Romeo Butler & Juliet Preston

Romeo Butler & Juliet Preston

A match made in Ireland

Shakespeare’s tragedy of Romeo and Juliet finds a happy ending in the 17th century story of James Butler and Elizabeth Preston. These two members of feuding Anglo-Irish families were actually cousins, and made an unlikely couple until events shifted, ultimately allowing a marriage of choice rather than arrangement.

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King Charles I, public domain

During the reign of King Charles I (1625-1649), normal practice in society required parental control over a marriage arrangement. It was nothing more than family discipline, considered the best guarantee of public order, and in King Charles’s court, order was paramount.

From the time that a child was born, parents began calculating potential marriage matches that would improve the family’s bloodline, elevate their social status, increase their wealth, solidify a mutually beneficial business alliance, consolidate or expand real estate holdings, and preferably all of the above. Both the bride and the groom were expected to bring something to the table.

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Wikimedia Commons

In the 17th century, land ownership was power. Historically, the Butler family held the Earldom of Ormonde, controlling a huge tract of land in Ireland, basically from Waterford to Limerick. The FitzGeralds (known as the Geraldines) held even more land, with two branches bordering on each side of Ormonde: the Earldom of Desmond, roughly including the modern-day counties of Cork and part of Kerry, and the Earldom of Kildare, on the east side of Ormonde and adjacent to the Pale, the area surrounding Dublin.

Disputes over property lines and ownership waxed and waned at least from the 14th century, the two neighboring earldoms fighting one another in skirmishes and outright battles. Many schemes attempted to heal the feud, from the famous handshake through a hole in a door at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1492, to the marriage of Joan, the widowed Countess of Ormonde, to Gerald Fitzgerald, the 15th Earl of Desmond, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. But the feud roared up again when Gerald had a dispute with Joan’s son, Thomas, the 10th Earl of Ormonde.

A famous quote is attributed to Gerald after being wounded on the field in the Battle of Affane in 1565. While being carried from the field on the shoulders of Ormonde soldiers, an Ormonde commander triumphantly asked, “Where is now the great Lord Desmond?” And Desmond is said to have given his quick reply, “Where but in his proper place, on the necks of the Butlers?”

After the Desmond Rebellions, which by 1603 had left all of Gerald’s male heirs either dead or attainted, the Desmond earldom was extinguished. But it was not the end of the story.

Thomas, the 10th Earl of Ormonde, a great uncle of James, sought a suitable marriage for his only daughter Elizabeth. Rejecting a suit by the second son of the fourth Earl of Thomond, he brokered a more lucrative match with Richard Preston, a Scot and a court favorite with King James I. When Thomas died in 1614, the king saw it as an opportunity to settle the long-term feuding and so, when they married he named Preston the first Earl of Desmond, third creation, and awarded most of the Ormonde estate to Elizabeth. Since properties belonged to the husband upon marriage, thereby he combined the estates of Desmond and Ormonde.

But that only produced another problem, because Thomas had no surviving sons, and had named his nephew Walter, James’s grandfather, to inherit the Ormonde earldom and estate. Walter began a series of complaints and legal actions to regain the land he believed was rightfully his, and the proper inheritance for his own son Thomas, who should have been the next earl of Ormonde. Walter’s disputes annoyed the king and landed him in prison for eight years.

About the same time, Walter’s son Thomas had married and James was born, but this Thomas drowned in a shipwreck on the Skerries, a series of rocky islets off the shore of Wales (and also off Northern Ireland), when James was quite young. The titles that should have gone to Thomas would now pass to James.

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Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland, by Daniël Mijtens, Public Domain

A few years after James was born, Richard and Elizabeth Preston had their first child, a daughter also named Elizabeth. Richard betrothed her to a nephew of another court favorite, the powerful and wealthy Duke of Buckingham. But, by strange coincidence she was also orphaned in 1628 when her father drowned in a shipwreck on his way from Dublin to England (probably also on the Skerries), and in the same year Buckingham was assassinated. The king placed young Elizabeth in wardship with the Earl of Holland.

