Court of Charles I

Updated Sunday 7th January 2001

Bad influences riddled the Court of Charles I

In the absence of Parliament, the King's Court became the centre of fashionable society and political life. It was sumptuous, gilded and elegant. In contrast to the Scottish rock 'n' roll of the Jacobean court - with its profligacy, vulgarity and extraordinary sexual scandals - the Caroline court was a model of decorum and ceremony. There were very few Scottish lords at Charles' court. He had visited Spain in the 1620s and been deeply impressed by the awe and majesty surrounding the monarch. Shocked by his father's gross excesses, he brought the Spanish spirit of reverence back to London. Everything revolved around a celebration of monarchy. Alone of European Kings, he was served food on bended knee. According to season and whim, the Court flitted between the grand palaces of Whitehall, Denmark House (now Somerset House), Greenwich Palace, and Hampton Court.

A keen patron of the arts, Charles was also an enthusiastic supporter of theology, mathematics and science. One scientist who greatly benefited from his patronage was William Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of blood, who was allowed to carry out his dissections on royal deer. Charles was also a skilled connoisseur who amassed one of the finest royal art collections in Europe including Holbeins, Rembrandts, Van Dycks, Rubens and Raphaels - much of which remains in royal hands today. He employed the celebrated architect Inigo Jones to beautify London in his trademark Italianate fashion. His greatest work remains Whitehall's Banqueting House which hosted Charles' favourite entertainment - the masque.

The masque, a mix of operetta and theatre, was the fashionable show of the Caroline court. The poet Ben Johnson was the most popular author of masques, while the great Inigo Jones was forced to make stage sets. Presence at a society masque was an absolute must - as crucial today as the Royal enclosure at Ascot or Henley. And no one enjoyed these masques more than Charles' most loyal, most steadfast supporter, his wife Queen Henrietta Maria.

 

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