Last time we heard about how the Lucas family fled their home in Colchester, tried to make a new life in London; but then, enticed by the romance and glamour of a life at court, and the satisfaction of serving their king, a gaggle of Lucci, including Margaret, left for the royal court at Oxford.
So Queen Henrietta Maria, Generalissima of the North, came and set up court at Merton College Oxford, and as I said last time established a corridor of power. And I am afraid her newest Maid of Honour, Margaret Lucas, would be terribly disappointed.
Charles and Maria had established a court that was in many ways quite unlike that of Charles’ father, James; it had none of the louche rather scandalous feel to it, the king was not an informal man. And Henrietta Maria, brought up in the much grander court in France was used to such protocols. She also very much followed the tradition of her deceased mother in law and established a reputation for putting on dramatic masques. Probably the masques were one of the few things Margaret did enjoy about court; they would very much have played to her talent for creativity, drama and especially her love of colour and dress. They were, by all accounts glittering affairs; though a few people did cast some shade on the Oxford versions – awfully cramped in that grotty little hall, so provincial, darling.
But normally it wasn’t the masque that dominated Margaret’s life, it was stultifying, oppressing, mind destroying formality and boredom. Each day Margaret would enter the guard chamber with her maid, and enter a closed community of about 200 people. She’d have to leave her servant Elizabeth Chaplain there – no servant allowed any further. The MoH would then go into the presence chamber around 11 o’clock in the morning where other courtiers would gather too. And mill, and goss. Then There’s be mass or in MC’s case, an Anglican service – not a choice that would have endeared her to the Queen. At the other end of the hall was a raised Dais, with the Queen on a throne under a cloth of state, and people, important people, would come to see her and ask questions. Margaret was not an important person. The MoH would wait for an order or request from their queen. Rarely did she do so – Margaret wrote that the Queen basically ignored her.
They’d spend most of the day hanging about trying to make conversation, play cards and so on, all the time watching the Queen waiting for some sign of life in their direction. There’d be lunch sometimes which was achingly formal, with only people serving the food allowed to come onto the carpet on which HM’s chair sat. Finally, business done, HM would withdraw into her Privy Chamber; MoH would only go in there when specifically invited. Margaret very rare got invited. Visitors were tightly controlled – women had to be baronesses or above, men Privy Councillors – not for nothing was this called the corridor of power. In the evening there’d be a bit more fun and conversation and an opportunity for gallant courtiers and MoH on the make, to catch the Queen’s eye, gain favour and all of that.
Well, it seems to me that the royal court provides reason enough for the abolition of the monarchy. Margaret duly joins a long tradition for whom the court was an advanced and exquisitely fiendishly designed instrument of mental torture; I think in the past we have talked about the likes of Walter Map and Peter of Blois burning the page with their frustration and despair of life at court. I imagine their heads would have exploded at the Tudor and Jacobean court. I came across a Walter Map quote quite by other chance on the vagaries of court promotion
‘favour comes regardless of merit . . . arrives obscurely from unknown causes’
The thing is that it was oppressive; the rules were strict, behaviour tightly defined, both hanky and panky discouraged as far as was possible given all the hormones swilling around in a small space. Margaret and all the MoH had a ‘Mother of all Maids’ looking over them, whose job it was to make sure they behaved themselves and didn’t have too much fun. Then despite all the sitting around, you couldn’t sit quietly in a corner listening to podcasts while waiting for orders – or read a book, less anachronistically; no no, you had to be on your best behaviour paying attention.
The people who won at this game were not imaginative, studious, introverted, and shy people like Margaret; they were the ones that flittered, sparkled with wit, looked great in a pair of puffy pants or a low cut tent of silk. Margaret had literally none of the skills. She had come from a quiet life, where she dreamed of a great future and extraordinary people and things, she’d had great freedom with her time. Now she was in a snake pit, and she could not compete. Jeffry Hudson, the Queen’s dwarf was constantly acerbically picking on the defenceless, since he was liberally taunted by the courtiers in turn; there were poisonous factions everywhere, the queen’s favourite Henry Jermyn constantly politicking and seeking to do-down any competitors.
