of this is only the background to the truly fascinating thing about this last document—which is that it is perfectly clear that the anonymous author took a good long look at what had gone on in England, and how the Sham Prince propaganda contributed to forcing James off the throne—and decided to try it on with Louis.

It didn’t work, of course; something which the author (who I am very sure was not French) attributes, in the document’s funniest passage, to France being a Catholic country, and therefore accustomed to miracles:

Among a great many other quarrels I have with the English nation, this is one, That they are a people too nice in believing miracles; and their haughtiness is such, as they scorn, forsooth, to believe Impossibilities: for albeit they, and all the rest of the world about them, are firmly persuaded, that the little bauble Prince of Wales was never of Queen Mary’s bearing, much less of King James’s begetting ; yet, if these infidels had been as well-mannerly credulous, as we in France have been, of the wonderful transmutation of our Lewis le Grand, they needed not have made all this noise about the little impostor infant, but might have comforted themselves in the hopes, that he, who was a spurious Prince of Wales to-day, might some years hence, by a new French way of transubstantiation, become a lawfully begotten King of England. But the mischief of all is, these stiff-necked hereticks, ever since they fell off from the communion of the holy church, make bold to call in question all our miracles ; and such a one, as this would be, I am afraid they would stick at, amongst others.

But it is a grave and empassioned denunciation with which the author leaves us:

Good God! how happy had it been for France, yea, for a great part of the world, that the French had been as great infidels, upon the point of miracles, as the heretick English; and that our Lewis the Fourteenth had been hurled out of France, when but Dauphin of Viennois, as the little mock Prince of Wales has been out of England, when scarce well handled into the light? What dismal tragedies has our French impostor caused in Christendom? How many cities laid in ashes, countries ruined, families extinguished, and millions of lives sacrificed to the vanity and ambition of a bastard?
 

 

 

15/04/2018

A Letter From Lewis The Great, To James The Less

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it turns out that the next entry in our journey through this particular outbreak of political brawling is not prose – still less an actual “letter” – but a poem. Given its relatively short length, I’ve decided to transcribe it rather than deal in excerpts.

This work, whose complete title is A LETTER From LEWIS the Great, To JAMES the Less, His Lieutenant in IRELAND. With Reflections by way of ANSWER to the said LETTER, or serious CONTEMPLATIONS at an Unseasonable Time, is one of the slander-writings that provoked the anger of the author of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d; although in this case, we assume that it was the crass language and crude sexual innuendo which upset him, rather than the content.

Obviously this poem was part of that subset of political writing which decided that the best way to deal with James was not ranting and raving and tub-thumping, but mockery. It offers the by-now standard view of James as a fool and a cuckold; but it also adds a further smear—presenting him as a coward.

The dating of this poem is uncertain, being unhelpfully listed as 1689-1690 in the catalogues; but there isn’t any doubt that it was published after the Battle of the Boyne, when James’ fate had been decided.

And while there is plenty of crude humour in the text, the poem’s best joke is actually a pretty subtle one: it has Louis XIV offering James the choice of two fates, Death or Glory; but as we know, he found a third option…

(I suppose I should add a warning here for “coarse language” and “sexual references”. Just noting that the censored language is in the original document. And that some of the censoring choices, and non-choices, seem…odd.)

 

I

TO James our Lieutenant this greeting we send:
As you hope to preserve us your Patron and Friend,
As you trust to the vertue of us and your Wife,
Who leads in your absence a dissolute life;
          Now you’ve sold us your Land,
          Obey Our Command,
As your Spouse does our Pego when e’re it will st—,
And what I enjoyn you be sure to observe,
Since you know not to Rule, I will teach you to Serve.

II

To reduce our new Subjects, we sent you ’tis true,
But be sure take upon you no more than you’re due;
Submit to the Fetters your self have put on,
You’ve the Name of a King but the Majesties gone.
          For your bold Son-in-Law,
          The valiant Nassaw,
Who values not you nor my self of a straw,

Will neither be cullied nor bubbled like you,
I’ve a prospect already of what he will do.

III

Let not Infant or Bedrid your pity implore,
You’ve lost all your Kingdoms by that heretofore,
A Hereticks life like a Dog’s I do prise,
Murther all that oppose you, or ‘gainst you dare rise:
          They were Subjects to you,
          Therefore make ’em all rue,
And either give them, or I’le give you your due:
I acknowledge your folly has made me more wise,
I see with my own, and not Jesuits eyes.

IV

These Courses in Ireland, I charge you to steer,
In the Head of your Army be sure to appear,
You’re a Souldier of Fortune and fight for your pay,
You know your reward, if you once run away;
          Either Conquest or Death,
          I to you bequeath,
And therefore prepare for a Shrowd or a Wreath:
So thus I commit you to one of the Two,
If I see you no more here, I bid you adieu.

**********

I

WHEN that Remnant of Royalty Jimmy the Cully,
Had receiv’d this Epistle from Lewis the Bully,
His Countenance chang’d, and for madness he cry’d,
I’ve the Devil to my Friend, and his Dam to my Bride;
          Sure I am the first
          That’s in all things accurst,
Nor can I determine which Plague is the worst,
That of losing my Realms or the News I’ve receiv’d,
Which from any Hand else, I could ne’re have believ’d.

II

I find they agreed when for Ireland they sent me,
And if I knew how, ’tis high time to repent me;
I’ve abandon’d my reason to pleasure a Trull,
Who has made me her Bubble, her Cuckold, and Fool;
          We’re all in the Pit,
          Our designs are besh-t,
And hither I’m sent to recover my Wit:
If this be the fortune proud Este does bring,
Wou’d I’de been a Tinker instead of a King.

III

How or which way to turn me, or whither to go,
By the Faith of a Jesuit I’me a Dog if I know;
For this going to War I do mortally hate,
Tho’ of Sieges and Battles I ever cou’d prate;
          I thought I had Valour,
          But I find it was Choler,
Tho’ thirty years I have been Lewis’s Scholar;
I’ve trac’d all his Policies, Maxims and Rules,
By which I’ve attain’d to be chief of his Fools.

IV

Had I courage to dye I’de refuse to survive,
I’m buried already altho’ I’m alive,
My Story’s like that of unfortunate Jack,
I’ve shuffled and cut till I’ve quite lost the Pack:
          He that trusts to the Pope,
          No better must hope,
Or to Lewis or she whom that Pagan does grope:
For no Monarch must ever expect a good Life,
Who is rid by a Priest, or a damn’d Popish Wife.

V

May Lewis succeed me in all Circumstances,
His Arms unsuccessful where e’re he advances,
May his ill gotten Laurels be blasted and dry,
May a Shrowd be deny’d him when e’re he does dye;
          May his Land be o’re-run,
          By that Champion our Son:
So I’le close up with her who that mischief begun;
May the Curse of Three Kingdoms for ever attend her,
While to WILLIAM and MARY my Crown I surrender.

 
 

 

 

11/04/2018

A Defence Of Their Majesties King William And Queen Mary


 
 
…there is something that is singular in the violence of these Motions; and it is this, that the Revolution that has lately happened in England by the wise Conduct of William III King of England does irritate them to so great an elevation of Fury. If his present Majesty had poured his Forces into France, and obliged that King to leave his Throne, the Rage would have been raised to such a pitch, as to admit of no Accession. The Piety, Clemency and Justice of King William (who now strikes Lewis with so great a Terror) is the August Subject of this Discourse. These glorious Qualities made manifest in his said Majesties late Expedition into England, in Opposition to the French Designs there, are the Subject Matter of this small Treatise. Neither the late King James nor the Irish and English Papists, his Friends, were so hot in their Resentments as the French. There is something extraordinary in it, and this boundless Wrath of the French King against William King of England, was possibly not so much kindled by the consideration of what he has done, as by the fearful prospect of what he can do…

 

 

 

So. We find ourselves in Europe, in the year 1688. Contrary to the popular belief of an alliance between Louis XIV and the Pope, the latter was actually collaborating in the opposing, non-sectarian alliance formed between William of Orange, the Protestant rulers of several of the German States, and Leopold I of Austria, a Catholic: an alliance intended to keep France confined.

In England, the rule of the Catholic James II was moving towards the twin crises of James’ imprisonment of the seven bishops who refused to read his Declaration of Indulgence from their pulpits, and the birth of the – putative – Prince of Wales; both of which occurred in June. Though these events were the immediate cause of the appeal to William by the “Immortal Seven”, another driving force was the knowledge that, in Ireland, the Earl of Tyrconnell was raising an army for James—a Catholic army.

William had been ready to move for some time, pending the receipt of a formal invitation from England; and on the 5th November 1688, he and his army landed at Brixham, on the coast of Devon. A stand-off followed: James sent his wife, Mary of Modena, and their baby out of England early in December, but himself held his ground while he considered his options. At this time there were many more than willing to support him if he would roll back his policies in favour of his fellow-Catholics, but this proved the sticking-point. Abandoned by his Parliament, his army and his navy, James fled England on the 23rd December, and took refuge at the Court of Louis XIV. Subsequently, and after much wrangling – and their agreement to a Bill of Rights henceforth restricting the power of the monarchy – William and his wife, Mary, were asked jointly to accept the throne; their coronation followed on the 11th April 1689.

