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CHARLES II.'s DISAGREEMENT WITH HIS WIFE.
In the meantime the King and Queen spending so long a time at Hampton Court was beginning to occasion considerable dissatisfaction in London, where the presence of the Court was missed, and where the business of the State was at a standstill. Pepys, in a note at the end of his Diary for June, says: "This I take to be as bad a juncture as ever I observed. The King and new Queen minding their pleasures at Hampton Court : all people discontented.”
But as Sir John Reresby remarked: “Though everything was gay and splendid and profusely joyful, it was easy to discern that the King was not excessively charmed with his new bride, who was a very little woman, and a pretty tolerable face, she neither in person nor manners having any one article to stand in competition with the charms of the Countess of Castlemaine, the finest woman of her age.” Indeed, of the King's indifference to her, and his preference for Lady Castlemaine, the Queen had not long to wait before receiving very emphatic proof.
Previous to Catherine of Braganza's quitting Portugal she had heard of the young and beautiful Mrs. Palmer, afterwards Countess of Castlemaine, a lady of good birth, whose father had lost his life in the service of the Crown; and she had been warned by her mother, on no account to receive her at Court, or even to allow her name to be mentioned in her presence. When, therefore, Catherine came to England and married Charles, she kept this resolution firmly planted in her mind.
Unfortunately her husband had, on his part, for many reasons, come to exactly the opposite conclusion; and he was determined to insist, at all hazards, on the Queen not only acknowledging and receiving Lady Castlemaine at Court, but positively making her one of the ladies of her
THE QUEEN AND LADY CASTLEMAINE.
bed-chamber, and admitting her into her most intimate acquaintance. He had made this resolve, partly out of his infatuation for that fascinating lady, and partly in consequence of a promise, which the imperious beauty had extorted from him, of giving her such a position at Court as could not be gainsaid, and which would be some compensation to her for her loss of position in more respectable or less tolerant society.
Such being the intentions, and inclinations of the chief persons concerned, we can imagine the significance of the scene that occurred one day at Hampton Court, in the Presence Chamber, where Catherine was sitting, surrounded by the Court, when the door opened, and Charles, leading Lady Castlemaine by the hand, himself presented her to the Queen.
Catherine, who, of course, had never set eyes on the lady before, and who, perhaps, did not catch her name, nor fully understand who she was, rose and received her with her usual graciousness. But a moment after, divining who she was, and conscious of the flagrant insult that had been put upon her in the face of the whole Court, she sat down, her colour changed, tears gushed from her eyes, her nose bled, and she fainted. She was then taken into her own room; and all the company withdrew to talk over the scandalous scene they had just witnessed.
So painful an upshot of the King's first step towards his project, should have made him, one would suppose, relinquish it at least for a time. But not at all. On the contrary, he looked upon the demeanour of the Queen in the affair. “with wonderful indignation,” and on receiving, in reply to his remonstrances, her answer that she would maintain her resolution not to receive Lady Castlemaine, in spite of everything he might do or say, he became excessively exasperated.
His pride was touched in the one quarter in which it was most tender-namely, the dread of appearing to the world as though he was governed by his wife, on which point, as Clarendon, whose pages are the authority for the particulars of this story, observes : "he was the most jealous and the most resolute of any man,” though no man's nature was, in its essence,
more remote from thoughts of roughness or hard-heartedness.” He had persuaded himself, however, that his honour was involved in breaking down the resistance of his wife to his authority; and for once the Merry Monarch, usually so pliable and yielding, was as firm as adamant. The courtiers, therefore, took their cue from the knowledge that the thing above all others in the world which the King shrank from, was to appear as though he was ruled by his wife. So they plied him unremittingly with urgent exhortations to make a stand now, assuring him that if he yielded on this point, he would ever afterwards be looked on as that most ridiculous of all objects—a henpecked husband. In a man such as Charles, so alive to the ludicrous, these representations were not without effect. Nor was he oblivious of the Queen's ill-advised obstinacy about her native dress; how absurd she and her ladies had made themselves appear in the eyes of the whole Court; and how, when he insisted, she had been obliged to give in. This topic, also, his courtiers worked adroitly to the same end, holding up all the Queen's attendants to the most merciless ridicule, and indirectly pointing the shafts of their satire at the Queen herself. We can imagine the roars of laughter that greeted the sallies of the Court wits, such as Rochester, Buckingham, De Grammont, and Sir Charles Sedley, and of Charles's parasites, male and female, assembled in jovial supper parties around the Merry Monarch at Hampton Court, at the Guarda-damas, or Mother of the Maids, an austere, wrinkled old harridan, who looked more like an old housekeeper in fancy dress than a lady-inwaiting ; at “Peter of the Wood,” with his Lusitanian pride and his six names; at the “old knight” with his one lock of hair plastered across his bald pate; at those six frights, the maids of honour, with their shapeless figures, their absurd top-knots, and their olive-green complexions; and, by innuendo, at the Queen herself, with her short, stunted figure, her snub nose, and her protruding tooth !
