On 1 August 1714, Queen Anne died, and as a result of the Act of Settlement of 1701, her second cousin George, Elector of Hannover, became king of Great Britain. Some factions were already yearning for ‘The King over the Water’, aka the Old Pretender, aka Francis Edward Stuart (1688–1766), son of James II and his second wife, Mary of Modena (she whose hairstyle was transformed upon her arrival in England; and then of course there was his son, Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart (1720–88), aka the Young Pretender, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, who in surviving portraits is not very Bonnie), and the death of Anne, ‘the last Stuart’, only intensified this trend.
I have never begun to understand the enthusiasm in Scotland, in particular, for a family of staunch Catholics, given the massive problems Charles II encountered there after his father’s execution by his refusal to abjure the Church of England and take up Presbyterianism, but that’s not really what I am interested in today. Instead, have a look at this large plaque, which we came across near the centre of Brugge on our recent jaunt, but had never seen before.
I knew that Charles and his brothers had spent time in the Low Countries during his exile, but thought in terms of Brussels, Den Haag and Breda rather than Brugge. However, with help from the excellent ODNB article, written by Dr Paul Seaward, of the History of Parliament Trust (I am sure that we have Antonia Fraser’s Charles II somewhere in the house, but in my current befuddled state, I can’t find it), I learn (among much else) that in March 1646 he left from Pendennis Castle in Cornwall for the Scilly Isles, after the advance of the Parliamentarian army into the West Country.
Both his parents urged him to join his mother in France, but he did so reluctantly only in June, and via Jersey. He was with Henrietta Maria at St Germain, at the expense of Louis XIV, until 1648 when the duke of Hamilton and other leaders of the Scots visited Charles I, then imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle in the Isle of Wight, and ‘promised military aid in exchange for a temporary imposition of presbyterianism in England’ (ODNB) (??!!). This extraordinary proposal was ratified in March, and in May Charles was asked to lead an invasion of England from Scotland. Rather than going immediately to North Britain, he visited his sister Mary, and her husband the Prince of Orange, at Den Haag.
While Charles argued there with the Scots about his faith status, the duke of Hamilton invaded England, and his army was completely defeated at the battle of Preston. This led to internecine warfare in Scotland, during which Cromwell assisted the ‘kirk’ party, led by Archibald Campbell, marquess of Argyll, to seize power and disinvite Charles.
Two days after Charles I’s execution on 30 January 1649, the Scots Parliament proclaimed Charles II as king, but with the proviso that he satisfied them ‘concerning religion, union, and the peace of Scotland, according to the covenants’. After some further discussion at Den Haag, Charles gave up on the kirk faction, and asked James Graham, marquess of Montrose, to support him if he invaded Scotland. But at the same time, he was also planning to invade Ireland: this unfortunately involved an alliance with Irish Catholics, which caused him to become persona non grata with his Dutch in-laws, so he moved first back St Germain in June, and then to Jersey, with the intention of joining his allies in Ireland.
However, Cromwell had roundly defeated his supporters there (with consequences which of course still resonate today), so complicated negotiations began again with Scotland. To cut an increasingly fraught story short, the rest of 1649 was a disaster – Montrose’s army having been defeated in April and the marquess fairly summarily executed – and 1650 was worse. Charles arrived in Scotland in June 1650, but was thwarted at every stage by the demands of the kirk faction, who required inter alia that he should declare ‘the shame he felt at the faults of his father and the idolatry of his mother’ – though he finally signed the declaration on 16 August.
Three weeks later, Cromwell, who had crossed the border with the New Model Army in mid-July, completely defeated the Scots at Dunbar, which eventually led to the decline of the extremist end of the kirk party (whose reaction to the debacle of Dunbar was that it was Charles’s fault for having such debauched followers). While Cromwell occupied the south of Scotland and was planning to advance north, the various parties around Charles finally got their act together, and he was crowned king of Scotland on 1 January 1651.
