Mitchell Carroll.

Woman: in all ages and in all countries online

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connections were not new and scandalous, whereas in
England they were so unheard of, and so odious, that the
mistress of the king was infamous to all women of honour."
The king himself succeeded better in reconciling the
queen to the shameful situation than did his minister, for,
after several scenes between them, he treated her with
studied coldness and indifference, and in her presence
assumed an air of exceptional gayety toward all other
women. The unhappy queen finally acquiesced in a situ-
ation which she could not improve, and suffered much
greater indignities than those which she had futilely re-
sented. There is little more of interest to add with regard
to this woman, whose position placed her first at court,
but who really was regarded by the king and his courtiers
as the most insignificant of its personages. She never
quite gave up the hope that she might win at least a share
of the affection which her husband bestowed upon others,
and to that end she eventually laid aside her retiring ways,
dressed decollete, and gave magnificent balls, to which she
invited the fairest women of the nobility, thus seeking, by
humoring the fancy of her husband, to gain his love.


The maids of honor at the court of Charles, who were
for the most part mistresses of the king and of the court-
iers, and the male sycophants, whose only pursuit in life
was intrigue, made a choice group of profligate spirits,
who, without any restraint, but with every encourage-
ment from their royal master, assiduously furthered the
chief interest of their existence.

There are not wanting those who utterly disparage the
morals of the Commonwealth, and affirm that both Crom-
well and his followers generally were guilty of as base
conduct as King Charles and his courtiers, and that the
only difference was that which exists between covert and
open practices of an evil nature. The fact remains, how-
ever, that even down to the present day the English
people, and the American as well, are inheritors of the
spirit of the Puritans, to the great good of society. It was
the Puritans who taught reverence for the Sabbath and
made the Bible a common textbook of life; and although
they were strict and narrow in their views, earnestness
always is straitened in its bounds until it bursts them and
floods society with the power of the principles it advocates.

The apologists for King Charles, who hold to the ancient
formula of the faith of the Fathers and of the Puritans, —
that woman from the days of Eden unto the present time
has stood for the downfall of man, — seek to enlist sym-
pathy for him by saying that in his various peccadilloes
the women seemed to be the aggressors. This plea, which
was advanced by his friendly contemporaries, who sought
to whitewash the outside of the sepulchre of the king's
character while leaving undisturbed the inward corruption,
is still gravely repeated by partisan historians to-day. Sir
John Reresby said: " I have since heard the King say they
would sometimes offer themselves to his embrace." It is
unfortunate that the integrity of the chivalrous king should


have suffered such assaults; but as no other English monarch
seems to have been so desperately set upon to his destruc-
tion by the women of his times, it may not be too great a
piece of temerity to put in a plea for the women of the
reign of the glorious Charles II. by suggesting the bare
possibility that all the moral probity was not possessed
alone by him who reigned King of England!

We can much better accept the description of society
given by Clarendon. It is not, however, to be taken as
an index to the innate perversity of woman in wicked
ways, but as indicating the natural effect of the lowering
of the esteem in which the sex was held by the evil liv-
ing of men in the higher circles of society. Yet not all the
indictments which are brought forward by Clarendon
would be considered to-day as of a serious nature. He
comments: "The young women conversed without any
circumspection of modesty, and frequently met at taverns
and common eating-houses; they who were stricter and
more severe in their comportment became the wives of
the seditious preachers or of officers of the army. The
daughters of noble and illustrious families bestowed them-
selves upon the divines of the time, or other low and
unequal matches. Parents had no manner of authority
over their children, nor children any obedience or submis-
sion to their parents, but every one did that which was
good in his own eyes."

