28 February 2016
Discover fascinating facts about the Stuart monarchs in Andrea Zuvich's fun guide to the later Stuart kings and queens.
Discover fascinating facts about the Stuart monarchs in Andrea Zuvich's fun guide to the later Stuart kings and queens who reigned over the most turbulent times in history.
1. The Stuarts loved collecting art
Charles I was a great collector of art, a passion he shared with his elder brother Henry. Indeed, historian Mark Kishlansky stated in his book, Charles I: An Abbreviated Life, that the monarch accumulated over 1,000 paintings and several hundred sculptures – all of which created a superb royal collection.
During Charles II’s reign, Anne Hyde, Duchess of York commissioned a series of sensual paintings by Peter Lely. These paintings depicted the most beautiful women of Charles’s court and were known as the Windsor Beauties.
Before becoming Mary II, Mary as Princess of Orange began collecting blue-and-white porcelain and the craze spread. Like her mother before her, Mary commissioned a series of paintings of the ladies of her court. Created by Godfrey Kneller, this series was known as the Hampton Court Beauties. When visiting Kensington Palace, then known as Kensington House, during the reign of William III, famed Stuart-era diarist John Evelyn reported how excellent the art collection in the King’s Gallery was.
2. Popular Stuart-era foods might turn your stomach
There’s nothing quite like a nice hot pie and a drink, am I right? A seventeenth-century person would agree, especially if that was a pigeon pie and cock ale. What? That’s right, a nice meaty pie made from pigeon meat. Yes, those same pigeons that we now consider dirty were once considered quite tasty.
Cock ale was beer that had been fermented normally but for the addition of a chicken carcass. This would stew inside the beer until the latter was ready and the resulting beverage was considered nutritious and satisfying! There were some very appetising new foods to be enjoyed, it must be said. Global trade to foreign lands meant bananas, pineapples, ice cream, hot chocolate, coffee, and tea were enjoyed in Stewart Britain. Most people couldn’t afford some of these exotic luxuries, but that’s another matter.
3. Charles II had two coronations
When people think about King Charles II, they often think of him as the ‘Merry Monarch’ with his gaggle of floppy-eared spaniels and bevy of beautiful mistresses. When Charles was crowned King of England on 23 April 1661, that was not the first time he had taken part in a coronation ceremony. The reality was that Charles had been crowned King of Scotland at Scone a decade earlier in 1651, although the Scottish parliament had proclaimed him king in 1649 following his father’s execution. The newly-crowned King of Scots and his supporters made one last attempt against the Parliamentarians. His attempts ended in unmitigated defeat at the Battle of Worcester, from which he narrowly escaped with his life (with the help of an oak tree, Jane Lane, and a bit of luck).
4. The Stuarts had a nasty habit of losing their heads
Mary Queen of Scots infamously lost her head after nearly two decades of imprisonment. Mary’s end was not quick for it took several strokes of the axe before her head was severed from her body.
Her grandson, Charles I, was found guilty of treason and publicly beheaded outside the Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace in 1649. In turn, Charles’s grandson, James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (pictured), led the disastrous Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. Monmouth’s father had been Charles II, Charles I’s eldest son, and Monmouth, the eldest of Charles’s many illegitimate children.
His uncle, King James II/VII showed his brother’s favourite son no mercy, and on 15 of July 1685, Monmouth was taken from the Tower of London up to Tower Hill. There, the executioner Jack Ketch awaited him and Monmouth was subjected to one of most notoriously botched executions in British history. It took between five to seven blows plus sawing with a knife to sever the doomed duke’s head from his shoulders.
5. The Stuarts faced the emergence of radical groups
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the Stewart era is the emergence of some very radical groups. The most important of these were the Levellers and the Diggers. The Levellers were extremely important because many soldiers in the New Model Army sympathised with them, and this made them a problem for people like Oliver Cromwell.
Among the most influential Levellers was one Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, who famously said that, ‘the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he’. Another vocal Leveller was ‘Freeborn’ John Lilburne, who was imprisoned frequently, and later became a Quaker.
The Quakers were another radical group in the Stuart era, and some – such as William Penn – set up communities in America. Gerrard Winstanley started the Diggers, also known as the True Levellers, and this group of people believed that the earth was a public treasury. The Diggers formed a commune in Surrey where they dug the earth in the hope of creating a common agricultural community. This whole experiment was met with hostility from both the government and the neighbouring area and was destroyed.
Andrea Zuvich, aka the Seventeenth-Century Lady is the author of The Stuarts in 100 Facts, published by Amberley Publishing. The book takes the reader through 100 fascinating Stuart facts, from the deaths of kings to the discovery of brave new worlds.