The King’s Art

Michael Dean

The Stuarts: Love, Art and War – Novel 2

Sample Passages

  • Upon the Word of a King

    Charles tried to move troops to the Tower, to regain control of events. But the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir William Balfour, was loyal to Parliament and refused to receive them. Charles and Henrietta were horrified that the King’s writ did not run in the country’s main prison, less than a mile from his palace. They stared at each other in mute horror, frozen at the enormity of it. Would anybody obey the royal command?
    The Bill of Attainder, Strafford’s death warrant, passed the Lords. It was brought to the king for signature. There were fears of civil war if signature was refused.

    Henrietta was masking her own feelings. Their three-year-old daughter, Anne, had just died of a fever. Henrietta wept alone, sometimes for hours. Her head felt as if a nest of bees had made a hive of it. Misery coiled in the pit of her belly. Charles meant well but his vague ineffectual comforts did not reach her inner being.
    Of all her comforters it was not Wat Montagu or Henry Jermyn who breached her misery but William Davenant. There was something curiously earthily practical about Davenant, He could express it in action or in poetry. He had written a poem acknowledging her strength.

    To The Queen,
    You have become (and it augments your state)
    The judge’s judge, and people’s advocate.

    The poem was part of an increasingly desperate campaign by Davenant to enlist Henrietta to bend Charles’s obduracy. Henrietta, teeth clenched in her own agonies, did her best. She had toyed with the idea of fleeing to Portsmouth with the children. But she could not bear to leave Charles.
    And in any case, the French ambassador had warned her not to try to run from Whitehall as it was too dangerous. The Puritans controlled the streets. Her Catholic Ladies in Waiting were fleeing back to France in disguise every day, afraid for their own safety.
    Charles and Henrietta were playing Tric-Trac in Charles’s bedroom, in the Privy Chamber in Whitehall. Henrietta kept throwing anxious glances across the Tric-Trac board at him. She had given up asking if he was alright. She had given up even trying to get him to talk. He had become withdrawn and morose. She knew his insomnia was now chronic. He had aged years in the last few weeks.
    Strafford’s Death Warrant lay on a small table near the door. Charles had still not signed it. He never mentioned it.
    Henrietta threw two dice. ‘Five and three,’ she announced in her clear, pleasant voice. She moved her markers on the board according to the score. Charles threw one and two, but seemed too tired even to move his markers. He looked at Henrietta, as if seeing her for the first time.
    How had it happened? That is what he wanted to say. He dreamed, he still dreamed of building a magnificence for his people. Why did they hate him so, just for raising the money to enable it? The poor and the middling sort had their lives made easier since he had ruled without Parliament. And yet…
    There came a tumult form outside in King Street. A mighty shouting and roaring of noise. Henrietta shuddered.
    ‘A mob?’
    Charles shrugged. It could be a mob. It could be the London Militia. Parliament had taken control of this body, ten thousand strong. They had organised a petition against Strafford which was said to have been signed by 30,000 apprentices. They had also ended the monarch’s age-old right to call and dismiss Parliament. Parliament controlled London. Charles sighed. He would rather it was an inchoate mob than the London Militia come to demand the signature that would send Strafford to his death.
    And there was something else, worse even than that. Rumours were swirling that Parliament was about to impeach the queen. Henrietta’s use of Wat Montagu to raise money from Catholics to fight the Covenanters and her attempt to enlist the Pope had inflamed fears of a Catholic plot against the state, although there was no plot. Charles never forgot that of four queens executed under the Tudors, three had strong French connections.
    ‘Guard!’ Charles called out. His voice cracked. It was feeble.
    ‘Guard!’ Henrietta called. She sounded alarmed, fearful. It was the first time he had seen her like this.
    Charles was about to get up and go down to the guardhouse himself, an unprecedented breach of protocol, when a servant finally appeared.
    ‘Henry!’ Charles was relieved it was Henry Firebrace, one of his most devoted servants. ‘Henry, call out the guard. There is tumult. Can you not hear it?’
    Henry Firebrace hurried to the Guard Chamber. It was opposite the Banqueting House above a vaulted basement known as Wolsey’s Wine Cellar. He returned all too quickly, deathly white. ‘The guard has fled, Your Majesty. A few cavaliers remain at the gates but the guard has decamped.’
    There was a deep silence. Henrietta could hardly trust her ears. She wondered if she had misunderstood his Derby accent. But apparently not.
    ‘Even my own guard?’
    Firebrace nodded.
    ‘And the tumult outside?’
    ‘It is the London Militia, Your Majesty. They are firing up the mob.’
    ‘Firing…? They want me to sign…?’
    ‘Yes, Your Majesty.’
    ‘What are they chanting?’
    ‘They are chanting “Avenge the Protestants”. They believe Protestants have been massacred in Ireland, by Catholics.’
    ‘But there has been no massacre, has there?’
    ‘No, Your Majesty.’
    Charles mouth fell open. He stared helplessly at Henrietta. Strafford had written to him from the Tower, begging him to sign his Death Warrant. ‘I do most humbly beseech Your Majesty, for preventing of evils which may happen by your refusal, to pass this Bill of Attainder.’
    The tumult was growing louder.
    Henrietta spoke. ‘Charles, the children. They are all here. Charles, they will kill our children. For God’s sake. Sign!’
    Aching in every limb and joint, Charles hauled himself toward the document that would end Strafford’s life. He took up a quill then broke it. Broken! A broken reed. A broken man. A broken life.
    ‘Sign it!’ Henrietta shrieked. ‘In the name of the Blessed Virgin. They are in the building. I can hear them. Sign.’