That the change in the feminine character was not sim-
ply due to the unsettled state of society from the Civil
War, which undoubtedly did affect the standard of the
times, but was attributable more largely to the imported
French manners with which Charles made the nation
familiar, is beyond doubt. Peter Heylin, who had trav-
elled in France and published an account of his observa-
tions, and who was led to pass severe strictures upon the


conduct of the French women, modified his gratulatory
expressions with regard to English women as follows:
" Our English women, at that time, were of a more retired
behaviour than they have been since, which made the con-
fident carriage of the French damsels seem more strange to
me; whereas of late the garb of our women is so altered,
and they have in them so much of the mode of France, as
easily might take off those misapprehensions with which
I was possessed at my first coming thither."

It was not until after the death of the king, which
occurred on February 6, 1685, that the nation recovered
from the spell of debauchery through which it had passed,
and assumed its wonted sobriety. Seven days prior,
Evelyn wrote in his Diary: "\ saw this evening such a
scene of profuse gaming, and the king in the midst of his
three concubines, as I had never before seen, luxurious
dallying and profaneness." After the death of Charles
and the proclamation of James II., he reverted again to
that scene and said: " I can never forget the inexpressible
luxury and profaneness, gaming and all dissoluteness, and,
as it were, total forgetfulness of God (it being Sunday
evening) which this day se'nnight I was witness to, the
king sitting and toying with his concubines — Portsmouth,
Cleveland, Mazarine, etc. — a French boy singing love
songs in that glorious gallery, whilst about twenty of the
great courtiers and other dissolute persons were at basset
round a large table, a bank of at least 2000 pounds in gold
before them, upon which two gentlemen who were with
me made reflexions with astonishment. Six days after
was all in the dust!"

Although the monarch who made England merry with
all sorts of frivolities had passed away, the influences of
his life did not quickly cease. One of the social changes
which came about in his reign was destined to become very


widely extended and to have an important bearing upon
tlie structure of English society. This was the introduction
of women upon the stage. In discussing the amusements
of the English people in the several periods, we have as
yet said nothing with regard to the theatre, because it did
not relate to woman in an especial manner. The old
medieval mystery and morality plays were given under
the auspices of the Church, and formed a part of the reli-
gious instruction of a people who neither knew how nor
had the facilities to read. With the rise of the modern
drama and of such masterly interpreters of human passion
as the dramatists of the Elizabethan era, the stage was
secularized and the range of subjects and appeal was very
much widened.

In 1660, for the first time, women were engaged to per-
form female characters. Before that time, they had been
prohibited from appearing on the stage; largely because
the female parts were usually — and especially in the be-
ginning of the popularity of the theatre — so vulgar and
obscene that it not only would have been highly dis-
graceful for a woman to appear in such characters, but
the vulgarity was too great even for the countenance of
females in the audience without resorting to the expedient
of wearing masks. This practice led to shameful intrigues
and discreditable escapades which added to living the zest
which was craved by the women of the court who, thus
disguised, were habituees of the theatre. If it was thought
that by allowing women to take female parts in the plays
the tone of such characters might be improved, the ordi-
nances which permitted the practice certainly failed of
effect. D'Israeli, taking the esthetic view of this innova-
tion of the time of Charles II., says: " To us there appears
something so repulsive in the exhibition of boys or men
personating female characters, that one cannot conceive


how they could ever have been tolerated as a substitute f(?»
the spontaneous grace, the melting voice, and the soothing
looks of a female."

The absurdity which he suggests was aptly expressed
by a poet of the reign of Charles II., in a prologue which
was written as an introduction to the play in which
appeared the first actress:

" Our women are defective, and so sized,
You'd thinl< they were some of the guard disguised'
For to speak truth, men act, that are between
Forty and fifty, wenches of fifteen ;
With brows so large and nerve so uncompliant,
When you call Desdemona — enter giant"

Nell Gwynn is said first to have attracted the attention
of King Charles when she appeared in a humorous part at
the theatre; she was one of the earliest actresses to appear
in propria persona. As ungraceful as were the female
parts when taken by men, the innovation of women was
not received kindly by many critics of the stage. Thus
Pepys, in his Diary, is found lamenting the new custom:
" The introduction of females on the stage was the begin-
ning of a change ever to be regretted. Pride of birth, but
not insolence, is, to a certain extent, highly commendable,
and which had hitherto been the chief characteristic of the
old English aristocracy, who had kept themselves till now
almost universally free from stained alliances; but from
this time they became the patrons, and even the hus"
bands, of any lewd, babbling, painted, pawed-over thing
that the purlieus of the theatre could produce."

