John Taylor, Charles I and the royal touch

by Nick

In the autumn of 1648, the poet and waterman John Taylor made a pilgrimage to the Isle of Wight to visit his king.

At this point, Charles I was on parole from his confinement at Carisbrooke Castle to negotiate with Parliamentary commissioners in the town of Newport. It would not go well; but for Taylor, Charles’s parole gave him one last chance to see his king.

Taylor recounted his pilgrimage in Tailors travels from London to the Isle of VVight, vvith his returne, and occasion of his iourney [EEBO ]. I’ve plotted the route Taylor took from London to Newport in Google Maps. Unfortunately WordPress.com can’t do inline Google Maps, so I will have to make do with pointing you towards the link . Below are the steps Taylor took on his journey:

  • 19 October. Taylor took the Southampton coach from the Rose at Holborn Bridge. He went along St Giles to Brentford and then on to Staines, where he stayed the night at the Bush Inn .
  • 20 October. Taylor left Staines and went through Bagshot and Blackwater, before reaching Alton where he stayed in the White Hart.
  • 21 October. From Alton, Taylor reached Southampton where he ate at the Dolphin. From there Taylor sailed to Cowes, where he stayed in the Feathers.
  • 22 October. Taylor travelled by horse to the town of Newport, where Charles was in the midst of negotiations. Here he was received by his monarch.

What is interesting about Taylor’s account is how close he got to his king. In the period before the civil wars, Charles withdrew from his public. There was little circulation of images of the monarch; an attempt to regulate access to court; and a studied decision to withdraw from proactive royal propaganda on the grounds that it opened up the arcana imperii to the public eye. Even touching for the king’s evil, where Charles is often presented as an exemplary practitioner, and where he certainly promoted his power to do so, was subject to many more prohibitions than before.

Compare this with Taylor’s easy access to Charles:

Thus having overpast this soule disaster,
I went to see my suffring Soveraigne Master:
Which sight to me was all my Earthly blisse,
He gave me straight his Royall hand to kisse,
Which grac’d me much in all the publique sights
Of Commons, Gentles, and brave Lords and Knights.

There is also already a hint of Charles martyredly rising above his circumstances – a studied pose of suffering kingship:

His Majesty, with an Heroick and unconquered patience, conquers his unmatchable afflictions, and with Christian constancy, expects a happy deliverance out of all his troubles.

Compare it also to one of the most fascinating parts of Taylor’s account, his description of Charles I touching for the king’s evil and other diseases. Below are Taylor’s eye-witness accounts:

1. At a Towne called Winburne , (or Wimborne ) in Dorcetshire , there dwels an [Note: For testimony of the truth of this there is one Iohn Newbery , a Clothworker, who dwels in Newport in the streete called Castle Hole, this man did come over the water with her, and did see her lame, and cured. ] Ancient woman, the Wife to a Clothier (whose name I could not know by enquiry) this Woman had a long time been so lame that she could not goe, 11 and she hearing that the King was lodg’d in Carisbrook Castle in the Isle of Wight , she was perswaded in her minde that His Majesty could cure her, in which beliefe she made towards the Island, and with horse or Cart, or both, or otherwaies, she was brought to Hurst Castle in Hampshire by land, from whence she was carried into a Boat in mens armes, which Boat brought her to Newport , from whence she was carried a mile to Carisbrook , where His Majesty did touch her, and her lamenesse ceased in three dayes space, so that with thankes to God, and prayers for the King, she departed from the Island, and went home 20. miles on foot. This was before the Treaty began, much about the midst of August last.

2. Mistresse Elizabeth Steevens of Durley in Hampshire , came from her borne to Winchester , and from thence to the Island to His Majesty to be cured of the evill, whereof she had been blinde of one Eye 16. daies and could not open her Eye by any meanes, and after the King had touched her, her Eye opened and she saw immediatly, with a clear and perfect sight. This was about the seventh of October.

3. Elizabeth Gage of Southampton (being 3 yeares of age) was exceeding lame, and in great paine, she came to his Majesty, and he touched her, whereby (through Gods blessing) she was presently cured.

4. Ioane Mathewes, aged 15. yeares, a Braziers Daughter one William Mathewes , dwelling in Newport in the Isle of Wight , she had been long time painefully lame, and had been at the Bathe , and used many medicines in vaine; she came to the King on Thursday the 19. of October, He toucht her, and she had present ease, and every day shee goes better then other: myselfe saw her and spake with her, and I left her able to go reasonable well.

5. A Souldier in Calshot Castle in Hampshire , had 2. sore issues in his thighes, to which he did frequently apply medicines which eased him, but cured him not: This man 12 went to the Island to His Majesty, who did touch him, and he did after that use his former medicines, which were wont to give him ease, but then the said application did most grievously vex and torment him; so that he was perswaded to forbeare to use the said Oyles, Emplasters, and Unguents, and then he was suddenly cured.

6. Mistresse Elizabeth Paine of Bristell was blinde, and such a Rhewmatick defluxion did dayly fall from her eyes, which did wet two or three large hancherchiefes every day; she came to the King on Sunday last, the 5. of this November, His Majesty did touch her eyes, the Rhewme ceased; so that she went away presently with a cleere and perfect sight; and two houres after she came to the King againe, and gave him thanks upon her knees; His Majesty bade her give thanks to God; so she with giving God praise, and prayers for the King, went from the Island to Bristoll with exceeding joy for her recovery.

7. Margaret Hezden , aged 73. yeares, dwelling in Newport in Chayne lane, was not able to stir but as she was lifted from bed to chaire, and from chaire to bed, touched by His Majesty, and cured, so that with one crutch she did goe about her house, and drew 5 or 6. pots of Ale for me, and my company.

Taylor’s pamphlet account of his journey gives us an interesting insight in to Charles’s change of tactics. In the civil wars and beyond, Charles’s public persona became a vital tool in rallying support and in stressing his positions as God’s anointed representative. There is also a suggestion from many contemporaries that Charles could not only heal his subjects, but heal the political nation too.

Sadly for Charles and for Taylor, that was not to be. But Taylor’s account gives us a good insight into what could have been – and into, as Edward Vallance’s recent post makes clear , what actually was under Charles’s son in the 1660s and beyond.

Taylor’s account of his journey is also interesting for his sales technique. Like a number of his pamphlets, Taylor tried to sell it by subscription, getting sponsors to pledge a minimum of 6 pence (above the market rate for a short quarto pamphlet) in return for an account of his journey when he returned. But Taylor follows the usual tactic of the early modern pamphleteer in simultaneously admitting and denying base commercial motives. Taylor’s pamphlet is "no Mercury (with scoffs, and jeeres) to raise debate, and set us by the eares"; it is not like "old Currantoes , in the daies of Yore". But as well as a mission to see his sovereign, Taylor admitted that he "travelled with an intent to get some Silver in this Iron Age, (for pleasure and profit should be the reward of honest and harmelesse paines taking)".

The photo is of a bust in the Chapel of St Charles the Martyr at Carisbrooke Castle, taken by Loz Flowers and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.