What today is the most revered site in British racing, Newmarket, was established in 1636 and was, for a time, part of the Royal palace during Charles II’s reign.
Enter a group of talented young musicians, Eboracum Baroque, whose charge is to maintain the music of the Baroque era and educate younger Briton musicians to follow in their path.
Eboracum Baroque has been celebrated for their performances throughout the UK and Europe. Their latest effort is Charles II’s Playlist, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the music of Charles Blow and Henry Purcell and others that likely was heard by Charles II in his bedroom, now the locale of the Newmarket’s National Horse Racing Museum.
The concert includes a tour of that really expansive bedroom of Charles II. Included is a sash window, recently uncovered, believed to be the oldest sash window in all of England.
Sounds boring. Isn’t.
And, since this is the location of the National Museum of Horseracing, the walls of what once was Charles II’s bedroom are now adorned with the famous horse and horseracing paintings of George Stubbs (1724–1806), which sadly (for Charles) all postdate Charles II’s reign.
Now, for those who dismiss history feel free to give a listen to the concert, then come back to place what you just heard in the proper context of some really complicated history. Or read on…either way, you’ll be ready for that Jeopardy challenge!
The concert originally premiered April 10, but is available in full here:
More than a little background: The Kings
Now, we like history at Horse Network.
We hope before you went off to King Charles II and the music of Eboracum Baroque and horses and the connection among all those things, you’ve chosen this useful, and fun, history lesson.
With the recent passing of Prince Philip as well as some recent disquieting internal events—we won’t mention Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview (oops!)—the future of the monarchy is very much on the minds of United Kingdom citizens these days.
Well, as they say, if you want a glimpse of the future, take a look at the past. Of course, that venerable past consists of the Williams—Shakespeare and Wordsworth among so many others on the English literary side. England has John Constable, J.M.W. Turner and the lesser-known aforementioned horse painter George Stubbs in its artistic canvas past.
Then, there’s the monarchy itself. There’s King Henry VIII (1491–1547). Everyone knows him, mostly because he had six wives and, maybe more so, because he basically created a new religion, the Church of England. He did that to have his first marriage to Spain’s Catherine of Aragon annulled over the objections of Roman Catholic Pope Clement VII—you probably don’t know him, but we’ll just leave it there.
It’s good to be the King, as Mel Brooks would say.
Well, perhaps not always. Because there was Richard III (1483–1485), who ruled for just under two years before leaving life in the Battle of Bosworth. He’s famous for a line in Shakespeare’s history play, Richard III, “My horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse!” He’s the king whose remains were found in 2012 in a car parking lot in Leicester, which car park has since been declared a national monument.
No horse was harmed (or found) in the uncovering of this incident.
A little more background: The Queens
We can’t ignore the Queens, of course.
There were three successive Tudor Queens, two descendants of Henry VIII. Lady Jane Grey (1553) lasted all of nine days, her reign ending before it really started because some objected to her being a staunch Catholic.
Mary I (1553–1558), daughter by Henry VIII’s first wife, Catharine of Aragon; you remember, the one who was at the center of King Henry’s religious issues, rose to the throne instead. Ill all her life, she died at 42 and was buried in Westminster Abbey upon her death in 1558, which really must tick her off since she, too, was a devout Catholic.
She earned her nickname, “Bloody” Mary, after disposing of Lady Jane Grey and her husband (“What did I do?”) a year into her reign and later eliminating several high-ranking Protestant clerics by burning them at the stake. Ouch!
The death of Mary I in 1558 brought some sanity to the country with the ascension of the last Tudor, Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII by Anne Boleyn, who pretty much started the whole religious mess.
In many ways, Elizabeth I (1588–1603) was a precursor of America’s third President, Thomas Jefferson. She was a great believer in science and presided over an age of exploration and colonial expansion—the first colony in Virginia was established during her reign. Hers was also the age of playwrights Shakespeare and Marlowe, and essayist Francis Bacon.
Elizabeth I never married for unknown reasons, despite several offers, and her passing was the last of the Tudor line and led to the rise of the Stuarts.
