This blog was written by Richard Ward, our Assistant Archives Officer.
For our first themed week exploring the Parliamentary Archives collection, we take a special look at documents relating to the reign of King Charles II.
Dedicated followers of our twitter feed will be familiar with our hashtags #TowerRex and #TowerRegina in which we showcase the many wonderful manuscripts we hold in relation to monarchs past and present. The Stuarts have always held a particular fascination not just to the historian but also the public at large as highlighted by two major exhibitions being held in London presently: the Royal Academy’s Charles I: King and Collector and the Queen Gallery’s Charles II: Art and Power.
Our Main Papers Collection holds a manuscript, laid before the table of the House of Lords in June 1660, which perfectly encapsulates the themes of these two exhibitions. It is simply titled, ‘Papers relating to the King's Goods’. This was the period after King Charles II returned to London from exile in Holland, as a result of the post-Cromwell power vacuum.
After the execution of King Charles I his estate was plundered. Some of this would have been permitted by Cromwell as an act of skullduggery to fund his own military campaigns, but in many instances it was for debts incurred by the former King due to his lavish lifestyle and civil war expenditures. This resulted in the treasures of his collection being scattered far and wide. Consequently, a Parliamentary Committee was formed, ‘to consider and receive information where any of the late King's goods, jewels, and pictures were, and to advise of some course how the same might be restored to His now Majesty’.
Twenty-seven inventories were drawn up and a list of individuals who varied in power and status were called upon to declare their bounty or face the consequences. These included Henry Browne, Keeper of the Wardrobe at Somerset House who had hoarded for himself, ‘pictures done by Sir Anthony Vandyke’, which would be valued at a very respectful £25. Other notable artworks on the lists included, Ecce Homo by Titian (valued at £60) & Henry VIII & his family by Holbein (valued at £15). But it wasn’t just items of a gilded nature that were to be returned, more modest heirlooms such as carpets and curtains were also listed.
This is an essential piece of documentation for any enthusiast of this era, whether you are studying art history or just a huge fan of the pomp and circumstance story of the two Charles Stuarts.