Having fled the chaos of Colchester and St Johns Abbey, Elizabeth and her brood of Lucases are now in London. This seems odd, for a group of royalists to flee to the capital of the parliamentary cause which her family had and would fight against; but these are early days in the civil wars, things are not yet clear, or binary. There were still many royalists in the city – but they’ll start leaving now in an increasing flood for two reasons. Firstly the lines of war become hardened – after Charles’ attempt at seizing the capital had been turned aside in November 1642, it became clear this thing would not be over soon. And secondly for the moment it’s difficult to know where to go to – which becomes much clearer once Charles establishes Oxford as his capital.
For the moment the Lucases moved to their town house, or could lodge with relatives in Bedford and Inigo Jones’ development at Covent Garden. There lived Margaret’s favourite sister Catherine who had married a Pye. I did like writing that line, but in all honesty I should make the point that Catherine Lucas hadn’t married a meat pie, or a chicken and mushroom pasty, she’d married a wealthy Londoner, Edmund Pye. Many royalist families split their options to try and keep body and soul together. The royalist Marmaduke Rawden, for example, made over a lot of his property to his son, and his lad stayed in London while Marmaduke went to the king at Oxford. This didn’t always work, the parliamentarians were not idiots, but it works in Elizabeth Lucas’ case. She stays in London throughout the war, conforms to the demands of the government, and therefore continues to hold her estates that she held as her jointure, and draw income from them. All her three sons, however have their estates sequestered, given they are loyal servants of the rightful king, or notorious malignants against the people, delete as applicable.
However, it did not take Margaret long to get itchy feet. Some of this was simply for want of anything better; London was not the kind of town any more in which it was easy for the Lucases to thrive; court was gone, and that had been the magnet for the lives of the upper classes, the drives in the park, the display of the grandest dress and fashions, the court masques; even in the play houses, the squeeze from the newly empowered Puritans in parliament would begin to be felt, and would be banned in 1644. For a young gentlewoman wanting to get on, court was the magnet, and court was no longer there – it was at Oxford. So Margaret wanted to go to Oxford.
Margaret’s later story was that she was keen to do her bit – she’d heard HM had not enough Maids of Honour in Oxford as befitted her station, and Margaret was keen to put that right. And as a good royalist, that’s probably true. But there are other reasons probably; one was that, as we’ve just said, if you wanted to get out and grow and see the world, then court was one of the very few places or a gentlewoman to escape the strict and stultifying confines of home life, of which you could have enough after 20 years; it was the place to meet powerful and high status people, to find yourself a good marriage; though on Margaret’s attitude to the position of women in marriage, more later.
But it could also be that Margaret was genuinely fired up about the thought of joining Henrietta Maria. Margaret will quickly grow into a writer that tells the world of the essentially rotten deal women get; the servitude of marriage, the lack of good education, the tightly narrow bounds within which they can exercise their ambition, and grow their fame. You’ll get to choose whether calling her a feminist or proto feminist or not a feminist is the right thing, but for sure Margaret demanded she have greater opportunities to win renown.
And if you were looking for a role model, and were of a royalist frame of mind, you could do worse than looking at Henrietta Maria. Not just because the Lucases had scoured the London pleasure gardens for a view of her in her magnificence and richness of dress; not just because of the masques for which she and the court had become famous, with Inigo Jones and Ben Jonson, though these would be reason enough. But she also represented another kind of model. The newssheets in London were full of Henrietta Maria. They were full of fury, of her ostentatious practice of Catholicism but they also accused her of wearing the trousers; it was she, they ranted, that was leading the king astray, usurping his male role. She was a player of power.
Well that struck a cord with Margaret. HM had already played a key role with a certain amout of swashbuckling by the time of Turnham Green in November 1642; she had escaped to the Low Countries and procured vast shipments of arms and supplies without which Charles may well not have been able to fight the Edgehill campaign. But in 1643 as she returned to Oxford from the continent she had gloried in a martial role. She had landed with troops and arms in Bridlington, under fire from Warwick’s fleet; she’d hooked up with the enormously wealthy royalist general of the North, William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle. It has to be said she wasn’t terribly impressed with Margaret’s future hub for ‘twas he; he was thoroughly literary – one wit wrote that he had the misfortune to be a poet – since he seemed to view the business of war as something that must not get in the way of his toilet – in the old sense of the word; so he didn’t get up until about 11 o’clock for example, when most of his men, the Whitecoats, had been up for hours.