The King’s Art covers the second half of the life of King Charles I when his love of and commitment to the arts becomes his downfall but throughout it all he is sustained by his love for his wife Henrietta.

In this novel Michael Dean shows once more that he is a master in blending fact with fiction and so brings us closer to historical figures.

Whereas Diamond in the Dust, first novel in the trilogy The Stuarts: Love, Art and War, was essentially Charles and Henrietta’s love story, The King’s Art, delves deeper into Charles’s relationships with the artists that surround him and his stubborn nature that makes him clash with his political enemies.

The King’s Art puts the reader right in the middle of the 17th century and shows artists from all over Europe flocking to the court of Charles I in hope of lucrative assignments.

The relationship between Charles and his artists is often very personal as shown in this passage about meeting Anthony van Dyck:

But what pleased Charles most, and he even acknowledged it to himself in a rare moment of self-awareness, was the painter’s size, or rather lack of it. He knew that van Dyck was exactly the same age as he was, but he was also exactly the same size. That is to say equally diminutive and if anything even slighter in build.

The arts had invaded all parts of society. Even William Cavendish, the future Duke of Newcastle, and commander of the King’s troops, was a poet and proud to be the author of two plays that had been staged at Blackfriars theatre.

The elaborate masques and political point scoring are wonderfully portrayed and the way in which the puritan opposition grows is fascinating.

In double quick time, his pen driven by fury at the Puritan destroyers, James Shirley wrote a piece celebrating Charles and Henrietta’s reign; a time of peace, prosperity, stability and flowering culture. Not to mention the growth in England’s reputation in Europe to a first rank power. It was designed as part of a procession, culminating with scenes on stage. A blend of masque and play; Shirley entitled it The Triumph of Peace.

But is this how it all ends?

Next day, Charles, with cropped hair, dressed as a serving man in a plain black suit, rode over Magdalen Bridge and up Headington Hill with Henry Firebrace. There was no other escort, just two lone horsemen. They left Oxford by the East Gate at three in the morning, heading north, making for the Scots camp at Southwell to surrender.

As they left, a passer-by recognised Henry Firebrace and called a greeting by name. ‘Farewell Harry!’ The passer-by did not recognise Charles.

The King’s Art will be published in November 2023 and can be pre-ordered from this page.

ISBN: 9781907320880
Number of pages: 230
Price: £0

Publishing date: 9 May 2024