Charlie and the Chocolate Inventory: Alison Barnes Has Unearthed a Transcription of the Privy Purse Accounts of Charles II That Fills the Gap for 1666, for Which Year the Originals Are Now Lost. They Offer a Fascinating Glimpse of How the King Liked to Spend His Time and His Money

By Barnes, Alison | History Today, February 2006 | Go to article overview

Charlie and the Chocolate Inventory: Alison Barnes Has Unearthed a Transcription of the Privy Purse Accounts of Charles II That Fills the Gap for 1666, for Which Year the Originals Are Now Lost. They Offer a Fascinating Glimpse of How the King Liked to Spend His Time and His Money


Barnes, Alison, History Today


EVER SINCE THE DEATH of Charles II on February 6th, 1685, there has been a constant stream of books written about him, most of which I have read as part of my research on the seventeenth century. Somehow none of these biographies made me feel that I knew the King, however, and it wasn't until I recently discovered his Privy Purse Accounts for 1666-69 in the Bodleian Library, (MS. Malone 44), that he suddenly sprang vividly to life. For these extracts possess an immediacy that turns the remote monarch into a flesh-and-blood human being.

Edmund Malone (1741-1812), a book and manuscript collector, transcribed these Accounts from the notebooks of Baptist May, Privy Purse, in about 1800. The full Privy Purse Accounts for 1667-69 are in the National Archives at Kew, but those for 1666 are missing, so Malone's transcripts of that year have added interest.

The main thing one notices on reading through the Accounts at the Bodleian is that Charles II was the first out-and-out English chocaholic. Chocolate in the 1660s was regarded as a nourishing drink and an aphrodisiac. Dr Henry Stubbs, who often prepared chocolate flavoured with vanilla for the King, and who wrote The Natural History of Chocolate in 1662, informs us that 'the great use of Chocolate in Venery and for supplying the Testicles with a Balsam or a Sap' was then universally believed.

By 1666 Charles was keeping two or three mistresses as well as indulging in numerous one-night stands with girls who crept up his 'privy stairs' to the trysts. So no one in the kingdom was more appreciative of chocolate's alleged strengthening properties, and he bought huge amounts of it.

The Accounts do not tell us how much the King spent every year on coffee, although we learn that he had a special 'Coffe Maker'. But we know that he usually spent about 6 [pounds sterling] a year on tea, as opposed to 57 [pounds sterling] 18s. 8d. on chocolate in 1666, rising to a staggering 229 [pounds sterling] 10s. 8d. in 1669.

The King's favourite wines appear to have been 'Canaree' and 'Hypocras', which he both drank himself and gave away to friends. He also occasionally bought 'Asses Milk', Juniper Water' and 'Poppy Water'.

Charles II's best-loved delicacies were 'Lamprey pyes', with which his loyal subjects kept him well supplied, the bearers of these toothsome morsels being given 10s. or 1 [pounds sterling]. He also seems to have been partial to venison, pheasants, partridges, ortolans, and dotterels. And he was an avid fruit eater. Susan Sweet-apples was his usual 'fruit Woman', to whom he made frequent payments of between 5 [pounds sterling] and 15 [pounds sterling]. But in December, 1666 he also paid 5 [pounds sterling] to 'Orange Mall for 34 China Oranges'.

King Charles does not seem to have smoked tobacco. He did take snuff', however; paying 'Mr Mansell' about 20 [pounds sterling] a year for it. And in May, 1668, the Privy Purse rewarded 'one that found ye King's snuff Box' with 16s.

Relatively little was spent by the King on clothes for himself and his household during this period. In December 1666, he paid 35 [pounds sterling] for a fine lace 'Point' or cravat. In October, 1667, he bought '12 Cotton Cravats' for a modest 3 [pounds sterling]. In April, 1668, his page boy 'Button' received a new 'Livery' at a cost of 31 [pounds sterling] 14s. And in May, 1669, he bought '2 pair of silk Stockings' for Queen Catherine or one of his mistresses for 16s.

When it came to his beloved theatricals, though, the King spared no expense in dressing the actors sumptuously. So that, for example, in February 1668 he gave Thomas Killigrew 400 [pounds sterling] 'to buy habits for Cattiline'--the play Cataline which John Evelyn went to see on December 19th that year.

Thomas Killigrew, manager of the King's Players, who acted at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, was one of the large number of 'pentioners' whose salaries and allowances Charles paid every year. …

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Charlie and the Chocolate Inventory: Alison Barnes Has Unearthed a Transcription of the Privy Purse Accounts of Charles II That Fills the Gap for 1666, for Which Year the Originals Are Now Lost. They Offer a Fascinating Glimpse of How the King Liked to Spend His Time and His Money
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