Lawyer, teacher, market researcher, sheep farmer, antiques and contemporary events organiser, theatre reviewer – Bridget Fraser has been there, done that, and is now a writer and film maker. Bridget has written for the theatre (Vintage Luggage and All in the Mind), short film, Anniversary Waltz, selected for the Marbella Film Festival 2015, full length screenplay, The Rag Pickers of Kolkata, set in India, doing the rounds of production companies. She hosts the Free Range Poets poetry workshops (established about 10 years ago), has published poetry and short stories and loves involvement with all things literary. She is currently preoccupied with her ancestress, Lucy Walter, who was given such a bad press in the late 1600s and planning a radio play of Lucy’s story.
Lucy Walter, born to landowner Richard Walter and the well bred Elizabeth Protheroe at Roch Castle, Pembrokeshire in 1630, was a wild child of the sea shore and the Welsh countryside, adored by her father. She had two brothers, Richard and the younger, Justus. Who could foresee that this wild Welsh maid was destined to become a dangerous woman? Dangerous, that is, if she and the young Charles II fell in love as youngsters, married in 1644 at the then legal ages of 14 and 17, produced a son who would claim the throne of England, take up arms against his uncle, the Catholic James II. But dangerous to whom? You don’t have to be a gun-toting gangster to be dangerous. Enough that you might thwart another’s path to glory – and in that way Lucy Walter was a dangerous woman.
Think about this:
The Parliamentarians (Cromwell and his crew) are out to destroy Charles II and his Cavaliers and grasp the throne of England for ‘the people’ and themselves. They lay waste the lands and destroy the houses of supporters of Charles – including Roch Castle, Lucy’s family home in Pembrokeshire, in 1644. Lucy and her father are forced to follow her mother to London. The year is 1648 when Charles sets sail for the safety of the continent insisting that Lucy go with him. Charles and the English Court are living in near penury in France and Amsterdam, dependent on the goodwill of continental Royal households.
The English Court is bankrupt. Charles needs funds – big funds – to re-establish himself and his Court in England. The rumours persist that Charles and Lucy Walter are already married – much to the alarm of his advisers who need him to marry money.
A suitable marriage is the obvious answer yet Charles, to the fury of his advisers, sidesteps all the possible princesses paraded before him. Why? His love for and marriage to Lucy Walter. He then sent her to The Hague for her safety. He visited her as often as he could and spent loving and lustful days and nights with her. None of this was a secret. None of this was denied by anyone, only their marriage was hotly denied – by all whose future wealth, power and position depended on it. Charles neither confirmed nor denied that he was married to Lucy Walter – he was no political fool but he was a man in love and he would not deny his Lucy. Rumours flew that Lucy was but another royal mistress – the habit of the times. She, however, hid her marriage lines (marriage certificate) in a black tin box which was never out of her keeping. Those marriage lines were her only proof of her legal marriage. She had not married Charles with an eye to becoming Queen of England nor wealthy nor, indeed, part of any Royal household – but she did want the love of Charles – and that she held for many years – and the respectability of being wife to the man she loved.
Marriage was important to Lucy. Remember, her reputation was important to her for her own sake and for the family name. And she came from landowning stock where she had seen the painful fate of a bastard child, owned by no one. Poverty and starvation was the lot of bastards and Lucy had vowed never to risk a child of hers meeting any such fate. She and Charles were passionate about each other but she was determined to resist any sexual advances without a marriage ceremony. The young Charles, deeply attached to Lucy, was more than happy to marry her. Why not? They were in love, they depended on each other. The marriage was performed in simple privacy – rather than in secret – in the tiny chapel of Roch. A local elderly man of the church, Dr John Cosin, later Bishop of Durham, officiated, the vows exchanged, the records signed. Lucy and Charles were married.
Their child was born at Rotterdam in 1649. Charles acknowledged their son, named Jacko for his safety so that no jealous anti-royal eye should fall on him. and Lucy travelled under the name of Mrs Barlow, again for her protection from anti-Royalists. The boy was the only one of his children (the others were always acknowledged as illegitimate) upon whom Charles bestowed a title – Duke of Monmouth. Why the favouritism? Because the child with Lucy Walter was his one and only legitimate son, the only son who was entitled to claim the throne when Charles died. Ironically, in years to come, when Charles finally married, after the death of Lucy in Paris, there were no more children, no more sons.