James and Louis had no intention of allowing this situation to go unchallenged. Louis immediately placed an army at James’ disposal, and the two agreed that Ireland should be the base for preparations of their efforts to re-establish James in England. On the 22nd March 1689, James and the army commanded by the Comte de Lauzun landed in Kinsale, in County Cork. Over the following fifteen months, James made Ireland his own, with only the island town of Enniskillen and the walled city of Londonderry holding out against him.

Naturally enough, this uncertain situation prompted another outbreak of political writing in England—and across Europe, too, as the various factions argued their position in both religious and secular terms.

The opening salvo in the war of words currently under consideration was Antoine Arnauld’s 1689 publication, Le véritable portrait de Guillaume Henry de Nassau, nouvel Absalon, nouvel Hérode, nouvel Cromwel, nouvel Néron, which was translated into English as, A True Portraicture Of William Henry, Prince Of Nassau.

My French isn’t up to a consideration of the former, and the latter is unavailable; so we move on to the first of the two responses to Arnauld’s attack, that penned by Pierre Jurieu as, Apologie pour leurs Sérénissimes Majestés Britanniques, contre un Infame Libelle intitulé ‘Le vray portrait de Guillaume Henry de Nassau’, and translated into English as, A defence of Their Majesties King William and Queen Mary, against an infamous and Jesuitical libel, entituled, A true portraicture of William Henry, Prince of Nassau &c, by someone who identifies himself only as ‘R. S.’

Though we cannot access the earlier documents, it is reasonably easy to infer the attack made upon William by Arnauld from the counter-arguments posed by Jurieu. It is also a fairly simple matter to judge where Jurieu felt himself to be on firm ground, and where his (or rather, William’s) position was a little more shaky.

Despite the title of the translation, Mary barely figures in it: she is mentioned only in an early passage, in conjunction with an hilariously fulsome eulogy to William’s piety that, had we not previously suffered through twenty years of Charles II being called “god-like”, would be intolerable; and which makes the passage on Mary seem like a mild compliment in comparison:

As for the Queen, it is generally agreed, that there was never one more Devout, nor more exact, in the Practice of her Duties towards God. Her Piety is not accompanied with the vain shew of Hypocrisy. She is great without being Proud: She has a Natural Air, she appears in all her Actions without Affectation. She is tender and full of Compassion, and incapable of forgetting the Obligations of Nature…

…the latter presumably prompted by criticism of her behaviour towards her father.

Jurieu starts out well enough, as we see from the quote above, with the suggestion that all this outrage emanating from France has nothing to do with indignation over the abused rights of kings, and everything to do with the thwarting of French ambition. However, he stumbles as he tries to defend William (and Mary) against accusations of impious and unfilial behaviour towards James, and to show that they had a moral and legal right, and the right of precedent, to displace him. In pursuit of this, he draws clearly inappropriate examples from the bible and from European history to show that the “right” king isn’t necessarily the next heir, and that God is (presumably) okay with the correctly qualified individual taking the throne.

Curiously, while ignoring primogeniture, Jurieu basically argues for the throne being “entailed”, that is, that an heir has the right to try and prevent anything done by the incumbent monarch that he perceives as damaging to the country or to the people; extrapolating from this William’s right to interfere in James’ proceedings; and arguing, in effect, that James had forfeited his right to the throne. He finally draws a rather intriguing comparison between James and his father—suggesting that William’s intervention prevented a similar scenario of an executed king and a civil war.

From all this it follows, that the English Nation did justly look upon King James II as incapable of the Crown, because of his Religion, and as fallen from his Rights by his violation of all the Fundamental Laws, and consequently William III, his Son-in-Law, and Mary his Daughter, now King and Queen of England possess the Crown most lawfully, which returns to them by Right of Succession… They did not trample upon the respect which they owed to him who was their Father, or held the place of a Father, for nothing is owing to a Father in prejudice of the Rights that are due to God and our Country. They committed no Violence as a means of coming by the Crown; they did nothing against the Commands of St. Peter and St. Paul of being Subject to the Powers, for neither St. Peter nor St. Paul had any design of Establishing the Arbitrary Power of Kings (whose Authority is limited by the Laws) nor of favoring Tyrants…

Jurieu conversely contends that James’ seeming generosity (via the Declaration of Indulgence) to non-mainstream religions was an accidental consequence of his rolling back laws in favour of the Catholics, and that he would not have included them if he could have avoided it:

They know very well, and all the World is sensible of it, that King James did extreamly hate the Presbyterians, Independents and Anabaptists, looking upon them as the Authors of his Father’s death and as his own Enemies. It is very well known, that during all the time that he was Duke of York, he did cruelly Persecute them…

Lengthy religious brawling follows—most of it obvious, with one interesting touch: Arnauld’s apparent condemnation of William for posing as “defender of the English faith”, when he himself was Presbyterian.

Much of the next section flew over my head, in addressing Dutch history and being (I gather) intended to disprove an accusation that William, far from being a pious saviour, had always been a rapacious acquirer of territory and power. I deduce that the reference to him as of Nassau rather than Orange is meant to underscore this.

One part of the story did, however, make me sit up and blink.

Reading backwards, we find Arnauld accusing William of being behind the violent overthrow in 1672 of Johan de Witt, then Grand Pensionary of the Dutch Republic, who with his brother, Cornelis, was blamed for the Rampjaar, or “disaster year”, during which large areas of the Republic were seized by invading armies. A mob descended upon the prison where Johann was visiting Cornelis, who had already been arrested; the guards decided they would be better off elsewhere; and the brothers were brutally killed and—partially eaten!?

Brief research would suggest that William’s hands were not exactly clean in the matter: if he didn’t instigate the mob, he took no action against the participants afterwards; and it was the Orange-ists, as they were known, who came out ahead in the resulting land-grab.

(Evidently Alexandre Dumas, père, used this incident as the opening of The Black Tulip, which is now On The List.)

Jurieu’s defence of William here is not exactly rock-solid – more along the lines of, Oh yeah? Prove it! – and he changes the subject as quickly as he possibly can, to that of the Sham Prince.

There is some amusing sleight-of-hand here, with Jurieu declaring that he won’t get into all that again, even as he proceeds to rehash the story one more time, and in detail; and arguing for the baby’s suspicious antecedents (…in all probability…nothing else but a Chimera…), while simultaneously offering a grimly prosaic view of the Prince’s likely fate were James to die and leave him a “Popish Minor”. Likewise, Jurieu here professes to believe the revisionist view of the arrest of the seven bishops, that is, that James didn’t want them around during the baby’s birth; even though elsewhere he presents the standard explanation for the arrests, the bishops’ resistance to James’ Declaration of Indulgence.

From here Jurieu goes into a lengthy defence of William’s “unlawful” conduct in invading England, and his behaviour after he got there, most of it sensibly argued: we accept that William wanted neither civil war nor a dead James, and that his “menaces” were merely to build pressure and nothing he intended acting upon.

He then condemns James’ own behaviour after William’s landing:

If James II upon the Prince’s arrival in Exeter, had, of his own accord, given his consent to the calling of a free Parliament, there might have been sufficient assurance given, as of a thing most certain, that he might have had all manner of freedom, to propose, to speak, and to demand of the Parliament, whatever he pleased; Who would have barr’d him from this? He had his Guards, he had his Army, consisting of about 40,000 Men, against ten or twelve thousand, whom the Prince had taken with him. It is certain, that the Army would have proved faithful to him, and not one person would have joyned with the Prince, against him, if, at that instant, the King had called a free Parliament: But God, who intended to Ruine him, did leave him to be blinded and made obstinate, by Popish Counsels…

Jurieu also turns the tables by asking the same questions raised by Arnauld of Louis:

Indeed this Orator would not have done amiss to have spared his Breath, to have reserved his Rhetoric and his Eloquence to Answer the Demands that William of Nassau, in all likelihood will make, ‘ere it be long, to Lewis XIV, for if it should so happen, that he prove the stronger, one day he has very good reason to call him to an account, and ask him, by what Laws he invaded and retained Lorain, and possessed himself of Strasburg in the time of Peace; by what Laws he laid the principality of Orange Desolate, and treated the same as a place subjected to him by an absolute Conquest, why he reduced the Palatinate, and the Towns and Villages on the Rhione to Ashes, treating it as a country destined by the most Savage Proscription, to a perpetual Desolation, and why he seizes the Possessions of every one, and keeps Faith with none?

Attention then shifts back to England, and the legality or otherwise of the proceedings of William and Parliament after James’ “abdication”: much quibbling follows, with Jurieu not finding a firm voice again until dealing with William’s attitude towards the English Catholics:

The Man complains loudly, that the Prince, in his Declaration, founds his Order for the Papists laying down their Arms, upon their Meeting about London and Westminster, ‘with a barbarous Design of making some attempt upon the said Cities, either by Fire, or a Massacre, or by both together’. He must certainly be very much in the wrong, who suspects Papists and Popery of such Attempts; they are very little acquainted with them. St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, and many others committed in France: The Murders attempted upon the person of Queen Elizabeth, and committed upon those of Henry the Third and Henry the Fourth: The assassination of William of Orange: The Gunpowder Plot, for blowing up the Two House of Parliament in the beginning of the Reign of James the First: The Burning of London: The Assassination of Justice Godfrey: The Death of the Earl of Essex by a rasour; And that of King Charles the Second by Poyson, with a Hundred other Enterprizes of this nature, make it appear, that we commit an outrageous violence against Popery, if we believe, that she is capable of inspiring the blackest Designs…

…and what a fascinating mixture of fact and fiction THAT is! Interesting how belief, or “belief”, that the Catholics were responsible for the Great Fire, comes and goes over time; also that James murdered Charles; while responsibility for the death of the Earl of Essex tends to shift around.

