Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Prince Who Would Not Be King - The Unhappy Beginnings of Charles I

By Linda Root

Charles I -by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
Public Domain {{US-Art}}
There is a certain amount of controversy about the early years of King Charles I concerning whether his childhood experiences contributed to his fate. The drama heightens when we remember who his grandmother was and that she had been pegged by Elizabeth as 'the daughter of debate.' But the Queen of Scots has become a cult princess if not a martyr; there is little if anything iconic about Charles. He was weak at birth and not expected to live. This had a profound effect on his early life, since there was no troop of Scottish nobles vying for his custody or supervision. The honor, if it could be considered as such,  went to Alexander Seton, very likely by default. Whether any part of his fate can be traced to his early years and the influence of Seton is a Herculean topic for a blog post, but not too much to tease some of us into looking deeper.

When little Charles, and indeed he was a runt by comparison to other Stuarts, was born at Dunfermline Abbey on November 19, 1600, Alexander  Seton was Baillie of Dunfermline by appointment of Queen Anne. Charles spent most of the first four years of his life living with Lord Seton and his second wife Grizel Leslie at Dunfermline Palace. His guardianship was not an easy undertaking. Charles was frail,  subject to frequent fevers, and was a slow developer. In today's terms, he would be classified as a 'failure to thrive' child. The likely underlying cause  mentioned in  current medical discussions  is rickets, but there may have been other factors in play.

While rickets was a recognized problem for seamen of the Seventeenth Century,  the diet of the Scottish aristocracy was prone to the same problems but rarely diagnosed. Fresh fruit and leafy vegetables were uncommon and the importance of vitamins was not understood. At any rate, while Charles was in the Seton household, he neither walked nor talked, and when the royal family moved to London upon the ascension of James VI of Scotland to the English throne as James I, Charles remained at Dunfermline Palace under Alexander Seton’s supervision and in Grizel Leslie's care. He was deemed too frail to survive the trip.
Seton was a closet Catholic, and it was King Charles I's tendency to favor the High Anglican form of worship that caused much of the monarch's trouble in his future. There is a good argument that his determination to shove the Anglican prayer book down the gullets of the Scots set the stage for the Civil War. He came by his religious views honestly. For the first three years and five months of his life, Charles was raised in a Catholic environment, and then he was transferred to the care of Dame Robert Carey, and raised in a High Anglican household.

 His eventual delivery to England was a medical decision. Some writers propound that Seton propagated reports of a miraculous recovery on Charles’s part in order to be rid or him and bribed a doctor to exaggerate his new mobility, but there is better evidence that King James sent an English physician to Scotland to examine Charles, who by autumn of 1604 was able to walk the distance of the Great Hall at Dunfermline and was thus declared to be strong enough to travel. There are also conflicts in the reports of how he got to Whitehall.  One of the popular sites reports that his new guardian Carey was sent  north to rescue him from Seton's care and fetch him to London, and other sources have Seton delivering him personally. The conflict is resolved by Carey himself, who was sent by the King and Queen to rendezvous with Prince Charles's entourage and met up with it south of Northumberland. From that point, Seton and Carey continued the journey to Windsor together. Seton was in attendance at his ward’s investiture as Duke of York on Twelfth night, and remained at the English court until midsummer. He was back in Scotland in time to miss the hullabaloo over the Gunpowder Treason. 

At the Duke of York's investiture, Charles was still barely walking, but his disability was not a cause of profound concern. After all, he was the second son and unlikely to ever be a king.  According to Carey, when news of his arrival in England was first announced there were many aristocrats competing for his custody, until they saw what shape he was in.  It was the queen who selected Lady Carey as his foster mother, an appointment suggested by Seton.

The Duke of York 

Following  his investiture as Duke of York, Charles Stuart remained  a child unlikely to play a major role in the history of Britain. For those who were on hand during Charles's early years, that was no doubt considered something of a Godsend. Even when he gained the use of his legs, he was inordinately shy and stammered when he tried to speak. Fortunately, the position of heir-apparent was already occupied by the popular, attractive, independent, tall and athletic Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales. Prince Henry Frederick was as much an English Darling as a Scottish one, with all of the grace, charm, intellect and robust health associated with the youthful Prince Harry Tudor. He was so popular with the peers of the realm that they soon forgot that he was born  a Scot.

In 2012, there was an exhibit in the National Portrait Gallery in which a life-sized wooden tomb effigy which had been placed upon Prince Henry's casket for the funeral procession was displayed. Reviewers commented on the athleticism of the carving. The portraits on display confirmed that Henry was indeed a model prince. Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales,  was the Hope of Britain, the man who was to right all wrongs and drive the nation forward with vision and gusto. He shared the best qualities of his father and his grandmother Marie Stuart Queen of Scots whereas it can be argued his brother shared the worst. He dreamed of erecting a Bridge over the Thames at Westminster, and he established galleries and libraries. His presence was commanding. He was described by foreign envoys as a natural leader.

