I On Myself Can Live

At the Court of St. James and the Débâcle (Continued)

On the one hand, Ann's best known (because upbeat and pleasing) landscape poetry, rooted, as it is, in the rich farm land and ex-forests of the weald in which Eastwell was so (luckily for the Finches) located, and in her memories of Northampton, leave us with a picture of Kent as a homogeneous green land of prosperous hop-farms and forests. In fact, as Celia Fiennes found, the seventeenth-century mansions of Kent were not very large or splendid, and a small walk of a very few miles from Eastwell took Ann into a downland of desperate poverty, where the land remains poor unless it is drained, where it is chalky, and where until the nineteenth-century only the extremely determined shepherd could eke out a living (Everitt Landscape and Community 63-7). And the sea coast towns in Kent have over the centuries been very fickle; the rivers have always had a way of bringing down silt and depositing it in the harbor. Celia Fiennes only mentions Eastwell to register her disappointment (nothing to remark at all), but of what she saw further south towards Sussex, of the marshes which lead away from the weald, she does remark:

I went thro' a common full of bushes and furze and heath, its a pretty steep hill I ascended which is called Beggars Hill, and being Bartholomew-tide [August 24th] here was faire which was rightly called Baggar-Hill Faire being the saddest faire I ever saw, ragged tatter'd booths and people, but the musick and danceing could not be omitted; this hill on the top gave the view of the sea and a great tract of land on each side that is choak'd up with sand, which formerly was a god haven for shipps; the sea does still come up to Rhye town as yet but its shallow, and the Castle which stands a little distance a mile is also left of the sea at least 4 mile; this is Winchelsea Castle but all between it and Winchelsea is nothing but quagmire and marshes drained in some places by ditches , and this is at least 4 miles to the town which was all flowed up to the towne...

She crosses a bridge to the seacoast town of Winchilsea (actually across the border of Kent, in Sussex) and while there are squares set out and "some broad and long streets," all is decayed and there are "very few houses now." Although the corporation still meets (clearly a rotten borough in formation), she concludes but for the remains of churches and the town hall "grass grows now where Winchelsea was, as was once said of Troy" (Fiennes 137-9). Of this Kent Ann did write later in her tipsy Milton "Fanscomb Barn" (1713 Miscellany) and in a couple of curious hybrid poems, half Biblical-phrase, half dramatic scene, as yet unedited and left mostly unread in the Wellesley manuscript volume. We will speak of this neglected poetry in its place.

It is also a common mistake to see Kent society as consisting of a few families mostly interested in horses and local politics (as indeed Ann's home county, Northamptonshire, was fast becoming--a place of horse-racing, horse-dealing, hunting, and inns). Kent was rather a network of forty or more indigenous middling and aristocratic families of comparable standing, indigenous to this county. These people intermarried, visited, politicked, and rebelled together; they also enjoyed a vigorous intellectual life in circles which discussed, wrote about, and gathered together "history, heraldry, language, theology, philosphy, and political science," not to omit early archeaology. Kent had a local cosmopolitan culture: there were regular social seasons and cultural offerings (as Defoe notes) in its larger market towns, e.g., Maidstone and Canterbury (Everitt Landscape and Community 138-9, 177; Defoe II 485-6). Ann could fit in here; Heneage did.

Ann and Heneage's trip to Somerset occurred in 1688. There are only two records of this trip, and both stress the mythic aspects of Somersetshire. Heneage wrote about the trip in 1722, to record that during their visit to a Mr Thomas and Mrs Mompesson of Bruham, Mrs Mompesson (whom he assures us was "a good and worthy woman") told Heneage and Ann that she had it from Archbishop Juxon that Charles I had written Eikon Basilica by himself. Cameron could only discover about this couple that they were zealously pro-Stuart (Cameron 59; Reynolds xxvii-xxviii).

The other is a very late song without a title whose first line runs, "Cosmelia's charmes inspire my Lays." Although not yet recognized as hers, it is clearly by Ann: it occurs as sixth among a series of 14 poems in a manuscript miscellany of poems among the Harleian collection in the British Library, the first three, and last two but one of which have been known to be by Ann for a long time; the tenth ("A Song on the South Seas") was only attributed to her in this century through its attribution in another miscellany. It also occurs in a 1724 printed miscellany, The Hive together with a poem familiar to readers from her 1713 Miscellany ("Cupid, one day, ask'd his mother"); this book contains no less than 18 poems by Ann (n7). The song recalls numbers of Ann's blunt and scornful poems on male fops and drunkenness, and displays Ann's unforgiving disdain, not to say venom, towards mindless coquets; here she shows herself simply disgusted; the poem is piquant because of its barbed allusion to precisely the more salacious passages of the play within the play in Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night Dream; "The Plaister'd fair returns the Kiss/Like Thisbe through the Wall." It is finally very much in the manner of Ann's other Cupid narratives; and one couplet shows her remembering Somerset: an older woman (qua older woman) is more neutrally described as someone "Who blooms in the Winter of her days/Like Glasstonbury Thorn (MS Harleian 7316, 55r).