But it is Arnauld’s prediction of William’s eventual cruelty towards English Catholics that pushes Jurieu over the edge:

It is a mark of great judgment to look for Cruelty out of France, and to accuse a Foreign Prince thereof, whil’st he lives under the most cruel Government that has been in Europe for these many ages. A Government under which a Thousand Cruelties have been committed upon the Protestants to make them abjure their Religion… They burnt, they rack’d, they tortured them… They massacred, and burnt and tore many in pieces alive. They left infinite numbers of People to perish in frightful Prisons, and in unspeakable miseries… These are the Men who accuse our Princes of Severity. Get you gone then, you Infamous Man! Go, and read Lectures of Clemency to your own Masters, before you charge ours with Cruelty.

And Jurieu wraps things up by drawing comparisons between Louis’ behaviour, and that of James after the Battle of Sedgemoor:

After the defeat of the Duke of Monmouth, he sent a Monster of Injustice into the West of England. He caused to Hang and Quarter more than two thousand persons in those Counties. An example of horrible Cruelty, and which possibly cannot be parallel’d in History. In the most Criminal Rebellions, the Heads are punished, and the Multitude is pardoned. But he was for cutting off both Leaders and People, and burying them under the same ruins. You speak for a Prince who is suspected to have his hands stained with his Brother’s Blood, and to have dipt them in that of the Earl of Essex. You ought to have let these Ideas of Horror sleep, and engage those who wish him well, not to awaken them, and expose them to the view of England…

 
 

09/04/2018

“Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!” “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!”

Well. I was hoping for a relatively straightforward re-start of my Chronobibliography; I seem to have opened a can of worms instead.

The next work on my existing list is – or wasThe Secret History Of The Reigns Of K. Charles II, And K. James II, one of the numerous pieces of revisionist history to emerge in the wake of the Glorious Revolution. Published anonymously, the item is sometimes listed in library catalogues and other such sources as by John Phillips, but with sufficient doubt about it to prompt me to go looking for more concrete information on the subject.

That may have been a mistake.

My initial research did indeed turn up a suggested alternative author in the form of bookseller, historian and plagiarist, Nathaniel Crouch. It also brought to light a response to the publication: The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d: or, Reflexions On A Late Libel, Entituled, The Secret History Of The Reigns Of K. Charles II. And K. James II.

Okay. Paired opinions. Might be interesting.

So I read The Secret History…noting in its preface a reference to a third work, One of the French King’s most Scandalous Libels, and bitter Invectives against our Present Sovereign; Intitled, The True Portraicture of William Henry of Nassau, &c.

And then I began to glance into The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d…whose own preface references a raft of contemporary literature, before launching into a point-by-point criticism of the its rival publication.

It was quickly apparent that I had inadvertently wandered into the middle of an ongoing brawl. When the dust settled, the landscape looked something like this—

In 1689, the French theologian, philosopher and (as one source put it) “professional controversialist” Antoine Arnauld published Le véritable portrait de Guillaume Henry de Nassau, nouvel Absalon, nouvel Hérode, nouvel Cromwel, nouvel Néron.

(Some impressive name-calling there: I’m amused by the designation of William as “Absalom”, which as we might recall was the term applied by John Dryden to the Duke of Monmouth, Charles’ rebellious illegitimate son; now we find it being applied to William of Orange, a rebellious Stuart nephew.)

The first reaction to this was – curiously, at first glance – also French. The same year saw the publication of Apologie pour leurs Sérénissimes Majestés Britanniques, contre un Infame Libelle intitulé ‘Le vray portrait de Guillaume Henry de Nassau by Pierre Jurieu, a leading French Protestant who understandably spent most of his life outside of France, and who like Antoine Arnaud was a disputatious writer. (He seems to have done more practical good than Arnaud, however, particularly in assisting fellow-Protestants impacted by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.)

In due course, both of these documents were translated into English—the former becoming the aforementioned A True Portraicture Of William Henry, Prince Of Nassau, and the latter appearing as A defence of Their Majesties King William and Queen Mary, against an infamous and Jesuitical libel entituled, A true portraicture of William Henry, Prince of Nassau.

(In fact Arnaud seems to have spent a lot of time butting heads with the Jesuits, but of course “Jesuitical” was just English for “particularly evil Catholic”.)

As we have seen, the first translation prompted the writing of The Secret History, which in turn prompted The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d…which begins with a lengthy rant against the proliferation of revisionist and scandal-histories and the slanderers who write them, and comparing them unfavourably, in respect of their “truth”, with the exaggerated historical “romances” popular in France; in the process mentioning by title:

  • A Letter From Lewis The Great, To James The Less
  • The Royal Wanton; or, The Amours Of Messalina
  • Cassandre (by Gauthier de Costes, seigneur de la Calprenède, 1642-1650, translated into English by Sir Charles Cotterell between 1652-1661)
  • Artamène; ou le Grand Cyrus (1649-1654; originally attributed to Georges de Scudéry, but written by his sister, Madeleine; considered the longest novel ever written)
  • Ibrahim; ou le Ilustrious Basa (1641, also by Madeleine de Scudéry, also originally attributed to Georges; translated into English in 1652 by Henry Cogan and adapted into a play by Elkanah Settle in 1676)
  • The Great Bastard, Protector Of The Little One
  • The Abdicated Prince; or, The Adventures Of Four Years

…the last two of which further brought to my attention:

  • The Royal Cuckold; or, Great Bastard: giving an account of the birth and pedegree of Lewis le Grand, the first French King of that name and race (which seems to have been a German work, not translated into English until 1693; although The Great Bastard is clearly a pseudo-sequel of sorts)
  • The Bloody Duke; or, The Adventures For A Crown
  • A Compleat History Of The Pretended Prince of Wales: from his supposed conception by the late abdicated Qeen, to the fatal exit of his true mother Mrs. Mary Grey

Sigh.

Having sat down feeling good about about getting back to this project, I’m now doing my impression of a deer caught in headlights…with my only definite decision about where to go from here being that I will *not* be tackling the literary efforts of the absurdly fecund Mlle de Scudéry.

The one overarching conclusion we can draw from all this, I think, is that William and Mary were not as secure on their thrones as history may now make it seem. There were still those who supported the Stuarts, or at least held by “the true line”; and there was fear and uncertainty about what James might do, with sufficient backing from Louis XIV: of all these works, only The Royal Cuckold appeared (in English) after the Battle of the Boyne. Clearly it was felt necessary to shore by the new monarchs’ position by reminding everyone of the iniquities and failures of Charles and James, and their sinister connection to Louis.

Although I have previously tagged 1689 as a watershed year in the development of the English novel, in that it was the first year in which prose writing was dominated by fiction rather than politics, we can see from this that it was rather a brief respite in the conflict, while the combatants of 1688 were gathering their forces for another clash.

As for the rest— Clearly my hope that I had seen the last of James was premature and delusive. I can’t say I’m feeling much enthusiasm – to put it mildly – about the prospect of hashing over the Sham Prince saga yet again. Nor about another round of sex-scandal romans à clef: The Royal Wanton, by the way, is Gregory Leti’s follow-up to The Amours Of Messalina, expanding on the putative affair between Louis XIV and Mary of Modina and intended, like so much of this literature, to make James look stupid.  And I already know that The Secret History and The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d are just tiresome exercises in slander and insult.

On the other hand, I don’t honestly feel that I can just skip over this second wave of political writing, which serves to illustrate the emotional and political climate in England leading up to James’ attempt to re-seize his crown.

So what I think I will try to do, is simply give a brief overview of the works in question—unless they seem to deserve a closer look. I have some hopes that one or two of them, A Letter From Lewis The Great, To James The Less, for example, might actually be funny.

Of course, the downside of this schema is that it requires me actually to read these things in the first place…

25/01/2014

The Court Secret: A Novel (Part 2)

belon2 …in a short time Amurat was told, that the Fleet, and all things necessary for his Expedition, were in a readiness, and ready to set Sail, only they wanted his Person, without which nothing could be done. Thus was Amurat sent away from his Sultana, to countenance Cha-abas Designs on Leridan, and to give more Liberty to his amorous Intrigues. For no sooner was Amurat gone, but that Cha-abas laid close Siege unto the Sultana’s Vertues, and follow’d it so close, that he prevented the Design that she had taken, and which doubtless she had executed, into confining her self into some Society of Religious Women, during Amurat’s Absence, had not Cha-abas Love been very diligent in breaking her measures. He had not yet made any Declaration of Love to her, and all those Services and Demonstrations of Respect which he shew’d her, pas’d but for the effects of his Courtesie and Civility, to a Princess in affliction: He had had some thoughts of declaring his Passion, but he thought it was not to be done in a mean and ordinary method, but in such a manner as should correspond with his Glory, the Greatness of the Sultana, and the Excess of his Passion… He resolv’d upon communicating of his Designs unto Clorineta, wife to Clorinet, who had accompanied the Sultana from Turky into Persia, and all along been Privy to all the Sultana’s Contrivances, Plots and Intrigues, and in whom the Sultana put all her Confidence and Trust…

Probably the most interesting thing—oh, let’s throw caution to the winds, shall we?—the only really interesting thing about Part 2 of Peter Belon’s The Court Secret is the preface. Unlike some of the publications from this era, the two parts of this novel carry only a year printing, not the month or even day the work appeared. Thus, while we know that the parts were published separately – and emanated from two different printers – we have no feel for the gap between them, and nor, more importantly, do we know their chronological relationship to the anonymous The Amours Of Messalina, which was published the same year (1689, despite what I tried to tell you the last time).