Evelyn comments upon the theatre to the same effect,
and remarks that he very seldom attended it, because of
its godless liberty: "Foul and indecent women now (and
never till now) permitted to appear and act, who, inflam-
ing several young noblemen and gallants, become their


mirsses, and to some their wives." He then instances
several of the nobility whom he says fell into such snares,
to the reproach of their families and the ruin of themselves
in both body and soul. He laments the fact that the
splendid products of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson were
crowded off the stage to make room for the pasteboard
and tinsel of John Dryden and Thomas Shadwell. At the
time that Evelyn and Pepys were recording their com-
ments upon the tone of the stage, thousands were
living who well remembered the vehement denunciation of
plays by the sturdy old Puritan William Prynne, who was
rewarded for his ardent crusades against the iniquities of
the theatre by the snipping off of his ears. The condem-
nation of the theatre was not confined to any party or
church, for Bishop Burnet is found vigorously denoun-
cing theatres, under the new conditions inaugurated by
Charles II., as "nests of prostitution."

The depravity of the taste of the patrons of the theatres
had its influence upon the writers of the plays. Men whose
personal lives were unexceptionable did not scruple, when
writing pieces intended for representation upon the stage,
to introduce as much indecency as they possibly could,
knowing full well that unless their works were highly
seasoned they would never get a hearing. The manners
and tastes of the court of Charles II. established the stand-
ard of the theatres during his reign; the depravity of
public sentiment and the general corruption of the times
were greatly increased by these mirrors of the manners and
life of the court. So utterly foul became the repute of the
stage, that, to quote from Sydney's Social Life in England,
"Every person who had the slightest regard for sobriety
and morality avoided a playhouse as he would have
avoided a house on the door of which the red cross bore
witness to the awful fact that the inmates had been


smitten by the pestilence which walketh in darkness and by
the sickness that destroyeth in noon-day. The indecorous
character of the stage inflicted much less injury than it
would have done had it been covered with a thin veil
of sentiment. Those dramatic representations, at which
women desirous of maintaining some reputation for mod-
esty deemed it incumbent upon them to wear masks, were,
as may be supposed, studiously avoided by those who
really were virtuous." The influence of the metropolis
did not extend over the kingdom as it does to-day, so that
outside of the tainted circles there were to be found social
spheres where the old gentility of the Elizabethan age was
maintained, although subjected to such sneers as were
directed against them by Dryden, who looked upon them
as unfortunate enough to have been bred in an unpolished
age, and still more unlucky to live in a refined one. "They
have lasted beyond their own, and are cast behind ours."

Artificiality without any pretence to sincerity was the
spirit of the times of Charles II.; the maundering senti-
ments and flagitious bearing of the actors upon the stage
were not different from the conduct of the buffoons who
masqueraded in titles and elegant attire at the court of the
king of revels. Foppery in speech and in dress and the
interlarding of conversation with French phrases found
favor among the court followers. It was regarded "as ill
breeding to speak good English, as to write good English,
good sense, or a good hand."

Women as artists appeared earlier than women as
players. For several centuries they had been accustomed,
as a polite accomplishment, to illuminate manuscripts, and
indeed this for a long time was the only form of art worthy
of the name in England. There had developed, however,
considerable taste and skill in wood carving, as well as
further advancement of the ancient art of the goldsmith,


which, as we have seen, was developed enough in Anglo-
Saxon times to constitute an English school. But art in
its more particular meaning was not found domestic to
England until the reign of Charles 1. It was the influence
of the great school of Dutch artists that awakened in
England art instinct and created artistic talent. England's
art history may be dated from the time of Van Dyke's
residence in the country, at least in so far as it embraces
women. When Van Dyke was at the English court, Anne
Carlisle shared with him the royal patronage. The king's
fine taste in art matters had unerringly led him to fix his
favor upon this woman, and her works show the undoubted
genius she possessed.

