Thursday, August 05, 2010

Royal Excess

In these times of fiscal austerity it’s perhaps worth contemplating the excesses of British Royal Courts of both the Tudors and Stuarts. When the Earl of Danby introduced measures to restore the fiscal credit of Charles II’s regime there was one area he failed to penetrate; the royal household. Charles was especially generous to his favourite mistress Barbara Palmer, the Countess of Castlemaine and the 1st duchess of Cleveland. The Countess was awarded her salary as a lady of the queen’s bedchamber of at least £200 pounds a year; in other words Charles forced his wife to accept his favourite mistress as a lady in waiting. He also paid her:
  • Ten thousand pounds a year out of customs revenue;
  • Ten thousand pounds a year out of the beer and ale excise;
  • Five thousand pounds a year out of the post office;
  • A thousand pounds a year out of first fruits and tenths (a tax which used to go from the clergy to the Pope).
  • Individual debts which were amounts that ranged up to thirty thousand pounds. These were mostly gambling debts.
  • Grants of royal lands and the right to dispose of and sell places in the customs.
Castlemaine was only the most prominent of an army of mistresses, courtier and household servants, all of whom had their hands in Charles's pockets. You might say it’s a good thing we don’t still operate this kind of system. Imagine having to pay a subsidy to Camilla Parker Bowles or Monica Lewinsky every time you send a letter or buy a pack of beers. Mind you there was that Tory MP who claimed for the £1,645 duck house.

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum


Dean said...

Off the main point however...
The monarchy got rid of the Pope, but kept the tax that helped support him?

Humphrey said...

I got it slightly wrong. The first fruits and tenths was a tax on the clergy (not the parishioners) which went to the Pope. Henry VIII then diverted the tax from the Pope to the crown to hurt his finances and put him under pressure over the divorce he wanted. It then continued to go to the state till the reign of Queen Anne and it seems at least one of Charles II's mistresses got a slice.

Roger Pearse said...

Part of the problem was that the royal expenses were not separated from the state expenses. The other part was that Charles did not care what happened, so long as he did not have to go on his travels again, and regarded good government as something only puritans worried about. The parallels with our own day are sometimes curious.

I suspect that a good deal of government procurement might indeed still involve such payments in one form or another. A look at the pages of Private Eye will reveal a good deal of corruption. After all, the establishment can hardly preach "if it feels good, do it" for forty years and suppose that such principles will never be directed to finance rather than sex. But then again, as with the courtiers of Charles II, is it not the same dreary set of cronies who benefit?

In the days of Charles II the bishops were appointed by the king's whores, and appointed because they shared court vices (vide Pepys visit to Archbishop Sheldon and the encounter of the latter with Charles Sedley in the diary). Appointments designed to stir up dissent and schism were enjoyed as a practical joke by those who made them. The act of conformity and the test act were composed by a wretch who boasted that their effect would be to damn one half of the country and starve the other half. Such a system would be unthinkable in the days of Peter Mandelson. Or would it?