Almost every dynasty to hold the English (later, British) throne has experienced considerable family disunity. This has ranged from personal disagreements - such as the well-documented disputes between successive Hanoverian kings and their sons throughout the 18th century – to open warfare. The ‘Anarchy’ of 1138-53 saw Empress Matilda fight her cousin Stephen of Blois for the English crown; the ‘Wars of the Roses’ tore the Plantagenet dynasty apart; and Mary II and Anne acquiesced in the overthrow of their father James II in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688-9. However, there is one instance of such a schism which is not only largely forgotten, but is also perhaps the most surprising.
I thought I was done with early modern European history. Not for good, but perhaps for two or three weeks. I was separated from Europe by ten thousand miles and two weeks in a quarantine hotel. I had just finished marking the last batch of Europe in the Making essays for the year. It was June, but the weather was getting colder, not hotter. The pōhutukawa trees in Wellington, the capital city of Aotearoa New Zealand, had lost their red flowers several months previously.
But then I saw this:
Do Charles II (1630-1685) and Charles III (1948-present) have anything in common? Over three hundred years apart, there are, of course, many differences; but are there any parallels between the two monarchs and the two ‘Carolingian’ periods?
Both Charles II and Charles III came to the throne after a long wait. Charles II, whose father Charles I lost the civil wars and was beheaded in 1649, endured a long period of exile, in which he toured the courts of Europe looking for both refuge and support in his bid to regain his kingdom. Although the monarchy was restored in 1660 and Charles came to the throne, the somewhat traumatic experience of his ‘travels’ lived with him for the rest of his life. During his exile, Charles had to swallow distasteful policies foisted on him by his temporary allies, leading to a life-long tendency to disguise his true self. Charles III has waited longer, of course, and though his apprenticeship was less traumatic it may well have as enduring an impact on how he behaves as monarch and he may have to emulate his name-sake by hiding his opinions and his true self. Charles II was a ‘monarch in masquerade’; Charles III may well have to be one too.
During my PhD, I spent a number of days working through the family correspondence of the Yorkshire lesser nobility family the Robinsons at the ‘Wrest Park Collection’ at Bedfordshire Archives and Record Services. My magical source is a letter sent by the British diplomat in Spain Thomas Robinson, Lord Grantham to his brother Frederick (Fritz) Robinson in London in March 1779. The letter details the social and cultural life of the Spanish court as well as the Robinson family back in England. The conspicuous discussion of material goods in the letter is representative of the brothers’ correspondence generally – this is both in part down to the brothers’ intense personal interest in art and furnishings and a semi-professional interest as Frederick acted as Grantham’s secretary and agent. In the run of 301 Grantham and Frederick’s letters in the archive, hundreds were concerned with material things – this is magical in itself. When reading through the collection, a phrase really stood out to me from this letter discussing Grantham’s ambassadorial gala coach used on formal processions into the Spanish royal palaces. Grantham wrote: “my Coach & Buff Harness are shabby to a degree & I determine whether I can do anything to be merely decent at [the Palace at] Aranjuez. You may think that I have no ambition to make a figure, at the same Time I must keep up appearances.”
In 2012 I was preparing to teach a module on the case of Mary Toft who alleged to have given birth to rabbits in 1726. The module was intended to teach second-year students about source analysis through a discrete and manageable case study. The case caused a media sensation and I knew well many of the primary sources associated, notably the well-known printed pamphlets and engravings. These sources had shaped the studies of the case which focussed on either medical historical perspectives or broader concepts relating to the imagination and the self. In their often satiric reinvention and representation of the case, these printed sources underscored that the case was a hoax.