The significance of this point becomes clear as soon as the first page of Part 2 is turned, and we are confronted by the following address TO THE READER:

No sooner had the piece call’d, The Amours Of Messalina, appear’d in Publick, but some malicious Persons gave out, that I was the author of it, they having heard under-hand, that I was about some such thing; and though presently after, there came forth another Piece on the same Subject in my Name, Entitled, The Court Secret, in which Crown’d Heads are treated with that Reverence and Respect—

You guys all noticed the reverence and respect, right?

which is due to them: They have still continu’d to misrepresent me to the World, adding, That the severe Rebukes which I had received for my rude Behaviour towards Sovereigns in the first, had made me to compose the last in another strain, by way of Submission. Did those Persons that thus asperse me consider with what Respect I speak of Persons that once have had Dominion over me, they would not find one grain of that ill Nature in all my writings—

You guys noticed the absence of ill-nature, right?

with which the Amours of Messalina have been season’d by it Author, as if designedly writ as a Satyr against the late King and Queen, which has prov’d a Scandal to all moderate and modest Persons.

Who find the rape of an unconscious virgin a suitable basis for a sex farce.

    Certainly those Persons must needs be void of the Charity, which covers a multitude of Defects, that thus delight to impose the worst of Crimes on those that have been their Lords and Sovereigns, unto whom all Honour and Respect is due, from those who were once their subjects, if it were but for the bare Relation they have to our present King and Queen, whom God long preserve.
    It may be alleged (though disingenuously) That I my self am guilty of that which is blamed in others, by speaking too largely of another King, under the Name of Cha-abas Emperor of Persia. But when all is done, that very Person intended, was not my King, and God forbid he should be so; and what do I say of him, nay, what more can I say of him, than has already been declar’d and proclaim’d, not by a few of his own inconsiderable Heretick Subjects (as he is pleased to call those that are Protestants) but also by the Emperour of Germany, the Kings of England, Denmark, Sweden, the States of Holland, and all the Confederate Princes, all which has been confirm’d by his most Holy Father the Pope?

Who was also treated with great reverence and respect in Part 1.

Anyway, a two-page rant against Louis follows, which concludes with the overriding accusation that he is guilty of leading James astray:

If then that King has rendred himself so odious to all Christians…I may very well be excus’d, for what I have said of the same Person, in a Novel, where Hyperbolies are allowed in their largest extent: I having had no other design in the whole Business than to gratifie the Reader with joyning the Pleasant to the Useful—

Pleasant and useful! Those were the words I was trying to think of when I was writing up Part 1!

without the least intention of railing, or so much as making severe Reflexions, or bearing malice against any Person, even my profest Enemies, much less against such as are absolute Strangers to me.

Not to mention those of us who are both an absolute Stranger to him, and his profest Enemie!

It’s hard not to get distracted here by that tantalising reference to “a Novel”, and the fact that at the time, a novel was apparently considered a literary medium where, Hyperbolies are allowed in their largest extent; a fascinating glimpse into the mindset of 1689 and an indication, perhaps, of why Aphra Behn preferred to use the term “history” to describe her own stories. There’s also a certain irony in the fact that for the following 150 years, most English writers would go out of their way to insist upon the strict distinction that existed between the realistic “novel” and the exaggerated and improbable “romance”. Clearly the word “romance” had not yet entered the English literary vocabulary, at least not in that sense; its first usage is something to look out for in the future.

BUT—the real issue here is that despite insisting upon his “reverent” and “respectful” attitude towards his own monarchs, and justifying his handling of Louis with some shameless name-dropping, Peter Belon entirely fails to address his treatment of Mary of Modena. Putting aside (most willingly) its inclusion of the story of Roxana and her various miseries, the one significant difference between The Court Secret and The Amours Of Messalina is that the latter has Mary guilty of various sexual misdeeds; presumably it is this to which Belon refers when accusing his anonymous rival of being someone who, Delight[s] to impose the worst of Crimes on those that have been their Lords and Sovereigns. Conversely, both stories have Mary a willing participant in the conspiracy to impose a Sham Prince upon the English people—an accusation that Belon apparently doesn’t believe might be construed as disrespectful, or require an apology.

So how do we interpret this? Could it be possible—incredible thought!—that Peter Belon was the one person in England who actually BELIEVED that story? – that he thought he was simply reporting the facts, and consequently showing no disrespect towards Mary? Or – and perhaps his own use of the word is a bit of a giveaway – is this simply an outrageous piece of disingenuousness?

Anyway— I wish I could tell you that the continuation of the The Court Secret was anywhere near as interesting and amusing as its preface, but the truth is that this second part of the story, though only half as long as the first, is twice as pointless, expanding the sexual manoeuvring of the back-end of The Amours Of Messalina into almost its entire story. Ultimately, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Part 2 was written for no other reason but to give Peter Belon somewhere to publish his preface.

The one worthwhile aspect of this second part of The Court Secret is its constraint by real events: early on it dispatches Amurat (James) to Leridan (Ireland), in pursuit of a scheme to reclaim the Ottoman Empire (Britain) by first establishing Halist (Catholic) domination of that land and Clonstad (Scotland). Following his arrival in France in December 1688, James did depart for Ireland in March 1689; the Irish Parliament had refused to recognise William and still considered James the rightful monarch. James tried to sell himself to the Irish people generally by having their Parliament pass an Act granting religious freedom to Catholics and Protestants alike, and having done so set to work building an army. This series of events culminated in the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, which concluded with the overthrow of James and his permanent exile in France.

All of this is far in the future of The Court Secret, of course, which goes no further than James’ more-or-less successful establishment in Ireland: “more or less”, because the text references the Siege of Derry, which lasted from 18 April to 28 July 1689, and so places the composition of the second part of the text as later than that.

Presumably by way of demonstrating its reverence and respect for its sovereigns, The Court Secret pauses at the outset to explain why it was acceptable conduct on the part of the English people to turn against James; if indeed it was; the text isn’t quite comfortable on this point:

Upon Amurat’s deserting of his Subjects, and abandoning them to the Fury of all their Enemies, which in the Opinion of many of his Subjects, acquitted them of their Oaths of Allegiance to him; for as they said, There were mutual Oaths pass’d betwixt Amurat and his People at his accession to the Crown; He on his part did promise to govern them according to the Established Laws of the Land, and to maintain the Mahometan Religion, and all the Laws that had from time to time been made for its preservation, against all the Assaults and Conspiracies of its sworn Enemies the Halists, and to protect and defend his People from all Forreign Usurpation and Invasion; and his People on their part had promis’d to obey him, as their King and Governour, and pay unto him the same Allegiance and Obedience, which they had done to his Predecessors, on the assurance that he would faithfully keep and observe his Coronation Oath. I say, that many of his Loyal Subjects did believe, and thought in their Consciences, that the Emperour’s Breach of his Oaths had dispenc’d them from those which they had taken to him of their Allegiance. Yet there remain’d some amongst them, who still were of Opinion, That though Amurat had broke his Coronation-Oath, that did not free them from those Oaths of Allegiance to him which they had taken, saying, That his doing ill, or committing an Errour, was no warrant for them to do the same. But when it came to that pass, that the Emperour deserted them and his Kingdoms, and thereby renounc’d to the protecting and defending of them: Nay, that on the contrary, he joyn’d with the Halists against his own People, and applied himself to the greatest declared Enemy of the Ottoman Empire, and of the Mahometan Religion, which he had declar’d over and over, he would root out of the World; then, I say, that help’d to take off all those Scruples which had been left on their tender Consciences…

I find it another bit of authorial disingenuousness that James’ “desertion” is finally held to absolve his people of their oaths, in light of the great pains taken by the Williamites to bring about that very conclusion to the situation; and, after all, no matter what their own positions, no-one wanted another civil war. I can’t help feeling that the slightly squirmy reiteration of justification here echoes the linguistic manoeuvring of Parliament, in their efforts to demonstrate that James had abdicated, and that William and Mary’s assumption of the throne was therefore legal.

Anyway… None of this is really what The Court Secret is “about”, unfortunately; even more than Part 1, Part 2 consigns the affairs of Amurat to an occasional interrupting subplot. Instead, the bulk of Part 2 is given over to Cha-abas’ unsuccessful pursuit of the Sultana, which gets tangled up with his initially inadvertent overtures to Clorineta (Lady Tyrconnel), who is herself torn between her desire for Cha-abas and her ongoing affair with the Mufti Repset (Sir Edward Petre). Meanwhile, another Mufti called Chilase (François de la Chaise, Louis’ confessor) also dares raise his eyes to the Sultana, while the violently jealous Repset works to prevent Cha-abas getting sexual access to either Clorineta or the Sultana. And while all this is going on, Monitenna (Madame de Maintenon), offended and jealous over Cha-abas’ neglect, proves herself a better schemer and manoeuvrer than any of them and, though much less physically attractive that either the Sultana or Clorineta, triumphs over both of them and takes her place as Cha-abas’ official mistress. Along the way, there is (so to speak) hunting, charades, and ever so many delightful romantic misunderstandings.