The Queen herself was lively, vivacious, celebrated in the courtly idiom as the Queen of Love. Groups of well heeled young men and women sat around winning and losing vast quantities of cash playing cards – Margaret couldn’t even play, not that could she afford to gamble. She was overawed by the Queen and all these over confident, over privileged types – sounds like going to an Eton ball or something. She had no idea how to respond to those gallants who dared to court her or try to bring her out of herself.
I had no foundation to stand on or guide to direct me
Wrote Margaret later. She seems to have misunderstood the cliched jargon, and made a fool of herself, but defiantly felt it better to be
“accounted a fool than to be thought rude or wanton”.
Throughout her life Margaret had the gift or curse of being considered as something of a looker; but at court her terror and debilitating shyness made her seem unattractive
Lord how simply she looks!
What a dull eye she has!
Were two of the snide remarks that cut Margaret’s self esteem. Just like Walter de la Map, Margaret railed against the behaviour she saw
Nothing but prodigality, sloth and falsehood…faction, pride, ambition, luxury, covetousness, hate, slander, treachery, flattery…oft-times covered with a veil of smooth professions
Desperate, Margaret begged her mother to allow her to come home. Elizabeth wouldn’t hear of it – her daughter had her duty to do, and told her running away would disgrace them all.
The hideousness of this life was doubly painful for Margaret. Because while she couldn’t compete with this circus of vanities, she desired and courted fame; she was shy in this company, and she claimed not to necessarily want celebrity; but she was determined that she would light up the sky with her brilliance, and most importantly, that her talents and achievements would ensure that her name would live for ever.
“All I desire is fame, and fame is nothing but a great noise, and noise lives most in a multitude, therefore I wish my book may set a-work every tongue.”
So – this was not the start she had been looking for.
It was parliament General Fairfax, Oliver Cromwell, the Scots and all those folks who would give Margaret the room to shine. That’s a bit naughty of me, because Margaret would have hated thinking herself beholden in any way to the likes of a glorified farmer like Cromwell and his russet coated honest men, but in a rather tangential sense it is. Because the war starts not going as well as it might; I mean Charles and HM weren’t losing, but they weren’t smashing it either
I am so weary, not of being beaten but having heard it spoken
Moaned HM. So in 1644 wearied and hounded by the constant presence of war and the enemy, and 6 months pregnant, HM left Oxford.
She intended to take the waters at Bath, which she did, but then was forced to up sticks to Exeter on the South West coast, where in June 1644 she gave birth in a lot of pain by the sound of things. She suffered partial blindness and a suffocating pain in her chest. Worse, then a parliamentary army approached to besiege Exeter, so HM and her ladies fled, often tramping through the mud on foot. They took a ship, predictably the weather was rough and during the crossing, parliament’s ships fired on them, and HM cheered them all up by announcing that if they were in danger of being captured, the Captain had her orders to blow the ship to smithereens with everyone in it to avoid becoming a pawn of the rebels. Perfect. How they all cheered. Not.
Margaret was in the hold with the other ladies of the court. She would not be the first, nor the last, that believed she was going to die miserably for no reason in the bottom of a stinking little wooden tub; for some reason I am put in mind of William Marshall, who suffered the same feelings and then founded a monastery in Ireland to thank the Lord for his survival. This, wrote Margaret was where her life was going to end, where
My friends, or my honour is not concerned…but only my life unprofitably lost
Finally they were washed up on a beach in Brittany, bedraggled and looking less than regal. Once someone realised they were not beach bums, they were whipped off to the French court and welcomed with open arms. The royalist John Evelyn saw them all coming into the city of Tours in August, soldiers, clergy and townspeople cheering, formal speeches of welcome – the whole 9 yards. From there they went to Bourbon l’Archambault, and set up a court in exile, until the Queen had fully recovered and in November 1644 they set up shop in gay Paris.
