Gossipy exposés of shenanigans at the heart of government are nothing new. The author, Sir Anthony Weldon (1583–1648), was a courtier of years of experience and standing; his account of court intrigues around the Stuart Kings James I (1603-1625) and Charles I (1625-1649) was written seemingly in the tense period leading up to the English Civil War in the 1640s, and for a private readership (the printed text was not published until several years into the Commonwealth period, when the monarchy had been abolished, and he himself had died).
This text, known as the source for the summing up of James I as “the wisest fool in Christendom”, gives us an insider’s partisan, at times pruriently scurrilous, account of James’s diplomatic manoeuvres to maintain peace with Spain and avoid involvement in foreign wars, and of the jockeying for position between English courtiers and those brought from Scotland by James, the factional intrigues and rivalries, the trading of office and revenues, and the rise and fall of favourites and ministers. Here are the details of how an ambassador flouted diplomatic niceties to retrieve his jewelled hat, how and why Sir Walter Raleigh was condemned to death, the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, and some salaciously Puritan-shocking licentiousness, as well as the young Prince Charles’s unauthorised venture to the Spanish court in search of a wife. Curiously, perhaps, there is no mention of the Gunpowder Plot, which is perhaps the one event of this time most often remembered to this day.
For the reign of Charles I, Weldon sets the scene for the descent into civil war in 1641-42, recounting the high-handed behaviour of successive favourites and ministers through Charles’s and their efforts to rule without Parliament, and their increasing exactions of taxes and duties. Conservative Parliamentarians like Weldon held these to be illegal and oppressive measures and a flagrant disregard of the precedents set by the custom and practice of Queen Elizabeth I and her advisers.
A supplementary list of personalities and events referred to in the text is available to download. (Summary by Patrick Wallace)
This title is avalable for free download at: www.librivox.org.