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales ({PD-US art}}
Charles Stuart, Duke of York {{PD-US art}}

Even his royal father held Prince Henry in considerable awe. As Henry grew older, he had his own satellite court and on questions of politics and religion, he was known to be confrontational with his father. Some contemporaries suggest that the king was afraid his son might usurp him, although the better evidence is that he was the king’s pride and joy.

 And then came a bout with typhoid and he was gone.

His brother, not quite twelve when Henry died,  had adored him and sought to be like him but his image thwarted any attempt to emulate him. At full growth he was only 5’4” tall and while his legs had recovered, he was never the robust champion that his brother had been. At the funeral procession, Charles, Duke of York, walked beside the coffin, but King James was too distraught to attend.  Even at the time of Charles's greatest grief, his father was not there to ease his burden.

One wonders what the mourners thought when they saw the adolescent who was to replace their Golden Child. Although the crowd watching the funeral procession was glimpsing a far more formidable Charles Stuart than they would have seen when he arrived in England in 1604, he still was not his dead brother's equal. The years of being a slow developer had taken a toll. The new heir apparent may not have been a cripple as was feared, but he was shy and ill-suited to the new scrutiny certain to surround him. No doubt the comparison to his dead brother gave the English a second cause to mourn the death of the handsome and competent Prince of Wales. Even now, historians are tempted to ask, "What if?" “Had Henry Frederick lived, would there have been a Cromwell?”

The early life of Britain's most unlikely king

It is not surprising that Charles had been born at Dunfermline Abbey. The lands at Dunfermline in Fifeshire had been one of the bones of contention in the Danish marriage. Under terms of the contract as the Danes construed it, Dunfermline  was to be Queen Anne's outright possession, which was not the case according to the Scots who had drawn the contract.  After considerable wrangling, Anne was permitted to style herself as Dunfermline's Lady Queen, but the castle on the hill and the lands near the town of Dunfermline were considered part of the Dunfermline barony. The queen took a special liking to the Palace at Dunfermline Abbey where many of Scotland’s legendary queens had resided,  including the sainted Queen Margaret, King David's queen.  Anne restored a portion of it into elegant apartments for herself. It was her favored residence during the years she spent in Scotland.

She apparently had no problem with having Alexander Seton as her neighbor on the hill. He had a broad continental education and  was fluent in the German spoken at the Danish court. He was also a Catholic at heart if not in daily practice. He was too pragmatic for that. While his thinly disguised  Catholic faith would have put him in good stead with Queen Anne who had secretly converted, it would have created a crisis for King James, who made him Chancellor in 1604. Seton 's nominal Episcopalianism was a survival skill that satisfied the law but fooled few.

Early in her marriage, Queen Anne had been highly agitated when she learned that the Scottish custom was to have the heir apparent raised at Stirling in the care of the Earl of Mar, and it had caused domestic problems when Henry Frederick was born and carted off to Stirling. However, when frail Charles came into the world and no one wanted the responsibility of keeping so sickly and disappointing a child, they were much less anxious to shove Queen Anna from the picture. At the time Charles was placed under the guardianship of Alexander Seton, Seton was Lord Fyvie with extensive holdings including both Fyvie Castle in the north and the old fortress of Dunfermline on the hill. Although there is no clear evidence of it, it is easy to imagine Seton coming to the abbey palace to confer with the queen at a time when her priests were singing a mass. For in spite of his clever cloak of Anglicanism, Seton was the most highly placed of Scotland’s surviving proponents of the auld religion.

Queen Anne  - Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger , Public Domain
Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
 Public Domain Art

The Guardian,  Alexander Seton  

Alexander Seton had been schooled in Rome during his Marian father's exile and during his father's later embassy to France after the forfeitures against the Setons were forgiven by the king in the Pacifications. He was considered a gifted  Latin scholar as well as a keen legal mind. There is speculation that had he stayed in Rome he would have been a Cardinal. That tidbit  is supplied in the History of the House of Setoun written by Sir Richard Maitland  in the middle of the Sixteenth  Century  and published by the Maitland Club in 1849.  Sir Richard was a politician and a poet close to King James V,  and was the father of both the famous statesman William Maitland of Lethington and King James VI's Chancellor John Maitland, Lord Thirlestane. 

Sir Richard's mother was a Seton and his history is likely biased, but there is no question that Alexander Seton was held in high regard by the Catholic community in Europe.

As for the grant of the Fyvie Barony, there is evidence he bought it in exchange for forgiveness of his predecessor George Meldrum's heavy debts. The transfer of Meldrum's title to Seton was ratified in 1598. The previous Lady Fyvie had been Hon Marie Flemyng  of the famous Four Maries, Secretary William Maitland's widow when she married Meldrum. Dame Flemyng had been at odds with Sir Richard and her brother-in-law Thirlestane for acquiring her son’s barony of Lethington ‘on the cheap’ and it seems that Seton performed similar maneuvers when it came to her second husband’s barony of Fyvie. 