Did I say delightful? What I meant was tiresome in the extreme. In fact, I see no reason to dwell upon any of this, except perhaps the, um, “climax”, in which Peter Belon gives us yet another sexual-confusion-in-the-dark scene; an infinitely less offensive one than the last, I am happy and relieved to report.

The final phase of The Court Secret is taken up with Monitenna’s plots to vanquish her romantic rivals and punish the presumptuous Muftis. While an extended bit of farce goes on, wherein Clorineta’s first planned assignation with Cha-abas is thwarted by Repset’s insistence on taking her plea of illness seriously and nursing her himself, Monitenna convinces Cha-abas that Clorineta has stood him up in order to have sex with a Mufti instead, which offends the monarch beyond any possibility of forgiveness. After this, Cha-abas becomes paranoid about Muftis generally, and convinces himself (with help from Monitenna) that the Sultana’s ongoing refusal to become his mistress has its basis in her affair with another Mufti, namely Chilase.

Chilase is in fact still pursuing the Sultana, but since he has done so in disguise at a masquerade and via anonymous letters, she has no idea who her presumptuous wooer might be. Repset, although he has given up on the Sultana himself, has no intention of standing by passively and watching Chilase succeed where he failed, and begins to interfere in one direction even as the Sultana and Clorineta conspire together in the other; while Cha-abas looks out for an opportunity to punish Repset for succeeding where he failed with Clorineta. Monitenna takes advantage of all this lust and jealousy and confusion by arranging a false assignation between Chilase and the Sultana, intending that Repset (who is to carry the letter) will read it, keep it to himself, and plot to take Chilase’s place; which he duly does. A second note goes direct to Chilase, setting up the same assignation and warning him not to say a word to Repset. With Cha-abas, the Sultana, Clorineta and Monitenna herself a silent but appreciative audience in the next room, the two Muftis creep through the darkness towards the same bed…

    With what eagerness did those two Mufties pull off their Gowns to step into the Embraces of the languishing Sultana! How were their Souls agitated with the very thoughts of the Enjoyments they were going to surfeit with! How many different violent Passions did at once seize on their Spirits! Love, Fear, Respect, and Ambition were all struggling at once, which should have the Mastery over their Spirit; and the Contention was so equally great, that it was the Cause, neither of those Passions had quite the power to exasperate their Spirits, and transport them beyond their natural bounds.
    They stept into the Bed at the same time, with all the gentleness and reservedness imaginable, and with trembling Hands, and aking Hearts, stretcht forth their Arms to feel out for the Prey, they met one anothers Hand, and at the very first touch pull’d them back, as if each had met with a Viper, not without a strange surprisal, and both lay quiet a while after, which endeavouring to inform themselves better with their Legs, they approach’d them towards the middle of the Bed, with as little satisfaction as they had receiv’d from their Hands, but with much more apprehensions: At last the boldest of the two had so much Courage as to lay his Hand on the others Face and Head, which having fully informed him, that it was a man he had felt, and that having emboldened the other to do the same, as much by way of prevention or defence, as to satisfie any further his Curiosity, they at last through fear of danger, did seize one another so hard, that the smart caus’d them each to offend his Enemy as much as he could, in order to secure themselves: these seising at last came to blows; and they were accompanied by words, and in the bustle and confusion of the Combat, holding still one another very fast with one Hand, while they laid on with the other, they at last came down on the floor together…

Okay…classy and high-brow it ain’t; but I’ll take it over rape jokes any day.

11/08/2013

The Amours Of Messalina

amoursofmessalina1…early the next Morning she receives the glad Tidings that a Man Child was born, which with all speed was convey’d to the Dormitory adjoining to her Bed-Chamber, in the same reeking Circumstances it was Born in, and having before taken care for the conducting of it to the Queens Bed, the Alarm is given at Alba Regalis that the Queen was in Labour… Now the pretended Prince being Born the Pagans of Albion began their Jubilee, Laroon Governor of Iberia began to double the persecution of the Christians there, Polydorus by a strict Alliance and LEAGUE with Lycogenes, thinks of nothing but a Universal Monarchy, Lycogenes doubles the Oppressions of his Christian Subjects, Messalina boasts of the downfall of Heresie, and a perpetual Regency, during her Life: The poor Christians, especially the Albionites, though something apprehensive of the Consequences of this Intrigue, were yet by their constant Remarques of all Transactions since the Report of Messalina’s Conception sufficiently satisfied of the fallacy and cheat, and resolv’d on measures which they doubted not would in a little time unravel the whole Mystery.

The political writing that had been so sternly suppressed under James II came roaring back with a vengeance following the Glorious Revolution. The public stance was that the removal of James was right and proper, but a need for justification showed itself in an explosion of revisionist histories published early in 1689, as well as in the return of the roman à clef.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this school of writing is how swiftly James became irrelevant once the idea of the “sham prince” had taken hold. Feared as a monarch, in the political writings of mid-1688 onwards he appears variously as a cuckold, a buffoon, and an object of pity. The kinder versions of events present him as tragically misguided, led astray by the wicked machinations of the Pope, Louis XIV and/or his own wife. And as James recedes in these writings, Mary of Modena takes centre-stage.

The virulence of some of the attacks made upon Mary at this time make for uncomfortable reading—particularly in light of the fact that the grounds of those attacks were pure invention, as the people making them were well aware. The invention of the sham prince not only allowed, but demanded, a retconning of events that turned Mary into a dangerous enemy willing to do anything to bring England to its knees under the dual yokes of France and Catholicism. Nevertheless, in these writings her alleged religious and political conspiracies almost invariably take a backseat to lurid imaginings of her sexual misconduct.

Early in 1689 was published a roman à clef that is typical of the kinds of attacks made upon the departed royals at the time, yet different in tone and execution from most of its brethren. As tends to be the case with this branch of writing, the origins of The Amours Of Messalina are somewhat murky. Though presented as by “a Woman of Quality, a late Confident of Queen Messalina”, it is believed to be the work of an Italian, Gregorio Leti, a Milanese historian who converted to Protestantism and became known for his anti-Catholic, and in particular anti-papal, views; his biography of Pope Sixtus V (who was largely responsible for shaping Catholic thinking on contraception and abortion) is considered inaccurate and scurrilous. Leti spent some time at the courts of both France and England, publishing the first biography of Elizabeth I during the latter period. However, in 1680 he managed to offend Charles II with his satirical publication Il Teatro Britannico and fled to Amsterdam, where he spent the rest of his life.

Amsterdam, as we have seen before, was the origin of many notorious publications of this era. It was also the centre for translated works that were from there dispersed across Europe, which made it particularly useful for those wishing to disguise the true origins of a particular work. Thus the English-language version of The Amours Of Messalina asserts that it was translated from the French, while the French-language version has it as translated from English.

(Whichever language it was first written in, the most outstanding feature of The Amours Of Messalina is its run-on sentences, which are as extreme as anything I’ve come across. See, for a typical example, the first quotation below.)

I have mentioned the peculiar tone of The Amours Of Messalina, which is easier to understand once the document’s authorship is considered. While it unblushingly asserts the truth of the “sham prince” accusations, and while it describes in detail the alleged sexual intrigue of Mary of Modena with Ferdinanda d’Adda, the papal nuncio, the whole story is presented from the perspective of Mary and her courtiers. As such, the imposition of a false Prince of Wales is treated as reasonable and, indeed, the only thing to be done under the circumstances. The villain here is not Mary, but the Pope (or “Boanerges the High Priest”, as he is called) and his minions, particularly the “Jebusites”. Mary, being Catholic, simply doesn’t know any better. The text deplores her influence upon James, but does not blame her.

For the most part the disguises worn by the characters in The Amours Of Messalina are exceedingly transparent. Albion (England) is peaceful and prosperous under Brotomandes (Charles II), but trouble starts when he dies and is succeeded by his brother, Lycogenes (James II), who was once a brave and noble prince, but is now nothing more than a tool in the hands of Boanerges and Polydorus, King of Gothland (Louis XIV). His marriage to Messalina is the beginning of the end: she has been sent to England on a mission to re-establish once and for all the Pagan religion (Catholicism), and to extirpate, along with all of its followers if necessary, the Christian faith (Protestantism):

He at last dying, without lawful issue, Lycogenes the Second, his only Brother, succeeded, a Prince who in his Youth and Adversity gave so signal proofs of his Virtue and Gallantry, that he render’d himself the Admiration of Foreign Countries, and the Delight and Love of his own, but (I know not by what unhappy Counsels thereunto incited) after his coming to the Crown of Albion, he committed so many Irregularities against even the Peace and Safety of his own People, that they were obliged to call in Anaximander, Prince of the Low Lands, to their assistance to defend their Lives, which they affirm’d Lycogenes had expos’d and sold to Polydorus King of the Gaules, and to recover their Rights and Liberties which, they say, their King had encroach’d upon and taken from them: Lycogenes had by his first Wife (who was Daughter to a Noble Peer of Albion) two lovely Princesses to his Daughters, the Eldest called Artemisia, Married to Anaximander, the other Philadelphia, Married to Polycrates the Northern Prince. His second Wife was Messalina, Daughter of a Huge Prince in Italy, and nearly related to Boanerges the High-Priest, a Lady sent by Heaven to determine the Fate of Poor Lycogenes, and to ruine the growing greatness of the Pagan Interest in the Kingdom of Albion.

