Wren’s assessment proved remarkably astute. He was certainly right about Charles’s loyalty to the Church of England, or at least to the hierarchical, non-puritan church that the anti-Calvinists wanted. Right up to his death this was probably his most consistent priority. He was also right about Charles being less learned than his father. Charles was intelligent and well educated, and probably had a more refined aesthetic taste than any other English monarch, but he could not match his father’s native wit or assured grasp of ideas. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the whole episode, however, was the uncertainty it revealed about the young prince’s religious and political inclinations. He was 22 when Wren delivered his verdict and few heirs to the throne in this period could have remained quite so inscrutable to those whose futures depended on them. But Charles was very much a late developer, largely as a consequence of a difficult and precarious childhood.

He was born at Dunfermline Castle on 19 November 1600 and throughout his early years suffered from a combination of poor health and lack of parental attention. When his family moved south in March 1603, on James’s accession to the throne of England, Charles remained behind in Scotland because he was considered too sickly to cope with the journey. When he did finally come to England, in July 1604, it was difficult to find a noble family to look after him because of fears that he might die on their hands. He was eventually placed with Sir Robert Carey and his wife Lady Elizabeth who provided him with a stable home until 1613 when he was considered old enough to set up his own household. During these early years, Charles saw little of his parents or his elder brother and sister, Henry and Elizabeth, and such contact as he had was often discouraging. There is a story of Prince Henry teasing him when he was nine by snatching off Bishop Abbot’s hat, placing it on his head and telling him that he was such a swot that when he was king he would make him archbishop of Canterbury. He was also largely ignored by the general public who devoted most of their attention to the glamorous Henry. This hardly changed even when he became heir to the throne after Henry’s death from typhoid fever in November 1612. There was surprisingly little of the romantic gossip which normally attaches to a future king; and after a flurry of dedications of literary works to him in the year after Henry’s death, aspiring authors looked elsewhere. It was, perhaps, indicative of his lack of impact that when he was installed as Prince of

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Charles I: A Political Life
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