Her father’s death meant that Elizabeth was now an heiress who could choose her own husband. However, she was just fourteen years old. Lord Holland got busy trying to arrange a lucrative match for Elizabeth that also would benefit him – one of the happy consequences of having a royal wardship.

Elizabeth first met her cousin James at London court when he was studying the Irish language and living with his aged grandfather who’d been released from prison. James was 18 years old and, according to all accounts, immediately fell in love with her. The affection was returned, but Lord Holland stood in the way.

Somewhat in the role of Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence, Scottish kinsman Patrick Wemyss, who managed Elizabeth’s estates, arranged secret meetings for James and Elizabeth in her home or in London churches, where James arrived disguised as a peddler.

In order to court her openly, James, now known as Viscount Thurles—a courtesy title that had been his father’s—had to clear his way with a bribe of £15,000 to Lord Holland.

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James Butler, 12th Duke of Ormonde, National Portrait Gallery

The couple wed with the king’s consent in 1629, and all of the Ormonde ancestral lands were returned to the Ormonde earldom. Their union put an end to the long-term feud by creating a strong family alliance. When Walter, the 11th earl, died in 1633, James became the 12th earl of Ormonde.

Instead of drinking a death-simulation potion like Romeo and Juliet, they must have found instead a love potion, for they had 10 children, five of whom survived to adulthood. They also became a very powerful couple. James the Earl became leader of the Confederate forces against the Parliamentary army after the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641.

After Parliament executed King Charles I in 1649 and Oliver Cromwell ascended to power, Ormonde lived in exile in France, in service of King Charles II and his family until the monarchy was restored in 1660. It was Elizabeth, however, who returned to Ireland to save the Ormonde family estates.

For his loyalty and service to Charles II, the king named James Butler as the first Duke of Ormonde in 1680. Both highly respected and revered, Elizabeth died in 1684, and James in 1688.

The portrait of James Butler graces the cover of my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, as a symbol of the 17th century ideal, a man of honor, grace, wealth and nobility, and a true statesman.

Note: There are numerous and conflicting accounts of this story, with possibly some confusion arising from the two Elizabeths and two Thomases. I’ve made every effort for accuracy but if you see something that seems incorrect, please comment with source information. Thank you!

TPOG_Cover2017The Prince of Glencurragh is an award-winning novel of hope during the sweeping change preceding Ireland’s Great Rebellion of 1641. Available on amazon, B&N, and other online retailers.

For other books and more information please visit my website at nancyblanton.com, and while you are there please sign up for my newsletter to receive notification of my upcoming book, The Earl in Black Armor.

 

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Royal Branding: King Charles I

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Charles I in ceremonial robes

For personal branding, where other monarchs have provided lessons for success, King Charles I of England provides more of a cautionary tale. Had he hired a personal branding coach in his time, he probably would have ignored the person’s warnings.

Like Henry VIII, Charles was a second son who became heir to the throne when his older brother died from disease. His father, King James I, was king of Scotland, and heir to Queen Elizabeth I. When she died in 1603, James ascended to the throne and united the two kingdoms.

King James is best known for being the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed by Elizabeth I; for formalizing the Royal Mail service that maintained communication between London and Edinburgh; and for creating the famous King James Bible, an English translation for the Church of England that was completed in 1611.

His son Charles was a sickly youth and diminutive, only 5’4” compared to the blustering King Henry VIII at 6’2”. Still, Charles would have no trouble distinguishing his reign from his father’s, or leaving an unforgettable legacy.

(c) Government Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

King James I

When James arrived in London to take his throne, he brought with him the lifestyle and beliefs he’d acquired in Scotland, which, at the end of the Elizabethan period, were far more crude, coarse, debauched and extravagant. He had strange notions and lacked the polish one might expect of a king. Some accounts say he never washed his hands but only rubbed his fingertips on a wet napkin; he had a passion for fruit and gorged himself on it; he was always hiccupping, belching, scratching himself and fiddling with his codpiece. In his rather squalid court, young men drank heavily and frolicked about, trying to get the king’s attention and favor.

