‘Long, Dangerous and Expensive Journeys: The Grooms of the Bedchamber at Charles II’s Court in Exile

 Geoffrey Smith
University of Melbourne

Geoffrey Smith. "‘Long, Dangerous and Expensive Journeys: The Grooms of the Bedchamber at Charles II’s Court in Exile". Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 15 (August, 2007) 5.1-26<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/si-15/smitjour.htm>.

  1. Traditionally, opinions of the culture of the exiled court of Charles II have been decidedly mixed, but with negative assessments probably being predominant. Several historians who have considered the exiled court have portrayed it as riddled with ‘jealousies, quarrels, dissensions and intrigues’, the courtiers ‘disorderly’ and ‘prone to violence’, frequently resorting to duels to settle their even more frequent disputes. When they were not quarrelling or engaging in ‘sterile faction-fighting’, they turned to other temporary escapes from the paralysing idleness and nagging poverty that dominated their existence, the favourite diversions being gambling, drinking and fornication (Scott 4; Hardacre 353; Miller 5; Hutton 122-3). This is the picture of a court whose values and principles have been corroded by the bitterness and frustration that were the courtiers’ constant companions. There are contemporary accounts to support this negative picture, although agents employed by the Protector Oliver Cromwell’s spymaster, Secretary of State John Thurloe, had an obvious incentive to emphasise the immorality and decadence of the courtiers. For example, a report to Thurloe on 22 November 1656 from one of his agents in Holland claimed that ‘fornication, drunkenness and adultery are esteemed no sins amongst them’ (Thurloe v: 645-6). The report further claimed that other ‘abominations’ were also practised, two being condemned specifically: the plundering of churches and the presenting of plays. But it was not only contemporaries hostile to the Stuart cause who stressed the court’s failings, so too did some royalists. Sir Edward Hyde, Charles II’s principal adviser, writing to the king’s Secretary of State Sir Edward Nicholas from Paris on 26 October 1652, referred to ‘the general corruption and licence of the Court’. According to Hyde, the courtiers in exile had ‘shaken off all those obligations and respects they have been formerly liable to’ (Clarendon iii: 108).

  2. Other studies that have emphasised the vigorous and productive cultural life of exiled royalists cannot easily be reconciled with this depressing picture.[1] As Paul Hardacre pointed out, a court which ‘boasted Hobbes as its philosopher, Waller, Cowley and Denham as its poets, and Killigrew and Buckingham as its playwrights and wits’ deserves to be taken seriously, although it should also be pointed out that these glittering talents were not all present in the exiled court at the same time and in some instances were not present for very long at all (Hardacre 354). But scholarship, intellectual enquiry and contacts with European philosophers, scientists and scholars were also a part of the experience of exile, an experience from which the court was not excluded. Although the major works of scholarship produced by royalist exiles connected to the court were by divines like the future bishops, George Morley and John Cosin, less prominent figures also used their time in exile for productive intellectual activities. For example, one courtier, Colonel Samuel Tuke, was not only a formidable duellist but also a playwright, and another, Thomas Ross, as well as being employed in the dangerous role of courier between the exiled court and royalist conspirators in England, also found time to write a history in heroic couplets of The Second Punick War, an impressive work produced in collaboration with the Antwerp designer-engraver, Joseph Lamorlet. This project enabled Ross to make interesting comparisons between Charles II and such towering historical figures as Hannibal and Scipio, to the advantage of the former (Hardacre 361; Vander Motten and Daemen-de Gelder, 185-90).[2]

  3. How valid is the picture of an idle and impoverished court, consumed with bitterness and frustration that found expression in personal quarrels and duels, sexual licence and factional feuding yet somehow was also vigorously engaged in intellectual activities stimulated by the rich and varied range of material and contacts available to the exiles? The intention of this essay is not to examine the exiled court as a whole but instead to consider one small but significant sample of courtiers: the grooms of the bedchamber. In the light of recent research on the Stuart court, with the emphasis given to the importance of the bedchamber in court politics – what has been called the ‘revival of the entourage’ – it is appropriate to examine how the peculiar and demanding conditions of exile affected the traditional range of the bedchambermen’s functions (Cuddy 190-1). Also, as the grooms of the bedchamber were often the closest personal associates of the king, they are an important group to consider in the context of the apparently inconsistent or contradictory judgments on the culture of the exiled court as a whole.   

