Friday, May 29, 2015

Captain Hook and the Merry Monarch

King Charles II, born on May 29, 1630, was a fashion influence on Captain Jas. Hook.

Portrait by Sir Peter Lely, 1670

As J. M. Barrie wrote in Peter Pan and Wendy, "[i]n dress he somewhat aped the attire associated with the name of Charles II, having heard it said in some earlier period of his career that he bore a strange resemblance to the ill-fated Stuarts."

Hook also wore his hair in long black corkscrews curls resembling the king's wig. While "[H]is eyes were of the blue of the forget-me-not," wrote Barrie, there can perhaps be seen a shared melancholy in the faces of both.

Portrait by John Michael Wright, c. 1660-1665

Yet Charles II, unlike Hook, was far from melancholy, though he might well have been. His father, Charles I, was deposed from the throne by the decidedly un-jolly Oliver Cromwell and executed in 1649, and the son exiled. Upon the death of Cromwell, Charles II reclaimed the throne in 1660--the start of the Restoration--with a style of rule so at odds with that of Cromwell that his court was renowned for all manner of licentious behavior. But he wasn't neglectful of his subjects, as one might expect from his frivolous ways--when the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed three-quarters of the wooden buildings in the City of London over the course of four days, he fought the fire alongside the citizens. And he founded the Royal Society of scientists in 1660. On a lighter note, King Charles spaniels are named after his favorite dogs.

As I have never yet passed up a chance to share the Horrible Histories "King of Bling," with Mathew here it is once more. Enjoy!

There are any number of entertaining stories about Charles II, a few of which I have fun mentioning in The Stowaway: He reinstated the celebration of Christmas, and was the recipient of the first pineapple brought to England. One anecdote which I haven't found a place for (yet) is about Thomas Blood, who attempted to steal the crown jewels (and whose portrait, incidentally, is a crucial part of the plot of Muppets Most Wanted). The crown jewels had been melted down after Charles I's execution and later refashioned by Charles II, so this was a grave crime indeed. And yet Charles was so impressed with Captain Blood's audacity that he rewarded him rather than have him punished.

Portrait of Catherine of Braganza
by Otto Hoynck

Charles's wife, Catherine of Braganza, Infanta of Portugal, was controversial among the populace because of her devout Catholicism. Convent-raised, she had difficulty adjusting to life at court and was never able to bring a child of the union to term, but--unlike some kings--Charles refused to divorce her and insisted she be treated with respect. In time she did become more comfortable in her new home, embracing the fashion trends of wearing men's clothing and shorter skirts, scandalizing the Protestants by playing cards on Sunday, and popularizing the drinking of tea in England.

Charles II with actress Nell Gwyn, by Edward
Mathew Ward (1854), possibly wearing black to
recall the Great Fire of 1666

Charles II was surrounded by interesting women, in fact. He had a dozen acknowledged children with a plethora of mistresses, including two by actress Nell Gwyn. (Among his actions as monarch was legalizing the profession of acting for women.)

And he wrote poetry for one woman who resisted his advances, Frances Theresa Stuart, granddaughter of Walter Stuart, 1st Lord Blantyre and the face of Britannia, a Scot whose portrait whose portrait appeared not only upon medals commemorating a naval victory, but also on the English penny until the decimal system was put into use in 1971.

The Pleasures of Love

I pass all my hours in a shady old grove.
But I live not the day when I see not my love;
I survey every walk now my Phyllis is gone,
And sigh when I think we were there all alone,
Oh, then ‘tis I think there’s no Hell
Like loving too well.

But each shade and each conscious bower when I find
Where I once have been happy and she has been kind;
When I see the print left of her shape on the green,
And imagine the pleasure may yet come again;
Oh, then ‘tis I think that no joys are above
The pleasures of love.

While alone to myself I repeat all her charms,
She I love may be locked in another man’s arms,
She may laugh at my cares, and so false she may be,
To say all the kind things she before said to me!
Oh then ‘tis, oh then, that I think there’s no Hell
Like loving too well.

But when I consider the truth of her heart,
Such an innocent passion, so kind without art,
I fear I have wronged her, and hope she may be
So full of true love to be jealous of me.
Oh then ‘tis I think that no joys are above
The pleasures of love.

Of course, this being English history, all was not revelry during the reign of Charles II. Though he promoted religious tolerance, constant conflict between Protestants and Catholics led to his dissolving Parliament in 1681 and ruling alone. In 1677, Charles encouraged the marriage of his niece Mary (son of his Catholic brother, James) to the Protestant King William III of Orange, in hopes of increasing peace between the two religions, and also re-establishing his own Protestant credentials. Nevertheless, he officially converted to Catholicism upon his death bed.

William of Orange is reportedly an ancestor of my own, and his statue in Kensington Gardens, London, has been mentioned as another of J. M. Barrie's sources of inspiration for Captain Hook. (In other words, I find yet another connection to Peter Pan and the Captain in my own life.)

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