Seton may have had the background suited to a Cardinal but he was not a saint. There was more than casual speculation that he disposed of his first wife Lilias Drummond when she began to show her age after he became aware of the charms of the much younger daughter of the Master of Rothes, Grizel Leslie.  It is said that dead Lilias visited them at Fyvie Castle on their wedding night nd etched her name on the outside sill of their bedroom window, one of the reasons why Fyvie is regarded one of the most haunted castles in Scotland.

The Foster Mother, Dame Robert Carey

The Carey family, with Dame Robert second from the left
and  Sir Robert Carey in the center
Public Domain art {{US-Art}}

In late February 1605, a month after the Duke of York’s investiture,  he was placed in the residence of  Robert Carey and his wife, the redoubtable Elisabeth Trevannion, known in London as Dame Robert.  With much effort and aided by reinforced high topped Italian leather boots, Lady Carey had him walking and talking. She apparently did so after arguing with the king, who wanted his legs placed in iron casts. The king also wanted to cut the string beneath Charles's tongue, but Dame Robert would not allow it. Her husband gives her credit for the  boy's physical recovery and takes none of it for himself, unusual in a 17th century husband.

Charles remained in her care until he was eleven and his brother died, at which time he was given his own establishment. That did not remove Lady Carey from his life.  She was awarded a position in Queen Anne’s household as her Mistress of the Sweets and remained her former ward’s close friend and adviser.  When Charles ascended the throne on his father's death, he made Robert Carey Earl of Monmouth but throughout his life when he needed the support of someone strong, he turned to Dame Robert Carey.  Unlike his brother Henry Frederick who dared publicly defy his father on occasion, Charles had a deep belief in the Divine Right of Kings.  So did  Elizabeth Tudor, at least in her public persona.  Robert Carey was the son of Henry Carey, whose mother was Mary Boleyn.  There has always been a healthy bit of speculation that  Henry Carey was not just Elizabeth Tudors  first cousin. He might have been her half-brother. If Robert Carey had been Elizabeth Tudor's nephew, she well may have passed to him a very Tudor view of sovereignty, and he may have passed it on to Charles.

Part of Lady Carey’s regimen of child rearing with Charles as well as her own daughter and two sons was the use of praise.  It worked marvels with Prince Charles. It apparently bothered Queen Anne that as her surviving son matured, when he needed succor, it was Dame Robert whom he sought. Dame Robert's  liberal use of praise to build confidence in  Charles may have had the unfortunate effect of convincing him he could do no wrong. 

In the summer of 1605, much rewarded by the king for having borne the expenses and provided the care of the prince, Seton returned to Scotland  to become Scotland's  Chancellor.  To appease concerns of the English peers due to Seton's past influence and the queen's well known Catholic practices, the prince's studies were supervised by a Presbyterian tutor, Mister Murray.  Robert Carey  is regarded as one of the first English biographers and in his memoirs he highly praises Alexander Seton as a man of integrity and intellect. Carey does not proselytize, so it is difficult to isolate his religious beliefs from his political achievements,  but his household was High Anglican. In his memoirs, he applauds   Seton for remaining constant in his Catholic faith  until the day he died.  Contrary to what some modern sources infer,they were not rivals, but lifelong  friends.


In conclusion, it is not hard to imagine King Charles attempting to force the Anglican form of worship on the Presbyterian Scots. Many Puritans fled England during his early  realm. One recalls the often perverted but well known Jesuit saying discussed by Richard Dawkins in his controversial book The God Delusion, as quoted by Anthony Horvath in The Christian 
'Religious leaders are well aware of the vulnerability of the child brain, and the importance of getting the indoctrination in early.  The Jesuit boast 'Give me the child for the first seven years and I'll give you the man' is no less accurate (or sinister) for being hackneyed.'  
While the circumstances that produced the disastrous consequences of his reign are complex, Charles I ‘s beginnings were portentous of his tragic end.  His is a woeful tale, not just for the Stuart Monarchy of the early Seventeenth Century, but for his separate kingdoms. 

The Execution of Charles Stuart, King of England, Scotland and Ireland,
from a 17th century German manuscript

Author's Note:   The youthful Prince Charles, while the wee Duke of Albany, makes a brief appearance in my work-in-progress, In the Shadow of the Gallows, the fourth book in the Legacy of the Queen of Scots series, coming in the winter of 2014-15, and is mentioned in my recently released 1603: The Queen's Revenge.  In researching this post I have visited a variety of sources including the memoirs of Robert Carey and those of Alexander Seton. The Carey biography is available free as a Google Book, and insightful as to the character of Charles I. There is a wealth of colorful input in Agnes Strickland's book Lives of the Queens of Scotland and English Princesses Connected With the Regal Succession of Great Britain, Vol. 2 (Classic Reprint), much of which is speculative.      Linda Root, Yucca Valley, California May 26, 2014

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