Tag Archives: the 19th century

The Story of King Charles I’s Body

Apr 10, 2017

Okay, so here’s the other story from Windsor Castle that I promised I’d tell, but got way distracted from.

Charles I was a devoted family man, which is one of the reasons I love him.
(c) Astley Hall Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So other than Victoria and Albert, my favorite English monarch is Charles I. Now, this is highly controversial, because the reign of Charles I and the Civil War that resulted (you know, Cromwell and all) is a pivotal moment in British history. A lot of people utterly vilify Charles and adore Cromwell. They say Charles was a tyrant and Cromwell was for the people. Personally, I think Charles was a good man but a terrible king, and Cromwell was an ass who attempted to destroy his country without a plan. But I’ll get to that later. Anyhow, as I said to the tour guide at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, you’re pretty much either Team Charles or Team Cromwell, and I happen to be Team Charles.

For those who don’t know, Charles I believed in the divine right of kings. Which, for Team Charles, means he was just trying to do his job the way he believed God wanted him to. This led him to do a lot of not-so-great things—like dissolving Parliament and taxing people—because those pesky populists and their new, right-wing extreme Protestantism were getting in his way. Oliver Cromwell believed all men were and should be equal in the eyes of God and the law, and so whipped up a revolution in order to oust the old rule and usher in his ideal society. Ergo, the English Civil War. This all happened in the 1640s. (Note: America was barely a glimmer in the milkman’s eyes at this point in history. A few, experimental colonies, yes, but that’s about all)

Long (LONG) story short, Charles lost the war, was captured and imprisoned, and ended up having his head chopped off. Here’s where the fascinating story of Charles I’s remains begins!

Oliver Cromwell. I don’t like him much.

Because Cromwell was firmly in charge as soon as Charles’s head was separated from the rest of him, he forbid the ex-king from being buried with any sort of ceremony whatsoever. ANY ceremony. At all. But Charles had many loyal supporters who wanted to do right by him. So they sewed his head back on his body, and with a high degree of secrecy, they took his remains to St. George’s Chapel inside of Windsor Castle to be interred. And the entire ceremony happened in utter silence, since they were forbidden to even so much as read from the Book of Common Prayer.

So much silence, in fact, that in short order, everyone forgot where they’d buried him. Or rather, it was such a secret that when the people immediately involved were gone, no one knew where the remains were. They knew Charles had been buried in St. George’s Chapel, but not where. They also knew that he was probably buried in the same crypt as Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, but again, the exact location was a little fuzzy. Particularly as St. George’s Chapel was ransacked a couple of times by those pesky Cromwell supporters.

Incidentally, Cromwell was an absolutely terrible leader. He didn’t have a plan. Not one clue. He made a big stink about equality and new ways of doing things and abolishing the monarchy, but he didn’t go into leadership with a clear vision for what should replace monarchy. He tried several forms of government through his tenure as leader, and none of them worked. He pissed people off so much, that after he died, they invited Charles I’s son, Charles II, to come back and restore the monarchy. You can like Cromwell and make excuses for him all you want, but after a country spend years engaged in a bloody civil war, murdered their monarch, and set up a new form of government, you have to admit that you’d have to fail hardcore to say “Nevermind! We want that whole monarchy things back.” Not just any monarchy either. They asked for Charles’s heir, the same royal family as before the war, instead of creating a whole new king. Take that, Team Cromwell!

St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. The crypt with Charles I and Henry VIII is under that black slab of marble.

Incidentally again, Oliver Cromwell’s body was dug up again two years after he died, hung from the ramparts in the traditional place criminals who had been executed were displayed, and then destroyed.

Meanwhile, Charles slumbered on, lost and unknown. … Until 1813. At that point, after renovations to St. George’s Chapel, they discovered a crypt that, lo and behold, had three, old coffins in it. One was wrapped in a black velvet shroud with an iron band around it that read “King Charles, 1649.” Excited about finding the martyred king at last, but wanting to make sure they had really found him, they decided to open the coffin and take a look.

The coffin was opened by Sir Henry Halford, president of the Royal College of Physicians. He left a complete record of the proceedings. Inside the coffin, they found a well-preserved body, wrapped in linen and embalming fluids. They peeled back the linens, revealing Charles’s face. Not only was it in good shape (although the skin was dark, as happens, you know), everyone remarked that he looked exactly like all of the famous portraits that had been painted of him. But more than that, his left eye was open, and the eyeball was still intact. It stared right up at them for a few seconds before oxidation disintegrated it!