  4. First, it is important to appreciate the extent to which the orderly, formal and structured court of Charles I had been swept away by the Civil War. The royal court’s principal residence, the palace of Whitehall, with its complex hierarchy of presence chambers and privy chambers, guard chambers and withdrawing rooms, closets and cabinets, by which access to the monarch could be regulated and controlled, was replaced in the conditions of exile by temporary lodgings and apartments in buildings that belonged to someone else, even sometimes by private houses and inns. For example, when Charles II arrived in Bruges from the Rhineland in April 1656 the Marquess of Ormond complained to Secretary Nicholas, for the time being left behind in Cologne, that ‘the king is in no sort provided of a house’ (BL Egerton MS 2536. fol. 83). While Charles was lodged temporarily in the home of a fellow exile, Lord Tara, ‘with trouble to the Lord and some great inconveniency to himself’, other members of the royal household were scattered throughout the town (BL Egerton MS 2536. fol. 83). It was in conditions like these that the order and decorum previously maintained in the court of Charles I broke down. At Cologne in October 1655 there was actually a brawl in the king’s presence between a Scottish page James Arnet and an equerry William Armorer, an event unthinkable in the orderly and regulated Whitehall of the 1630s (Thurloe iv: 122). The exiled court confronted enormous disabilities that endangered not only its morale and standards of conduct, but even its very existence. In the personal monarchy of Charles I the court was at the centre of patronage and power. It was also the stage on which the splendour and magnificence of the monarchy were displayed to the various elites of the three Stuart kingdoms and even, on ceremonial occasions, to the general population. In exile the court, without political power and influence, had lost the first of these functions and, being permanently impoverished, could not afford to maintain the second.

  5. In exile the court was a shrunken shadow of its former self. The various lists of the royal household compiled at different times illustrate this decline in both numbers and appointments. The lists sometimes contain melancholy references to events like ‘the last reduction in February 1649’ or include names ‘of some that were dismissed and remain here’ (HMC Pepys MSS 255-6; Bod. Clarendon MS 49. fol. 107). In the exiled court some major positions were either left vacant or had purely titular appointments. After the Earl of Holland fell from royal favour he was replaced as Groom of the Stole and first Gentleman of the Bedchamber in January 1644 by the royalist general William Seymour, Marquess of Hertford, but following the defeat of the royalists in the Civil War Hertford effectively withdrew into retirement and never joined the exiled court. Until his death in Scotland in 1651, the elderly Patrick Ruthven, Earl of Forth and Brentford, was Lord Chamberlain, a curious appointment for a veteran Scottish professional soldier. His replacement, appointed after Charles II’s escape back to France from Worcester, was Henry, Lord Percy, a favourite of Queen Henrietta Maria. The appointment was clearly intended as a concession to calm the queen’s irritation that she and her followers were progressively being excluded from the royal counsels. When Charles and the court left Paris for the Rhineland in 1654, Percy remained in Paris in the queen’s household. After his death in 1659 the office of Lord Chamberlain remained vacant until the Restoration (David L. Smith 118; HMC Pepys MSS 255; ODNB).

  6. What role did the grooms of the bedchamber play in this nomadic, shrunken and loosely structured court? In the conditions of exile, the traditional benefits of a place in the bedchamber, the opportunities for financial rewards or to play a role in the management of patronage, would seem no longer to have existed. Before we consider this question we first need to establish the identity of the grooms. In ‘a list of his Majesty’s servants belonging to the chamber according to the last reduction in February’, drawn up in May 1649 when Charles was in Holland, Mr Seymour, Mr Braye, Mr Harding and Mr Progers are listed as grooms of the bedchamber (HMC Pepys MSS 255-6). Mr Elliot and Mr Blague are also identified as grooms but are included in a separate list of ‘others that are come since February, and some that were dismissed and remain here’ (HMC Pepys MSS 255-6). This list is not definitive. First, Mr Braye almost immediately disappears. There are a couple of passing references to him in emigré correspondence during 1649, but nothing more (Calendar Clarendon ii: 2, 6). Mr Braye remains obscure. Presumably he either died or returned to England. Second, the list does not include the Irishman Daniel O’Neill, who was certainly a groom of the bedchamber at this time and who was to become one of the closest associates of Charles II in exile. But in May 1649 O’Neill was not in Holland with the court; he was in Ireland, where, as a trusted officer of the royalist Lord Lieutenant Ormond, he was about to be confronted by the Cromwellian invasion (Clarendon vii: 268, 275-7; Cregan 109-12, 126-30; ODNB).

  7. Between 1649 and the Restoration Charles appointed only one more groom of the bedchamber, Thomas Killigrew, who is best known as a playwright and theatre manager. Killigrew, one of the most cosmopolitan and well travelled of the royalist emigrés, spent the whole of the Interregnum period in exile. After his ignominious dismissal in 165I from his position as Charles’s resident in Venice, he had settled in The Hague where he acquired a Dutch wife, Charlotte van Hesse-Piershil, and eventually a military appointment in the Dutch forces. Stationed in the frontier garrison town of Maastricht for most of the second half of the 1650s he made only infrequent and brief appearances at the exiled court and does not seem to have been appointed a groom of the bedchamber until some time in early 1658 (Vander Motten 312-26; Geoffrey Smith 84-5; ODNB).[3] Of course, at the Restoration the bedchamber was suddenly enlarged and several, in fact most, of the new appointments were returned royalist exiles, but this essay is a case study of basically seven men: Henry Seymour, Richard Harding, Edward Progers, Thomas Elliot. Thomas Blague, Daniel O’Neill and Thomas Killigrew. What does a consideration of their backgrounds and behaviours tell us about the culture of the exiled court?

