Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Guest post from Gillian Bagwell: June 1660

Gillian Bagwell is the author of the upcoming novel The Darling Strumpet (Berkley, Jan. 2011), based on the life of Nell Gwynn, who rose from the streets to become one of London’s most beloved actresses and the life-long mistress of King Charles II.

This is the second in a series of monthly articles chronicling the events from May 1660 through January 1661, in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Restoration of the English monarchy, the reopening of the playhouses, which had been closed for 18 years under Cromwell, and the first appearance of an actress on the English stage, in contrast to the old practice of boys playing women’s roles. Gillian's online tour stopped at Hoydens and Firebrands in early May, and the July host will be Raucous Royals.

For further information about the articles and Gillian’s books, please visit her website, gillianbagwell.com.

~ JUNE 1660 ~

After Charles II’s triumphant arrival to reclaim his throne on May 29, 1660, London continued in wild celebrations for three days and nights. Effigies of Cromwell burned. The Venetian ambassador provided a fountain of wine in the street before his house. There was a royal proclamation denouncing those who “spend their time in taverns, tipling-houses, and debauches, giving no other evidence of their affection to us but in drinking our health, and in inveighing against all others who are not of their own dissolute temper,” but that was probably the language of the King’s advisor Edward Hyde, soon to be the first Earl of Clarendon, as “a sop to the Presbyterians who feared that the return of monarchy would usher in an orgy of unbridled license.”

King Charles was at the center of a seething ocean of well-wishers, place-seekers, petitioners, overjoyed subjects, foreign diplomats, politicians, and hordes of others who wanted his time and attention. On June 4 diarist John Evelyn wrote that he had been unable to see the King “by reason of the infinite concourse of people … from all parts of the Nation,” and harrumphed, “It was indeed intollerable … insomuch as he had scarce leisure to Eate for some dayes,” and that the King “would have none kept out, but gave free accesse to all sorts of people.” Among these were many of the people who had helped him escape from England after the disastrous Battle of Worcester in 1651. On June 13, the King received and honored the five Penderel brothers, humble country men from Shropshire who had saved his life by hiding him on the night after the battle.

There was the business of getting the new government up and running, and throughout the month, Parliament waded through discussion and revision of the Bill of Indemnity, pardoning those who had fought against the Royalist cause, with the exception of the men directly responsible for the execution of Charles’s father, Charles I. Of course the court and government needed a lot of money, and the King authorized a tax of £70,000 per month for three months.

Diarist Samuel Pepys was working under Sir Edward Montagu, who told him “We must have a little patience and we will rise together.” Pepys got off to a good start. On June 3 he was happy to find that he was worth £100, four times what he had been worth in late March when he set off with the party of dignitaries to bring the King back to England, and by the end of June he had secured the position of Clerk of the Acts. His patron Montagu soon became the first Earl of Sandwich. Pepys was deeply involved with the nuts and bolts of the Restoration. On June 2 he spent the morning with a naval captain computing the monthly pay of the ships that had brought the King back, as the King had promised them a month’s pay. It came to £6538. “I wish we had the money,” wrote Pepys, ever the harried administrator.

Another of the King’s duties was touching his subjects for “the King’s Evil,” or scrofula, which popular belief held could be cured by the touch of a monarch. He touched thousands of people during his first weeks in London, on one occasion touching 600 people, distributing to each of them a white ribbon with a golden angel. On June 23 Pepys noted that because it was raining so hard, the King failed to arrive to touch people who had waited for him in the rain all morning, but that later he touched them in the Banqueting House instead. The mean temperature in central England for the month was 57˚F/14˚C; London would have been a little warmer.

As busy as he was, the King found time for recreation. He rose at five and got in an hour or two of tennis, walked in St. James’s Park, and some evenings went with his brother the Duke of York as far as Battersea, Putney, or Barn Elms to swim in the Thames. On June 8 he managed a quick visit to Hampton Court. He was an excellent and enthusiastic dancer. On June 20 Pepys wrote that his boss had slept in after a late supper with the King, and on June 28 he noted that Montagu “lay a-bed till 11 o’clock, it being almost five before he went to bed, they supped so late last night with the King.”