The Puritan embroilment, which was destructive to all
forms of intellectual advancement as long as it kept the
nation in an unsettled state, had a repressive effect upon
art; but from the time of the Restoration the stream flowed
on with increasing depth and volume, and the list of Eng-
land's woman painters not only became creditable to the
country, but afforded another criterion by which to prove
the lofty possibilities of the sex. Mary Beale, a painter
in oil and in water-colors, who received high commenda-
tion from the famous portrait painter Sir Peter Lely, was
a painstaking and industrious artist. Anne Killigrew, who
was maid of honor to the Duchess of York, in the brief
span of her life acquired a permanent reputation, not only
by her portraits, which included those of the Duke and
Duchess of York, but by her verses as well. These and
other women of talent were the precursors of the women
who did so much for the art history of the eighteenth

In considering the place of woman in literature during
the period of which we are writing, it is well to keep in
mind the words of Lady Mary Wortley Montague: "We


are permitted no books but such as tend to the weakening
and effeminating of our minds. We are taught to place
all our art in adorning our persons, while our minds are
entirely neglected." This opinion of woman has not yet
become obsolete, so that it is too much to expect to find,
in the seventeenth century, women of the highest literary
attainments, and certainly one need not look for women
among the creators of literary style and founders of Eng-
lish literature. A literary woman is to some masculine
minds a matter of everlasting scorn. Such minds will not
be offended in the perusal of the literature of the seven-
teenth century by finding women wielding the pen for the
instruction or the edification of elect circles of superior
intellects or to please the vulgar taste of the common
people. Excepting as writers of occasional verse or of
memoirs, the names of few female authors appear in the
literary annals of the period.

Amusement and not intellect was the contribution which
women were supposed to make to the times of Charles U.,
and, excepting in matters reprehensible, there was often a
degree of simplicity about the amusements indulged in that
makes one wonder if such ingenuous entertainment does
not bespeak less design and craftiness in the natures of
those women than is usual to associate with plotters and
intriguers. Lady Steuart, one of the most noted court
beauties, found her chief diversion in sitting upon the
floor, with subservient courtiers about her, building card
houses. Lord Sunderland treated his visitors to an exhi-
bition of fire eating by the renowned Richardson, who
awakened the wonder of his beholders by his feats of
devouring brimstone on glowing coals, eating melted beer
glasses, and roasting a raw oyster upon a live coal held
upon his tongue. Such mountebanks and jugglers were
the successors of similar characters who wandered through


the country from castle to castle during the Middle Ages,
or became attached to some great lord's following. Other
forms of indoor amusements, which would hardly comport
with the gravity of the same high circles of society in the
nation in these latter times, may be stated. Pepys speaks
of one day going to the court, where he found the Duke
and Duchess of York, with all the great ladies, sitting
upon a carpet on the ground, playing: "I love my love
with an A, because he is so-and-so; and I hate him with
an A, because of this and that;" and he observed that
some of the ladies were mighty witty, and all of them
very merry. Blindman's-buff was a favorite game among
even older people; and Burnett says that at one time the
king, queen, and whole court "went about masked, and
came into houses unknown, and danced there with a great
deal of wild frolic. In all this they were so disguised that,
without being in the secret, none could distinguish them.
They were carried about in sedan chairs, and once the
queen's chairman, not knowing who she was, went from
her; so she was alone and much disturbed, and came to
Whitehall in a hackney coach (some say it was in a cart)."
Scarcely a week passed by but that Whitehall was bril-
liantly illuminated for a ball, at which the king, queen,
and courtiers danced the " bransle," which was a sort of
country dance, the " corant," swift and lively as a jig, and
in which only two persons took part, and other French
figures. Billiards and chess were played a great deal, and
gambling was a ruling passion of the day. All the great
women at court had their card tables, around which
thronged the courtiers, who won and lost enormous sums.
The passions which were aroused by gambling often led
to violent quarrels, and frequently these were settled by
duels, although duelling had been prohibited by the king
at the time of the Restoration.