Although there are no other records of this mysterious trip to Somerset, I would like to suggest that Heneage and Ann did in fact travel this far and then north to Bath. This for several reasons. While this was an era of dreadful (in the literal sense of the word) roads, in which taken for granted were narrow raised tracks flanked by quagmires of mud, hollow lanes with ruts filled with water, floods and dust in summer, and slippery ice otherwise, and the roads to and in Somersetshire were called "poor (12-6), in Somerset lay the main estates of Heneage's maternal grandparents (the original Seymour-Beachamp estates), located in the northwestern area of Somersetshire not far from the British channel, and these were also just across the Wilshire border where lay Longleat, the home estate of Heneage's brother-in-law and sister, Thomas and Frances Finch Thynne, First Viscount and Lady Weymouth (Defoe I, 268). We know the elder Heneage kept in close contact with his mother-in-law, and Petworth Park in Sussex was on a road so famously bad, it was probably harder to get there safely than to Somerset; we also know our Heneage and Ann they visited Longleat more than once (and of the later recorded trips we will speak in the next chapter).

From there Glastonbury lay northward across a grind of miles, in Defoe's words, moors, marshes, melancholy waste and views (Defoe, I, 267). As it were in spite of himself, Defoe says of Glastonbury, "the venerable Marks of Antiquity... strck me with some unusual Awe," and the first legend he tells is, he says, Glastonbury's most famous, the one Ann (I believe) refers to in the poem on the drunken aging coquette: it is believed he says:

That Joseph of Arithmathea was here, and that when he fix'd his Staff in the Ground, which was on Christmas Day, it immediately took Root, budded, put forth White- thonr Leaes, and the next Day, was in full Blossom, white as a Sheet, and that the Plant is preserved, and blows every Christmas Day, as at first, to this very Day (I, 272)

From various letters by Heneage and others written in the 1720's we can picture a much younger agile Heneage clambering over ruins and then with Ann seeing the cathedral of Wells to the north where the heard the story of the Archbishops' opinion; from her song on the aging woman who is like the white-thorn we see she was similarly impressed with Somerset.

But even a dedicated antiquarian and Jacobite loyalist and his poet wife would not have gone so far to hear legends, striking though it all may have been. I believe the explanation for Glastonbury and Wells is that Ann was headed for a third spa, this time Bath the latest playland of the Stuart court, and for Ann of special merit as it was at this time believed to be efficacious for barren women. After four years of marriage, they were begining to see that something was wrong.

People have forgotten this earlier claim of Bath's, and that it was this which first brought people of prominence, in particular, several wives and mistresses to a far-away and still medieval city whose watering-places were primitive by later standards. The important visits may be traversed briefly: Anne of Denmark (successful) visited several times; Catherine of Braganza (unsuccessfull) several visits; then Barbara Castlemaine, Duchess of Cleveland, and Louise de Kérualle, Duchess of Portsmouth (successful), and finally in the year before Heneage and Ann went to Somerset, 1687, with James II himself, Mary of Modena (success disputed). The waters were, of course, also thought to be useful for gout and whatever else that ailed you: thus in 1688 Princess Anne made the first of her many trips out., and then many times again. Well, as may be imagined, the many visits of the Stuart brothers and their women caused "court circles" quickly to follow their lead; by the 1710's (after William was gone and before the Hanovers came in) Swift remarked "everyone is going to Bath,"

If we are to see the Bath of the Stuart courts, we must forget Austen's. In the period before Nash, the place was anything but genteel; those we would call obvious quacks and mountebanks abounded. Facilities for entertainment were wholly inadequate, though plays were done at the Guildhall and in inn courtyards. The royal couples stayed at the Abbey house attached to the cathedral (Heneage and Ann could have seen its still famous fantastic fan-vaulting), but courtiers were sent into private lodgings and worse inns. The streets were unpaved and unlit; beggars and cardsharps haunted the streets; Celia Fiennes complained sedan chairman imposed what fares they chose once the unsuspecting customer climbed aboard. There were several baths, some for the poor (Lepers' Bath), others for those who were willing to pay a modest sum (Cross, Hot, King's and Horse Bath), but none were roofed, and nude mixed bathing was the order of the day. Pepys had doubts about the hygiene of all this (Gadd 10-27). There does seem to be a strange reticence about the trip to Somerset; other trips to Longleat and its environs were celebrated by Ann in poems and mentioned with various details by Heneage in letters. Ann did remain childless; and the court that went to Bath vanished.