It is, of course, true that the Pope persuaded Mary to accept James’s proposal of marriage. Then a devout fifteen-year-old, Mary wanted only to enter a convent, and recoiled from the thought of marriage in general, and the forty-year-old James in particular, but was finally convinced that her true duty was to assist with the re-establishment of Catholicism in England.

The passage quoted above comes at the outset of The Amours Of Messalina. After presenting this overview, the text then goes on to explain in detail how “Messalina” went about determining the fate of her husband and her religion. Note the use of the expression “Poor Lycogenes”: this is the attitude of the entire document, and indeed almost every reference to Lycogenes comes qualified with a pitying “Poor”.

While, as I say, most of the disguises in The Amours Of Messalina are easily seen through, I confess that I was deeply confused by the identities of two of Messalina’s co-conspirators, “Count Davila” and “Father Pedro”. In this I was somewhat led astray by our previous dip into the murky waters of political propagandising, The Sham Prince Expos’d. As we have discussed before, the attacks on James and Mary at this time were two-pronged, offering up the mutually exclusive yet equally damaging visions of the new Prince of Wales being either the result of Mary’s infidelity, or not actually Mary’s child at all, but a substitute. For those propagandists who favoured the first alternative, the overwhelming favourite for the role of Mary’s lover was – of course – Father d’Adda. However, there was a second favourite I have not been able to identify by name, who figures in The Sham Prince Expos’d simply as “the Italian Count”.

Consequently, when an Italian Count showed up in The Amours Of Messalina, I assumed it was the same person, with Father d’Adda figuring as “Father Pedro”. However, the key to the work (belatedly appended to the fourth part, along with the rather hurtful explanation that, The Bookseller has been Advised to Add the following Key, for the benefit of the meanest Capacity, in understanding the whole History of Messalina) reveals that “Count Davila” is supposed to be Father d’Adda, while “Father Pedro” is the Jesuit Peters—or rather, Sir Edward Petre, an English Jesuit who was appointed privy councillor under James.

 The Amours Of Messalina offers both versions of the baby’s origin. With “Poor Lycogenes” in declining health, syphilitic and impotent, the worried conclave sees its chance of propagating Paganism in Albion slipping away. It is finally agreed that their only hope is for Messalina to bear a son, in conjunction with herself being named Regent in the event of Lycogenes’ death. Since Lycogenes himself is unable to father a child, the conspirators must decide whether it is best for Mary to bear a child fathered by another man, or whether, in order to ensure that the baby is a boy, they should fake a pregnancy and supply a substitute prince. Messalina decides to do both: she will take on the task of falling pregnant, while her conspirators make the arrangements for faking a birth, should it prove necessary.

And having made this decision, Messalina throws herself into her task with great enthusiasm:

The Queen who by the several remonstrances of her three Counsellors had been both press’d and convinc’d of the danger of her Affairs, and being partly overcome by the Solicitations and Endearments of the Count in particular, resolv’d now to give a loose to her natural inclinations, and thereupon turning to the Count, in a soft languishing Tone she reply’d, I must at length, dear Davila, confess my own Frailty and thy Power, my haughty mind I see at last will stoop, and thou art Born to be my Conqueror… Raising the Count, who at every Word was pressing and kissing her fair Hand, she threw her Arms about his Neck, and in Amorous Sighs and Murmurs she Whisper’d her Wishes in his Ears…

But Messalina does not conceive with Davila any more than she did with Lycogenes, and at last it is realised that the substitution must go ahead. Several young pregnant women, all due to give birth around the same time, are kept in seclusion, while Messalina goes through the motions of pregnancy, fretting over the possibility of a miscarriage and giving voice to her hopes and fears, but not letting anyone – particularly not the deeply suspicious Philadelphia – get too close to her or touch her.

The Pagans of Albion are enlisted to lend the strength of their prayers to the task of producing a Catholic Prince of Wales:

…as a Prologue to their intended Villainy, they give out, among their own Party, at least, the necessity of Unity in their Prayers to their Saints and the Deity, to send their Majesty an Heir to succeed him in his Throne and Dominions, and to settle their Holy Religion in this Heretical Land, they cause Processions and Pilgrimages, Offerings and Supplications, to be made… Such are the practices of the Pagan Religion, that the greatest Villainies and Rogueries they intend to commit are still preceded and usher’d in with great appearances of Sanctity…

The confidence expressed beforehand by Catholics and Tories that Mary’s baby would be a boy played right into the hands of their opponents, who made this apparent prior knowledge the basis of their conspiracy theories about the child’s origins. Here, of course, everyone is quite right to be suspicious; the confusion of Mary’s due date, which gave her enemies more ammunition, is also referenced:

Besides, the Confidence of the Pagan Party did strangely startle the People, when like Oracles they would affirm that of necessity it must be a Prince: These and many other material circumstances made the Albionites talk broadly of the business; nor were Lycogenes and Messalina ignorant of their Sentiments; however having the Power absolutely in their hands, they were resolved to cut that knot which they found impossible to untie, and since they had thus far advanced in a business of that importance, they resolv’d to go through and bring it about, though with a thousand absurdities and incoherencies; for besides the alteration of her Reckoning, which proceeded partly from a fear of disappointment if the Woman that came first should have brought forth a Girl, but chiefly to amuse the Nobility and Gentry of the Court and Kingdom, who would doubtless have made it their business in behalf of the Princess Artemesia and the Kingdom, to attend and watch that all things might have been carryed fairly and above board…

In April of 1688, seven bishops including the Archbishop of Canterbury were arrested and charged with seditious libel after publishing their petition against James’ religious policies as a broadsheet; their subsequent acquittal was a huge blow to James and indicative of his increasingly shaky standing. In The Amours Of Messalina, however, the arrest of the bishops is all part of the plot:

Lycogenes was unluckily put in mind that by the Laws of Albion the presence of one or more of the Christian Prelates was to be at the Birth of every Royal Infant indispensably required; to resolve this difficulty a Council is immediately call’d, and after sundry debates it is concluded, that some way or other must be found to bring all or most of the dissenting part into a premunire, and so by aggravation either to endanger their lives, or at least to clap them up and secure them till the Queens Delivery; accordingly a flaw was immediately found and the Prelates forthwith confin’d…

There is indeed a false alarm when the first young woman gives birth to a girl, but with the second a sham prince is at the conspirators’ disposal, and Messalina “goes into labour”. Of this plot, if not the former, Lycogenes is fully cognisant, and plays his part by drawing away many of the courtiers who might otherwise insist on being present at “the birth”. A special, oversized, velvet-lined warming-pan has been devised for the transportation of the infant, which is smuggled into Messalina’s bed and subsequently produced in triumph.

Now feeling secure, Lycogenes begins to grant more and more privileges to the Pagans, even breaking the laws of Albion to do so. Torn between their duty to their country and their religion on one hand, and  to their king on the other, the Christians finally decide to petition Anaximander…

The Amours Of Messalina puts a spin on all the events that led up to the Glorious Revolution, presenting all the unsupported accusations made against James and Mary as based on fact and their removal as therefore right and proper. So intent is it upon its revisionism, it even manages the not inconsiderable task of being unjust to Judge George Jeffreys, then Lord Chancellor. As James pursued his increasingly open pro-Catholic policy, there was a growing fear amongst the English people that he might bring in French troops to enforce his position, particularly in light of the angry response of the army to Catholic military appointments. The Amours Of Messalina raises this particular spectre, but blunders by putting the prospect into the mouth of “Poliorcetes the Chancellor”, who also longs for the chance to assist the spread of Paganism by slaughtering more Christians. In spite of all his dirty work for James, Jeffreys was a staunch Protestant:  amusingly, the text manages to hit upon two things he would not have been guilty of, whatever his other excesses. (Mentions of Poliorcetes’ love of “fire and sword”, and a satirical reference to him as “the chief Judge of Conscience”, hit closer to the mark.)

Also amusing is that Monmouth appears at this point as “Perkin”. As we saw in the context of The Sham Prince Expos’d, Perkin Warbeck was a pretender to the throne of Henry VII. Finally admitting (albeit under torture) that he was an imposter, he was condemned and executed. Subsequently, “Perkin Warbeck”, or simply “Perkin”, became slang for any kind of audacious imposture; understandably, the term swiftly found its way into the armoury of those opposed to James. In particular, it became a favourite word with the future Queen Anne, who bought with great enthusiasm into the “sham prince” fantasy and never allowed that James Francis Edward was any blood relative of hers. Finding the expression put into the mouths of the “Pagans” and applied to Monmouth’s pretensions to the throne gives us a very good idea of Gregorio Leti’s opinion of him.

