Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

Duke of Buckingham.

The Duke of Buckingham, in his bold and familiar manner, appears to have been equally a favourite with James I. and Charles I. He behaved with singular indiscretion both at the courts of France and Spain.

Various anecdotes might be collected from the memoir writers of those countries, to convince us that our court was always little respected by its ill choice of this ambassador. His character is hit off by one master-stroke from the pencil of Hume: “He had,” says this penetrating observer of men, “English familiarity and French levity;” so that he was in full possession of two of the most offensive qualities an ambassador can possess.

Sir Henry Wotton has written an interesting life of our duke. At school his character fully discovered itself, even at that early period of life. He would not apply to any serious studies, but excelled in those lighter qualifications adapted to please in the world. He was a graceful horseman, musician, and dancer. His mother withdrew him from school at the early age of thirteen, and he soon became a domestic favourite. Her fondness permitted him to indulge in every caprice, and to cultivate those agreeable talents which were natural to him. His person was beautiful, and his manners insinuating. In a word, he was adapted to become a courtier. The fortunate opportunity soon presented itself; for James saw him, and invited him to court, and showered on him, with a prodigal hand, the cornucopia of royal patronage.

Houssaie, in his political memoirs, has detailed an anecdote of this duke, only known to the English reader in the general observation of the historian. When he was sent to France, to conduct the Princess Henrietta to the arms of Charles I., he had the insolence to converse with the Queen of France, not as an ambassador, but as a lover! The Marchioness of Senecy, her lady of honour, enraged at seeing this conversation continue, seated herself in the arm-chair of the Queen, who that day was confined to her bed; she did this to hinder the insolent duke from approaching the Queen, and probably taking other liberties. As she observed that he still persisted in the lover, “Sir,” she said, in a severe tone of voice, “you must learn to be silent; it is not thus we address the Queen of France.”

This audacity of the duke is further confirmed by Nani, in his sixth book of the History of Venice; an historian who is not apt to take things lightly. For when Buckingham was desirous of once more being ambassador at that court, in 1626, it was signified by the French ambassador, that for reasons well known to himself, his person would not be agreeable to his most Christian majesty. In a romantic threat, the duke exclaimed, he would go and see the queen in spite of the French court; and to this petty affair is to be ascribed the war between the two nations!

The Marshal de Bassompiere, in the journal of his embassy, affords another instance of his “English familiarity.” He says, “The King of England gave me a long audience, and a very disputatious one. He put himself in a passion, while I, without losing my respect, expressed myself freely. The Duke of Buckingham, when he observed the king and myself very warm, leapt suddenly betwixt his majesty and me, exclaiming, ‘I am come to set all to rights betwixt you, which I think is high time.’”

Cardinal Richelieu hated Buckingham as sincerely as did the Spaniard Olivares. This enmity was apparently owing to the cardinal writing to the duke without leaving any space open after the title of Monsieur; the duke, to show his equality, returned his answer in the same “paper-sparing” manner. Richelieu was jealous of Buckingham, whose favour with the Queen of France was known.

This ridiculous circumstance between Richelieu and Buckingham reminds me of a similar one, which happened to two Spanish Lords:— One signed at the end of his letter EL Marques (THE Marquis), as if the title had been peculiar to himself for its excellence. His national vanity received a dreadful reproof from his correspondent, who, jealous of his equality, signed OTRO Marqies (ANOTHER Marquis).

An anecdote given by Sir Henry Wotton offers a characteristic trait of Charles and his favourite:—

“They were now entered into the deep time of Lent, and could get no flesh into their inns; whereupon fell out a pleasant passage (if I may insert it by the way among more serious):— There was near Bayon a herd of goats with their young ones; on which sight Sir Richard Graham (master of the horse to the marquis) tells the marquis he could snap one of the kids, and make some shift to carry him close to their lodgings; which the prince overhearing, ‘Why, Richard,’ says he, ‘do you think you may practise here your old tricks again upon the borders?’ Upon which word they first gave the goatherd good contentment, and then while the marquis and his servant, being both on foot, were chasing the kid about the flock, the prince from horseback killed him in the head with a Scottish pistol. Let this serve for a journal parenthesis, which yet may show how his highness, even in such light and sportful damage, had a noble sense of just dealing.”

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