Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Pretender at the Coronation

Polnitz in his 'Memoirs' (vol. iii. p. 254) gives a contemporary account of the incident at the coronation of George I., which Sir W. Scott has in ' Bed Gauntlet' introduced as taking place at that of George III.; and I remember to have read it also in some of the publications of the former period thus :

Immediately after the champion's challenge, a lady's glove was thrown from the gallery containing a written defiance, and an invitation to the ring in Hyde Park for the following day. At the appointed time a considerable crowd was assembled. No champion appeared, but there was an old woman observed moving round different parts of the circle, supposed to be a noted swordsman in disguise. The following note is by my brother Charles.

'My grandmother often repeated to me the account which she had herself received from Lady Primrose of Charles Edward's visit to London in 1750 (a letter from the historian Hume to Sir J. Pringle, published in "Gentleman's Magazine," May 1788, relating the same incident, assigns to this visit the date 1753).*

She described her consternation when Mr. Browne (the name under which he was to go) was announced to her in the midst of a card party, among whom were many who she felt might have seen him abroad and would very probably recognise him. Her cards almost dropped from her hands, but she recovered herself, and got him out of the room as quickly as she could. He slept at her house that night only, and afterwards went to that of a merchant in the city. The impression he left on the mind of Lady Primrose, a warm and attached partisan, was by no means favourable.

I have read myself among the Stuart papers a minute of the heads of a manifesto in Charles Edward's own handwriting, among which appeared, "My having in the year 1750 conformed to the Church of England in St. James's Church." Some idea may be formed of the extent of the panic felt at the time of his advance to Derby from the account given by an old workman at Wotton, of his having at that period assisted in burying by night all the family plate in the garden.—C. W. W. W.'

The recantation here mentioned is a circumstance quite new to me, and seems to remove the only one redeeming point among the many base ones which marked the character of Charles Edward. I always thought he had, like the rest of his unfortunate race, been a sincere bigot. His weakness and cowardice seemed to be proved beyond a doubt. In the letter above quoted in the ' Gentleman's Magazine,' Hume says that Helvetius assured him that, when Charles Edward embarked at Nantes for the Scotch expedition (1745), he took fright, and would not go on board; and his attendants, ' thinking the matter had gone too far, &c. &c., 'literally carried him into the ship by night
pieds et poings lies.''

It is a singular proof of the forbearance of the reigning family, and also of the fidelity of the adherents of the fallen race, that even now the real character of Charles Edward is so little generally known. The veil thrown over the drunken dissolute close of his career seems never to have been fully withdrawn by any English writer; and even Alfieri attached, probably married, to the woman who had certainly been unhappy and much ill used by Charles while she was his wife, is unwilling to speak of him or his brother, laudare non li potendo, ni li volendo biasimare, but tells enough to prove him an odious and brutal monster.

I do not understand how, among the many Italian tourists who have indulged us with so many histories of bad fare, hard beds thickly inhabited, there has not been one who has enriched his pages with some of the many traditions still extant, still easily authenticated, at Florence and Rome, referring to the two last Stuarts.
They were the last; therefore there could not now be any objection; and though the records could not be very interesting, they would probably sell.**

Editor's notes
* Hurne speaks of a second visit on the authority of Lord Hulderness, and adds, ' You see this story is so near traced from the fountain-head as to wear a great trace of probability. Query, what if the Pretender had taken up Dymock's gauntlet ? ' Miss Strickland, in her Life of Mary II., says, ' This incident has been told as a gossip's tale pertaining to every coronation of the last century which took place while an heir of James II. existed. If it ever took place, it must have been at the coronation of William and Mary. That there was a pause at this part of the ceremony of above two hours, and that when the champion appeared the gauntlet was heard to he thrown, hut nothing that was done could be seen on account of the darkness of the evening, all this rests upon the authority of Lamberty, the historian and diplomatist,'
** Since this was written, the most complete exposure has been made in a book, a thin quarto printed in 1843 for the Roxburgh Club by Earl Stanhope, entitled The Decline of the Last Stuarts -Extracts from the Despatches of British Envoys to the Secretary of State.


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