Gateway to the Classics: Charles I by Jacob Abbott
Charles I by  Jacob Abbott

The Expedition into Spain

I N order that the reader may understand fully the nature of the romantic enterprise in which, as we have already said, Prince Charles embarked when he was a little over twenty years of age, we must premise that Frederic, the German prince who married Charles's sister Elizabeth some years before, was the ruler of a country in Germany called the Palatinate. It was on the banks of the Rhine. Frederic's title, as ruler of this country, was Elector Palatine. There are a great many independent states in Germany, whose sovereigns have various titles, and are possessed of various prerogatives and powers.

Now it happened that, at this time, very fierce civil wars were raging between the Catholics and the Protestants in Germany. Frederic got drawn into these wars on the Protestant side. His motive was not any desire to promote the progress of what he considered the true faith, but only a wish to extend his own dominions, and add to his own power, for he had been promised a kingdom, in addition to his Palatinate, if he would assist the people of the kingdom to gain the victory over their Catholic foes. He embarked in this enterprise without consulting with James, his father-in-law, knowing that he would probably disapprove of such dangerous ambition. James was, in fact, very sorry afterward to hear of Frederic's having engaged in such a contest.

The result was quite as disastrous as James feared. Frederic not only failed of getting his new kingdom, but he provoked the rage of the Catholic powers against whom he had undertaken to contend, and they poured a great army into his own original territory, and made an easy conquest of it. Frederic fled to Holland, and remained there a fugitive and an exile, hoping to obtain help in some way from James, in his efforts to recover his lost dominions.

The people of England felt a great interest in Frederic's unhappy fate, and were very desirous that James should raise an army and give him some efficient assistance. One reason for this was that they were Protestants, and they were always ready to embark, on the Protestant side, in the Continental quarrels.

Another reason was their interest in Elizabeth, the wife of Frederic, who had so recently left England a blooming bride, and whom they still considered as in some sense pertaining to the royal family of England, and as having a right to look to all her father's subjects for protection.

But King James himself had no inclination to go to war in such a quarrel. He was inactive in mind, and childish, and he had little taste for warlike enterprises. He undertook, however, to accomplish the object in another way. The King of Spain, being one of the most powerful of the Catholic sovereigns, had great influence in all their councils. He had also a beautiful daughter, Donna Maria, called, as Spanish princesses are styled, the Infanta. Now James conceived the design of proposing that his son Charles should marry Donna Maria, and that, in the treaty of marriage, there should be a stipulation providing that the Palatinate should be restored to Frederic.

These negotiations were commenced, and they went on two or three years without making any sensible progress. Donna Maria was a Catholic, and Charles a Protestant. Now a Catholic could not marry a Protestant without special dispensation from the pope. To get this dispensation required new negotiations and delays. In the midst of it all, the King of Spain, Donna Maria's father, died, and his son, her brother, named Philip, succeeded him. Then the negotiations had all to be commenced anew. It was supposed that the King of Spain did not wish to have the affair concluded, but liked to have it in discussion, as it tended to keep the King of England more or less under his control. So they continued to send embassies back and forth, with drafts of treaties, articles, conditions, and stipulations without number. There were endless discussions about securing to Donna Maria the full enjoyment of the Catholic religion in England, and express agreements were proposed and debated in respect to her having a chapel, and priests, and the right to celebrate mass, and to enjoy, in fact, all the other privileges which she had been accustomed to exercise in her own native land. James did not object. He agreed to every thing; but still, some how or other, the arrangement could not be closed. There was always some pretext for delay.