So there were three dilemmas: the matter of near bankruptcy and Charles’ refusal to address that by making a ‘good’ marriage to a French or Spanish princess; the constant claims by Lucy Walter that she was the legitimate wife of Charles; the existence of the Duke of Monmouth and the threat that he may grow up to claim the throne of England. None of this sat well with the political grandees, advisers Richard Hyde and his like, who stood to gain enormously either from a ‘good’ marriage or from the unchallenged right of James II to the throne. Lucy had to go. The Duke of Monmouth had to go or at the very least be proved to be illegitimate.
Religious tensions were running high. Charles, a Protestant, James, his uncle, a Catholic. Both factions stood to gain from having ‘their man’ on the throne. The knives were out and Lucy was a dangerous woman to both factions.
So what of Lucy, that dangerous woman, that thorn in the side of politicos, that hindrance to their marriage plans for Charles? Clearly, she must be removed, discredited. The problem with either course was that she was, when at Court with Charles, acknowledged by many to be his Queen: courtiers bowed and scraped, Dutch royals acknowledged her. That alone gave her protection from bloody plots. Her downfall came about when she returned to England. She travelled under the protection of her brother, Justus. Why? Was it to raise money for Charles so that he could fund a sailing fleet and invade England to reclaim his throne? Was it to spy on his behalf, to work out who was a friend and who an enemy? Whatever her reason, she travelled to England in 1657 with Charles’ blessing, taking with her only her maid, Anne.
Within days of her arrival she and her maid, Anne, were seized by Cromwell’s men (Roundheads) and imprisoned in the Tower of London. No doubt the plan was to behead them both and so be rid of this dangerous woman. Her precious black tin box was taken from her ‘for safe-keeping’ – and with it her marriage lines. Her captors had badly underestimated the power and influence of this young woman. Such was the outrage at her arrest – Queen of England arrested, held in the Tower of London – they released Lucy and Anne after only three days. Unharmed yes but separated from her black tin box and her marriage lines. What box is that then? Don’t know anything about any box, madam. Best be on your way. Goal to Cromwell.
Surely, you may think, Lucy could call on the parish register of the small chapel at Roch to prove her marriage to Charles? Not so for those records had been ‘called in’ to be examined in London, to be held at the equivalent of Somerset House. There was a fire, the records were lost and with them Lucy’s last written claim of her marriage to Charles. Strange that the records of so small and insignificant a parish as Roch in Pembrokeshire should be called for in the first place. And then lost? Now why would that be?
There remained one last threat: the old man of the Church who had officiated at their wedding. If he were to stand up and swear that he had performed their marriage ceremony, the Royalist cause would be lost for Charles could not then marry a wealthy continental princess and his son, the Duke of Monmouth, would claim the throne when Charles died. Disaster for those whose fortunes lay with James II and the Catholic church as well. Cromwell, Richard Hyde and his cronies went to great lengths to track down Dr John Cosin, the gentle old man, lifelong friend of Lucy Walter – by now living in poverty in London. It was not hard to show that his mind wandered – especially under the stress of strangers questioning him – and that his evidence could not be relied upon. Indeed, they went to even greater lengths to ‘prove’ that he had no ecclesiastical qualifications meaning that, by that time, the marriage was not valid.
Meanwhile, Lucy waited and waited in The Hague mostly, for her visits by Charles under the pseudonym, Mrs Barlow. When they were together it was as if they had never been apart. When they were apart, it seemed they may never be together. In one such dark period, when Lucy was penniless again and had heard nothing from Charles in nearly two years (he being pre-occupied with campaigns around the continent), she turned for comfort to the Earl of Carlingford, the best friend of Charles and a good friend to Lucy and her son. That one night of comfort resulted in Lucy becoming pregnant. When Charles next visited there was no concealing the facts. The child, Mary, was unmistakably the child of his best friend, the red-headed Irishman, the Earl of Carlingford. Charles turned away from Lucy from that day on. He was heart broken. She was heart broken.
Following the execution of his father, Charles I, Charles regained the throne of England in 1649, albeit as king-in-exile. Lucy lost everything – her health, her son (whom Charles took from her in 1657), her baby daughter who could be better cared for by her father in Ireland, her support, her protection. Charles, unhappy with himself and with Lucy, held a riotous Court, a spendthrift and wild King. Drowning his sorrows maybe? Yet he refused to re-marry until after Lucy’s death in Paris in 1658.
A dangerous woman? Without doubt she was perceived as such by those who wanted rid of her. Lucy’s story goes to prove that you don’t need to be deadly to be dangerous, you don’t need to be a terrorist to terrorise. Sometimes it is enough that you exist at all, a thorn in someone’s side. That alone can make you a dangerous woman.
State papers of James II
Journals of John Evelyn (1649 & 1658)
Welsh biography online
Lord George Scott – Lucy Walter: Wife or Mistress (1947)
Novel: The Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge (1970)