27 January 2012

History's Mysteries: The Mystery of the 'Black Box'

By Anita Davison

Lucy Walter, a dark-haired, blue-eyed Celtic beauty referred to as 'a browne, beautiful, bold, but insipid creature,' by John Evelyn, was one of the earliest loves of King Charles II while the eighteen-year-old Prince of Wales lived in exile on the Continent after his father King Charles I was beheaded in 1649.

Already the mistress of Colonel Robert Sidney at The Hague, she met Charles in September 1648, they soon became lovers and bore Charles a son  in April 1649. Despite being short on funds, Charles provided money which enabled Lucy to live in “great splendor.”  The child was named James "Crofts" (after his guardian Lord Crofts).

In June 1649, Lucy accompanied Charles to Paris where he resided for three months, leaving Lucy behind when he returned to The Hague. During the summer of 1650, Lucy is said to have become the mistress of either Colonel Bennet, or Theobald, second Viscount Taafe and in May of 1651, Lucy’s daughter, Mary was born, though speculation was rife as to which man was the child’s father. Both men were living at the Louvre, much to Queen Henrietta Marie’s indignation but she could not afford to pay Lucy to leave when Taafe was keeping her and her children. Charles’ behavior was characteristic, in that he had done with Lucy, but was willing for her and Taafe to remain under the same roof as himself, as long as he didn’t have to support her and could keep in touch with his son.

In the summer of 1651, Lucy went to London with her brother, Justus, to recover an inheritance from their mother. Taken for a Royalist spy, she was arrested on Cromwell’s orders and sent to the Tower of London, where she called herself the wife of King Charles II. She was deported to Flanders, from where she proceeded to Paris to find that she had “lost all favor with Charles II.” While publicly denouncing her, he still sent her messages promising her money and support, ostensibly to prevent her from publishing “certain papers which Charles was anxious to obtain, possibly the contents of the mysterious ‘black box’.”

By 1655, Lucy came under the protection of the married Colonel Thomas Howard, brother of Earl of Suffolk and master of the house to Mary of Orange. Lucy neglected James’ education, and threatened Charles with creating public scandals while he was still dependent upon the goodwill of foreign royalty. Lucy lived with Henrietta Maria, the queen mother, and Princess Mary, Charles's sister, on and off for five years. These Royal ladies’ affectionate letters to Lucy Walter show a close relationship and deep family feeling which many believe would have not existed toward a mistress.

However by this time, Charles’ sister Mary regarded Lucy as an obstacle to the hoped-for restoration of the monarchy, which looked increasingly possible. Oliver Cromwell was dead and the Commonwealth became increasingly unpopular.

Unfortunately for Charles, Lucy had in her hands both his beloved son and a number of letters and papers apparently of critical importance to him, papers she threatened to make public.  When Lucy went to live in Brussels, the King, arranged for her to be lodged with his agent and Lord Bristol’s secretary, Sir Arthur Slingsby.

Slingby tried to have Lucy arrested, at which she ran into the street weeping and crying, clutching her son, James. When passersby came to her aid, Slingsby made matters worse by declaring that he was acting on behalf of the English King. This provoked such an uproar, the Governor of Brussels was forced to intervene. Charles could do nothing but find Lucy alternative housing, and explain to the Governor that Lucy’s “wild and disgraceful course” had exasperated all those concerned.

Charles sent his agent Edward Prodgers to Brussels to remove young James from his mother’s care, during which Lucy made another public scene. However, this proved too much for her and, exhausted and ill, she  surrendered James to his father.

In December 1657, James was delivered to the Queen Mother, Henrietta Maria, who put him in school at Port-Royal near Paris. Lucy’s objections were finally subdued by the threat that Charles would disown the boy if she tried to get him back and she was then driven from Brussels and moved to Paris, presumably to be close to her son in his nearby school.

Lucy died in late1658 in abject poverty according to John Evelyn, while others claim she became a penitent of Dean Cosin, later Bishop of Durham, who, while pretending to be converted from her loose manner in life, Lucy continued her vicious ways. James II unkindly said that she died of a “disease incident to her profession.”

Charles II brought the young James Crofts to London, and at fourteen, married him to Anna Scott, Duchess of Buccleuch one of the richest heiresses in the country. James took her name, and was made the Duke of Monmouth.