  8. The grooms of the bedchamber represent very clearly the range and diversity within the royalist party as a whole. They include both an aristocrat like Henry Seymour, a cousin of the royalist leader William Seymour, Marquess of Hertford, and Richard Harding, a younger son from a minor gentry family in Wiltshire and very much a Seymour client. Several grooms had well established family connections with the royal court. In the cases of Seymour and Killigrew, both of whom had been pages of honour in the 1630s, the former to the queen and the latter to the king, these connections went back for generations (ODNB). Progers was also a page of honour to Charles I while Elliot and O’Neill were familiar figures at court in the late 1630s (Clarendon v: 203, 214 viii: 268; Henning iii: 293). Harding was appointed a groom of the bedchamber to Prince Charles in July 1641, an act of patronage by Hertford, the prince’s governor (Calendar Domestic 1641-43 63).

  9. The exception to this record of court connections stretching back to before the Civil War was Colonel Thomas Blague. During the Civil War Blague had been governor of Wallingford on the Thames, where he still grimly held out even after the surrender of Oxford in June 1646, only agreeing to lay down his arms in July when his own garrison mutinied. As this episode illustrates, Blague was essentially a soldier rather than a courtier. He fits the stereotype of the fighting and plundering Cavalier – stigmatised as ‘a notable griper’ (oppressor) even by fellow royalist officers – and such a man was unlikely to follow the example of many of his fellow officers and disappear into a melancholy and modest retired life when the war was lost. Less than a month after his surrender of Wallingford Blague joined Charles I at Newcastle, where the king, in the custody of the Scots army, was beginning the long, devious and ultimately fruitless negotiations intended to reach a settlement acceptable to the irreconcilable interests of the monarch, the Scots, the English Parliament and the victorious New Model Army. From Newcastle Blague was sent by Charles with letters for Henrietta Maria in Paris with the instruction that, as Blague had served the king with ‘courage and fidelity’, he was to be given a place in Prince Charles’s bedchamber (Bruce 58-9; Roy 86; Newman 31). When Blague arrived in Paris he would have discovered that all his fellow grooms of the bedchamber were already in exile. At this time their allegiance was personally to the Prince of Wales, whom events in England would soon cause them to recognise as Charles ll. Most of them had been in the separate household established for the prince in the west country during the last years of the Civil War, and on the final defeat of the king’s armies had accompanied Charles into exile, first to Jersey and then on to the continent, either to France or the Netherlands.

  10. The harsh and demanding conditions of exile made exceptional demands on the traditional services performed by grooms of the bedchamber. What did their principal function of close and familiar attendance on the king mean in the context of the extensive travels of Charles II during his years in exile? With royalist opposition to the newly established Commonwealth apparently crushed both in England and in Ireland, but against the advice of Hyde and other royal advisers, Charles sailed for Scotland in June 1650, having made an alliance, riddled with misgivings and doubts on both sides, with the Presbyterian regime. The king was accompanied by a small group of followers that included O’Neill, Harding, Seymour and Progers of the bedchamber. They were not made to feel welcome by the General Assembly of the Kirk; instead they were denounced as ‘malignant and profane persons’ whose presence was ‘a great ground of stumbling to God’s people’ (Calendar Clarendon ii: 69). Daniel O’Neill, a Gaelic Irishman, a notorious Cavalier, and with family connections to leaders of the Irish rebellion, was regarded with particular hostility and was immediately arrested. In August he was banished upon pain of death if he should be so foolhardy as to return to Scotland. Then in October took place the confused event known as ‘the Start’, Charles’s desperate and unsuccessful attempt to break free of the stifling surveillance of the Presbyterian ministers who dominated the Kirk party’s leadership and instead to rally the Highland clans to his side. Henry Seymour and Ned Progers attended Charles on this hopeless venture and they were among the very few companions who remained with the king to the bitter end, when he was tracked down and returned to the clutches of the leaders of the Kirk party. In consequence of their ‘having a hand in this business’, in other words performing their duty in difficult and dangerous circumstances and remaining in attendance on the king, Seymour and Progers suffered the same penalty as O’Neill and were banished from Scotland, a fate that was eventually also experienced by Harding (Calendar Clarendon ii: 74, 77; NP i: 206-8).[4]