To complete the visual ID, they checked around the back of the head to make sure it had been severed and sewn back on. The leather stitches were long gone, but the head had clearly been chopped off at some point. Also, Charles had luxuriant, thick, brown hair, which was still in very good condition. To prove the head was Charles’s, Halford picked up the head and showed it around to people. Bleh! After that, he put it back. BUT before sealing up the coffin again, Halford nabbed one of Charles’s teeth, a clipping of his beard, and one of his cervical vertebrae.

An artist’s rendering of what’s inside the crypt. Charles is on the left. Notice Henry VIII’s squashed coffin in the center.

That wasn’t the end of things. Halford took his souvenirs home. He had the vertebrae covered in silver, and he used it as a salt cellar. It was a popular conversation piece at his dinner table. Ahem* That is, until his grandson inherited the relics. In 1888, Halford’s grandson approached the crown, explaining the relics, and returning them to the royal family. At that point, the future King Edward VII, secured permission from his mother, Queen Victoria, to reopen the crypt so that the pieces of Charles could be reunited with the rest of him. Victoria agreed. The crypt was opened by workers, but Edward went in by himself to replace the relics, now housed in a small, ebony casket. That done, the crypt was resealed, and it hasn’t been disturbed since.

One other interesting side note for you Henry VIII fans. When the crypt was opened in 1813, it was noted that Henry VIII’s coffin had been smashed. Bones were visible inside, but it was clear the body had disintegrated. It is speculated that the destruction happened when Charles was interred. The theory is that the burial happened in such haste that the men placing Charles in the crypt crunched into Henry VIII’s coffin, cracking the top. Jane Seymour’s coffin is completely intact and has never been disturbed, though. And there is also another coffin in that crypt, an infant child of Queen Anne. Although I don’t know the story of how and when that ended up there.

Status Update – Grow WHEN You’re Planted?

Mar 08, 2017

Steppin’ out in my city, London, in the 1890s

So on Monday I wrote about how there are times when I think that I was totally born on the wrong continent. Or at least that my heart feels like is should be in England. Well, I would like to add a little twist to that. Because after earning two degrees in History and spending a lifetime reading history books for fun, I am going to go out on a limb and say I would not have minded living in the last part of the 19th century at all.

When I say that, I’ll specify that I would have liked to be born in the 1860s so that I would be in the prime of my life in the 1880s – 1910s. There’s just something about that time period—whether you call it the Late Victorian and Edwardian Age or the Gilded Age—that I absolutely love. The fashions were beautiful, the architecture was stunning, and technology was way, way more advanced than you’re thinking right now.

Because here’s the thing… I’m going to go out on a limb and say that 99 out of 100 people in the 21st century have no idea what the late 19th century was like, and in fact, they probably have a very, very warped and flat-out wrong view of how advanced it was. You! You’re wrong! Those 40 years between 1880 and 1920 were NOT dark times of dirty people with no hygiene or technology when women were considered property! You’re wrong, wrong, wrong! (Those days that you’re thinking of are the 1820s – 1860s)

I would TOTALLY have worn this costume to ride my bicycle!

The fact of the matter is, while we think life has changed and technology has developed super fast from the 1980s until now, we ain’t got nuthin’ on the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. Within those 40 years I mentioned, civilization saw the development of electricity and plumbing in homes, public sanitation, public transportation (including subways), automobiles, steam ships, refrigeration, movies, and gramophones, not to mention the bicycle craze, women being admitted to universities, holding offices, and voting, the development of germ theory and sterilization for surgeries of all kinds, and the importation of food from all over the world, which drastically improved public health and nutrition. In fact, I had an interesting discussion with a doctor once in which he agreed that people at the end of the 19th century were probably far healthier than people nowadays, because there was more physical activity and less processed food.

But still, a lot of people balk and cringe and continue to operate on the mistaken assumption that just because a few things weren’t as advanced (penicillin hadn’t been invented yet, so yes, people died of infection more…but hey, they die of diabetes and weight-related illnesses in equally as great numbers today, I’ve seen the hard data that proves that) the whole era was a morass of backwardness. That phenomenon has always baffled me. It’s very black and white thinking. Just because the infant mortality rate (among the lower classes, not the middle or upper classes, mind you…I’ve seen the data on that too) was higher 125 years ago MUST mean that the entire era was gross and nasty and horrible. It just isn’t true.

Yep, this would totally have been my 1890s attitude!