As you can imagine, all of this made a great impression on a young budding artist – so much more fertile ground than the airless desert of court in Oxford – fleeing heroic princesses, mariners, storms, shipwrecks all would appear in later drama.
Of course Paris might be way bigger and sexier than Oxford – discuss, if there are any Oxensians in the crowd – the Louvre is quite an address and they had a country cottage in Saint Germain; but in the end a court is just a court, even if it’s on the moon – though true enough it’s even more airless on the moon. Though HM’s court now became a mecca for every exiled or down at the mouth royalist – they all flooded to the Queen’s side. Which made the court even more faction ridden of course, and now populated by a high proportion of losers. Sorry, that’s a bit of pro parliamentary banter. Ignore me.
Back in her native France, HM started speaking French at her court, and of course most of the cultured and cultivated courtiers could speak a wide range of lingos. But not Margaret. She hadn’t been raised and educated with all these skills, as Margaret had written
“my mother cared not so much for our dancing and fiddling, singing and prating of several languages, as that we should be bred virtuously”,
So virtuous, tick. Able to follow what was going on around her and take part at court – wha wha oops. This hit Margaret even harder than court life had before. She wrote herself that she was bashful and painfully shy at court, surrounded by all these brash, confident and competitive creatures. She was an emotional person, and there she was miles and miles away from home and all she loved; he began to suffer seriously from melancholia, depression. And you have to think that’s unsurprising.
Help though was on the way. Because back in blighty, Fairfax, Cromwell and the Scots realised she needed a companion, a soul mate for life, and so for that reason – and maybe possibly perhaps a few other reasons – they besieged the capital of the North, matchless York. Determined not to lose England’s jewel, Charles sent his finest, Prince Rupert of the Rhine to help the commander of the North. Prince Rupert also took his devil dog with him, Boy. So, that should make up for their lack of numbers.
As it happens it didn’t. Charles Lucas was there as it happens and had behaved with typical dash and courage, driving his opposing cavalry from the field, until a change in the fortunes of war saw his horse shot from under him, and he was captured. He would be freed in an exchange of prisoners, and fight on, at Berkeley Castle, and again at Stow on the Wold where he was captured again. There, in 1646 he gave his word of honour to Thomas Fairfax that he would not fight again in the cause of the king, and he was an honourable man, so Fairfax gladly accepted his parole. As it happens Charles Lucas was not quite as honourable as he was cracked up to be, and he and outraged royalists through the centuries, would have cause to regret that. Of which more in the future.
Anywho, so it’s not looking good for Peg, but as it happens the commander of the North who had had his arse kicked at Marston Moor was the very same William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle who had picked up Henrietta Maria when cruising Bridlington beach – a tradition which continues to this day, I am told, cruising wise. Although I can’t imagine it, there’s a wind that strips the flesh from your bones. Newcastle had without doubt spent a lot of money on the king’s cause, with absolute loyalty and freedom – later calculated by his thoroughly cheesed off wife to be out of pocket to the tune of £1m. That my friends would buy you more than a few pairs of Birkenstocks these days; assuming a pair of Birkies costs about £75, according to my son. That’s 156 million pairs of them. Ok, let’s be more straightforward about it these days that’s – £117m.
So Newcastle took a look at the cost benefit, and at the strategic situation in England and specifically the North of England, and took the brave and principled decision to run away. Who can blame him I say. He’d done his best – not quite done what was required, but that is a hard, and possibly unreasonably high bar. And so he went where all royalist losers, sorry royalist heroes went, – he headed for the continent, to find a life free of parliament, and headed towards Germany, and Hamburg.
We will hear more about William, and the girl of his dreams next time. Until then ladies and gents, thanks for listening, good luck, and have a great week.