  11. There are other examples of grooms of the bedchamber attempting to continue to perform their traditional functions in the unusual and sometimes demanding situations encountered in exile, in circumstances when the orderly and prescribed customs and procedures of an established royal court were no longer appropriate or even possible. The resourceful and enterprising Daniel O’Neill, with his distinctive nickname ‘Infallible Subtle’, was constantly in demand to overcome the discomforts of exile experienced by the impoverished and nomadic court. He was a highly competent ‘fixer’, knowledgeable on such matters as reliable inns and obliging landlords, on the most convenient routes by which to travel and the best wines likely to be encountered on the way. From many possible examples, it is necessary here to give only one to illustrate O’Neill’s reputation for resourcefulness (Bod. Clarendon MS 46. fol. 361; Geoffrey Smith, 135). When in September 1659 Charles II and Ormond headed south to the Pyrenees to attend the Franco-Spanish peace negotiations at Fuentarrabia, they travelled incognito with very few companions, only George Digby, Earl of Bristol and a couple of servants, plus the indispensable O’Neill. In Clarendon’s words, O’Neill’s responsibility was ‘to take care that they fared well in their lodgings, for which province no man was fitter’ (Clarendon xvi: 58).

  12. Of course, for most of his time in exile Charles was not travelling but resided in the heart of the court, which obviously reduced the likelihood of demands of this kind being made on the bedchambermen. The reports of Thurloe’s agents frequently refer to the grooms being in attendance on the king in the traditional way. A letter from Aachen in September 1654 describes Charles Stuart travelling in a coach with ‘old Harding’ – Harding was an elderly widower – and four unnamed companions. It is perhaps significant that Harding is identified for Thurloe’s benefit, but not the four anonymous companions of the king (Thurloe ii: 591). Another letter from one of Thurloe’s agents in Flanders, in July 1658, reported that Charles was attended in his bedchamber by O’Neill, Killigrew and ‘one of the squires whose name is Armorer’ (Thurloe vi: 221). As this was presumably the equerry William Armorer, it is a further example how the orderly culture of the Stuart court had been undermined by the destabilising conditions of exile. As an equerry Armorer should have been in the stables looking after the horses, not in the royal bedchamber. There are a number of reports of this nature in the Thurloe Papers; they illuminate not only conditions and practices in the exiled court but also the intense interest of the Protectorate regime in the movements of Charles II and his courtiers (Thurloe ii: 534, 546, 556, 567, 602 iii: 458-9, 532, 561 v: 84, 315, 645-6 vii: 247-8).

  13. One possible explanation for the equerry Armorer’s presence in the bedchamber is that he was a temporary replacement for bedchambermen who were not available to perform their traditional duties. A principal difference between the functions of the bedchamber in the exiled court and those in earlier Stuart courts is in the range of activities expected of the grooms, activities that went far beyond regular attendance on the king. For quite long periods individual bedchambermen were absent from court on ‘the king’s business’, acting as couriers, being sent on diplomatic missions, being involved in the organisation of royalist conspiracy, or serving on military campaigns. The émigré’s traditional vice of idleness does not seem to have been a significant element in their experience of exile; on the contrary, they were probably much more active than their counterparts in Stuart courts before the Civil War. There is only space here for a few examples to support this proposition. At different times almost all of the grooms of the bedchamber were employed as couriers and for several reasons. First, the regular posts were slow, unreliable and, as far as correspondence between England and the continent was concerned, under the close surveillance of John Thurloe, who under the Protectorate combined the offices of Secretary of State and Postmaster General (Aubrey 94-128; Ashley 206-8). Second, for much of the time when Charles II’s court was in exile, the royalist leaders were widely dispersed, with different Stuart households in Paris, The Hague or on the move around the Rhineland and the Low Countries, with prominent royal advisers like Ormond and Nicholas often absent from court, and with the constant need to maintain links with the activists among the king’s supporters in England. In this situation trusted and reliable couriers were in demand, men, in other words, like Henry Seymour.