William of Orange, on the other hand, is everything that is noble and disinterested, desiring only to defend his faith and his wife’s interests:

When they plainly saw, their Own, and the Kingdoms Interest, resolved to be made a Sacrifice to the Ambition, and Covetousness of a small Party, that by the known Laws of the Land, were declared the irreconcileable Enemies of the Christians; they thought it then high time to look about them, and though they paid all the Reverence imaginable to the King, their Father; yet they could not resolve to yield their Rights and Inheritance, and hold precariously their Estates, at the Discretion of an Anti-Christian pack’d Councel… Anaximander, being a Prince of a Vast and Generous Spirit, was easily induc’d to condescend to their Relief; for, besides his proper Interest in the Crown of Albion, which by the common Principles of Nature, he was obliged to Maintain and Defend; he often would resolve on the Glory of the Action, and how Heroick and God-like it would shew, to appear the Great and Glorious Champion of the Christian Religion, which by a Secret League, between Polydorus King of the Gauls, and the King Lycogenes, was resolved to be wholly Extirpated…

In growing panic, the Pagans send their agents out amongst the people to try and win support for Lycogenes and to turn them against Anaximander, but to no avail:

And Father Pedro calling a convocation of his inferior Priests, makes them Dis-robe, and in disguise to mingle among the Christian Assemblies…and there with Confidence to utter false Reports, to lessen the Strength of Anaximander, to cry up the miseries of a Civil War, to Extol the Loyalty of the King’s Christian Subjects, to make comparison between young Perkin’s Expedition and this… Renegade Christian Divines, were ordered to Preach up the necessity of Obedience and Loyalty, to withstand the Prince in his Attempts, and to brand his Expedition with the horrible Title of Invasion. These, and many other Arts were used to take off the Edge of Anaximander’s Sword; sometimes they’d Brand His Royal Person with base and ignominious Names; other times they would think to terrifie the Rebels (as they would call all that would assist him) with the Exemplary Punishments, inflicted by the Chancellor Poliorcetes, in his bloody Western Campaign: But all would not do, the Christians knew the Pagan Punick Faith, as well as Inhumane Cruelty, they saw their Laws, their Liberties, and Lives at Stake; and that now was the only time to assert and recover them…

The Amours Of Messalina sticks briefly with the facts at this point, as Lycogenes vacillates over his response to Anaximander’s approach, trying to gauge how much support the venture is likely to find amongst the Albionites and who, if anyone, he can rely upon; while the narrative becomes openly pitying, lamenting James’ fall, his many mistakes, and ignominious retreat—but placing the blame elsewhere:

And now the Thread of Poor Lycogenes his Fate began to crack, now he could plainly see the errours of his Government, and when it was unhappily too late, might Curse the base designs of his pernicious Counsellors: now he was forc’d to stoop that Glorious Lofty Heart, which dauntless heretofore had braved the mightiest force of Europe. How was he chang’d, alas, from that brave Invincible Lycogenes, that did through Clouds of Smoake and Fire, Charge through the Belgian Fleet, and with fresh Lawrels Crown’d, return’d in Triumph to his joyfull Country: now every little Western breeze that heretofore did serve to blow and kindle up his flaming Courage, like some cold Pestilential air damps his Misgiving Soul; now Poor, forsaken of himself he stands, Conscience alone of Ills past done remains his tiresome guest: Attend ye cursed race of wicked Jebusites, see the Prodigious effects of your Pernicious Councels, ye Cloggs to Crowns, and bane of Power.

But on the back of this the narrative effectively dismisses Lycogenes, instead following Messalina to the court of Polydorus, who no sooner lays eyes upon her than he determines upon making her his mistress. Messalina sees this at once and, for that matter, has every intent of satisfying his desires and her own; although she strings Polydorus along for a time first, making a great show of her honour and chastity. At this point the whole exercise degenerates into a farcical bit of amatory writing, with Polydorus sleeping with the baby’s nurse by mistake before he and Messalina finally begin their affair, and with Messalina simultaneously pursued by the Dauphin. It was a common slander that Mary of Modena was (or became) the mistress of Louis XIV, but even so these ribald sexual manoeuvrings make for a peculiar conclusion.

18/12/2010

Charles II: The Power & The Passion (Parts 3&4)

Charles II: The Power & The Passion (2003)  Director:  Joe Wright  Screenplay:  Adrian Hodges  Starring: Rufus Sewell, Rupert Graves, Martin Freeman, Charlie Creed-Miles, Shirley Henderson, Helen McCrory, Christian Coulson, Ian McDiarmid, Shaun Dingwall, Emma Pierson, Mélanie Thierry, David Bradley, Eddie Marsan, Diana Rigg, Tabitha Wady, Anne-Marie Duff, Thierry Perkins-Lyautey, Jochum ten Haaf, Alice Patten, Cyrille Thouvenin, Robert Kavanah, Simon Woods, Robert East, Dorian Lough, Rob Jarvis

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Part 3 of Charles II: The Power & The Passion opens in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, with the anti-Catholic rumblings that formed a background for much of the earlier drama coming to the fore: while there are some who see the fire as a judgement upon Charles and his court, far more are lending an ear to the story of the “Papist” who was seen running through Pudding Lane with a torch. As a weary Charles comments later, when people have lost everything, it’s no use trying to tell them it was just an accident. It is the end of any hope for religious tolerance, and he knows it.

In Versailles, Charles’s mother is dying. Her last words to her daughter, Henrietta Anne (Ann-Marie Duff), known as “Minette”, are of Charles: that he must be made to see how Louis XIV (Thierry Perkins-Lyautey) can help him, and that he must die a Catholic. Afterwards, Minette is approached by Louis, who is also her brother-in-law. He, too, speaks of Charles, in bitter reference to the Triple Alliance, England’s pact with Sweden and Holland. Minette argues that the pact was Parliament’s doing, not Charles’s, and Louis responds by ordering her to England, with an offer of his friendship – a very generous friendship – should he convert to Catholicism.

There are only the vaguest allusions here, mostly through the mutterings of the eternally sneering Buckingham, to the rumours that Minette and Louis were lovers (some claim he was the real father of her eldest child), but it does make her husband, the Duc D’Orleans (Cyrille Thouvenin), known as “Monsieur”, not only openly homosexual but violently abusive.

Back in England, Charles has things other than religion on his mind. Well, not his mind, exactly: a young actress called Nell Gwynn (Emma Pierson) has caught his attention, which is just too bad for Barbara Villiers, whose star begins to fade as Nell’s rises, and whose latest baby is disclaimed by its putative father. Barbara’s spiralling debauchery and extravagance have Charles’s ministers and followers baying for her blood, although her final eviction does not come until Charles catches her in bed with a young John Churchill (Simon Woods). The series chooses a slightly more dignified encounter with Charles for the future Duke of Marlborough than history usually allows, which generally has him either hiding from his king in a cupboard, or jumping out of the window to avoid him. This version has him admitting he took money from an “insistent” Barbara in exchange for his services. (Come to think of it, is that more dignified?)

Meanwhile, Nell is going from strength to strength: Charles buys her a house, Sir Peter Lely paints her portrait, and as she lolls about in the company of Charles, Buckingham and the Earl of Rochester (Robert Cavanah), the latter composes his famous (and much re-written) epigram on Charles, who gives his equally famous retort.

In the face of Charles’s general intransigence, Parliament begins to tighten the financial screws on him, meaning that when Minette makes her visit, she finds her brother in a receptive mood. Charles’s ministers look on apprehensively, interpreting this “family visit”, this “visit for her health”, quite correctly. When the terms of Louis’ cash offer to Charles are made known – to recognise his sovereignty over the Netherlands, to support him against the Dutch, to declare war against the Dutch themselves, as soon as an excuse is found – the ministers, Shaftesbury in particular, are outraged, demanding to know what Parliament will think of Charles taking French money to rule alone?

Charles responds coolly that Parliament will know nothing of the situation, because no-one in the room will speak of it – and what’s more, each of his ministers will sign his name to the treaty. Slowly, with shame and reluctance, they do. It is Shaftesbury who hesitates the longest, but in the end even he does as he is told. Buckingham, meanwhile, is disturbed and angry at the realisation that Charles trusted the Earl of Danby (Shaun Dingwall) with his decision, rather than himself, and begins his drift towards opposition.

But Shaftesbury & Co. don’t know the half of it. In a private meeting, Charles and Minette discuss the other part of Louis’ offer: enough money to rule without Parliament, in exchange for Charles’s conversion to Catholicism. In one of his ugliest manoeuvres, Charles does not sign the secret treaty himself, but maintains plausible deniability by compelling his two Catholic ministers, Lord Arlington (Robert East) and Sir Thomas Clifford (Dorian Lough) to sign it instead. It is only Minette who dares voice the truth of the situation: that Charles has no intention of converting, but every intention of taking Louis’ money.

Minette’s visit to England may not have been for her health, as contended, but she is ill – for the simple reason that she is being poisoned. She dies shortly after her return to France. Although the official verdict on Minette’s sudden death was peritonitis, there has always been a strong belief that she was murdered, probably by her husband. This is how her death is presented here, with perhaps just a faint underlying  implication that, having served her purpose in getting the treaties signed, she is then disposed of.

