Stories From English History: II - Alfred J. Church

A Little Romance

King James had not, indeed, an excuse, but a reason for putting Raleigh to death, in this, that he greatly desired to be on friendly terms with Spain. It makes one quite ashamed to see how an English King disgraced himself. As soon as the English ambassador at Madrid heard that Raleigh had been beheaded, he hurried to tell the King, who, he wrote back, "showed much contentment with the hearing." One of the English ministers wrote to the ambassador, telling him to make as much as he could out of the matter. He was to let King Philip understand that James had caused Sir Walter Raleigh to be put to death chiefly to give him satisfaction; he was to dwell on what a very clever man Raleigh was, and how much he might have done for his King and country, and so prove to the Spanish King that he ought to be very grateful. What could be more shameful than that a King of England should make a merit with a foreign ruler of having put to death one of his most useful subjects simply to please him? The King of Spain wrote him a letter of thanks with his own hand, and that was all the payment he got. But he hoped to get much more, especially one thing on which he had set his heart. What this was I shall now show.

After the death of Prince Henry, Charles, who was born in 1600, became the next heir to the throne. It was now time to think of finding a suitable wife for him, and King James hoped that such a wife might be found in the Spanish royal family. Philip III. never liked the idea, and no wonder, for the last Spanish princess that had come to England, Katharine of Aragon, had been very unhappy. But Philip III. died in 1621, and his son, Philip IV., seemed more favourably disposed. Indeed, an agreement was come to that Charles should marry the Infanta Maria, sister of the King. She was to be at liberty to worship God in the way to which she was accustomed. James also promised that the Roman Catholics in England should not be persecuted any more. If they gave assurance of their being loyal subjects, they were to be let alone. But then difficulties began to arise. There was a dispute about the dowry which the Infanta was to have when she was married, and another about the time of the marriage. The Spaniards too, backed up by the Pope, wanted to secure better terms for the Roman Catholics in England; King James, who had already given great offence to his subjects by what he had done, was unwilling to do any more. Another thing about which they differed was, what was to be done with a certain Frederick, a German Prince, who had married the King's daughter Elizabeth. He was the sovereign of certain provinces on the Rhine, and had been elected King of Bohemia, but had lost that kingdom and his own possessions. James hoped to get the Spaniards to restore them to him.

Duke of Buckingham


And now some one suggested the idea that Prince Charles should go himself to Madrid. He might see the Infanta, and perhaps settle the matters in dispute with her brother. It has been said that the idea first came from the Spanish ambassador. But the man that had most to do with it was a certain George Villiers, younger son of a country knight, who had become a great favourite with both the king and the Prince, and had by this time been made Marquis of Buckingham. It was not very easy to get the King's consent. He was afraid, he said, that he should lose "Baby Charles"—this was his pet name for his son. At last he gave way, and the two young men—Buckingham was just eight years older than the Prince—started on their journey, calling themselves Mr. Smith and Mr. Brown. They went by way of Paris, and saw the Royal family, among them the Queen, who was the sister of the Queen of Spain, and Henrietta Maria, whom he was afterwards to marry. In France the proposed marriage was not liked—nor, indeed, was it in England—and the travellers were warned that they had better hurry on, lest they should be arrested. They got safely across the frontier, and reached Madrid without any mishap. They went to the Ambassador, who was not a little surprised to see them. Charles was introduced to the King, and the two were very friendly. But for the present, he was told it was not possible that he should be allowed to speak to or even come near the Infanta. But he could see her when she was taken out for a drive.

Then there came an entry in state. Charles rode at the King's right hand, with a canopy held over his head. At the palace he made what we may say was a "call" on the Royal family. The King and the Queen were there, the two brothers of the King, and the Infanta. But they had to talk through an interpreter, for the Spanish royalties never spoke any language but their own, at least in public. When Charles did manage to get a few words in French with the Queen, she told him that he would not be allowed to marry the Infanta, and that he had better give up the idea, and think of her sister Henrietta, whom he had seen in Paris.

Charles, however, was not going to own himself beaten. He determined to see the Infanta a little closer, and finding out that she used to go in the early morning to a certain orchard, scrambled over the wall and presented himself before her. Both she and her attendants were terribly frightened, and the Prince found that he had come to no purpose.

In the end nothing came of the treaties and the courtship. It was a bit of romance and nothing more. The Pope, whose leave was wanted before the marriage could take place, wanted more than King James was willing to grant. He even demanded that the Prince should become a Roman Catholic, a quite impossible thing, for, even if he had been willing, which he was not, the English people would not have permitted it. Then, when after a time the Pope gave way, King James began to draw back. He began to insist that the King of Spain should help his daughter's husband to get back his dominions. In fact it was he that broke off the affair in the end. Prince Charles parted from his Spanish friends on very good terms, giving them some handsome presents, among them a diamond ornament for the Infanta, and receiving as much or more from them; and he left authority to one of the Spanish princes to marry the Infanta by proxy. When it was not convenient for a bridegroom to be present at a marriage, he would give his proxy—from the Latin proximus, "nearest"—to some one who would go through the ceremony in his stead. Among ourselves godfathers and godmothers sometimes stand for children by proxy. Preparations were made for the marriage to take place in this way, when at the last moment King James sent a courier to stop it, unless the things which he asked were granted. And stopped it was. The King of Spain naturally felt very much offended, and all King James's scheming came to nothing. The next year there was war with Spain, and the year after James died.