No wonder that all this confirmed Charles in his resolution not to give way to Catherine, whom he characterized as a bat instead of a woman! For a man to be ruled by his wife was bad enough; but to be ruled by such a wife !
On the other hand, we must not forget the feelings of the poor Queen-in a strange country, without counsellors, and
CHARLES II.'S QUARREL WITH HIS WIFE. 273
without friends, married, after one day's acquaintance, to a man whose affections were already engaged, to whom she was an object of indifference, and who, instead of being her protector, was trying to exact a most humiliating concession from her; while she, an alien in religion, and ignorant of the language and customs of the people, was surrounded by a crowd of cynics and scoffers. Never surely was a young woman placed in a more painful position !
But a still more bitter and cruel trial was yet in store for her. Hitherto, though Charles had freely expressed his displeasure to the Queen at her conduct when he presented Lady Castlemaine to her, and his determination that she should receive that lady at Court, he had not yet revealed to her his intention of insisting on her being appointed a lady of her bed-chamber. This plan, however, he now proceeded to unfold, preferring it on the transparent pretext that it was the only means of vindicating her ladyship's unjustly aspersed character to the world.
But at this proposal the Queen was naturally only the more transported with indignation; and she burst out into a torrent of angry reproaches against her husband.
Finding that all his remonstrances with the Queen were of no avail, Charles bethought himself of having recourse to the persuasive powers of his Lord Chancellor, Clarendon, to whom he accordingly imparted his complaint of the Queen's "perverseness and ill-humours," and requested his assistance in his endeavour to break down her resistance to his project.
Clarendon, though he knew of what had taken place in the Presence Chamber, had hitherto not heard of this proposal ; and he made bold to speak his mind pretty freely to the King, censuring particularly “the hard-heartedness and cruelty in laying such a command upon the Queen, which flesh and blood could not comply with,” and urging many other good reasons of policy against his adhering to it. In answer, the King acknowledged that what his Chancellor. said proceeded no doubt from affection for him ; but he declared that he was bound in conscience and honour to do the utmost he could for her," he would always avow to have a great friendship for her, which he owed as well to the memory of her father as to her own person; and that he
would look upon it as the highest disrespect to him in anybody who should treat her otherwise than was due to her own birth, and the dignity to which he had raised her. That he liked her company and conversation, from which he would not be restrained, because he knew there was and should be all innocence in it ; and that his wife should never have cause to complain if she would live towards him as a good wife ought to do, in rendering herself grateful and acceptable to him, which it was in her power to do.” He added that he had proceeded so far in the business, and was so deeply engaged in it, that not only would the lady be exposed to all imaginable contempt if it was not carried through, “but his own honour would suffer so much, that he should become ridiculous to the world, and be thought, too, in pupilage under a governor. Therefore he should expect and exact conformity from his wife herein, which should be the only hard thing he would ever require from her, and which she herself might make very easy, for the lady would behave herself with all possible duty and humility unto her, which if she should fail to do in the least degree she should never see the King's face again : and that in the future he would undertake never to put any other servant about her without first consulting her and receiving her consent and approbation.” He concluded by saying that nothing should make him recede from the resolution he had taken; and that he required Clarendon to use all the persuasive arts, of which he was master, to induce the Queen to comply with his wishes.
Such a duty was not one that any man would willingly have had cast upon him, especially considering the isolated and forlorn condition of the young Queen ; least of all could it have been a congenial one to Lord Clarendon, to whom Catherine had been bidden by her mother to look for counsel and sympathetic guidance, and whom, as she touchingly assured him, she regarded as her only friend in England. Besides, the woman whom he was desired by the King to recommend as a lady of her bed-chamber, was one of his own bitterest personal enemies, hating him both on account of his grudging her the pernicious influence she wielded over the King, and on account of his forbidding his own wife to receive or even to notice her.