Yes, there have been a lot of advances in the 20th century. There’ve been a lot in the 21st century too. But we’ve also lost things. To me, it’s not so much that life has gotten better as the years go by, it’s just that it’s changed. And I think I would have gotten along just fine 130 years ago. IF! And here’s my big, big, IF… IF I had the same family I do now and/or I had married a nice guy. Because the one thing that I can’t excuse away is that if I had lived 130 years ago, my brother Stewart would have been responsible for me if I’d never married. But Stewart would have been super cool about that, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have cared if I still wanted to be an author or live independently. Because by that era, women did. And I wouldn’t have been part of the upper classes anyhow, so who cares what the rules—which fewer and fewer people were following in that era—said.

 

(All images came from Pinterest and are public domain)

Status Update – Victoria: Episode 6

Feb 23, 2017

I know, I’m way behind on this and on the blog in general, but it’s been one of those weeks where everything suddenly piles on you at the same time. You know those weeks. I got three emails within 20 minutes on Tuesday night with important, nay, dire business stuff that I had to deal with. Fortunately, most of it is taken care of, and we can now sit back and talk about Victoria.

Read this book this winter. It’s chunky and academic

I’ve give episode 6 about an 80% on the accuracy scale. Pretty darn good! It’s historically accurate that Victoria had mixed feelings about finding out she was pregnant so soon after the wedding, but also that she kind of ignored it and ran off to do stuff anyhow. What I find interesting about the way the show portrayed that is how good of a job they did showing the “old school of thought” about pregnancy, as evidenced by Victoria’s mom, and the new ideas that were just beginning to emerge at that time. Because there WAS a huge change in thought about pregnancy and childbirth in the middle part of the 19th century. Ironically (or not, this is me we’re talking about) I just read a social history book about Europe since 1750 this winter, and there was a whole chapter dealing with changes in the way childbirth and childrearing was thought of. That’s a whole other blog post, but the gist is that people were healthier in general and medical science was (sloooooowly) advancing to more reasonable ways of treating women’s health issues.

But the main thing I wanted to talk about with this episode was the historical reality of the slow but definite transition of power from wild, young Victoria who had no idea what she was doing and had to rely on ministers to Albert subtly slipping in and influencing things. Because he did. And England was better off for it by far!

Incidentally, Robert Peel started the Metropolitain Police Force, which is why cops are called “Bobbies” over there. 😉 (c) Government Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So Robert Peele. Yes, Victoria hated him at first. Because he wasn’t fun, like Melbourne. Albert really did like him, though. They had a lot in common, in that they were both “not fun” men. And while I think they overplayed Victoria’s resistance to new technology, they certainly didn’t exaggerate Albert’s love for it. Remember, this is the guy who would organize the Great Exhibition in a little over a decade. Albert had his pulse on the modern world (which is one reason the upper classes of Britain hated him so much).

Albert not only influenced Victoria to like Peele eventually (he did, she did), but he convinced her to like a lot of other things too. My favorite scene in this last episode, one I think is very historically accurate, is where they sit down at the desk together to tackle all of the documents of state. That was a subtle moment in the show, but it was pivotal in the history of Britain. Because Albert very quickly became Victoria’s most indispensable and trusted advisor. Anyone who scoffed or suggested that Albert was really running the country…was right.

I’m interested to see where they go from here with the show. Because many historians agree that the number one most important thing Albert did for the British monarchy was to convince Victoria to back out of actual governing and just be more or less a rubber stamp. There is a lot of agreement that if he hadn’t accomplished that, the monarchy would have been abolished, like so many other European monarchies were in the 19th century. But in a very real way, Albert’s savvy understanding of the modern world saved the crown.

Status Update – Victoria: Episode 5

Feb 15, 2017

Man, I really do like this show! It’s been so much fun watching the way Jenna Coleman plays Victoria so, so well (although I still like the actor who played Albert in The Young Victoria much more than this guy). And once again, they got the major historical details of Albert having a really hard time adjusting and finding a place down pretty good.

I wonder, though, if 21st century audiences really appreciate how bad it really was for Albert. We have certain expectations about the equality between the sexes these days, but even with my History Apologist ways, I have to admit that the role of women compared to men was at a historical low in the 1840s. If he had married any other woman in the entire world, Albert would have expected to be a firm head of household. He would have exercised a certain amount of control and influence over his wife and children. His opinions would have been sacrosanct, and there would be no question that he would be taken very seriously. And Albert was a very serious man.