The fall of James II which we now come to, as they returned to court to participate in it has been told many times, and I will not rehearse the politics but instead turn back to Ann's early verse and two original plays (written in the next decade) since in these we will experience the rarer interesting inward story. Since Reynolds identified Urania with Mary of Modena and the bitter allegory of "The Change" with the downfall of James II (xxx), no-one has doubted that at least some of Ann's earliest lyrics lament what Whig historians called "the Glorious Revolution." Some, like "The Losse," are over-solemn and lugubrious (MS F-H 283, 7); another, "The Consolation," written sometime before the court headed into disaster, records an ominous atmosphere, and shows how someone sensitive to nuance and atmosphere would have seen life at the court of James II. Like other of Ann's poems it alludes to Mary d'Este gift's as a musician--an otherwise devotional lyric "On Easter Day," opens thus: "Hark' I hear Urania play (MS F-H 283, 10). The conceit is that James II is the sun, a monarch, and Mary d'Este, his lark:

See! Phoebus, breaking from the willing Skyes,
See how the Soaring lark, does with him rise;
And through the air, is Such a Journey borne,
As if she never thought, of a returne ...
A monarch he, and ruler of the day,
A fav'rite she, that in his beames does play ...

Ann asked herself "Glorious and high ... shall they ever be ... fixt where now, we see?" and answers:

No both must fall, nor can their Stations keep,
She to the Earth, and he below the deep.
At night both fall, but the swift hand of time
Renew's the morning, and again they climbe.
Than [sic] Let no cloudy change, create my Sorrow,
I'll think't is night, and I may rise to Morrow

(MS F-H 283 85-6)

Ann sees the darkness about to fall, and resolves not to look.

One can say even worse of James and Mary: they couldn't imagine what Ann foreseees, and therefore until it was too late saw no need to compromise. James veered betwen a simple obtuse obstinacy to what seems to have been an inability to see what was coming or to act in one direction or another when the crisis came. His best biographer, F. C. Turner suggests that when he realized he could lose his throne (very late, December 1688) James seems to descended into a semi- permanent state of shock.

According to Turner, James "lost all power of intiative" and seemed to lack an elementary "clearness of mind;" he never understood that his legitimacy was really tenuous, and the ambitions of other people would, if he kept up his pro-Catholic course of action, push him aside. Turner describes James as "mortified" by his daughter Princess Ann's flight; Mary d'Este was herself "utterly bewildered" and "frightened;" she turned to her priests, who misunderstood everything (Turner 424-47). Turner analyses James's "degeneracy of mind" from around Christmas Day 1688 thus:

The symptoms ... are very rare in a man so young and so physically fit, for he still hunted whenever he could. Briefly these symptoms may be described as a complete apathy towards his misfortunes and in respect of the plans for his restoration, perfect contentment with his present surroundings, a lack of sense that he had sunk from a crown to a pension, and a distressing proneness to fits of garrullity in which he would relate dispassionately, as if he were speaking not of himself but of a third person, the incidents of his past life (Turner 456).

James's young boyhood had been spent in desperate flight and on bloody battle scenes; he had seen his father beheaded, and then spent long years as a soldier of fortune on the continent. His brother, Charles II, was able to express his desire not to go on his travels again in a semi-self-mocking spirit; James was younger than Charles when his world turned upside down, and he had always been inflexible.

Ann is one of the few artists of the period to picture James's psychological state and to a lesser extent that of his wife; she did so in two for their era "stageworthy" remarkable tragedies (Cotton, Women Playwrights 152-6). The Triumphs of Innocence and Love, quoted above, takes its origin in the flight of Mary d'Este. The play opens: "Clarilla, where's the Queen? (MS Folger 69/71)" The plot upon which the action hinges tells how a queen has been led to flee across a sea based on misinformation and misunderstanding. Aristomenes, written after The Triumphs, takes its origin in the flight of the Stuart king. It opens: "Has thou provided me a horse, and arms ..." (MS Folger 135) It traces the descent into and reemergence from madness of a king. Ann had seen the beginnings of the process; her father-in-law, still personally loyal to James in the last nightmarish days, saw him at his nadir.

