Historical Tales: 4—English - Charles Morris

Love's Knight Errant

On the 18th of February, 1623, two young men, Tom and John Smith by name, plainly dressed and attended by one companion in the attire of an upper servant, rode to the ferry at Gravesend, on the Thames. They wore heavy beards, which did not look altogether natural, and had pulled their hats well down over their foreheads, as if to hide their faces from prying eyes. They seemed a cross between disguised highwaymen and disguised noblemen.

The ancient ferryman looked at them with some suspicion as they entered his boat, asking himself, "What lark is afoot with these young bloods? There's mischief lurking under those beards."

His suspicions were redoubled when his passengers, in arbitrary tones, bade him put them ashore below the town, instead of at the usual landing place. And he became sure that they were great folks bent on mischief when, on landing, one of them handed him a gold-piece for his fare, and rode away without asking for change.

"Aha! my brisk lads, I have you now," he said, with a chuckle. "There's a duel afoot. Those two youngsters are off for the other side of the Channel, to let out some angry blood, and the other goes along as second or surgeon. It's very neat, but the law says nay; and I know my duty. I am not to be bought off with a piece of gold."

Pocketing his golden fare, he hastened to the nearest magistrate, and told his story and his suspicion. The magistrate agreed with him, and at once despatched a post-boy to Rochester, with orders to have the doubtful travellers stopped. Away rode the messenger at haste, on one of the freshest horses to be found in Gravesend stables. But his steed was no match for the thoroughbreds of the suspected wayfarers, and they had left the ancient town of Rochester in the rear long before he reached its skirts.

Rochester passed, they rode briskly onward, conversing with the gay freedom of frolicsome youth; when, much to their alarm as it seemed, they saw in the road before them a stately train. It consisted of a carriage that appeared royal in its decorations and in the glittering trappings of its horses, beside which rode two men dressed like noblemen, following whom came a goodly retinue of attendants.

The young wayfarers seemed to recognize the travellers, and drew up to a quick halt, as if in alarm.

"Lewknor and Mainwaring, by all that's unlucky!" said the one known as Tom Smith.

"And a carriage-load of Spanish high mightiness between them; for that's the ambassador on his way to court," answered John Smith. "It's all up with our escapade if they get their eyes on us. We must bolt."

"How and whither?"

"Over the hedge and far away."

Spurring their horses, they broke through the low hedge that bordered the roadside, and galloped at a rapid pace across the fields beyond. The approaching party viewed this movement with lively suspicion.

"Who can they be?" queried Sir Lewis Lewknor, one of the noblemen.

His companion, who was no less a personage than Sir Henry Mainwaring, lieutenant of Dover Castle, looked questioningly after the fugitives.

"They are well mounted and have the start on us. We cannot overtake them," he muttered.

"You know them, then?" asked Lewknor.

"I have my doubt that two of them are the young Barneveldts, who have just tried to murder the Prince of Orange.

They must be stopped and questioned."

He turned and bade one of his followers to ride back with all speed to Canterbury, and bid the magistrates to detain three suspicious travellers, who would soon reach that town. This done, the train moved on, Mainwaring satisfied that he had checked the runaways, whoever they were.

The Smiths and their attendant reached Canterbury in good time, but this time they were outridden. Mainwaring's messenger had got in before them, and the young adventurers found themselves stopped by a mounted guard, with the unwelcome tidings that his honor, the mayor, would like to see them.

Being brought before his honor, they blustered a little, talked in big tones of the rights of Englishmen, and asked angrily who had dared order their detention. They found master mayor cool and decided.

"Gentlemen, you will stay here till I know better who you are," he said. "Sir Henry Mainwaring has ordered you to be stopped, and he best knows why. Nor do I fancy he has gone amiss, for your names of Tom and John Smith fit you about as well as your beards."

At these words, the one that claimed the name of John Smith burst into a hearty laugh. Seizing his beard, he gave it a slight jerk, and it came off in his hand. The mayor started in surprise. The face before him was one that he very well knew.

"The Marquis of Buckingham!" he exclaimed.