Many fantastic changes had taken place in women's
attire during the reign of Charles. During the Common-
wealth, Puritan sentiment, and proscription as well, had
reduced the dress of all classes to a remarkable uniformity.
The costume most common to women consisted of a gown
with a lace stomacher and starched kerchief, a sad-colored
cloak with a French hood, and a high-crowned hat. The
Geneva cloak was no fit covering for the courtesan, and
was instantly thrown aside that the butterfly which had
hidden in this demure chrysalis might emerge fluttering in
all its gay and brilliant colors. Loose and flowing draperies
of silk and satin took the place of woollen and cotton
gowns; the stiff ruff which in the reign of Elizabeth had
been facetiously styled "three steps to the gallows," be-
cause the fashionables of her day would go to any length
to possess it in the most extravagant size and value, had,
under the Commonwealth, become much more circum-
spect as to its appearance and circumference, and was
esteemed entirely too respectable to comport well with
the freedom of the reign of Charles. Then, too, the
artistic taste of the day, which ran to portrait painting,
had enhanced the estimate of ladies with regard to the
matter of their personal charms. So it was regarded
not only as artistic, but esthetic, in a wider sense, to
run to realism. The word " run " is used advisedly,
for there was a veritable scramble to get rid of the formal
and, it must be conceded, ridiculous ruff. But when
the latter disappeared from the neck and shoulders,
there was nothing adapted to fulfil its functions, so
that, through a lamentable omission on the part of the
English women or their too hasty adoption of French
fashions, the shoulders and bosoms of the ladies were
given little consideration by the designers or the makers
of their gowns.


But the head was not treated so indifferently as the
shoulders, f^or, when the plain top hat of the Puritan was
abandoned, the milliner already had something at hand to
compensate the ladies for their loss. Feathers of rare
plumage and rich color were employed in the widest profu-
sion. The hoods, too, underwent the general metamor-
phosis, and emerged from their penitential gray into
" yellow bird's eye," and other tints as indescribable. The
new styles exposed their votaries to wide criticism. Many
pamphlets appeared whose straightforward titles showed
in what an undisguised manner the subject was to be
found treated within them. The general complaint was
that immodest dress was not confined to balls and chambers
of entertainment, but that women brazenly appeared in
similar costume at church, braving all criticism to satisfy
their morbid desire for observation. The mode of hair-
dressing of the period ran largely to ringlets, which, as
they appear in the portraits of the great ladies of the day,
seem at the present time stiff and unartistic. The art of
using cosmetics, which had lapsed during the Puritan
period, was actively revived, and it was not only the stage
beauties, but the court women as well, who used paint in
such profusion as almost to disguise their identity.

It can easily be seen that a woman of the period must
have been a gorgeous spectacle in full dress, with painted
face adorned with black patches cut in designs of hearts,
Cupids, and occasionally even coaches and four, and with
her hair dressed in the prevailing mode, which was to
have "false locks set on wyres to make them stand at a
distance from the head, as fardingales made the clothes
stand out in Queen Elizabeth's reign." A woman thus
attired, leaning upon the arm of a gallant with head
adorned by the periwig worn by the men of the day, was
ready for any fashionable function. As hospitality on a


large and generous scale was a circumstance of the times,
it might be that she would pass into the hall, with its mass-
ive, carved furniture, magnificent tapestries, sumptuous
furnishings, glittering crystal, elegant plate, and beautiful
wall paintings, to assume her position of mistress of a
household and do the honors at a table generous with its
viands and ample in all the varied range of English and
French cookery. In doing so, she would be governed by
the etiquette in whose precepts she had been schooled,
and of which the following is a sample: "Instruction to

Online LibraryMitchell CarrollWoman: in all ages and in all countries → online text (page 21 of 30)