The Protestant Elizabeth I got a little revenge in advance by feeling it necessary to execute Mary Queen of Scots in 1587 after finding her at the center of repeated Catholic plots against her—sorry ‘bout that.
Now, the good stuff: The Windsors
Joint rulers of England and Hanover, the Windsors had successive ascendants to the throne: four Georges and William IV, beginning in 1714.
The ascension of 18-year-old Victoria to the throne in 1837 was the start of a remarkable 63-year reign. She was the granddaughter of George III and—this is complicated—the only child of Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg and Edward, the Duke of Kent and fourth son of George III. As such, her ascension ended the Hanover portion of the line.
Because her father died when she was only eight months old, her uncle Leopold of Saxe-Coburg became the primary influence in her life. He would later become King of the Belgians.
Anyway, he was so profound an influence that Victoria would marry her cousin, Albert of Saxe-Coburg- Gotha—these people got around.
Albert wasn’t very popular with the English people. For one thing, he was very German—very conscientious, but also very serious and reputedly not very tactful.
But he must have been popular with Victoria because she bore him nine children, four sons and five daughters. That assured the Windsors would be in monarchial charge for a looonnnggg time.
Finally, that brings us to the current Queen, Elizabeth II. She ascended the throne in 1952 at age 26 upon the passing of her father, George VI, who preserved the monarchy and England during the threat of Nazi Germany and World War II. It’s pretty easy to see why she took the name of Elizabeth II since the first Elizabeth was pretty cool and presided over what might have been England’s greatest period.
Beloved Queen Elizabeth II has since become the United Kingdom’s longest reigning monarch. Oh, one other thing: Why were we saying England up to this time and the United Kingdom now? That’s because under Elizabeth II, there was a constitutional innovation that made her Queen of all the former self-governing countries that used to be part of the British Empire. Included among her titles is “Head of the Commonwealth.”
Take that, Scotland.
A step back: The Reign of Charles II
Now that we’re caught up to the present and back to where we started, let’s take a dive back into the past.
As you can see by now, this is a country with a pretty complicated history, one complicated particularly by religion and accompanying changes in cultural values.
One of the most serious changes came in 1642 during the reign of Charles I with the beginning of the four-year-long Civil War between Royalist supporters of the King and the Church and supporters of the Puritans controlling Parliament.
When the dust settled, an obscure Puritan commander who saw success in Ireland and Scotland, Oliver Cromwell, would rise to become a favorite of Parliament. Never crowned, he nonetheless ruled essentially as a dictator from 1653 to 1658. His son Richard briefly succeeded him, but was too weak to retain control. The 1860 Restoration between the Royalists and the Parliament removed the influence of the army and restored the monarchy.
That brings us to where we want to be.
Charles II (1660–1685) was the son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria of France. He escaped to France during the Civil War, would return to Scotland and lead a small army against Cromwell, but be defeated.
He returned to France with a million-pound price tag on his head and took a “gap” year—well, actually eight gap years—wandering around Europe until the 1860 Restoration agreement between the Royalists and Parliament when he returned to London as King Charles II at age 30.
His father had been executed during the Civil War, but Charles pledged to spare those who had signed his death warrant and, eventually, nine of the 20 survived.
Sadly, the 1665 Great Plague of London and the following year’s Great Fire occurred during his reign. But so too did a mini-renaissance of culture and pleasure.
So, he’s thought of as kind of a weak king, mostly because his foreign policy was inept. But he returned to Court the kind of music and that of some composers he likely heard at Versailles while he was in exile in France.
Aside from the music, his reign left us a renewed interest in horses, in horseracing and a National Horse Racing Museum to honor the same.
So, he’s remembered for eliminating much of the stuffiness of the Puritan era. Like…much.
Though married to Portugal’s Catherine of Braganza (who brought with her a rather large money dowry and two naval bases) in 1662, history documents at least 13 known mistresses.
Enjoy the concert, and remember: It’s good to be the King!