Last time we heard about the influences on Margaret’s life from 1646 to 1651. The central role of William and her brother in law Charles Cavendish in building her knowledge; the kinds of people she met in the society of Paris and Antwerp, and how that salon culture contributed another set of influences. And how news of King Charles’ military failure in 1651 promised an exile with no end in sight.
The news from England was indeed dire – the Cavendish estates were threatened with confiscation by the Commonwealth. That was combined with a seemingly sudden ratcheting up of their money worries in Antwerp.
Now, as I have said, the Cavendishes’ level of poverty can’t be compared to those of your middling sort or rural workers; and one of the reasons for that was credit. But now that pool of credit seemed to be draining dry, or at least so William claimed in a letter to Charles
None will lend me two shillings here …I know not how to put bread into my mouth
Many other emigres were in a similar position, and the strain of it all began to tell on families, and Margaret saw vicious arguments breaking out
Truly great misfortunes are apt to make us quarrel with ourselves
That the Newcastles, and Charles Cavendish, had managed to keep going in such relative splendour was due to that gift of £2000 from HM, credit and loans – but also Jane Cavendish back home needs a bit of a shout out here, William’s eldest daughter by his first marriage. Jane Cavendish was actually two years older than Margaret, her step mother, and it was she that kept some income going in to the family, by working with the Commonwealth rules. Although Newcastle was of course, a rebel and a traitor in the eyes of parliament, Jane successfully petitions parliament to keep a share to maintain the rest of the family, and even managed to hold on to the main houses of Welbeck Abbey and Bolsover Castle – although Bolsover was a mess, with no money to maintain it. Jane cut the number of servants and estate workers to a minimum, ran the farm, managed the steward. She sold off her jewels to keep the grand pictures – and from all of it managed to send money to the boys, Charles and Henry, and to her father in Flanders. While at the same time keeping herself and her sister going in Welbeck. Such was the lot of many royalist women, whose menfolk refused to come to terms with the Commonwealth, or were refused leave to do so.
Charles Cavendish was in a rather different situation; or he had been. Since this is going to take 18 months of Margaret’s life, I should explain the process of sequestration.
In 1643 Parliament set up two Committees; the Committee for Sequestration, and the Committee for Compounding for the Estates of Royalists and Delinquents. The Sequestration committee was plural actually, because there was one for every county. They confiscated the estates of those that fought for the King; these people were, of course, in the view of parliament, traitors against the state. So – estates gone. All estates were usually rented out and the income used for the state; or sold off.
But the committee said well look we know that’s a bit harsh so come and talk to us – us being the Committee for Compounding, which met in Goldsmith’s Hall in London. If the delinquent came along and said look it’s a fair cop mate. Caught me bang to rights fighting for the wrong side, very bad of me but I won’t do it again – then the committee might say alright, pay a fine and you can have your estates back. The fine might depend on just how delinquent you were, but generally the rule of thumb was a fine equalling 3 years’ worth of income. Once done – that was that, slate wiped clean.
However, they might not agree to accept this compromise, because you were just too delinquent, you’d gone beyond that, maybe you were a general of the king or something, and it went worse for royalist MPs. So a ‘no deal’ was quite possible, and if you were in that situation you might want to make yourself scarce before your collar was felt.
That situation clearly left the delinquent’s wife and dependents up the proverbial creek without means of propulsion, so wives could apply to retain 20% of the estate to keep body and soul together. This is what Jane Cavendish had managed to do.
Charles Cavendish though had a large estate of his own, despite being a younger son – seriously those Cavendishes were not short of a bob or two. In May 1645 he’d been sequestered, but in 1649 applied for Compounding, paid his fine and received all his estates back. So fine, some income for the wider family too.