"The same, at your service," said Buckingham, still laughing. "Mainwaring takes me for other than I am. Likely enough he deems me a runaway road agent. You will scarcely stop the lord admiral, going in disguise to Dover to make a secret inspection of the fleet?"

"Why, that certainly changes the case," said the mayor. "But who is your companion?" he continued, in a low tone, looking askance at the other.

"A young gallant of the court, who keeps me company," said Buckingham, carelessly.

"The road is free before you, gentlemen," said the mayor, graciously. "I will answer to Mainwaring."

He turned and bade his guards to deliver their horses to the travellers. But his eyes followed them with a peculiar twinkle as they left the room.

"A young gallant of the court!" he muttered. "I have seen that gallant before. Well, well, what mad frolic is afoot? Thank the stars, I am not bound, by virtue of my office, to know him."

The party reached Dover without further adventure. But the inspection of the fleet was evidently an invention for the benefit of the mayor. Instead of troubling themselves about the fleet, they entered a vessel that seemed awaiting them, and on whose deck they were joined by two companions. In a very short time they were out of harbor and off with a fresh wind across the Channel. Mainwaring had been wrong,—was the ferryman right?—was a duel the purpose of this flight in disguise?

No; the travellers made no halt at Boulogne, the favorite dueling-ground of English hot-bloods, but pushed off in haste for Montreuil, and thence rode straight to Paris, which they reached after a two-days' journey.

It seemed an odd freak, this ride in disguise for the mere purpose of a visit to Paris. But there was nothing to indicate that the two young men had any other object as they strolled carelessly during the next day about the French capital, known to none there, and enjoying themselves like school-boys on a holiday.

Among the sights which they managed to see were the king, Louis XIII., and his royal mother, Marie de Medicis. That evening a mask was to be rehearsed at the palace, in which the queen and the Princess Henrietta Maria were to take part. On the plea of being strangers in Paris, the two young Englishmen managed to obtain admittance to this royal merrymaking, which they highly enjoyed. As to what they saw, we have a partial record in a subsequent letter from one of them.

"There danced," says this epistle, "the queen and madame, with as many as made up nineteen fair dancing ladies; amongst which the queen is the handsomest, which hath wrought in me a greater desire to see her sister."

This sister was then at Madrid, for the queen of France was a daughter of Philip III. of Spain. And, as if Spain was the true destination of the travellers, and to see the French queen's sister their object, at the early hour of three the next morning they were up and on horseback, riding out of Paris on the road to Bayonne. Away they went, pressing onward at speed, he whom we as yet know only as Tom Smith taking the lead, and pushing forward with such youthful eagerness that even the seasoned Buckingham looked the worse for wear before they reached the borders of Spain.

Who was this eager errant knight? All London by this time knew, and it is time that we should learn. Indeed, while the youthful wayfarers were speeding away on their mad and merry ride, the privy councillors of England were on their knees before King James, half beside themselves with apprehension, saying that Prince Charles had disappeared, that the rumor was that he had gone to Spain, and begging to know if this wild rumor were true.

"There is no doubt of it," said the king. "But what of that? His father, his grandfather, and his great grandfather all went into foreign countries to fetch home their wives,—why not the prince, my son?"

"England may learn why," was the answer of the alarmed councillors, and after them of the disturbed Country.

"The king of Spain is not to be trusted with such a royal morsel. Suppose he seizes the heir to England's throne, and holds him as hostage! The boy is mad, and the king in his dotage to permit so wild a thing." Such was the scope of general comment on the prince's escapade.

While England fumed, and King James had begun to fret in chorus with the country, his "sweet boys and dear venturous knights, worthy to be put in a new romanso," as he had remarked on first learning of their flight, were making their way at utmost horse-speed across France. A few miles beyond Bayonne they met a messenger from the Earl of Bristol, ambassador at Madrid, bearing despatches to England. They stopped him, opened his papers, and sought to read them, but found the bulk of them written in a cipher beyond their powers to solve. Baffled in this, they bade Gresley, the messenger, to return with them as far as Iran, u they wished him to bear to the king a letter written on Spanish soil.

No great distance farther brought them to the small river Bidassoa, the Rubicon of their journey. It formed the boundary between France and Spain. On reaching its southern bank they stood on the soil of the land of the dons, and the truant prince danced for joy, filled with delight at the success of his runaway prank. Gresley afterwards reported in England that Buckingham looked worn from his long ride, but that he had never seen Prince Charles so merry.

Onward through this new kingdom went the youthful scapegraces, over the hills and plains of Spain, their hearts beating with merry music,—Buckingham gay from his native spirit of adventure, Charles eager to see in knight-errant fashion the charming infanta of Spain, of whom he had seen, as yet, only the "counterfeit presentment," and a view of whom in person was the real object of his journey. So ardent were the two young men that they far outrode their companions, and at eight o'clock in the evening of March 7, seventeen days after they had left Buckingham's villa at Newhall, the truant pair were knocking briskly at the door of the Earl of Bristol at Madrid.

Wilder and more perilous escapade had rarely been adventured. The king had let them go with fear and trembling. Weak-willed monarch as he was, he could not resist Buckingham's persuasions, though he dreaded the result. The uncertain temper of Philip of Spain was well-known, the preliminaries of the marriage which had been designed between Charles and the infanta were far from settled, the political relations between England and Spain were not of the most pacific, and it was within the bounds of probability that Philip might seize and hold the heir of England. It would give him a vast advantage over the sister realm, and profit had been known to outweigh honor in the minds of potentates.

Heedless of all this, sure that his appearance would dispel the clouds that hung over the marriage compact and shed the sunshine of peace and union over the two kingdoms, giddy with the hopefulness of youth, and infected with Buckingham's love of gallantry and adventure, Charles reached Madrid without a thought of peril, wild to see the infanta in his new rôle of knight-errant, and to decide for himself whether the beauty and accomplishments for which she was famed were as patent to his eye as to the voice of common report, and such as made her worthy the love of a prince of high degree.

Such was the mood and such the hopes with which the romantic prince knocked at Lord Bristol's door. But such was not the feeling with which the practised diplomat received his visitors. He saw at a glance the lake of possible mischief before him; yet he was versed in the art of keeping his countenance serene, and received his guests as cordially as if they had called on him in his London mansion.

Bristol would have kept the coming of the prince to himself, if it had been possible. But the utmost he could hope was to keep the secret for that night, and even in this he failed. Count Gondomar, a Spanish diplomat, called on him, saw his visitors, and while affecting ignorance was not for an instant deceived. On leaving Bristol’s house he at once hurried to the royal palace, and, filled with his weighty tidings, burst upon Count Olivares, the kings’ favorite, at supper. Count Olivares, the Godomar’s face was beaming. Olivares, looked at him in surprise.

"What brings you so late?" he asked. "One would think that you had got the king of England in Madrid."

"If I have not got the king," replied Gondomar, "at least I have got the prince. You cannot ask a rarer prize."

Olivares sat stupefied at the astounding news. As soon as he could find words he congratulated Gondomar on his important tiding sand quickly hastened to find the king, who was in his bed-chamber, and whom he astonished with the tale he had to tell.

The monarch and his astute minister earnestly discussed the subject in all its bearings. On one point they felt sure. The coming of Charles to Spain was evidence to them that he intended to change his religion and embrace the Catholic faith. He would never have ventured otherwise. But, to "make assurance doubly sure," Philip turned to a crucifix which stood at the head of his bed, and swore on it that the coming of the Prince of Wales should not induce him to take a step in the marriage not favored by the pope, even if it should involve the loss of his kingdom.

"As to what is temporal and mine," he said, to Olivares, "see that all his wishes are gratified, in consideration of the obligation under which he has placed us by coming here."

Royal Palace, Madrid


Meanwhile, Bristol spent the night in the false belief that the secret was still his own. He summoned Gondomar in the morning, told him, with a show of conferring a favor, of what had occurred, and bade him to tell Olivares that Buckingham had arrived, but to say nothing about the prince. That Gondomar consented need not be said. He had already told all there was to tell. In the afternoon Buckingham and Olivares had a brief interview in the gardens of the palace. After nightfall the English marquis had the honor of kissing the hand of his Catholic Majesty, Philip IV. of Spain. He told the king of the arrival of Prince Charles, much to the seeming surprise of the monarch, who had learned the art of keeping his countenance.

During the next day a mysterious silence was preserved concerning the great event, through certain unusual proceedings took place. Philip, with the queen, his sister, the infanta, and his two brothers, drove backward and forward through the streets of Madrid. In another carriage the Prince of Wales made a similarly stately progress through the same streets, the purpose being to yield him a passing glimpse of his betrothed and the royal family. The streets were thronged, all eyes were fixed on the coach containing the strangers, yet silence reigned. The rumor had spread far and wide who those strangers were, but it was a secret, and no one must show that the secret was afoot. Yet, though their voices were silent, their hearts were full of triumph in the belief that the future king of England had come with the purpose of embracing the national faith of Spain.

At the end of the procession Olivares joined the prince and told him that his royal master was dying to speak with him, and could scarcely restrain himself. An interview was quickly arranged, its locality to be the coach of the king. Meanwhile, Olivares sought Buckingham.

"Let us despatch this matter out of hand," he said, "and strike it up without the pope."

"Very well," answered Buckingham; "but how is it to be done?"

"The means are very easy," said Olivares, lightly. "It is but the conversion of the prince, which we cannot conceive but his highness intended when he resolved upon this journey."

This belief was a very natural one. The fact of Charles being a Protestant had been the stumbling block in the way of the match. A dispensation for the marriage of a Catholic princess with the Protestant prince of England had been asked from the pope, but had not yet been given. Charles had come to Madrid with the empty hope that his presence would cut the knot of this difficulty, and win him the princess out of hand. The authorities and the people, on the contrary, fancied that nothing less than an intention to turn Catholic could have brought him to Spain. As for the infanta herself, she was an ardent Catholic, and bitterly opposed to being united in marriage to a heretic prince. Such was the state of affairs that prevailed. The easy pathway out of the difficulty which the hopeful prince had devised was likely to prove not quite free from thorns.

The days passed on. Buckingham declared to Olivares that Charles had no thought of becoming a Catholic. Charles avoided the subject, and talked only of his love. The Spanish ministers blamed Bristol for his indecision, and had rooms prepared for the prince in the royal palace. Charles willingly accepted them, and on the 16th of March rode through the streets of Madrid, on the right hand of the king, to his new abode.

The people were now permitted to applaud to their hearts' desire, as no further pretence of a secret existed. Glad acclamations attended the progress of the royal cortege. The people shouted with joy, and all, high and low, sang a song composed for the occasion by Lope de Vega, the famous dramatist, which told how Charles had come, under the guidance of love, to the Spanish sky to see his star Maria.

"Carlos Estuardo soy

Que, siendo amor mi guia,

Al cielo d'Espaiia voy

Por ver mi estrella Maria."

The palace was decorated with all its ancient splendor, the streets everywhere showed signs of the public joy, and, as a special mark of royal clemency, all prisoners, except those held for heinous crimes, were set at liberty, among them numerous English galley-slaves, who had been captured in pirate vessels preying upon Spanish commerce.

Yet all this merrymaking and clemency, and all the negotiations which proceeded in the precincts of the palace, did not expedite the question at issue. Charles had no thought of becoming a Catholic. Philip had little thought of permitting a marriage under any other conditions. The infanta hated the idea of the sacrifice, as she considered it. The authorities at Rome refused the dispensation. The wheels of the whole business seemed firmly blocked.

Meanwhile, Charles had seen the infanta again, somewhat more closely than in a passing glance from a carriage, and though no words had passed between them, her charms of face strongly attracted his susceptible heart. He was convinced that he deeply loved her, and he ardently pressed for a closer interview. This Spanish etiquette hindered, and it was not until April 7, Easter Day, that a personal interview was granted the ardent lover. On that day the king, accompanied by a train of grandees, led the English prince to the apartments of the queen, who sat in state, with the infanta by her side.