At last Buckingham proposed to Charles that they two should set off for Spain in person, and see if they could not settle the affair. Buckingham's motive was partly a sort of reckless daring, which made him love any sort of adventure, and partly a desire to circumvent and thwart a rival of his, the Earl of Bristol, who had charge of the negotiations. It may seem to the reader that a simple journey from London to Madrid, of a young man, for the purpose of visiting a lady whom he was wishing to espouse, was no such extraordinary undertaking as to attract the attention of a spirited young man to it from love of adventure. The truth is, however, that, with the ideas that then prevailed in respect to royal etiquette, there was something very unusual in this plan. The prince and Buckingham knew very well that the consent of the statesmen and high officers of the realm could never be obtained, and that their only alternative was, accordingly, to go off secretly and in disguise.

It seemed, however, to be rather necessary to get the king's consent. But Buckingham did not anticipate much difficulty in this, as he was accustomed to manage James almost like a child. He had not, however, been on very good terms with Charles, having been accustomed to treat him in the haughty and imperious manner which James would usually yield to, but which Charles was more inclined to resist and resent. When Buckingham, at length, conceived of this scheme of going into Spain, he changed his deportment toward Charles, and endeavored, by artful dissimulation, to gain his kind regard. He soon succeeded, and then he proposed his plan.

He represented to Charles that the sole cause of the delays in settling the question of his marriage was because it was left so entirely in the hands of embassadors, negotiators, and statesmen, who involved every thing in endless mazes. "Take the affair into your own hands," said he, "like a man. Set off with me, and go at once into Spain. Astonish them with your sudden and unexpected presence. The Infanta will be delighted at such a proof of your ardor, courage, and devotion, and will do all in her power to co-operate with you in bringing the affair at once to a close. Besides, the whole world will admire the originality and boldness of the achievement."

Charles was easily persuaded. The next thing was to get the king's consent. Charles and Buckingham went to his palace one day, and watching their opportunity when he was pretty merry with wine, Charles said that he had a favor to ask, and wished his father to promise to grant it before he knew what it was. James, after some hesitation, half in jest and half in earnest, agreed to it. They made him promise that he would not tell any one what it was, and then explained their plan. The king was thunderstruck; his amazement sobered him at once. He retracted his promise. He never could consent to any such scheme.

Buckingham here interposed with his aid. He told the king it was perfectly safe for the prince to go, and that this measure was the only plan which could bring the marriage treaty to a close. Besides, he said, if he and the prince were there, they could act far more effectually than any embassadors in securing the restoration of the Palatinate to Frederic. James could not withstand these entreaties and arguments, and he finally gave a reluctant consent to the plan.

He repented, however, as soon as the consent was given, and when Charles and Buckingham came next to see him, he said it must be given up. One great source of his anxiety was a fear that his son might be taken and kept a prisoner, either in France or Spain, and detained a long time in captivity. Such a captive was always, in those days, a very tempting prize to a rival power. Personages of very high rank may be held in imprisonment, while all the time those who detain them may pretend not to confine them at all, the guards and sentinels being only marks of regal state, and indications of the desire of the power into whose hands they have fallen to treat them in a manner comporting with their rank. Then there were always, in those days, questions and disputes pending between the rival courts of England, France, and Spain, out of which it was easy to get a pretext for detaining any strolling prince who might cross the frontier, as security for the fulfillment of some stipulation, or for doing some act of justice claimed. James, knowing well how much faith and honor were to be expected of kings and courts, was afraid to trust his son in French or Spanish dominions. He said he certainly could not consent to his going, without first sending to France, at least, for a safe-conduct—that is, a paper from the government, pledging the honor of the king not to molest or interrupt him in his journey through his dominions.

Buckingham, instead of attempting to reassure the king by fresh arguments and persuasions, broke out into a passion, accused him of violating his promise not to reveal their plan to any one, as he knew, he said, that this new opposition had been put into his head by some of his counselors to whom he had made known the design. The king denied this, and was terrified, agitated, and distressed by Buckingham's violence. He wept like a child. His opposition at length gave way a second time, and he said they might go. They named two attendants whom they wanted to go with them. One was an officer of the king's household, named Collington, who was then in the ante-room. They asked the king to call him in, to see if he would go. When Collington came in, the king accosted him with, "Here's Steeny and Baby Charley that want to go to Spain and fetch the Infanta. What think you of it?" Collington did not think well of it at all. There followed a new relapse on the part of the king from his consent, a new storm of anger from Buckingham, more sullen obstinacy on the part of Charles, with profane criminations and recriminations one against another. The whole scene was what, if it had occurred any where else than in a palace, would have been called a brawl.