By the late 1670s, it was clear that Charles’ Portuguese queen, Catherine of Braganza, was unable to provide a legitimate heir, and with the prospect of the Catholic James, Duke of York as the next king, panic set in among certain Whig courtiers, such as Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl Shaftesbury.

The Parliamentarians were pushing hard to legitimize Monmouth by supporting Lucy's claim that she and Charles had been married, the Duke of Monmouth declared legitimate, and the Duke of York excluded from the line of succession due to his Catholic proclivities. James, Duke of York and his supporters were equally eager to prove Monmouth’s illegitimacy, so the long-dead Lucy’s name had to be blackened, and she was labelled unjustly a ‘whore’.

During the ‘Black Box Inquiry’ in 1680, where witnesses claimed Lucy kept her marriage records. She was reputed to have given the box to the late Anglican Bishop John Cosin, who was by then unable to testify that a contract of marriage existed and was signed at a ceremony performed by Dr. Fuller, Bishop of Lincoln. 

Sir Gilbert Gerard, Bishop Cosin’s son-in-law, denied any knowledge of the Black Box despite his earlier allegations that his father-in-law had left the object to him and that he had found the marriage contract inside.
Bishop Paterson allegedly knew the names of the witnesses at the marriage ceremony, and that Oliver Cromwell’s officers had confiscated the certificate from Lucy while she was under arrest. Coincidence or not, but all records of births and weddings filed in Lucy’s home county of Pembrokeshire in the year of Monmouth’s birth had been destroyed at the Restoration. 

During this inquiry, Charles was reportedly ill at ease, possibly due to a guilty conscience? In January 1678, he published a declaration made the previous year that he and Lucy Walter were not married. A reply was published in the form of a pamphlet entitled, “A Letter to a Person of Honour Concerning the King’s Disavowing Having been Married to the Duke of Monmouth’s mother.” Attributed to Robert Ferguson (“the plotter” who took part in the Monmouth Rebellion) he inferred that Charles had married Lucy Walter with his mother’s permission when his life was despaired of through the combination of an attack of smallpox and his frustration at being denied marriage to Lucy.

Charles allegedly told Bishop Burnet, that he would rather see Monmouth hanged than legitimize him.

In the early 1680’s, encouraged by Shaftesbury, Monmouth travelled on a quasi-royal progress throughout the West Country, drumming up popularity for the Protestant son of Charles II. The king, in retaliation, deprived Monmouth of his general's commission and forbade him to appear at court.

When Charles II died in February 1685, Monmouth was living in exile in Holland, banished for his part in The Popish Plot. In May, Monmouth arrived in England with a small army, but his ill-fated rebellion ended in his execution by his Uncle, James II in July 1685. Prior to his execution, Monmouth signed a paper stating that the late King told him he never married Lucy Walter. However, this was probably written to spare his descendants persecution following his death.

Monmouth’s ten-year-old daughter died of illness in the Tower soon after her father’s execution. His two sons became Scottish earls, and one grandson and a great-great grandson became Dukes of Buccleugh. The title passed to him from his mother, Anna  [The title Duke of Monmouth became extant after his death and has never been revived]

The conspiracy of the ‘black box’ might have ended there, however a descendant of Monmouth’s, the third Duke of Buccleuch, Henry Scott, reportedly found a marriage certificate between Charles II and Lucy Walter in the muniment room at Dalkeith. Having announced that ‘No loyal Englishman should keep such a bombshell in his possession,’ and, in front of the Duke of Abercorn, burned the document. One other story, was the Duke took the document to Queen Victoria, who, after one horrified glance set it on fire herself.

The 400 year old question remains - did Prince Charles fall in love and, feeling he had no hope of regaining his destiny, marry a young girl in a secret ceremony? Did the ‘Black Box’ ever exist, and if so, did it contain the marriage certificate of Charles Prince of Wales and Lucy Walter?


Leigh family Website

The Personal Rule of Charles II, 1681-1685 by Grant Tapsell

Anita Davison is an historical fiction author with a love of 17th century England. DUKING DAYS: REBELLION was released in 2007 and the sequel, DUKING DAYS: REVOLUTION in 2008. TRENCARROW SECRET, a Victorian Gothic romance, is available from MuseItUp Publishing.