There was an interesting article by Dominic Sandbrook in the Daily Mail about the relevance of Charles I and II to our new king Charles III.
Some things never change like a bit of controversy about the queen. Enjoy this ‘eyewitness’ report of the coronation of Charles I, one of the chapters in Michael Dean’s novel A Diamond in the Dust about the first 28 years in the life of King Charles I.
Chapter 22 – A King but no Queen
Charles’s coronation was held on a bitter February day with bulging snow clouds hanging lower than the ceilings of palaces, or so it appeared. Henrietta did indeed watch from concealment, as Mendy had permitted. She and Mamie St Georges sat swathed in black in a closed carriage with a small window. Charles had made the arrangements. He was as distraught as Henrietta that she was not to be by his side on Coronation Day.
Before the coronation proper, Charles had insisted on taking the sacrament as a sign of the purification of the new reign after the licentiousness of James’s time as king. This was a private, indeed a secret ceremony, as the Puritans would see it as a sign of ‘Popery’ and no doubt blame Henrietta for it. ‘
The rite was to be at the Church of St Clement Dane, hard by Covent Garden. The small congregation sang thirteen parts of the 119th psalm, but as they did so a terrible event occurred.
The Reverend Jacob, the Minister, collapsed with a fever and began to babble and rave even as he gave the sacrament. The congregation gasped, muttered, some shrieked as it became clear the wretched divine had the plague. He was taken home and died after languishing in agony for five days.
That was the most dreadful of omens for the reign. When James was crowned in 1603, there had also been a terrible plague. And now this, just before Charles’s coronation. Was the Stuart dynasty cursed?
The small knot of witnesses to the event were sworn to secrecy. Buckingham was there. And Endymion Porter. And Wat Montagu. Henry Jermyn and Thomas Howard, Lord
Arundel. All of them could be relied upon not to spread the story further.
Sir Richard Weston had also been present, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was hastily instructed to make a large payment to the Reverend Jacob’s family to ensure their silence. Charles was a naturally secretive man who did not trust his fellow human beings easily. He was pleased this particular secret was so well sealed it remained closed to public knowledge.
Charles and his coterie of courtiers took their carriages from St Clement Dane back to Whitehall, shadowed by Henrietta’s sealed coach. From there, they headed the procession to Westminster Abbey. Charles walked under a canopy supported on silver staves carried by his small circle of intimates. The choir sang a prayer wishing him long life. It was the same prayer sang at James’s coronation.
Charles had chosen to wear a suit of white satin, modelled on Buckingham’s, although he had a purple mantle over it. He was the first king not to wear all-purple at his coronation. Charles was trying to show his soul was pure, white, untouched. But for many the colour recalled a prophecy by William Lilly, a savant learned in astrology. Lilly’s Prophecy of the White King and the Dreadful Dead Man tells of a prince in white who becomes ‘lost to the eye of the world and to the love and affections of his people’.
John Donne, Dean of St Pauls, took the theme of martyrdom for his first sermon to the new king: ‘The last thing Christ bequeathed to thee was his blood, refuse not to go to him the same way too, if his glory requires the sacrifice’.
Charles then swore the same oath his father had sworn, surrounded by the medieval relics of Edward the Confessor. This was an attempt to establish the nascent, struggling Stuart dynasty as worthy successors.
The glories of the wondrous reign of the Protestant heroine Elizabeth were everywhere seen in roseate hue. But then had come a limping debauched figure from Scotland who cared for nothing but reading and hunting. And now his son, equally unprepossessing physically, towing the twin burdens of a hated Chief Minister and a Catholic queen with a bloated Catholic retinue who was there to promote Catholicism and who spoke no English.
At the coronation, Charles was given the crown, the symbol of the people’s love. He was handed the sceptre representing royal authority. And he was anointed in cruciform, imprinting him with God’s mark. The anointment was with oil scented with orange and jasmine – Charles’s choices.
A coronation, it was commonly believed, made a new person, not only a new king. The new person had been chosen by God, so was touched with the divine.
As Charles stepped outside the abbey after the coronation ceremony that bitterly cold February day, it began to snow. It was light at first, a flurry of powder snow. A cold wind whipped it into a funnel and the funnel of snow settled round the king. The white snow settled into his white face and covered his white suit, masking his outline. Henrietta, watching from the window of her carriage, screamed.
On the day of his coronation, the fear from the depths of his soul, the fear that was his first memory in Dunfermline Palace, came to pass. As the snow settled all over him, Charles Stuart disappeared.
Want to read more? A Diamond in the Dust can be bought from this page.