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A FANTASTIC AND COMICAL RETINUE.
that, after many fruitless complaints and ineffectual menaces, he left England in disgust. “The Old Knight,” also, “a lock of whose hair quite covered the rest of his bald pate, bound on by a thread very oddly," was another object of ridicule to the scoffers.
Altogether, both the ladies and gentlemen of the Portuguese suite formed such a fantastic and comical crew that, in a witty and critical Court like that of Charles II., they could not but be exposed to a constant fire of satirical comment.
But what gave rise to even more criticism and laughter than their looks and general appearance, was the ludicrous Portuguese dress in which the Queen and her ladies insisted on attiring themselves, instead of the pretty and graceful fashion then prevalent at the English Court. Their obstinacy in thus adhering to their native costume, which was not only strange, but positively ugly and grotesque, could not but create a prejudice against them, and tend to diminish that feeling of respect for the new Queen, which it should have been the first aim of all of them to foster.
It seems that, before leaving Lisbon, Catherine had been strongly urged by her brother, the King of Portugal, and by her mother, to cling pertinaciously to all her native peculiarities of manners, customs, language, and dress, being foolishly persuaded that to do so would greatly conduce to the dignity of Portugal, and would soon lead the English ladies to follow her example, so that it would end in the Portuguese costume being adopted by everyone at Court.
Of this idea Charles had probably got some inkling before his future wife had left Portugal; for he despatched to Lisbon a first-rate tailor, who was to fit her out in the smartest and best “ tailor-made” French dresses: and when she landed at Portsmouth he sent her, at once, a most magnificent trousseau.
But in both cases Catherine refused to take the hint-the tailor she would not even see, the trousseau she utterly declined to wear, and even now that she was under her husband's roof, she still, with petty feminine obstinacy, adhered to her foolish resolution, as unconscious, apparently, of the bad taste of appearing so singular among a foreign people in the Court where she had come to reign, as she evidently was of the stupidity of thereby giving her husband a good cause of complaint against her so early in their married life. Never, in truth, was a more foolish mistake made. Had the dresses she and her ladies insisted on wearing had anything of smartness or chic, there would have been more excuse for the eccentricity; and had the wearers of them been remarkable for beauty of feature or form, there would have been more chance of carrying off their strangeness in English eyes, and more likelihood of inducing the ladies of the Court to follow their lead and adopt the costume. But instead of this, the train of hideous, dowdy, old frumps, with their dumpy figures, their forbidding countenances, and their dark olive complexions, “decked out in their monstrous fardingales," with "their fortops turned aside very strangely,” raised a perfect howl of derision wherever they went.
Charles, who was keenly alive to the ludicrous, and always acutely sensitive to any ridicule cast on those connected with himself, and who was, all the time, only too conscious of the critical eyes and satiric tongues of his courtiers, implored her to lay this costume aside, and wear some of the trousseau he had presented to her.
But for a long time Catherine was obdurate; until at length, finding that the king, who had used persuasion in vain, was becoming peremptory, she obeyed, yielding at last with bad grace on a point in which she was clearly in the wrong, and on which she should have given in, cheerfully and willingly, at the beginning.
Throughout this dispute Catherine was so unfortunate as to receive nothing but bad advice from her ladies-in-waiting, who, being older than herself, and presumably possessed of more knowledge and experience of the world, should have encouraged her to take the wiser and more reasonable course, instead of from the outset doing everything in their power to set her against Charles, and to resist his authority in every way. Even after she herself had adopted the English costume, they themselves persisted in appearing before the whole Court in their grotesque guarda-infantas, in defiance of her example, and in reproach, as it were, to her weakness in having surrendered. Eventually, however, even they had to conform, and were compelled to clothe their misshapen forms in the prevailing French fashion. The weakening of the new Queen's influence, caused by thus making her first stand
A DISPUTE ABOUT DRESS.
against Charles on a question, in which eventual surrender on her part was inevitable, instead of reserving all her strength of will and firmness of purpose for a contest where principles and not trifles were involved, had, as we shall see in our next chapter, the most fatal results on her future life with her husband.
After this things went on propitiously for some little time. For, though Charles was never in love with his wife, still he was sufficiently pleased with her youth, her simplicity, and her cheerful and innocent conversation to make the first few weeks of their sojourn at Hampton Court go off pretty well. The days were occupied with excursions on the river, sports in the parks, and games in the gardens; the evenings with plays, music, and balls, in which the King, who excelled in dancing, greatly distinguished himself.
Evelyn, who was at the palace for several days, gives us some account of what was going on. One day he saw the beautiful gondola sent to his Majesty by the State of Venice floating on the Thames, bearing, no doubt, the royal party, but he adds, “it was not comparable for swiftness to our common wherries, though managed by Venetians”; on another day he was present when her Majesty took supper privately in her bedroom ; and on another he heard "the Queen's Portugal music, consisting of fifes, harps, and very ill voices.”
At the same time Evelyn made a careful inspection of the whole palace and its contents and curiosities; and he particularly noticed "the Queen's bed, which was an embroidery of silver on crimson velvet, and cost £8,000, being a present made by the States of Holland when his Majesty returned, and had formerly been given by them to our King's sister, the Princess of Orange, and being bought of her again was now presented to the King. The great looking-glass and toilet of beaten and massive gold was given by the Queen Mother. The Queen brought over with her from Portugal such Indian cabinets as had never been seen here."
But it was not only the furniture and interior of the palace that moved the interest of visitors. Its surrounding amenities, also, did not fail to attract observation; and Evelyn, especially, as a horticulturist, and the author of the “Sylva,” speaks of—“The Park, formerly a naked piece of ground, now planted with sweet rows of lime trees; and the canal for water now near perfected,” etc., a remark which proves that it is to Charles II., as we have already pointed out, and not to William III., as is usually stated, that we are indebted for the making of the Long Canal, and the planting of the great avenues in the Home Park. If any further proof of this fact were needed, we have it in a curious contemporary picture of the old east front of the palace before William III.'s alterations, taken from the park side, and showing the canal and the recently-planted lime trees. The picture was painted for Charles II. about this time by Danckers, a painter of architecture and landscape, and it can be traced as being in the royal collection since the time of James II., in whose catalogue it is entered thus: “Hampton Court with the Canal, by Danckers." It was removed, a few years ago, at the author's suggestion, from St. James's Palace to Hampton Court, and an engraving of it is here inserted. The space in front of this façade of the palace was afterwards, as we shall show presently, occupied by the large semicircular garden laid out by William III., and on that account this end of the canal was partly filled up, so as to be now further removed from the palace than appears in this picture. Its present length is 3,500 feet, or nearly three-quarters of a mile, and its width 150 feet.
On the gardens Evelyn makes the following observations : “In the garden is a rich and noble fountain, with syrens, statues, etc., cast in copper by Fanelli, but no plenty of water. The cradle walk of horn-beam (now called Queen Mary's Bower] in the garden is, for the perplexed twining of the trees, very observable. There is a parterre which they call Paradise, in which is a pretty banqueting house set over a cave or cellar. All these gardens might be exceedingly improved, as being too narrow for such a palace.”