Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Of Secret Treaties and Promises to Convert
Kings Charles II of England and Louis XIV of France met in Dover, England on May 26, 1670 to sign the secret Treaty of Dover. Charles promised to support Louis in the French king’s war of conquest against William of Orange in Holland and even to become a Roman Catholic, while Louis promised financial support so that Charles could pay for his part in the war with Holland without Parliament.
In Supremacy and Survival, I note how the connections and engagements between the House of Stuart and the Catholic kings of France and Spain made the Protestants—particularly the Puritans—nervous and doubtful about Stuart loyalty to the Church of England. I reference J.P. Kenyon’s The Popish Plot, in his consideration of why the ruling classes of England were still so concerned about Catholics in their country and therefore so ready to believe Titus Oates’ perjury.
1. At the beginning of his reign, James I wanted to hold an ecumenical council with the Pope! He also negotiated a treaty with Spain for his son and heir Charles to marry the Infanta. That treaty, like the one eventually signed when Charles married Henrietta Maria of France, sister of King Louis XIII, allowed the foreign bride to remain a Catholic, to have priests at Court as her chaplains and confessors, and to have a chapel in which to worship—and even promised leniency to Catholics.
2. Charles I indeed allowed his wife that freedom and members of his Court were often concerned that his uxoriousness might lead him to become Catholic. Henrietta Maria was a devout Catholic, processing to Tyburn Tree to honor the Elizabethan and Jamesian martyrs, refurbishing her chapel in the latest baroque style, and attracting converts. The presence of the Capuchin friars and the celebration of Catholic Mass shocked and disturbed Anglican courtiers. When Parliament was not in session, Charles indeed showed leniency to Catholic priests and Henrietta Maria often pled for clemency. Parliament indicted her for treason during the Civil War and she fled the country for exile in France.
3. Charles II returned to England in 1660 in the security of the re-established Church of England, the Book of Common Prayer, the Authorized Version of the Bible, and the monarchy. He married a Catholic princess, however, Catherine of Braganza, and refused to divorce her even though she bore him no sons. He treated her as well as possible considering his rampant infidelity, maintaining both Protestant and Catholic mistresses—thus the occasion when Nell Gwynn called out to the crowds jostling her carriage, “Good people, I am the Protestant whore!” If Charles’s cabinet had known what he had agreed on this day in 1670, they would have been stunned. Although they did not know about the Treaty of Dover (no one did until the 19th century), they knew that Charles attempted to extend freedom from the penal laws to Catholics in his Declaration of Indulgence in 1672. Imagine their surprise when they discovered that he had converted on his deathbed.
4. Years of Charles II’s reign were taken up in the Exclusion Crisis—the effort of Parliament to prevent the succession of his brother, James, the Duke of York, who had become a Roman Catholic, along with his first wife, Anne Hyde. Charles had demanded his nieces continue their Anglican religious practices, so that there were two Protestant heirs in waiting. The fact that Charles continued to support his brother as his heir, even if James had to resign his position as Lord Admiral and go into exile, frustrated Parliament. And then Charles allowed James to remarry after Anne died—and marry another Catholic princess (Mary Beatrice of Modena)!
This Stuart track record of favoring or at least allowing a Catholic presence at Court, along with other historical circumstances (the endurance of Catholics in England and the success of the Catholic Counter-Reformation and Reformation on the Continent) led Parliament and the English people to accept whole-heartedly the fictitious Popish Plot. That background also contributed to their response to the news that the Catholic Queen of England had borne a healthy Catholic son thus displacing the king’s Protestant daughters in the succession.