Greeting the queen with proper respect, Charles turned to address the lady of his love. A few ceremonial words had been set down for him to utter, but his English heart broke the bonds of Spanish etiquette, and, forgetting everything but his passion, he began to address the princess in ardent words of his own choice. He had not gone far before there was a sensation. The persons present began to whisper. The queen looked with angry eyes on the presuming lover. The infanta was evidently annoyed. Charles hesitated and stopped short. Something seemed to have gone wrong. The infanta answered his eager words with a few cold, common-place sentences; a sense of constraint and uneasiness appeared to haunt the apartment; the interview was at an end. English ideas of love-making had proved much too unconventional for a Spanish court.

From that day forward the affair dragged on with infinite deliberation, the passion of the prince growing stronger, the aversion of the infanta seemingly increasing, the purpose of the Spanish court to mould the ardent lover to its own ends appearing more decided.

While Charles showed his native disposition by prevarication, Buckingham showed his by an impatience that soon led to anger and insolence. The wearisome slowness of the negotiations ill suited his hasty and arbitrary temper, he quarrelled with members of the State Council, and, in an interview between the prince and the friars, he grew so incensed at the demands made that, in disregard of all the decencies of etiquette, he sprang from his seat, expressed his contempt for the ecclesiastics by insulting gestures, and ended by flinging his hat on the ground and stamping on it. That conference came to a sudden end.

As the stay of the prince in Madrid now seemed likely to be protracted, attendants were sent him from England that he might keep up some show of state. But the Spanish court did not want them, and contrived to make their stay so unpleasant and their accommodations so poor, that Charles soon packed the most of them off home again.

"I am glad to get away," said one of these, James Eliot by name, to the prince; "and hope that your Highness will soon leave this pestiferous Spain. It is a dangerous place to alter a man and turn him. I myself in a short time have perceived my own weakness, and am almost turned."

"What motive had you?" asked Charles. "What have you seen that should turn you?"

"Marry," replied Eliot, "when I was in England, I turned the whole Bible over to find Purgatory, and because I could not find it there I believed there was none. But now that I have come to Spain, I have found it here, and that your Highness is in it; whence that you may be released, we, your Highness's servants, who are going to Paradise, will offer unto God our utmost devotions."

A purgatory it was,—a purgatory lightened for Charles by love, he playing the rôle assigned by Dante to Paolo, though the infanta was little inclined to imitate Francesca da Rimini. Buckingham fumed and fretted, was insolent to the Spanish Ministers, and sought as earnestly to get Charles out of Madrid as he had done to get him there, and less successfully. But the love-stricken prince had become impracticable. His fancy deepened as the days passed by. Such was the ardor of his passion, that on one day in May he broke headlong through the rigid wall of Spanish etiquette, by leaping into the garden in which the lady of his love was walking, and addressing her in words of passion. The startled girl shrieked and fled, and Charles was with difficulty hindered from following her.

Only one end could come of all this. Spain and the pope had the game in their own hands. Charles had fairly given himself over to them, and his ardent passion for the lady weakened all his powers of resistance. King James was a slave to his son, and incapable of refusing him anything. The end of it all was that the English king agreed that all persecution of Catholics in England should come to an end, without a thought as to what the parliament might say to this hasty promise, and Charles signed papers assenting to all the Spanish demands, excepting that he should himself become a Catholic.

The year wore wearily on till August was reached. England and her king were by this time wildly anxious that the prince should return. Yet he hung on with the pitiful indecision that marked his whole life, and it is not unlikely that the incident which induced him to leave Spain at last was a wager with Bristol, who offered to risk a ring worth one thousand pounds that the prince would spend his Christmas in Madrid.

It was at length decided that he should return, the 2nd of September being the day fixed upon for his departure. He and the king enjoyed a last hunt together, lunched under the shadows of the trees, and bade each other a seemingly loving farewell. Buckingham's good-by was of a different character. It took the shape of a violent quarrel with Olivares, the Spanish minister of state. And home again set out the brace of knights-errant, not now in the simple fashion of Tom and John Smith, but with much of the processional display of a royal cortége. Then it was a gay ride of two ardent youths across France and Spain, one filled with thoughts of love, the other with the spirit of adventure. Now it was a stately, almost a regal, movement, with anger as its source, disappointment as its companion. Charles had fairly sold himself to Philip, and yet was returning home without his bride. Buckingham, the nobler nature of the two, had by his petulance and arrogance kept himself in hot water with the Spanish court. Altogether, the adventure had not been a success.

The bride was to follow the prince to England in the spring. But the farther he got from Madrid the less Charles felt that he wanted her. His love, which had grown as he came, diminished as he went. It had then spread over his fancy like leaves on a tree in spring; now it fell from him like leaves from an October tree. It had been largely made up, at the best, of fancy and vanity, and blown to a white heat by the obstacles which had been thrown in his way. It cooled with every mile that took him from Madrid.

To the port of Santander moved the princely train. As it entered that town, the bells were rung and cannon fired in welcoming peals. A fleet lay there, sent to convey him home, one of the ships having a gorgeously-decorated cabin for the infanta,—who was not there to occupy it.

Late in the day as it was, Charles was so eager to leave the detested soil of Spain, that he put off in a boat after nightfall for the fleet. It was a movement not without its peril. The wind blew, the tide was strong, the rowers proved helpless against its force, and the boat with its precious freight would have been carried out to sea had not one of the sailors managed to seize a rope that hung by the side of a ship which they were being rapidly swept past. In a few minutes more the English prince was on an English deck.

For some days the wind kept the fleet at Santander. All was cordiality and festivity between English and Spaniards. Charles concealed his change of heart. Buckingham repressed his insolence. On the 18th of September the fleet weighed anchor and left the coast of Spain. On the 5th of October. Prince Charles landed at Portsmouth, his romantic escapade happily at an end.

He hurried to London with all speed. But rapidly as he went, the news of his coming had spread before him. He came without a Spanish bride. The people, who despised the whole business and feared its results, were wild with delight. When Charles landed from the barge in which he had crossed the Thames, he found the streets thronged with applauding people, he heard the bells on every side merrily ringing, he heard the enthusiastic people shouting, "Long live the Prince of Wales!" All London was wild with delight. Their wandering prince had been lost and was found again.

The day was turned into a holiday. Tables loaded with food and wine were placed in the streets by wealthy citizens, that all who wished might par take. Prisoners for debt were set at liberty, their debts being paid by persons unknown to them. A cart load of felons on its way to the gallows at Tyburn was turned back, it happening to cross the prince's path, and its inmates gained an unlooked for respite. When night fell the town blazed out in illumination, candles being set in every window, while bonfires blazed in the streets. In the short distance between St. Paul's and London Bridge flamed more than a hundred piles. Carts laden with wood were seized by the populace, the horses taken out and the torch applied, cart and load together adding their tribute of flame. Never had so sudden and spontaneous an ebullition of joy broken out in London streets. The return of the prince was a strikingly different affair from that mad ride in disguise a few months before, which spread suspicion at every step, and filled England with rage when the story became known.

We have told the story of the prince's adventure; a few words will tell the end of his love-affair. As for Buckingham, he had left England as a marquis, he came back with the title of duke. King James had thus rewarded him for abetting the folly of his son. The Spanish marriage never took place. Charles's love had been lost in his journey home. He brought scarce a shred of it back to London. The temper of the English people in regard to the concessions to the Catholics was too outspokenly hostile to be trifled with. Obstacles arose in the way of the marriage. It was postponed. Difficulties appeared on both sides of the water. Before the year ended all hopes of it were over, and the negotiations at an end. Prince Charles finally took for wife that Princess Henrietta Maria of France whom he and Buckingham had first seen dancing in a royal masque, during their holiday visit in disguise to Paris. The romance of his life was over. The reality was soon to begin.