Anthony_van_Dyck_-_Charles_I_(1600-49)_with_M._de_St_Antoine_-_Google_Art_Project

But Charles, having visited the court of King Phillip in Spain, had very different notions. His court would be “decorous, orderly, elegant and ceremonial…with minute regard to drill-like and unchanging custom.” He would allow his beloved wife her Catholic faith and all the pageants and parties she desired. And, he would become one of the most famous art collectors of all time.

“Every day the King’s table…was provided with twenty-eight dishes, brought in to a fanfare of trumpets that temporarily stilled the less strident notes of his private orchestra.”

~ Christopher Hibbert, Charles I

CharlesinblueShared values provide the basis for a strong personal brand. In Charles’s case, his values centered around one core belief: that the king ruled by divine right—meaning that he was royal by blood, and had come to the throne by God’s will. His motto, “Dieu et mon droit” – God and My Right – came down from Henry V and Henry VII. Therefore, it was his right to rule by his own conscience and his direct contact to God. He did not need Parliament to tell him what to do. This belief was his strength, and ultimately his downfall.

The imagery of his brand supports this core belief:

  • His portraiture showed usually shows calm facial expression and the unconcerned, perhaps sad eyes of a scholarly, wise man.
  • His clothing is stylish to the times; the heavens hover above his head; servants look up to him as if to a heavenly being.
  • Family imagery indicates opulence, beauty, and sound structure: the royal lineage is secure.

Anthony_van_Dyck_-_Five_Eldest_Children_of_Charles_I_-_Google_Art_Project

Charles loved art, music, his wife Henrietta Maria, their children, and his solitude—values that others could appreciate. But Charles did not use them to advantage. Instead of connecting with his subjects on common ground, he created barriers. He collected art with great extravagance even when the royal purse was nearly empty. He taxed people without their consent and dissolved Parliament rather than working with the members to gain their support and votes for funding. While allowing the queen to maintain her Catholic faith, he imposed the use of a common prayer book that infuriated the Presbyterian Scots. He expanded the plantation system in Ireland, taking fertile lands and displacing Irish clans.

He surrounded himself with loyal advisors and administrators who supported Divine Right and who were widely unpopular. His favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, was assassinated, and his chief administrator, the Earl of Strafford, was executed by Parliament.

Long story short, after a bloody civil war King Charles I also was executed, on a scaffold outside of his own Banqueting House where he’d decorated the ceiling with magnificent paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. His death not only ended his 24-year reign, but also temporarily ended the monarchy, as Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell stepped into the role of Protector of England’s Commonwealth.

Gems from the Crown

  • King Charles’s legacy is reflected in the danger of arrogance and ignoring public opinion.
  • His values could have helped him connect in a personal way with his subjects, to ameliorate conflict.
  • Things in life that are rigid are either dying or dead. With flexibility and collaboration, Charles might have been able to address the concerns of his realm, but he remained inflexible on the core issue of Divine Right, which led to his demise.
Thanks to Christopher Hibbert, Charles I; Pauline Gregg, King Charles I; Wikipedia; Creative Commons public domain images.

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropNancy Blanton is the award-winning author of historical novels and the personal branding book, Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps, based on lessons learned from ancient royalty and today’s corporate practices. Find her and all of her books at nancyblanton.com

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How the 17th century rocks your world

In reading last year’s historical fiction reader survey by M.K. Tod, I was shocked to learn that the 17th century ranks 7th among time periods readers are most likely to choose. Shocked, I say! Because the 17th century is just so fascinating.

In the words of J.P. Sommerville, University of Wisconsin history professor, the 17th century is “probably the most important century in the making of the modern world. It was during the 1600s that Galileo and Newton founded modern science; that Descartes began modern philosophy; that Hugo Grotius initiated international law; and that Thomas Hobbes and John Locke started modern political theory.”

See what I mean? Just little things like these happened in the 17th century. But wait, there’s more!

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Enter a caption. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“The Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and others, all struggled to maintain and extend colonies and trading-posts in distant corners of the globe, with profound and permanent consequences for the whole world,” Somerville wrote.