The elder Heneage was in fact a prime player in one of the more dramatic scenes of James's attempt to escape England: after leaving the palace in a kind of frantic panic, and riding on Watling Street (the main road) all day and through the next night (that is, from December 10th to 11th), apparently headed for the coast of Kent, he stopped at Faversham which abuts an estuary (it's across the river from the Isle of Sheppey) to grab the first boat he could hire to take him round the rest of the coast of Kent and across the channel towards France (Church 218-23). Alas, the tide was against him and his chosen boat lay stranded. He had made yet another bad decision: he had taken with him Sir Edward Hales, a man the local Kentish establishment, and ordinary people too, hated as a pawn of his policy to reinstitute Catholicism. With Hales next to him, James was recognized and taken prisoner by an angry mob of fishermen (some say mercenary sailors). Turner says the king was treated badly; James's captors

rifled his pockets, and even partially undressed him to see if he had valuables concealed under his clothes; they took from him 200 in gold, his watch and his gold-hilted sword, and they treated him 'with such expressions as old rogue, ugly, lean-jawed, hatchet-face Jesuit, popish dog ... (Turner 446)

Well, on the night of the 12th, not far off, in Canterbury, the second Earl, although no longer Lord Lieutenant of Kent, was assembling "a volunteer troop of horse as a protection" against the much feared disbanded Irish troops (Turner 446). He received the following personal letter from James II:

I am just now come in here, having been last night seased by some of this towne, who telling me you were to be here this day, I would not make myself known to them, thinking to have found you here; but that not being, I desire you would come hither to me, and that as privately as you could do, that I might advise with you concerning my safety, hoping you have that true Loyalty in you, as you will do what you can to secure me from my Enemys, of which you shall find me as sensible as you can desire (McGovern 324n4).

Moved to tears, the second Earl set out almost immediately for Faversham with a small party of gentlemen. When he arrived, he negotiated with James's captors on behalf the king, and persuaded both the king and his captors the best place for the king was an inn or a private house. Winchilsea was, however, unable to shield James from some unsympathetic deputy-lieutenants who superseded the "seaman" as the king's jailers and behaved insolently to James.

Three days later, Friday, December 15th, James wrote another letter, this time to Thomas Bruce, another powerful local nobleman, but also once a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Charles II, and now Earl of Ailesford (Sutherland 20). He was, with several other people of his class, at further off Rochester where various Kent citizens wanted to blow up a bridge to protect themselves from the same dreaded Irish. Ailesbury left a vivid account of his journey, and describes what he saw when he finally arrived to find the second Earl of Winchilsea in charge of the scene:

The Earl of Winchelsea ... conducted me to the house. I passed the hall through all those seamen and entered into the parlour. The king was sitting in a great chair his hat on and his beared being grown, and resembled the picture of his father at the pretended High Court of Justice ...

Ailesbury sees a parallel between the soon-to-be beheaded father and his false (in Ailesbury's opinion) tribunal and the son and his parody of a guard.

But his first words are not of sympathy; they are reproachful and practical; he reminds James his flight left London unprotected; James is not acting responsibly:

but for our care and vigilance the City of London might have been in ashes; but the Lord Mayor and city respecting us, all was kept in a calm (Turner 447-8)

Much to his discomfort though James showed no interest in his remarks. Uppermost in James's mind was the lack of a clean shirt which he also complained about to Winchilsea. When some coaches and further supplies arrived, James got his shirt and, cheered, proceeded to tell a joke: he would lend his shirts to the others "instead of trying to borrow one (Turner 448).

Ann's Aristomenes is not much into jokes. According to Longknife, the ultimate source for the legend of Aristomenes is the second century Greek traveller and geographer, Pausanias, who in his Description of Greece told the story of a Messenian hero who led the ensvlaved Messenians to revolt against Sparta and, although defeated, held out against Sparta for several years; probably Ann read the story in a French redaction (Longknife, 90-2, 208n16; see also Howatson, "Pausanias," 413, "Sparta," 534-5). The most striking scene of the play is modelled on Webster's Duchess of Malfi: in a dungeon the king is beset or haunted by voices who sing incantatory songs of madness, of a desire for suicide, and of a sudden transformation from within to a stoic frame of mind (MS Folger 153-5) [n8]. More prosaic and at the same time more moving for the modern reader is Aristomenes's final speech when, a supposed victor, he stands over the dead body of his son, and looks forward to what is to come in lines which trace out the image of James II as Ann saw him last:

........................here in this face behold
How biting cares have done the work of age,
And in my best of strength, markt me a dotard.
Defeated Armys, Slaughter'd freinds are here;
Disgracefull bonds, and Cittys lay'd in ashes;
And if thou find'st that life will yet endure itt,
Since what I here have lost--
So bow'd, so waining, shalt thou see this Carcase,
That scarse thou wilt recall what once itt was

(MS Folger [Act V], 193)

Ann's Aristomenes comes alive when one reads it as an allegory of James II's fall, and if one knew more about the personalities of the minor court people at that time, I suggest we'd find they are portrayed in Anne's play too.

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Page Last Updated: 4 January 2003