Charles the Second, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland

By Ronald Hutton | Go to book overview
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I Boyhood

IN seeking to trace the development of a person who lived three hundred years ago, the historian has a fundamental handicap: the seventeenth century lacked the interest of the present age in child psychology, and generally failed to record those incidents which this discipline regards as important. So it was with the child who was born in St James's Palace upon 29 May 1630, christened Charles, and later styled Prince of Great Britain, though generally known by the more traditional title of Prince of Wales. Contemporary comments upon his boyhood may be divided instead into three broad categories: those concerned with the external trappings of an heir to the throne in the age of baroque monarchy; those upon his physical and mental characteristics; and those preoccupied with his relation to political affairs.

The first sort commenced with his birth. It was noted by many observers that a bright star appeared over London at noon upon that day, portending good fortune. There was less agreement over the significance of a solar eclipse which followed. 1 More prosaically, the nurses attending the birth predicted that he would be generous because he appeared with open hands. 2 Observers of the christening, in the Chapel Royal, remembered that the whole party wore white satin with crimson embroidery, that six barons carried the canopy over the baby, that the corporation of London gave the King a gold cup worth £1,000, and that the absent godmother, the Queen Mother of France, sent marvellous diamonds. 3

A few of the State Papers relate to the administration of this royal childhood. It has been fashionable of late to note that the parents, Charles I and Henrietta Maria, were one of history's most happily married crowned couples, and to conclude from this that young Charles had a stable and loving background. The point has been overstressed, for both father and mother lived most of their time away from their children. From the beginning, the nursery was a large establishment, presided over by the Countess of Dorset and including eight people appointed merely to rock the cradle. It moved within a few months from St James's to Greenwich Palace, and then, in 1633, far up-river to Richmond Palace, where it


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