In June, Cromwell moved north, and rather than waiting to be attacked, Charles moved his army south into England – as far as Worcester – hoping that English royalists would flock to his banner. They didn’t, and on 3 September (one year to the day after Dunbar) the 12,000-strong Scots army was destroyed by the pursuing Parliamentarians, who outnumbered them two to one. Charles’s escape after the battle has become legendary – the Boscobel Oak, and all that – but he evaded his pursuers for six weeks, eventually reaching Shoreham and sailing to Fécamp in Normandy.
Everything seemed lost, and the next four years saw Charles first in Paris (when he was dependent of his mother’s pension from the French Crown, plus any money offered by English supporters (see Tobias Rustat on this …), and fathering several illegitimate children. The Dutch, fighting the English from 1652, did not want another complication in their politics, so he could expect no help in that quarter (and indeed the peace treaty the two parties signed in 1654 included a clause whereby they would not offer help to Charles or any of his supporters). Meanwhile, France gave formal recognition to the Cromwellian Commonwealth, and Charles, anxious for his own safety, travelled to the German lands, spending time in Cologne after the Imperial Diet at Regensburg had offered him support and a pension.
Charles’s fortunes finally improved when England and France signed the treaty of Westminster in October 1655 – this was an alliance primarily against Spain, and Philip IV promptly committed himself to the restoration of Charles, who went to Brussels to begin negotiations with the viceroy of the Spanish Netherlands, and (at last! you may well cry) moved to Brugge with what passed for his court. After various failed plans in the complicated area of French–English–Spanish–Dutch relations, the death of Cromwell and the inefficiency of his son, Tumble-Down-Dick (fascinating how the Commonwealth became hereditary, just like a monarchy) changed the game. After various negotiations, both overt and covert, Charles moved to Breda in the Netherlands in April 1660, and the rest is Restoration.
In Brugge, Charles was accompanied by his brothers, James, duke of York, and Henry, duke of Gloucester (whom he had removed from his mother’s influence, believing that she was attempting to convert him to Catholicism). This picture of Henry can be seen in Brugge, in the Gruuthuse Museum. What else survives of the royal brothers’ sojourn is, alas, not clear.
Charles spent his first two weeks in the fifteenth-century Hof van Watervliet, moving subsequently to the Huis Casselbergh (now the Grand Hotel Casselbergh, of which the ‘state of the art’ = ‘modern and hideous’ side overlooks the canal). How he spent his time, in between negotiations which involved travel to the Pyrenees at one point, is not clear. (As far as is known he did not father any children in the city.) But as the plaque says, he and his brothers joined three Brugge guilds, and raised from among their members the first recruits for two legendary British regiments.
The Guild of St Sebastian was unsurprisingly that of the archers, and St Barbara (with the sword of her martyrdom) protected the armourers, while St George looked after the crossbowmen: all suitably martial. As you would expect, the Brugge guilds all had wonderful houses, many of them in the Markt, opposite the Town Hall. Most of these are now (on their ground floors at least) restaurants, cafés and chain fashion stores, and not, alas, identifiable in their former roles. The Guild House of St Sebastian, however, is still prominent because of this tower.
While wandering around the Groeninge Museum, I was struck by this group portrait: it shows the Brugge Guild of Surgeons, and was painted by Philyps Bernaert (1620–83).
The dates don’t apparently fit: Bernaert worked (and died) in Brugge, but only after Charles had left. However, I can dream, can’t I? But a definite memorial of Charles’s stay is his granting, in 1666, of the Privilegie der Visscherie, which allowed fifty Bruges ships to catch herring and other fish in British waters in perpetuity. The document was in fact brought out (is the legal term ‘prayed in aid’?) during the Brexit negotiations.
But perhaps the best tribute Charles paid to the city can be seen on the plaque itself: ‘The Flemings are the most honest and true-hearted race of people I have met with.’ Some might say, in marked contrast to the Scots. I couldn’t possibly comment.