On June 18 one of the King’s dogs was stolen from Whitehall, and a notice in the newspaper offered a reward for information or the return of “a Smooth Black Dog, less than a Grey-hound, with white under his breast.” A second notice the following week provided further description of the dog, “his taile a little bob’d,” and plaintively asked, “Will they never leave robbing his Majesty: must he not keep a Dog?” General Monck, who had been instrumental in the Restoration by giving the King the support of the army, also lost a dog. Mercurius Publicus advertised that “A White Greyhound Bitch, belonging to his Excellency, was lately lost from the Cockpit, if any one bring her thither, he shall be well rewarded for his pains.”

Although the playhouses had not yet been officially authorized, the acting companies were openly performing by June. On June 6 Pepys wrote that the Dukes of York and Gloucester went to see Ben Jonson’s “Epicoene, or The Silent Woman,” probably at the Red Bull, at the north end of St. John Street in Clerkenwell. On June 23 the Red Bull gave John Fletcher’s “The Tamer Tamed.”

Performance conditions in these early days after the Restoration were unchanged from what they had been in 1642 when Cromwell closed the theatres, and even from fifty years before that. The Red Bull had been built in about 1608 and the stage faced galleries around three sides of a yard that was open to the elements. The company was formed from many of the top actors of the old days, who would shortly become the King’s Company. These included Charles Hart, Michael Mohun, Walter Clun, Nicholas Burt, Theophilus Byrd, William Cartwright, Robert Shatterell, and William Wintershall.

John Rhodes, formerly Wardrobe Keeper to the company at Blackfriars, had a company performing at the Cockpit in Drury Lane, including Thomas Betterton and others who soon became the Duke’s Company. As in the earlier days, the women’s roles were played by young men. Edward Kynaston played the title role in “Auglara,” the Princess in “The Mad Lover,” “Ismena” in “The Maid in the Mill,” and Arthiope in “The Unfortunate Lovers.” James Nokes, Edward Angel, Mr. Floid, and Thomas Betterton’s son William also played women’s roles.

In June 1660 Christopher Beeston received a license for a company at the old theatre in Salisbury Court, but the identity of his actors and whether they performed before the fall is not known.

Since the theatre had been outlawed for eighteen years, all the plays were those from the old repertoire, the works of Ben Jonson, John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, Thomas Middleton, William Rowley, and Sir Robert Howard being especially popular. But already the writers were at work, and a fire-new piece by John Tatham called “The Rump: or, The Mirror of the late Times” was “Acted Many Times with Great Applause, At the Private House in Dorset-Court.” Theatre in England was poised for the most explosive period of development it had ever seen or would ever see again.

Sources and further reading:


The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Met Office Hadley Center Observations Datasets


1660: The Year of Restoration, Patrick Morrah (Beacon Press, 1960)

The Commonwealth and Restoration Stage, Leslie Hotson, (Cambridge Harvard University Press, 1928)

The Diary of John Evelyn, ed. Guy de la Bédoyère (Boydell Press, 1995; First Person Singular, 2004)

The London Stage, 1660-1800, A Calendar of Plays, Entertainments, and Afterpieces Together with Casts, Box-Receipts, and Contemporary Comment, Part I, 1660-1700, ed. William Van Lennep et al. (Southern Illinois University Press, 1963)

Pepys’s Diary, Volume I, selected and edited by Robert Latham (Folio Society, 1996)


  1. Thanks for this. I have adored Charles II ever since I read Jean Plaidy's series about him and Forever Amber, and I'm looking forward to reading Gillian's novel about Nell Gwynn.

  2. Very cool concept for a blog tour. I will keep my eyes out for this book when it comes out. I have always enjoyed learning about Charles and his court.

  3. I thought it was a cool idea also, especially given the notable anniversary date. This a tour I'm going to be following along with.