  14. Until the Protectorate government finally caught up with him, Seymour spent much of his time in exile not at court in attendance on the king but on various missions. Early in 1646 he carried letters from Prince Charles in the West Country to Henrietta Maria in Paris. Then in August 1648 he delivered the message from the prince in Holland to the Earl of Warwick in command of the parliamentary fleet in the Downs, inviting him to ‘return to his allegiance’, but being rebuffed by Warwick’s reply which ‘besought his highness to put himself in the hands of Parliament’. Six months later he was sent to England. On the evening of 28 January 1649, two days before the king’s execution, Seymour had the last audience of any Cavalier with Charles at St James’s palace and delivered the prince’s last letter to his father. He then carried back to Holland the king’s final messages to the prince and Henrietta Maria (Calendar Clarendon i: 330; Clarendon xi: 69; Lockyer 122; ODNB). Seymour then accompanied the new king, as the royalists (and others) now recognised him, to Jersey. Being considered, in Lord Byron’s words, to be ‘a person unbiased with any faction and in whose discretion and integrity the king had great confidence’, he was then sent in October to Ireland to gain ‘a true account of affairs’ and to advise on whether Charles II should accept the invitation to join Ormond’s royalist forces still in the field there (Clarendon Calendar i: 330; Clarendon xi; 69; Herbert 122). This was an extremely dangerous mission at a time when Cromwell’s army was advancing steadily through southern Ireland. The fall of Wexford on 11 October was accompanied by an indiscriminate massacre and one by one the other royalist strongholds and ports of Munster were captured or besieged by Cromwell’s army or blockaded by Admiral Blake’s fleet. What remained of royalist naval power disappeared when Prince Rupert’s small flotilla based on Kinsale seized the opportunity provided by a storm to put to sea and head for Portugal. Somehow, despite the presence of Cromwell’s troops and a blockading fleet, the disintegration of organised royalist resistance and the onset of winter, Seymour reached Ormond’s temporary headquarters at Clonmel and returned safely to Jersey by December, after what Byron understandably called ‘a most dangerous passage’, with the sensible advice that Charles should steer well clear of Ireland (Ormonde i: 337-9; Calendar Clarendon ii: 28, 32, 38; Kenyon and Ohlmeyer 96-100, 187-9).

  15. For the time being Seymour’s travels continued. As we have seen, he accompanied Charles to Scotland in June 1650 only to be banished from the kingdom for his involvement in ‘The Start’. Following Charles’s escape back to the continent after Worcester Seymour rejoined the court in Paris, although he continued to be employed as courier on ‘the king’s business’. During the following years he undertook several dangerous missions to England, principally collecting money from loyal royalists but inevitably also becoming involved in the organisation of conspiracy. Between 1652 and 1655 Seymour was almost constantly travelling back and forwards between the court and the king’s supporters in England. But he was too well known, too active and perhaps too reckless to remain undetected. His movements were also betrayed by one of Thurloe’s spies in Paris, the royalist renegade Colonel Joseph Bampfield. After being detained for short periods in 1652 and 1654 Seymour was arrested again in June 1655 during the roundup of known active royalists in the aftermath of the suppression of Penruddock’s Rising. He was held on ‘suspicion of plotting to stir up forces against Government’ and this time he was imprisoned in the Tower for two years, until mid 1657. After his release on various stringent conditions, Seymour seems not to have returned to the exiled court but to have remained in England (BL. Add. MS 37047. fols. 219, 240; Calendar Clarendon iii: 69-70 ii, 297, 361-2, 365, 374 iii: 22, 222, 303, 339; Thurloe ii: 321, 510-1; NP ii: 100, 221-2 iii: 5; Calendar Domestic 1655 204, 588). 

  16. Seymour’s record of hazardous and demanding activities as a groom of the bedchamber at the exiled court can be matched by similar experiences undergone by several of his fellow bedchambermen. While there are numerous examples of the grooms of the bedchamber being employed on missions that took them far from the court, there is only space here to consider some of them. Thomas Elliot, who had noisily voiced his hostility to the treaty with the Scots Covenanters, was sent on a mission to Portugal in 1650, which of course is why, unlike the other grooms, he did not accompany Charles II to Scotland (Calendar Clarendon ii: 530-1; Hutton 42). The experienced soldier Thomas Blague made a secret visit to England in 1650 to further royalist conspiracy, then joined Charles II in Scotland. O’Neill, who had shown a fine contempt for the Kirk’s threats of death if he reappeared on the scene, returned to Scotland in time for the invasion of England. Blague and O’Neill both fought at Worcester, Blague being captured after the battle, imprisoned for nearly three years and then banished back into exile. The ‘Infallible Subtle’ O’Neill, not surprisingly, evaded capture and escaped back to Holland. He subsequently made three clandestine visits to England during the 1650s to further royalist conspiracy, while Blague resumed his military career as a Lieutenant Colonel in the small army raised by Charles II after 1656 with Spanish assistance. Blague fought in the battle of the Dunes outside Dunkirk in June 1658 where he was seriously wounded (Ormond ii: 29, 30, 32-3, 43; HMC Ormonde MSS i: 230; Newman 31; Underdown 40-1, 117-8, 133-7, 216-255).