But in January 1651, the Sequestration committee in Shropshire challenged this decision; they pointed out that he’d left England without permission against his parole and claimed he was still supporting the king. Suddenly then the cards were up in the air – Charles’ estates were sequestered pending investigation. Now, they all felt they were on the bread line as it was; this could now break the camel’s back, they’d be out on the street. William’s view was that his brother had better get his bottom over to London, argue his case and sort this out or they’d be forced to eat the remaining holsteiners. Sorry. No horses were hurt in the making of this programme. Or eaten.
This, then led to one more of these family squabbles. William was desperate for some money. Charles was having none of it; not on your nelly or anyone else’s. He was worried that if the case went badly he’d be arrested. But more than that, it was the Engagement Oath he’d have to swear – this required to swear loyalty to the Commonwealth. Charles’ view was quite clear; rather than do that, he would
submit to nakedness or starving in the streets
William was not at home t Mr Starving nobly in the street. And so, with the help of Hyde, and probably by making big round cow eyes with maybe a hint of watery eyes and rubbing of empty tummies, William talked him into it – the committee, said Hyde, rarely insisted on the oath unless you were a real bad ‘un, and if they did you could simply refuse the oath come home, no harm done, though estates presumably lost. Eventually he gave way. Ok then.
But there was more; if Charles was going, then why not have Margaret go with him? She could then apply for the wifely relief of 20% of Newcastles’ estates. Then they’d all be quids in. A new set of holsteiners and gold coach, horseburgers off the menu. And so it was decided.
For Margaret there were fewer worries about oaths and things; women were not required to take the oath. In addition, judgements to wives tended to be more generous, and royalists all over recognised this. They spread advice to royalists trying to negotiate with the Commonwealth
Do as our sages do – instruct your wife and leave her to act with it…their sex entitles them to many privileges
So Margaret agreed to do her duty. But there’s no doubt she was horrified at this journey, forced on her, into who knows what dangers, to meet a hostile committee composed of rebels, and frightful oiks; and away from the comfortable and fulfilling life she’d found. And away from all the writing she’d done – which she sadly packed away for her return. And then she, Charles, Margaret’s faithful maidservant Elizabeth Chaplain – still with her from Colchester and the court at Oxford, now married and Elizabeth Topp – and a group of servants all set off. As it happens it seems the swamp of credit had not yet been drained, it had been a bit of an act – Before they’d gone long, William had anyway met with a load of creditors, done the cut my own wrists routine and re-established a number of loans.
So, into London then. Once there, they found themselves a place in the Earl of Bedford’s development at Covent Garden, and established contact with the clan. To her great distress, one of Margaret’s beloved sisters had died, Mary, as had her mother. But there was brother John, and Agnes and Elizabeth. Also her step children – Henry and Charles – and stepdaughters who visited from Welbeck, Jane and Frances.
Out into London they could go. But Margaret was not impressed at what she found. All the glamour excitement had gone, or to her eyes anyway. Plays had been banned and theatres closed. You could still go out into Hyde Park as they used to do. But now anyone could go, this was no longer the preserve of King and Nobility; the place was owned by publican would you believe, a ‘sordid fellow’ as John Evleyn the rather snobbish diarist wrote; and so what was there to see? There was no royalty anymore to fawn on, no fine men and ladies vying for attention with the gild of their carriages, or gawping to catch sight of a minor royal on the way past. The Evelyn chin wobbled and mouth sucked lemon as he reported there was nothing but
An assembly of wretched jades and hackney coaches
Gosh poor lambs must have been awful for them. Margaret hated the customs and ways of the new London, especially, she wrote of those lower class women who were everywhere as
Pleaders, attornies, petitioners and the like, running about with their several causes
Royalists now hid away from this new London, run by horrid commoners. And there, Margaret did find a society to visit, at the house of Henry Lawes, who ran evening get togethers for musicians poets and others. Formerly a royal musician, Lawes had found alternative sources of income by putting on public concerts for a fee. And thus lay the start of London’s concert culture of the later 17th century and beyond.
So, to the Committee of compounding, on the 10th December 1651. No one liked going cap in hand to Goldsmith’s hall – ‘that dammed house’ as one royalist called it.