Minette’s lady-in-waiting during her visit to England was the young and beautiful Louise de Kéroualle (Mélanie Thierry), who instantly caught Charles’s eye – although with Minette guarding her, nothing happened. Now, Louise is recruited by Louis and given the mission of returning to England, where she will share Charles’s bed (share being the operative word, I guess) and act as Louis’s spy. The carrot dangled is the prospect of Catherine’s premature death and Charles’s subsequent need for a new queen…although as it turned out, Catherine not surprisingly outlived her profligate husband by some twenty years. Louise is soon revealed as a very clumsy spy, and Charles isn’t fooled for a moment – but what the hey, he sleeps with her anyway.

And the visitors just keep coming, as Charles affectionately embraces his nephew, William of Orange (Jochum ten Haaf). William himself is less kindly intentioned, accusing Charles openly of being either bribed or tricked by Louis, and on that basis declaring war on the Dutch. Assuming that William has come to make terms, Charles turns the other cheek to this, but he is soon disabused. Declaring that Holland has not surrendered and will not surrender, William adds that if England wants to offer terms, he will listen; that England cannot afford to fight indefinitely; that, after all, it is only a matter of time before Parliament cuts Charles’s supply. “When you are ready to talk sensibly, you will not find me unreasonable,” he says calmly. As William bows himself out, Charles gives a half-smile, obviously impressed with his nephew’s cojones – and, perhaps, his grasp of English politics.

The Duchess of York dies, and almost before her body is cold, James announces to Charles his intention of marrying Mary of Modena. Charles begins with dissuasion and progresses to forbidding the match – and is ignored. Here, for the first time, is mooted the possibility of James’s exclusion from the line of succession. A meeting of Charles and James with the ministry rapidly turns violent, with accusations of loyalty to the Pope on one hand provoking an explosion against the bastard usurper, Elizabeth from James. “The sooner the country should be brought back to the path of righteousness, the better for us all!”

And that, of course, is that. As Charles closes his eyes in silent pain and Buckingham drops his head into his hands, the battle-lines are drawn. The Protestant ministers insist upon the Test Act being enforced, the first consequence of which is the resignation of Arlington. Soon afterwards, Buckingham makes his way to a certain coffee-house, where he meets with Shaftesbury. Buckingham begins by protesting that he is Charles’s friend and loyal subject, but soon learns that it is he who has been betrayed, when Shaftesbury reveals what he has discovered about the second secret treaty: “One which bound King Charles to take the Catholic faith, in exchange for French gold and a Papist army to suppress his own people.” As Buckingham chews this over, Shaftesbury proposes two possible courses of action: Charles can divorce Catherine and re-marry; or if not, well, he already has a Protestant son…

So we stand at the conclusion of Part 3 of this series, which is, as we have seen, crammed with incident and quite compelling. Part 4, however, is—well, actually, I can tell you exactly what’s wrong with Part 4. This series came to me as a two-disc set, with the first three episodes on Disc 1. When I put in Disc 2, I expected there to be another three episodes. There was one.

It’s only a personal irony, of course, but given that it was the events of the following years, the years of the Popish Plot and the Exclusion Crisis, that led me to watch this series in the first place, I couldn’t help feeling rather let down that it was exactly those events, of all things, that it chose to skimp on. Even the bloodbath brought on by the Popish Plot is skimped! And yes, I suppose the Popish Plot and the Exclusion Crisis did consist predominantly of a great deal of arguing in the House of Commons, and of pamphlets in the bookstores, rather than anything “dramatic” – but really, this whole episode feels rushed and unsatisfying, particularly in the way in which it concludes.

The other striking thing about this episode is that, having kept a fair balance to this point, from here it increasingly asks the viewer to sympathise with Charles. It emphasises his growing isolation, both emotionally and politically (irony of ironies, he really only has Catherine to rely on – in both capacities), and the ultimate futility of his determination to hold on to the crown and the succession. On the back of his various mistakes, stupidities and duplicities, the sudden emergence towards the end of an all-wise and all-seeing Charles (even though it is only for the sake of dramatic convenience) is particularly discomforting. So too is the tone of the final parliamentary scene, when Charles confronts his enemies in full monarchical regalia: Ooh, look, isn’t he handsome in his robes and crown? He must be right after all!

We open in the earliest days of the Popish Plot, with Christopher Kirkby (Rob Jarvis) bringing the “found” written proof of the conspiracy to Lord Danby, and accusing the Jesuits in general, and Sir George Wakeman, Catherine’s physician, in particular, of plotting to assassinate Charles. He tells Danby that he got the papers from one Israel Tonge, who in turn received them from a man called Titus Oates (Eddie Marsan). These two are summoned to Whitehall, where Oates insists that the Pope and Louis XIV are behind the conspiracy, and that Catherine and James are both privy to it. This is enough to bring Charles, who has been listening secretly to the interrogation, into the room, where he demands the names of the Catholic conspirators. After only a slight hesitation, Oates names all of England’s most prominent Catholic noblemen, along with Sir George Wakeman and Edward Coleman, Mary of Modena’s secretary.

Having listened to all this with an unconcealed scepticism amounting almost to amusement, Charles fastens upon Oates’ insistence that he originally became aware of the plot by overhearing details of it within the queen’s household during one of his visits to the palace on business. Reasoning that Oates must, therefore, know his way around Whitehall very well, Charles asks him to lead the way to the spot where he overheard the plot – a test that ends with an embarrassing encounter with the Royal Water Closet. For Charles, this says it all.

Now, oddly enough, we get the one point in this episode in which it is profoundly unjust to Charles, and where I am prepared to defend him. We can criticise him for many, many things, but he certainly did not just turn his back upon events at this juncture and leave Parliament to “deal with it”, and expect it to be done – while he, mind you, went off to the races! On the contrary, Charles tried repeatedly to expose the plot as false and prevent the rush of events, but was out-manoeuvred and finally backed into a corner by a Parliament that had no intention of letting such an opportunity slip, no matter how much innocent blood might be spilled as a result. Here, we get a crude shorthand of these events when Buckingham beats the real story out of Oates – that the plot was his revenge upon the Catholics for his expulsion from a Jesuit seminary under accusations of attempted sodomy – and then warns him to keep his mouth shut, or else. Before long, “the truth” is all over England.

Strangely, the extent of the Catholic massacre is very much played down here, with only the executions of Edward Coleman and, eventually, that of  Viscount Stafford, one of the Catholic nobles, foregrounded. These events prompt Charles to send a seething and mistrustful James into exile, so that “the people’s grievance” may be kept out of their sight for a while. Meanwhile, Shaftesbury’s health is failing, and with his time running out, he ups the ante and begins taking dangerous action against Charles.

First, he and Buckingham lure Monmouth into their own plots with the prospect of the crown. (These scenes make it very clear that Monmouth’s attraction for Parliament lie as much in his vanity and weakness, which make him easy to manipulate, as in his Protestantism.) Shaftesbury then reveals to Parliament copies of letters written by Lord Danby, which make reference to the secret treaty with France, and introduces the Exclusion Bill. All this leads to another scene of Charles averting his eyes from his most loyal supporter, in this case Danby, and then throwing him to the wolves…

…but he does save Danby’s life, when Shaftesbury and Buckingham are clamouring for his execution; although it is evident that Danby’s head is their bargaining chip, which they intend to exchange for James’s exclusion from the succession. Thwarted in this, the pair arrange instead for the conviction and condemning of Lord Stafford – an act that requires Charles either to acquiesce to the judicial murder of a loyal and innocent man, or to spare him and damn himself with the English people. Charles is fully aware that if he pardons Stafford, he will give Parliament exactly the weapon it wants. He tries to make Stafford “confess”, arguing that he can then save his life, but Stafford won’t buy his life with a false oath. Still Charles hesitates. It is Catherine who convinces him that he must proceed, or he will lose everything he has fought for – and proceed he does…

In the middle of all this, the series pauses to give us Nell Gwynn’s moment of transcendant glory when, having been taken for that of “that Papist whore”, meaning Louise de Kéroualle, her coach is violently attacked by the London mob: “Good people, you are mistaken. I am the Protestant whore!”

Meanwhile, Monmouth has been on a “publicity tour”, travelling the country and gaining the affection and support of the people – which doesn’t exactly endear him to his father. It is here that the series begins to give us a Charles who is mysteriously prescient about future events, in this case telling Monmouth that he will never be king, and that if he kicks against this fate, he will die a traitor’s death. He then sends Monmouth, too, into exile, telling him on no account to return until summoned. But come back he does, on Shaftesbury’s command…

And here we jump abruptly to the dissolution of Parliament at Oxford, Charles’s supreme moment of individual defiance, and the final defeat of the Exclusionists. In the wake of this, a bewildered Monmouth is sent into permanent exile, a cynical Buckingham simply shrugs and withdraws from politics, while for Shaftesbury, his own mortality staring him in the face, it is the end of everything.

And then we jump again to the series’ uncomfortably awkward final scenes, which has all of the remaining characters (those not in exile) passing their time together, while the suddenly all-knowing Charles predicts each and every one of the various events that will transpire over the next four or five years. Frankly, I find the potted-history approach used here rather irritating. We could have had the Rye House Plot instead of this. Anyway, the series proper concludes when Charles suffers a stroke, but staggers out to his father’s portrait and appeals desperately for his approval before collapsing. In the wake of Charles’s death, we get still more potted history, with each character reciting his or her own fate, which in the case of William of Orange means ascending to the English throne – but it is Charles in voiceover who gets the final word. These closing moments carry far more of a sense of what England lost with the passing of Charles, than of what it gained.