It was a time of tremendous turmoil and brilliant discovery:

  • The little ice age was particularly cold, creating chaos and famine
  • The Thirty Years War raged across Europe from 1618 to 1648
  • England’s bloody civil war defeated a monarchy
  • Science trumped religion for the first time to influence society
  • Agricultural and commercial changes paved the way for the Industrial Revolution

And there were sweeping changes that affect our lives even today:

Architecture. Inigo Jones (the Banqueting Hall) and Christopher Wren (St Paul’s Cathedral) introduced magnificent architectural designs in London and throughout England that remain beautiful and influential.

Banking. In England, instead of depositing gold in the king’s mint for safety — where he might confiscate it (as Charles I did in 1640) — London merchants deposited money with goldsmiths who gave them receipts and promised to pay on demand.

Food. People started eating with forks for the first time. England discovered bananas, pineapples, chocolate, coffee and tea.

Furniture. Chests of drawers became common, and Grandfather clocks popular, followed by a new arrival: the bookcase.

Medicine. Doctors learned how blood circulates around the body, and how to treat malaria with bark from the cinchona tree.

And of course, there were the scandals:

  • John_Wilmot

    John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.And of course, how can we forget the scandal

    The murder of Buckingham

  • The execution of Charles I
  • The attempted assassination of Cromwell
  • The numerous mistresses of King Charles II
  • The indecent antics of the Earl of Rochester

Personally, I am digging deeply, fascinated by the greed, intrigue, rebellion, atrocities and resilience that took place in Ireland. Fascinating stories abound.

Yes, I am shocked that anyone might find another century more alluring. Not me.

 

SharavogueCoverEmbark on an adventure in Irish history — 17th century, that is, with Sharavogue, and my upcoming novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. Available on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and iBooks. Find out more at nancyblanton.com

 

A King’s Demise

Bust of King Charles I in the British Museum, London

Bust of King Charles I in the British Museum, London

Three hundred and sixty-four years ago this month, England’s King Charles I was beheaded by direction of Parliament, with General Oliver Cromwell leading the formalities. King Charles was charged with treason, having just lost a bloody civil war and continuing to plot with is pesky royalist friends.

Charles I was considered a bad king. He signed away business monopolies to his favorites without regard to the consequences, taxed greedily and without consent of Parliament, and spent lavishly on his grand art collection. He thought he had the right: the God-given King’s Prerogative, to which Parliament did not subscribe. Plus, his wife was Catholic when the country most definitely had gone Protestant and Puritan.

In her book, Rebels and Traitors, Lindsey Davis does a nice job of describing the dramatic scene:

The King knelt before the block. He spoke a few words to himself, with his eyes uplifted. Stooping down, he laid his head upon the block, with the executioner again tidying his hair. Thinking the man was about to strike, Charles warned, ‘Stay for the sign!’

‘Yes, I will,’ returned the executioner, still patient. ‘And it please Your Majesty.’

There was a short pause. The King stretched out his hands. With one blow of the axe the executioner cut off the King’s head.

The assistant held up the head by its hair, show the people, exclaiming the traditional words: ‘Here is the head of a traitor!’ The body was hurriedly removed and laid in a velvet-lined coffin indoors. As was normal at executions, the public were allowed to aproach the scaffold and, on paying a fee, to soak handkerchiefs in the dripping blood, either as trophies of their enemy, or in superstition that the King’s blood would heal illness.

Kings had been killed before, of course, but most typically in battle by an opposing army, or they were murdered by some ursurper using a blade or a poison. But this was the first time a nation’s government had executed a king. Would God allow that? Apparently so, and it sent a shockwave throughout Europe’s monarchies.

It also freed Oliver Cromwell to begin the episode for which he is most hated and remembered — especially by the Irish. A rebellion against the English plantation of Ireland had begun eight years earlier. With the civil war won and the king dead, Cromwell was now free to descend with Parliament’s army upon Ireland to crush the rebels. And that he did. This is where the term “decimated” comes from: It refers to Cromwell’s order for his soldiers to execute every 10th Irish rebel, and the rest were shipped to the West Indies to work as slaves or die. This is where my story begins, in Sharavogue.