  17. This survey of the varied activities of grooms of the bedchamber shows that there existed several dimensions to the culture of the exiled court. Certainly, the activities of the grooms, although in their own way very impressive, do not support the picture of courtiers being in fruitful contact with European scholarship. The exception to this judgement is Thomas Killigrew, or ‘Ambassador Tom’ as he was somewhat derisively labelled by fellow exiles with reference to his unfortunate residence in Venice (NP ii: 105; Vander Motten 312).[5] Killigrew, who belonged to a cultured family with wide-ranging interests, had travelled widely in France, Italy and the Low Countries, was well known in The Hague courts of Elizabeth of Bohemia and Mary of Orange, and was a friend of such distinguished European scholars as Constatijn Huygens. His play Thomaso, or The Wanderer, a comedy that deals with the activities of the exiled Cavaliers, was probably completed in 1654. Yet, perhaps unfairly, Killigrew was not regarded seriously by his fellow emigrés. Instead, he was seen as ‘a merry droll’, a reputation that was to be confirmed after the Restoration when, according to Pepys, he had the unofficial title of ‘king’s fool or jester’ at the court of Charles II (Vander Motten 313, 319-21; ODNB).

  18. There is also some evidence that Daniel O’Neill at least was familiar with the popular literature of the day, in particular with the poetry of his fellow royalist exile, Sir John Mennes. In his overly optimistic intelligence reports to Charles, written in London in March 1655, when he was deeply involved in the organisation of an imminent royalist rising, he included in one letter a typically cheerful, if not strictly accurate, quotation from one of Mennes’s poems: ‘If this day thrive, we’ll ride in Coaches;/ If not, bonnes noches’ (NP ii: 220-1). This quote demonstrates that O’Neill and also presumably Charles as well were familiar with the burlesque writing and mock-poetry of Mennes (Raylor 202).

  19. With the significant exception of Killigrew, and the possibly minor one of O’Neill, it is apparent that this survey of the grooms of the bedchamber’s experience of exile does not demonstrate any serious involvement, by these courtiers at least, in cultural activities. But nor does the range of their activities support the opposite negative picture of a court culture corroded by idleness and poverty, and riddled with factionalism, violence and sexual licence. The bedchambermen illustrate another dimension to court culture. Although not in a position, or even much inclined, to profit from the intellectual and cultural possibilities that the experience could offer, neither were they demoralised and paralysed by the hardships and frustrations of exile.

  20. Of course, the grooms were not immune from the negative elements that were prominent in the culture of the exiled court, the bitter factional feuding, the constant nagging poverty, the temptations to resort to violence or immorality. The bedchambermen were a disparate collection of men, almost all originally appointed by Charles I and then inherited by his son. Some, like O’Neill and Progers, then became close and trusted companions of Charles II, but this was not true in every case. Blague for example was never a familiar figure at court. The grooms did not represent as a group any dominant court interest. The king’s chief minister Hyde never attempted to emulate a royal favourite like Salisbury or Buckingham and pack the bedchamber with his own clients. Charles went his own way in these matters, as is clear in a despairing letter from Hyde to Nicholas on 13 April 1652: ‘Oh! Mr Secretary, this last act of the King’s, in making Mr Crofts a gentleman (my italics) of the bedchamber, so contrary to what he assured me, makes me weary of my life’ (Calendar Clarendon iii: 59).

  21. Nevertheless, there were factional allegiances within the bedchamber that reflected the divisions within the exiled court as a whole. Seymour, Harding and O’Neill were all close allies of Hyde. They can be identified with the so-called ‘Old Royalist’ faction that gradually became dominant after Charles reconstituted his court in Paris following his escape from Worcester (Underdown 10-12; Hutton 72-4; Geoffrey Smith 26-9). Hyde’s correspondence contains friendly references to and expressions of concern for the wellbeing of all three. For example, in a letter to Nicholas on 28 November 1653, O’Neill was described by Hyde as ‘honest and kind to the Marquess of Ormond and me and sufficiently odious to Jermyn’, referring to Lord Jermyn, a leader of the so-called ‘Louvrian’ faction around the queen (Calendar Clarendon iii: 200).[6] O’Neill in particular, being both an intimate of Charles and trusted by Hyde, seems to have played, a prominent role in royal counsels. In November 1654 it was reported that official correspondence from the court was ‘wholly managed by Dan O’Neill and Mr Chancellor (Hyde)’. This situation was of great concern to Secretary Nicholas, always fairly touchy on these matters, who complained to his friend Joseph Jane on 4 March 1656 that ‘O’Neill is more of the secret council than I am, being a great confidant of Hyde’s’ (NP ii: 141; Calendar Domestic 1655-56 209). By contrast, Colonel Blague and Tom Elliot can be loosely aligned with Prince Rupert’s ‘Swordsmen’ faction. They were certainly not friends of the king’s chief minister. The references to Elliot in Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion, where he is variously described as a ‘loud and bold talker’ who was ‘no polite man’, are uniformly hostile (Clarendon, v: 303 n., 212, 214 xii: 60). Like O’Neill, the other two grooms, Progers and Killigrew, were personal friends of Charles, but unlike the Irishman they remained free of any factional allegiance. In any case Progers returned to England from Paris some time in 1652 and Killigrew, who travelled widely before settling down with his family in Maastricht during 1655, until 1658 was only present at court intermittently.

