England,  ER,  Spain,  Western Europe

Expedition to Spain-    George and Charles’ Not So Excellent Adventure

Charles as Prince of Wales Photo Credit - Historical Portraits Public Domain
Charles as Prince of Wales Photo Credit – Historical Portraits Public Domain

Previous postings have discussed James I infatuation with George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.  The Duke was extremely handsome, and had the king wrapped around his finger. (For more speculation this relationship, please see this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/homosexuality-throne-england-part-3/ )  The king called him “Steenie”, which was short for Stephen as the Duke bore a resemblance to a painting of St. Stephen.  Prince Charles, eventually King Charles I, was more reserved than his father so it was difficult to judge how Buckingham and the Prince got along.  However, together they did manage to embark on one of the larger fool’s errands in English history.

James was angling for a betrothal for Prince Charles with the Infanta of Spain.  English/Spanish marriages did not have the greatest track record-   Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Mary I and Philip- but James pushed on.  There was a minor problem with James’ son in law, Frederick attempting to claim the throne of Bohemia.  (For more on James’ daughter Elizabeth and her husband, please see this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/winter-queen-elizabeth-stuart/ )  In 1618, the Protestant Estates underlined their opposition to a Catholic nominee by throwing people out the window.  They offered up the throne to any aspiring Protestant prince, and Frederick jumped in 1619.  In the end Frederick lost Bohemia to the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor and his home country of the Palatinate to the Spanish.  Rather awkward during marriage negotiations with Frederick’s  brother in law.  However, the Spanish assured James they were only in the Palatinate to make sure Frederick left Bohemia.  They just conveniently forgot to give it back.  But James swallowed the ridiculous story and pressed on with the marriage negotiations.

The Duke and the Prince came up with the brilliant idea of travelling to Spain to convince the Infanta in person to become his bride.  Sending the heir to the throne with a small retinue to a hostile country.  This might be the dumbest plan ever conceived.  However, James was so intent on avoiding a war with Spain he agreed.  In a letter to Buckingham, he called him “my sweete boyes and deare ventrouse Knights worthy to be putt in a new romanse.”  James may have gone round the bend at this point.

The plan was like something out of a bad movie.  The two came up with the unbelievably bad pseudonyms of “Tom and Jack Smith” and traveled complete with disguises.  Unfortunately, these were only false beards, which fell off en route.  They made it to Madrid and Charles was dead set on climbing the garden wall to see his future bride.  I believe the two of them didn’t have the sense God gave a goose between them.  The Spanish on the other hand were laughing fit to kill at the farce.    They were in the catbird seat, as they now had the heir to the throne and the King’s favorite in their control.  The perfect hostages.  Knowing that James must be desperate for the marriage to allow these to go on this madcap journey, the Spanish writing every demand they could think of into the marriage contract.  They insisted there would be a publicly protected Catholic Church in England where the Infanta could practice her religion and that said church would be open to the public for worship.  The also wrote in that Charles would be required to take instruction in the Catholic faith from the Infanta’s chaplain, and the religious education of any heirs would be in the charge of the Infanta and her staff until their adolescence.  What they were asking for in essence was heirs to the throne to be raised Catholic and King Charles to be instructed in Catholicism.  This was a bombshell in proudly Protestant England.

Pearl-studded portrait of the Duke of Buckingham, 1625 Photo Credit- Google Cultural Institute

The Spanish went on to say that the marriage treaty would be under a one year trial period where Charles would stay in Madrid and James and his government would have to align their policy to Spain’s liking.  Finally, James woke up and realized this was an extraordinarily bad deal.  Whether he had an epiphany that he was being played, or was genuinely frightened he would not see he his beloved “Steenie” or “babie Charles” again no one is sure.  However, it was enough to galvanize him into action.

Luckily, Charles and Buckingham were becoming rapidly disenchanted with their stay in Spain.  They figured out they were being treated not as honored guests but as hostages and were duly humiliated.  Also, there were tensions between the Spanish and the English party as Sir Edmund Verney had struck a priest in the face when he attempted to administer Catholic last rites to a dying English page.  It was time to go.  They blithely agreed to whatever the Spanish suggested and then once on the ship home made it clear they were not holding with anything they signed.  

Buckingham and Charles spun the whole trip into a Protestant triumph instead of a Spanish farce.  When Charles returned home in October 1623 bells were rung and bonfires lit in celebration.  The country prepared for war with Spain remembering the blow they struck to the Armada in Elizabeth’s time.  However, this time things did not go as smoothly and the army got the plague before they could even land in continental Europe.  Of the 12,000 men they had recruited only 3,000 made it to Zeeland.  They had to slink home in defeat.

Charles eventually married a French princess to gang up on Spain.  However, that caused its own problems, and that is another post.


Sources available on request