It ended, as brawls usually do, in the triumph of the most unreasonable and violent. James threw himself upon a bed which was in the room, weeping bitterly, and saying that they would go, and he should lose his Baby Charley. Considering that Charles was now the monarch's only child remaining at home, and that, as heir to the crown, his life was of great consequence to the realm, it is not surprising that his father was distressed at the idea of his exposing himself to danger on such an expedition; but one not accustomed to what is behind the scenes in royal life would expect a little more dignity and propriety in the mode of expressing paternal solicitude from a king.

Charles and Buckingham set off secretly from London; their two attendants were to join them in different places—the last at Dover, where they were to embark. They laid aside all marks of distinction in dress, such as persons of high rank used to wear in those days, and took the garb of the common people. They put on wigs, also, the hair of which was long, so as to shade the face and alter the expression of their countenances. These external disguises, however, were all that they could command. They could not assume the modest and quiet air and manner of persons in the ordinary walks of life, but made such displays, and were so liberal in the use of their money, and carried such an air and manner in all that they did and said, that all who had any intercourse with them perceived that they were in disguise. They were supposed to be wild blades, out on some frolic or other, but still they were allowed to pass along without any molestation.

They were, however, stopped at Dover, where in some way they attracted the attention of the mayor of the town. Dover is on the Channel, opposite to Calais, at the narrowest point. It was, of course, especially in those days, the point where the principal intercourse between the two nations centered. The magistrates of the two towns were obliged, consequently, to be on the alert, to prevent the escape of fugitives and criminals, as well as to guard against the efforts of smugglers, or the entrance of spies or other secret enemies. The Mayor of Dover arrested our heroes. They told him that their names were Tom Smith and Jack Smith; these, in fact, were the names with which they had traveled through England thus far. They said that they were traveling for amusement. The mayor did not believe them. He thought they were going across to the French coast to fight a duel. This was often done in those days. They then told him that they were indeed persons of rank in disguise, and that they were going to inspect the English fleet. He finally allowed them to embark.

On landing at Calais, they traveled post to Paris, strictly preserving their incognito, but assuming such an air and bearing as to create the impression that they were not what they pretended. When they reached Paris, Buckingham could not resist the temptation of showing Charles a little of life, and he contrived to get admitted to a party at court, where Charles saw, among other ladies who attracted his attention, the Princess Henrietta. He was much struck with her beauty and grace, but he little thought that it was this princess, and not the Infanta whom he was going in pursuit of, who was really to become his wife, and the future Queen of England.

The young travelers thought it not prudent to remain long in Paris, and they accordingly left that city, and pressed forward as rapidly as possible toward the Spanish frontier. They managed, however, to conduct always in such a way as to attract attention. Although they were probably sincerely desirous of not having their true rank and character known, still they could not resist the temptation to assume such an air and bearing as to make people wonder who they were, and thus increase the spirit and adventure of their journey. At Bourdeaux they received invitations from some grandees to be present at some great gala, but they declined, saying that they were only poor gentlemen traveling to inform their minds, and were not fit to appear in such gay assemblies.

At last they approached Madrid. They had, besides Collington, another attendant who spoke the Spanish language, and served them as an interpreter. They separated from these two the day before they entered Madrid, so as to attract the less attention. Their attendants were to be left behind for a day, and afterward were to follow them into the city. The British embassador at Madrid at this time was the Earl of Bristol. He had had charge of all the negotiations in respect to the marriage, and to the restoration of the Palatinate, and believed that he had brought them almost to a successful termination. He lived in a palace in Madrid, and, as is customary with the embassadors of great powers at the courts of great powers, in a style of the highest pomp and splendor.

Buckingham took the prince directly to Bristol's house. Bristol was utterly confounded at seeing them. Nothing could be worse, he said, in respect to the completion of the treaty, than the prince's presence in Madrid. The introduction of so new and extraordinary an element into the affair would undo all that had been done, and lead the King of Spain to begin anew, and go over all the ground again. In speaking of this occurrence to another, he said that just as he was on the point of coming to a satisfactory conclusion of his long negotiations and toils, a demon in the shape of prince Charles came suddenly upon the stage to thwart and defeat them all.

The Spanish court was famous in those days—in fact, it has always been famous—for its punctilious attention to etiquette and parade; and as soon as the prince's arrival was known to the king, he immediately began to make preparations to welcome him with all possible pomp and ceremony. A great procession was made through the Prado, which is a street in Madrid famous for promenades, processions, and public displays of all kinds. In moving through the city on this occasion, the king and Prince Charles walked together, the monarch thus treating the prince as his equal. There was a great canopy of state borne over their heads as they moved along. This canopy was supported by a large number of persons of the highest rank. The streets, and the windows and balconies of the houses on each side, were thronged with spectators, dressed in the gay and splendid court dresses of those times. When they reached the end of the route, and were about to enter the gate of the palace, there was a delay to decide which should enter first, the king and the prince each insisting on giving the precedence to the other. At last it was settled by their both going in together.

If the prince thus, on the one hand, derived some benefit in the gratification of his pride by the Spanish etiquette and parade, he suffered some inconvenience and disappointment from it, on the other hand, by its excluding him from all intercourse or acquaintance with the Infanta. It was not proper for the young man to see or to speak to the young lady, in such a case as this, until the arrangements had been more fully matured. The formalities of the engagement must have proceeded beyond the point which they had yet reached, before the bridegroom could be admitted to a personal interview with the bride. It is true, he could see her in public, where she was in a crowd, with other ladies of the court, and where he could have no communication with her; but this was all. They arranged it, however, to give Charles as many opportunities of this kind as possible. There were shows, in which the prince could see the Infanta among the spectators; and they arranged tiltings and ridings at the ring, and other athletic sports, such as Charles excelled in, and let him perform his exploits in her presence. His rivals in these contests did not have the incivility to conquer him, and his performances excited expressions, at least, of universal admiration.

But the prince and Buckingham did not very willingly submit to the stiffness and formality of the Spanish court. As soon as they came to feel a little at home, they began to act with great freedom. At one time the prince learned that the Infanta was going, early in the morning, to take a walk in some private pleasure grounds, at a country house in the neighborhood of Madrid, and he conceived the design of gaining an interview with her there by stealth. He accordingly repaired to the place, got admitted in some way within the precincts of the palace, and contrived to clamber over a high wall which separated him from the grounds in which the Infanta was walking, and so let himself down into her presence. The accounts do not state whether she herself was pleased or alarmed, but the officer who had her in charge, an old nobleman, was very much alarmed, and begged the prince to retire, as he himself would be subject to a very severe punishment if it were known that he had allowed such an interview. Finally they opened the door, and the prince went out. Many people were pleased with this and similar adventures of the prince and of Buckingham, but the leading persons about the court were displeased with them. Their precise and formal notions of propriety were very much shocked by such freedoms.

Besides, it was soon found that the characters of these high-born visitors, especially that of Buckingham, were corrupt, and their lives very irregular. Buckingham was accustomed to treat King James in a very bold, familiar, and imperious manner, and he fell insensibly in to the same habits of intercourse with those about him in Spain. The little reserve and caution which he manifested at first soon wore off; and he began to be very generally disliked. In the mean time the negotiation was, as Bristol had expected, very much put back by the prince's arrival. The King of Spain formed new plans, and thought of new conditions to impose. The Catholics, too, thought that Charles's coming thus into a Catholic country, indicated some leaning, on his part, toward the Catholic faith. The pope actually wrote him a long letter, the object of which was to draw him off from the ranks of Protestantism. Charles wrote a civil but rather an evasive reply.