  22. Much more so than factionalism, poverty was a permanent and demoralising presence among the bedchambermen, a frequent theme in their correspondence. The salaries to which the grooms were entitled were rarely if ever paid. Although Killigrew was appointed to the bedchamber probably in early 1658, it was not until well after the Restoration, in November 1661, that he was finally granted an annual pension of £500 (Vander Motten 328). Although at different times all the grooms suffered from a shortage of money, it was Richard Harding who in his final years sank into deep poverty. ‘Poor Dick Harding […] hath pawned every little thing he hath’, reported Hyde to Ormond on 18 July 1657, ‘the cup which the Prince (of Orange) gave him and every spoon, and hath not a shirt to his back’ (Bod. Clarendon MS 50. fol. 77). An elderly widower with a dependent daughter, Harding belonged to a minor gentry family. Unlike Seymour and Killigrew, he had no court or aristocratic connections to help soften the rigours of exile. As a groom of the bedchamber to the prince, Harding had accompanied Charles from the West Country to Jersey in 1646, later travelling to Holland and then to Scotland in 1650, returning to the Netherlands when the king’s followers were banished. He was a close friend of Hyde, whom he accompanied from Antwerp to Paris when Charles reconstituted his court in the winter of 1651-1652, then remained with the exiled court on all its travels until his death in Bruges at the end of 1657. In the fairly numerous biographies of Charles II ‘old Harding’, as Thurloe’s spy called him, is scarcely if ever mentioned, although he was in attendance on Charles and right at the centre of the exiled court for years. His loyalty to the Stuart cause, which brought him years of hardship and poverty, was in the end not unrecognised by those whom he served. His daughter Honora was given a place in the household of Mary of Orange and, after his death, his servant Tom Bocock, at Honora’s request, became a page of the presence in the royal household (NP, i: 238, 261-2; Calendar Clarendon ii: 110-2; Bod. Clarendon MS 58. fols. 374-5; Bod. Clarendon MS 59. fols. 75, 175, 436).

  23. Certainly Harding, an elderly widower with a dependent daughter, does not fit the traditional picture of the idle, fornicating and quarrelsome follower of Charles II in exile. Of the grooms, Ned Progers apparently comes closest to this image. A member of a prominent courtier and Cavalier family, Progers had accompanied Prince Charles, whom allegedly ‘he helped to debauch’, to Jersey in 1646, although the window of opportunity available for Progers to accomplish this feat was not open for very long (Henning, iii: 293). During Charles’s two sojourns on Jersey, between 1646 and 1649, Progers’s opportunities to debauch him would have been fairly limited and in Covenanter ruled Scotland in 1650 they would have been non-existent. After his expulsion from Scotland for his involvement in ‘The Start’, Progers returned to England from Paris in 1652, at a time when, after the crushing of royalist hopes at Worcester, the morale of the exiles was at its lowest ebb. He remained in England until the eve of the Restoration, undergoing two short periods of imprisonment during the periodic roundups of prominent royalists that regularly accompanied the suppression of risings and the uncovering of conspiracies. It was not until after the Restoration that Progers was able fully to exploit his position as one of ‘the men of pleasure’ whose company Charles II particularly enjoyed (HMC Story Maskelyne MSS iv: 146-50; Calendar Clarendon ii: 69, 77, 85; Calendar Domestic 1652-3 25, 28, 94; Calendar Domestic 1655 204, 588; 1655-6 149; NP iv: 31).

  24. Any assessment of the influence of the bedchambermen on the moral standards of the exiled court should also take into account the fact that four of the grooms were married, with wives and children sharing their exile, although Killigrew seems to have maintained the occasional mistress before his marriage in 1654 to the extremely respectable Charlotte van Hesse-Pershil (NP ii: 105; Vander Motten 312, 314-6).[7] Typically, O’Neill’s personal relationships with women were unusual. Throughout the 1650s he maintained a close friendship with Catherine Stanhope, principal lady of honour and trusted companion of Mary of Orange and second wife of the prominent Dutch political figure, Jan van der Kirkhoven, Lord of Heenvliet. Although the subject of frequent gossip among the exiles, Percy for example being criticised by Lord Hatton in October 1654 for uttering ‘scurrilous stuff of Dan O’Neill and Lady Stanhope’, the relationship was stable, apparently accepted by Catherine’s husband who was always on friendly terms with the Irishman, and culminated in marriage after Heenvliet died in March 1660 (BL. Add MS 4180. fol. 104; Clarendon iii, 200-1, 204; Calendar Clarendon ii: 262; NP ii: 111; CSPD, 1655-6 159).[8] In fact, the influence of the presence of wives and children on the culture of the exiled court has been neglected by historians, who have shown much more interest in the mistresses of Charles II than in the families of his courtiers. The surviving correspondence of the grooms shows that one of their major concerns was to provide for their families. Elliot’s outspoken wife Elizabeth, who gave birth to a daughter in Paris in September 1652, bitterly complained at being separated from her husband when he was ‘on the king’s business’ and of being provided with inadequate funds for her family. ‘He pretends poverty’, complained Mrs Elliot about the king in November 1657, having been left behind with her children in Bruges when the court moved to Brussels, ‘but ‘it is only for me he is poor and for nobody else’ (Bod. Clarendon MS 59. fol. 236). With the doubtful exception of Ned Progers, there is very little evidence that these close personal attendants of the king contributed to any significant moral decline in the culture of the court. For much of their time in exile they were employed on the king’s business; when they were not, they frequently had demanding domestic situations to deal with.