For her part, this was Margaret’s chance to do the job so many women petitioners had been doing, lobbying the committees to ensure their families’ survival. It’s fair to say, I think, that she bottled it; Margaret would prove brave in print, much less brave in person in uncertain, challenging circumstances. So she asked her brother John to make the case, and she sat silently while he made her case.
To be fair, she probably never had a chance anyway. Newcastle had been one of Charles’ leading generals, and had poured out vast quantities of money for his cause. In the view of the Committee, he was responsible for the death of many innocent people, though Newcastle would not have seen it that way; if he turned up he’d face a traitor’s death, so he was pretty much as delinquent as you get. Of course that wasn’t Margaret’s fault. But as the committee pointed out, when she met Newcastle, all of this was perfectly clear; and yet she’d still chosen to accept him. And Newcastle was thoroughly recalcitrant, working for the pretender. So that was a no then. They’d get nothing from them, on yer bike. When they’re invented.
Margaret was gutted. Too shy, and too proud to let her feeling show in front of such people, she recorded how she
Whisperingly asked my brother to conduct me out of that ungentlemanly place
And wrote angrily later that
I found their hearts as hard as my fortunes, and their natures as cruel as my miseries.
Later, she was proud that she hadn’t argued the case, unlike so many others; she wrote roudly that
“she did not stand as a beggar at the Parliament door”
Margaret’s attitude to all of this seems a combination of pride, and shyness – to the point of cowardice if we are being harsh; snobbishness at demeaning herself in front of people who would not normally have such power and be worthy of her notice. Francesca Peacock has another theory that Margaret was aware of the role ordinary women had played, and were still playing, in petitioning and protesting – such as the peace protests in 1643 and the Levellers women’s protests in 1648; and that she wanted nothing of behaviour that she saw as not appropriate for women, and was determined to distance herself from it. If that is so, it is a continuation of Margaret’s strange combination of conservatism and independent and innovative thought and behaviour.
So that was that. She could accordingly presumably leave; and being apart from William had been hard on both of them, certainly on William as the endless stream of love poetry bears witness.
However, Margaret didn’t pack up, because Charles had received a very different reaction. He argued that he had been abroad for his health, and had not engaged with the king since he compounded. The committee thought this was a reasonable argument, and said he should stay in town while they investigated.
Margaret would be around for over 12 months in London society. And as would happen in Restoration London, she became something of a cause celebre. Mainly it was because of her situation; here she was, the Marchioness of Newcastle, but without a penny to her name, deprived of any income. What an outrage. Rumours circulated of grand petitioning speeches she’d made – which she furiously denied.
But on a completely different tack, she was also getting a reputation for having somewhat unconventional dress sense. This will also become a theme – people talk of her extravagant dress, wild, fantastical, unconventional; in the 1660s people will rush around like mad things to catch a glimpse. And Margaret herself wrote that she took great care with her appearance when she went out, and she was aware of the gossip
Report did dress me in a hundred several fashions
She wrote, and she would write, in a piece called ‘Of Painting’, an elaborate argument that it was nothing les than reasonable that women should put their back into making themselves look exactly how they liked, and after all wasn’t this ‘feminine art’ as she called it, a good deal less destructive that the masculine art of war.
One brings love, the other begats hate
Which is a fair point you have to say. Annoyingly, we have pretty much nothing that tells us what all this weirdness was – no one describes it, and her paintings can be a little out there but Charles II’s reign wasn’t noted for sober puritanism. The only suggestion we have comes from the Duchess of Loriane who mentions an unconventional use of ribbons en passant. And doesn’t elaborate. Presumably it can’t have been anything too expensive since apparently she didn’t have two pennies to rub together.
Oh well. Anyway, Margaret was planning to shock them all a lot more. Because she once more had time on her hands, and had conceived a new idea; not only would she start writing again, she would publish.