HM negotiated fearlessly with the parliamentarians, and declared herself the Generalissima of the North. She set up at York and then led an army with Royalist commanders through the north and midlands, besieging towns as she went, to arrive triumphantly in Oxford. Margaret wrote a short play, lightly fictionalising her exploits; the play is described by one biographer as
a riot of imagined feminism and, quite literally, a call to arms.
In the play, Lady Victoria rebels against the fact that women are “kept as slaves forced to obey”, she raises an army of women dressed “like Amazons” and marching “by the sound of flutes” who “make [them]selves free”.
In point of fact of course while we are on it, although the play is a fiction, and although it’s vanishingly unlikely Margaret had any desire to do the Amazon thing herself, yet women did go to war.
You can find out much more on the history of England, about how Radicals like Katherine Chidley found a voice for women in religion, but Margaret would no doubt have been much more inspired by the likes of the Countess of Derby, resolutely defending Lathom House against all comers. She might not agree with her politics, but at this very time Brilliana Harley was doing the same in Herefordshire at Brampton Bryan house. Women got involved at all kinds of levels; Joan Batten in Bristol, for example, who with 200 other women begged the Parliamentarian governor not to surrender, and that they would
“work in the fortifications in the very face of the enemy”, and would go with their children “into the mouth of the canon to death and keep off the shot from the soldiers”.
To be fair, Joan was probably talking it up a bit, and as Rupert would also find out Bristol was pretty much indefensible, but fine words. Plenty of women also went to war to fight though; it’s impossible to know how much of it there was around, but it seems plenty of women dressed up in men’s clothing. This was a dangerous thing to do at the best of times, because cross dressing was a religious no-no. But they dressed up so they could go to the wars as soldiers. I say plenty, with no evidence of numbers, but it has to be considerable because there was enough of it going on to force Charles to make a proclamation banning it; it was also part of popular culture, such as the ballad
Put me on a man’s attire, Give me a soldier’s coat. I’ll make King Charles’s foes Quickly to change their note!
Which is catchy. Of course the largest single group of women in the war were those camp followers, women who either followed their husbands, or prostitutes who worked the camps. A pretty hard life I would have thought, think of all those sackings of baggage trains, and woe betide you if you were on the losing side in a battle, it could be brutal, rape and death was definitely an ever present danger.
Anyway, to a 20 year old with a cloistered life but a head full of imagination and ambition, HM and her court at Oxford sounded just the place to be. Just the ticket. The opportunity for Margaret to break out, in a court led by a Queen who had defied the restrictions forced on women, where there might be an opportunity for excitement and discovery.
Persuading Mum though was not the job of a moment, and I suspect a deal of nagging went on – and in the end any child worth their salt can wear a parent down with intelligent targeted persistence. And so it proved, – I wooed and won my mother to let me go’; and over the objections of pretty much all her siblings who said she was ‘too inexperienced in the world’; Margaret went to court.
By 1643, many royalists were leaving London to take themselves there as well; the afore mentioned Marmaduke Rawden for example. It was a dangerous journey; but both John and Edmund Pye had also set their hearts on going to join the king, and so there was a party of them that crossed the glory, but bandit ridden glory, of the Chiltern hills and arrived in Oxford.
Now. Presumably for a while for Madge everything was new and exciting. Oxford was groaning at the seams, stuffed full of royal army and court for which it was completely unprepared; other royalist families had arrived and instead of the nice comfortable houses, manors and estates they were used to, they found themselves sharing houses of all things. Anne Fanshaw arrived at a similar time, and wrote that they
Found ourselves like fishes out of water, and the scene so changed we knew not how to act
Basically the place had been converted for its new role; the King took over the Dean’s lodgings at Christchurch College, there were Law Courts, an Exchequer, Ordnance office, a magazine at New College, and mint at New Inn Hall. The place was filthy, the water courses completely unable to cope with the extra, um, effluent, wounded soldiers hung around at street corners, while society men and women and courtiers rubbed shoulders with a lot of academics who found the whole thing thoroughly off-putting. The Academic at least basically welcomed the king and his cause. The same could not be said for the townspeople.
When Henrietta Maria arrived, she took over Merton College and set up shop, just like Charles, with a mini court. They rigged up the corridor of power – the public Presence Chamber, Privy Chamber for household only, Withdrawing Chamber for the rich and powerful, and Bed Chamber for the very closest. Royal households were organised into above stairs and below stairs, and of course due to her social status, Margaret was destined for above stairs, but on the lower rung as a Maid of Honour. It was a start, and she would have the chance to make a name for herself. Around her though, was a cloud of courtiers trying to do the same thing. T would be a bit competitive.