  25. A similar conclusion can be made about any propensity shown by the grooms for quarrels, violence and duels. Certainly, duels were quite frequent among certain courtiers, lords Taaffe and Newburgh and Samuel Tuke for example, their occasional viciousness and savagery not being remotely justified by the triviality of their causes (Hutton 122-3; Newman 329). But duels do not feature prominently in the lives of the grooms in exile, although they did occur, which is not surprising considering their social origins, their military backgrounds and their depressing circumstances. In a long and lively letter to Ormond, written on 9 October 1647 from the palace of St. Ge rmain outside Paris, O’Neill described one duel in which he was involved. It was one of those melee type affairs in which the seconds also joined but it was a ludicrous rather than a lethal encounter. Both O’Neill and his opponent Lord Wentworth, a drinking companion whom he ‘had rather have met at a bottle’, lost their balance at their first pass and fell over ‘where we lay grovelling’, whereupon the overweight John Digby tripped and landed on top of them, ‘his massy bulk’, as O’Neill expressed it, being ‘like to have squeezed us to death’ (Ormond i: 157-9). But for the most part the grooms of the bedchamber were too actively employed as couriers, soldiers, conspirators and attendants on the king to be drawn into the sterile quarrels and intrigues of courtiers desperate to find temporary escapes from their poverty, idleness and frustration.

  26. In the context of the culture of the exiled court, what conclusions can be drawn from this examination of the royalist emigration as it was experienced by the grooms of the bedchamber? Overall, their experiences support some of the perceived attributes of the court: looseness of structure, a constant shortage of money, the presence of divisive factions. With some of the other traditional criticisms – frequent quarrels and disputes, idleness, and sexual licence – the evidence is not conclusive. Certainly, some of the courtiers whose company Charles most enjoyed, like O’Neill and Killigrew, or whose resourcefulness and courage he most valued, like Seymour, and perhaps even whose integrity and loyalty he appreciated, like Harding, were free of these failings. The grooms of the bedchamber displayed a willingness to endure danger and privations while ‘on the king’s business’ and to risk both imprisonment – a fate endured at different times by O’Neill, Blague, Seymour and Progers - and death on the battlefield, risked by Blague and O’Neill. This willingness demonstrates the presence of certain positive elements in the culture of the exiled court that perhaps have not received adequate emphasis. Apart from the exceptions discussed above, the bedchambermen may not have been much influenced by the intellectual and cultural opportunities offered by their enforced residence on the continent, but nor did they succumb to vices like idleness. On the contrary, as we have seen, their years in exile were marked by frequent and often arduous journeys. When O’Neill reached Paris on his return from the Pyrenees with Charles and Ormond in December 1659, he wrote to Hyde in Brussels to report their arrival. In his letter he referred to his ‘long, dangerous and expensive journeys’ on the king’s business (Bod. Clarendon MS 67. fols. 191-2). At different times, to further royalist diplomacy or conspiracy, to provide the services to the king that were their traditional responsibility, even to serve in the king’s armies, very many long, dangerous and expensive journeys were made by all the grooms of the bedchamber. They are probably the best illustration of the qualities of endurance and resourcefulness, of loyalty and courage that were also part of the culture of the exiled court.

[1] See for example van Beneden and de Poorter, the catalogue produced for the recent exhibition at the Rubens House, Antwerp.

[2] For Tuke see ODNB.

[3] Killigrew’s name does not appear among the grooms of the bedchamber in any of the royal household lists before 1658.

[4] For ‘The Start’ see Hutton 56-7.

[5] See also Sir John Denham’s poem ‘On Mr Thomas Killigrew’s Return from Venice’, Gilfillan 246.

[6] For references by Hyde to ‘honest Harry Seymour’ and to Harding being ‘good company’, see Calendar Clarendon iii: 38, 69.

[7] Seymour and Progers did not marry until after the Restoration. ODNB, Henning iii: 293.

[8] For Catherine, Lady Stanhope see ODNB and Aylmer 39n.

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2007-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).