But Albert was in the unique to the 19th century of being number two in his marriage. As much as Victoria wanted it to be otherwise (and really did work for things like Albert’s right to take her into dinner, and having parliament give him the title of Prince Consort, which they didn’t until the 1850s). We know from letters and diaries that the stress that his unique and, for the time, humiliating position was acute. He really suffered for the first few years, until he figured out how to make a name and a place for himself. Which he did by taking up various charitable causes. I’m sure they’ll get into it later, but Albert gained a reputation for hard work and competence as an organizer and supporter of causes.

But the one thing that I call shenanigans on for this episode in the whole thing with Victoria trying not to have a baby right away. That’s sort of a modern spin on things, in my opinion. Victoria wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of pregnancy and children, but she knew it was inevitable. However, according to everything I’ve read, it seems like she didn’t really know how much she was going to hate it until she was already very pregnant with her first, Vicky. So I would believe the scene between her and Albert when he catches her jumping up and down after sexy times if she’d already had Vicky and knew what she was trying to prevent. Before that? I don’t think she knew.

Victoria & Albert were really *cough* active, though. And we know this because Victoria was the queen of TMI and pretty much told everyone what they were up to all the time. Also, one thing the show isn’t good at showing is that Victoria was really almost never alone. The scene where Lehzen walks in on the two of them in the morning and Victoria tells Albert that she sleeps in the room next door? True. Very true. Only there was a big hole in the wall (I imagine it being like a window, based on what I read) so that Victoria had very little privacy ever. I always did wonder how that worked, seeing as how much V&A “enjoyed” each other.

Anyhow, if I’m remembering correctly, Victoria was pregnant within two months of her wedding, so I’m interested to see how the show handles that.

This is one of my favorite paintings of Victoria & Albert because of how telling it is about Victoria’s attitude toward motherhood. V&A are obviously lovestruck, with eyes only for each other (and the painting is often cropped to show just this part). But way, way over on the other side of the canvas, playing with dead animals? That’s Vicky, their firstborn! And that says it all.

Status Update – Victoria: Episode 4

Feb 08, 2017

Victoria’s actual wedding dress, photographed when I was at Kensington Palace last summer. Dude, the woman was SHORT!

Well what d’ya know? Sunday night’s episode of Victoria did really well in terms of historical accuracy! I mean, aside from this continuing silliness about a romantic attachment between Victoria and Melbourne, and the fact that none of the servants’ stories are real.

Oh, one more note about the Victoria & Melbourne thing. I kept waiting for her to ask Melbourne if he had a mistress, since she seemed so obsessed with men and their mistresses in the middle of the episode. I would have loved to see Rufus Sewel’s Melbourne try to worm his way out of that one. Because yes. Yes, Melbourne did have a mistress, at that point in history and many before her.

But really, the episode was about Albert, and once again, they did a really good job of portraying him. (Other than my continued complaints about that actor’s vanishing German accent) Historically speaking, the allowance and the title was a super huge deal that had Albert’s knickers in a knot. He was exactly right to think that he was in serious danger of being the German stud, with no point and no power. He didn’t even have the usual power and authority that 19th century men had over their wives. In essence, Albert was the 19th century woman in that relationship (at first) and he knew it.

Albert’s actual wedding outfit

The allowance was also a big deal because it represented independence, like he said in the show. And Parliament really did screw him over on that one. But one thing the show didn’t portray very well (so far) was that the allowance thing, and a lot of other stuff Albert endured, was pure anti-German bigotry. The British people really didn’t like the fact that the queen married a German (not that she had much choice). For decades, up until he died, horrible things were written about him in the papers, and much later, in the 1850s, he was falsely implicated in a plot to…oh, take over the government or assassinate someone or something. I can’t remember what at the moment.

Anyhow, the bit where Ernst took Albert to a brothel? I’m calling shenanigans on that one. Ernst was probably historically right at home in a place like that, but from everything I’ve read about Albert, I can’t see him even beginning to consent to getting into a situation like that. BUT, if he had, he totally would have asked for a lecture and taken notes instead of engaging in the practice, like he did in the show.

One other minor detail that I’m eager to see unfold is the introduction of the character of George Anson. They’ve started out getting him right. Anson really was Melbourne’s man, and Albert totally resented him at first. (And he was ticked off at not being able to choose any of his own staff) HOWEVER, Albert and Anson became incredibly good friends. Like, Anson became one of the best friends that Albert ever had. I’m interested to see where they go with that.

And finally, Albert actually did like Melbourne. And Albert was also responsible for the reconciliation between Victoria and her mother, but I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet.