Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

Charles the First.

Of his romantic excursion into Spain for the Infanta, many curious particulars are scattered amongst foreign writers, which display the superstitious prejudices which prevailed on this occasion, and, perhaps, develope the mysterious politics of the courts of Spain and Rome.

Cardinal Gaetano, who had long been nuncio in Spain, observes, that the people, accustomed to revere the Inquisition as the oracle of divinity, abhorred the proposal of the marriage of the Infanta with an heretical prince; but that the king’s council, and all wise politicians, were desirous of its accomplishment. Gregory XV. held a consultation of cardinals, where it was agreed that the just apprehension which the English catholics entertained of being more cruelly persecuted, if this marriage failed, was a sufficient reason to justify the pope. The dispensation was therefore immediately granted, and sent to the nuncio of Spain, with orders to inform the Prince of Wales, in case of rupture, that no impediment of the marriage proceeded from the court of Rome, who, on the contrary, had expedited the dispensation.

The prince’s excursion to Madrid was, however, universally blamed, as being inimical to state interests. Nani, author of a history of Venice, which, according to his digressive manner, is the universal history of his times, has noticed this affair. “The people talked, and the English murmured more than any other nation, to see the only son of the king and heir of his realms venture on so long a voyage, and present himself rather as a hostage, than a husband to a foreign court, which so widely differed in government and religion, to obtain by force of prayer and supplications a woman whom Philip and his ministers made a point of honour and conscience to refuse.”1

Houssaie observes, “The English council were against it, but king James obstinately resolved on it; being over-persuaded by Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, whose facetious humour and lively repartees greatly delighted him. Gondomar persuaded him that the presence of the prince would not fail of accomplishing this union, and also the restitution of the electorate to his son-in-law the palatine. Add to this, the Earl of Bristol, the English ambassador-extraordinary at the court of Madrid, finding it his interest, wrote repeatedly to his majesty that the success was certain if the prince came there, for that the Infanta would be charmed with his personal appearance and polished manners. It was thus that James, seduced by these two ambassadors, and by his parental affection for both his children, permitted the Prince of Wales to travel into Spain.” This account differs from Clarendon.

Wicquefort says, “that James in all this was the dupe of Gondomar, who well knew the impossibility of this marriage, which was alike inimical to the interests of politics and the Inquisition. For a long time he amused his majesty with hopes, and even got money for the household expenses of the future queen. He acted his part so well, that the King of Spain recompensed the knave, on his return, with a seat in the council of state.” There is preserved in the British Museum a considerable series of letters which passed between James I. and the Duke of Buckingham and Charles, during their residence in Spain.

I shall glean some further particulars concerning this mysterious affair from two English contemporaries, Howel and Wilson, who wrote from their own observations. Howel had been employed in this projected match, and resided during its negotiation at Madrid.

Howel describes the first interview of Prince Charles and the Infanta. “The Infanta wore a blue riband about her arm, that the prince might distinguish her, and as soon as she saw the prince her colour rose very high."— Wilson informs us that “two days after this interview the prince was invited to run at the ring, where his fair mistress was a spectator, and to the glory of his fortune, and the great contentment both of himself and the lookers-on, he took the ring the very first course.” Howel, writing from Madrid, says, “The people here do mightily magnify the gallantry of the journey, and cry out that he deserved to have the Infanta thrown into his arms the first night he came.” The people appear, however, some time after, to doubt if the English had any religion at all. Again, “I have seen the prince have his eyes immovably fixed upon the Infanta half an hour together in a thoughtful speculative posture.” Olivares, who was no friend to this match, coarsely observed that the prince watched her as a cat does a mouse. Charles indeed acted everything that a lover in one of the old romances could have done.2 He once leapt over the walls of her garden, and only retired by the entreaties of the old marquis who then guarded her, and who, falling on his knees, solemnly protested that if the prince spoke to her his head would answer for it. He watched hours in the street to meet with her; and Wilson says he gave such liberal presents to the court, as well as Buckingham to the Spanish beauties, that the Lord Treasurer Middlesex complained repeatedly of their wasteful prodigality.3