In the mean time, King James wrote childish letters from time to time to his two dear boys, as he called them, and he sent them a great many presents of jewelry and splendid dresses, some for them to wear themselves, and some for the prince to offer as gifts to the Infanta. Among these, he describes, in one of his letters, a little mirror, set in a case which was to be worn hung at the girdle. He wrote to Charles that when he gave this mirror to the Infanta, he must tell her that it was a picture which he had had imbued with magical virtue by means of incantations, and charms, so that whenever she looked into it, she would see a portrait of the most beautiful princess in England, France, or Spain.

At last the great obstacle in the way of the conclusion of the treaty of marriage, which consisted in the delays and difficulties in getting the pope's dispensation, was removed. The dispensation came. But then the King of Spain wanted some new guarantees in respect to the privileges of Catholics in England, under pretense of securing more perfectly the rights of the Infanta and of her attendants when they should have arrived in that country. The truth was, he probably wished to avail himself of the occasion to gain some foothold for the Catholic faith in England, which country had become almost entirely Protestant. At length, however, all obstacles seemed to be removed, and the treaty was signed. The news of it was received with great joy in England, as it seemed to secure a permanent alliance between the two powerful countries of England and Spain. Great celebrations took place in London, to do honor to the occasion. A chapel was built for the Infanta, to be ready for her on her arrival; and a fleet was fitted out to convey her and her attendants to her new home.

In the mean time, however, although the king had signed the treaty, there was a strong party formed against the marriage in Spain. Buckingham was hated and despised. Charles, they saw, was almost entirely under his influence. They said they would rather see the Infanta in her grave than in the hands of such men. Buckingham became irritated by the hostility he had awakened, and he determined to break off the match entirely. He wrote home to James that he did not believe the Spanish court had any intention of carrying the arrangement really into effect; that they were procrastinating the affair on every possible pretext, and that he was really afraid that, if the prince were to attempt to leave the country, they would interpose and detain him as a prisoner. King James was very much alarmed. He wrote in the greatest trepidation, urging "the lads" to come away immediately, leaving a proxy behind them, if necessary, for the solemnization of the marriage. This was what Buckingham wanted, and he and the prince began to make preparations for their departure.


The Escurial.

The King of Spain, far from interposing any obstacles in the way, only treated them with greater and higher marks of respect as the time of their separation from this court drew nigh. He arranged great and pompous ceremonies to honor their departure. He accompanied them, with all the grandees of the court, as far as to the Escurial, which is a famous royal palace not far from Madrid, built and furnished in the most sumptuous style of magnificence and splendor. Here they had parting feasts and celebrations. Here the prince took his leave of the Infanta, Bristol serving as interpreter, to translate his parting speeches into Spanish, so that she could understand them. From the Escurial the prince and Buckingham, with a great many English noblemen who had followed them to Madrid, and a great train of attendants, traveled toward the seacoast, where a fleet of vessels were ready to receive them.

They embarked at a port called St. Andrew. They came very near being lost in a storm of mist and rain which came upon them while going out to the ships, which were at a distance from the shore, in small boats provided to convey them. Having escaped this danger, they arrived safely at Portsmouth, the great landing point of the British navy on the southern shores of England, and thence proceeded to London. They sent back orders that the proxy should not be used, and the match was finally abandoned, each party accusing the other of duplicity and bad faith. King James was however, very glad to get his son safe back again, and the people made as many bonfires and illuminations to celebrate the breaking up of this Catholic match, as they had done before to do honor to its supposed completion. As all hope of recovering the Palatinate by negotiation was now past, the king began to prepare for the attempt to conquer it by force of arms.

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