Let us now observe by what mode this match was consented to by the courts of Spain and Rome. Wilson informs us that Charles agreed “That any one should freely propose to him the arguments in favour of the catholic religion, without giving any impediment; but that he would never, directly or indirectly, permit any one to speak to the Infanta against the same.” They probably had tampered with Charles concerning his religion. A letter of Gregory XV. to him is preserved in Wilson’s life, but its authenticity has been doubted. Olivares said to Buckingham, “You gave me some assurance and hope of the prince’s turning catholic.“ The duke roundly answered that it was false. The Spanish minister, confounded at the bluntness of our English duke, broke from him in a violent rage, and lamented that state matters would not suffer him to do himself justice. This insult was never forgiven; and some time afterwards he attempted to revenge himself on Buckingham, by endeavouring to persuade James that he was at the head of a conspiracy against him.

We hasten to conclude these anecdotes, not to be found in the pages of Hume and Smollett. — Wilson says that both kingdoms rejoiced:—“Preparations were made in England to entertain the Infanta; a new church was built at St. James’s, the foundation-stone of which was laid by the Spanish ambassador, for the public exercise of her religion: her portrait was multiplied in every corner of the town; such as hoped to flourish under her eye suddenly began to be powerful. In Spain (as Wilson quaintly expresses himself) the substance was as much courted as the shadow here. Indeed the Infanta, Howel tells us, was applying hard to the English language, and was already called the Princess of England. To conclude — Charles complained of the repeated delays; and he and the Spanish court parted with a thousand civilities. The Infanta however observed, that had the Prince loved her, he would not have quitted her.”

How shall we dispel those clouds of mystery with which politics have covered this strange transaction? It appears that James had in view the restoration of the palatinate to his daughter, whom he could not effectually assist; that the court of Rome had speculations of the most dangerous tendency to the protestant religion; that the marriage was broken off by that personal hatred which existed between Olivares and Buckingham; and that, if there was any sincerity existing between the parties concerned, it rested with the Prince and the Infanta, who were both youthful and romantic, and were but two beautiful ivory balls in the hands of great players.

1 The prince and duke travelled under the assumed names of John and Thomas Smith. King James wrote a poem on this expedition, of which the first and last verses are as follow. A copy is preserved among the Rawlinson MSS., Bodleian Library:—

“What sudden change hath darked of late

The glory of the Arcadian state?

The fleecy flocks refuse to feed,

The lambs to play, the ewes to breed;

The altars smoke, the offerings burn,

Till Jack and Tom do safe return.

“Kind shepherds that have loved them long,

Be not too rash in censuring wrong;

Correct your fears, leave off to mourn,

The heavens shall favour their return!

Commit the care to Royal Pan,

Of Jack his son, and Tom his man.”

2 In MS. Harl., 6987, is preserved Buckingham’s letter to James I, describing the first interview. Speaking of the prince, he says, “Baby Charles is himself so touched at the heart, that he confesses all he ever yet saw is nothing to her, and swears, that if he want her, there shall be blows.”

3 Though Buckingham and Charles were exigeant of jewels for presents, the king was equally profuse in sending until he had exhausted his store. Considerably more than 150,000 l. worth were consigned to Spain. In a letter from Newmarket, March 17, 1623, preserved in Harleian MS. 6987, he enumerates a large quantity to be presented to the Infanta; and he is equally careful that Prince Charles should be well supplied; “As for thee, my sweet gossip, I send thee a fair table diamond for wearing in thy hat.” The king ingeniously prompts them to present the Infanta with a small looking-glass to hang at her girdle, and to assure her that “by art magic, whensoever she shall be pleased to look in it, she shall see the fairest lady that either her brother’s or your father’s dominions can afford.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37