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Q U I C K   L I N K S

To learn more about the engraver of the 17th-century head-piece pictured to the left, see the IN BRIEF biography for Wenceslaus Hollar.

William Cavendish’s 1638 Letter of Instructions to Prince Charles imparted lessons from the Elizabethan court concerning the politics of “Ceremony”: “you Kings ... must know at what time to play the King, and when to qualifie it, but never put it of; for in all triumphs whatsoever or publick shewing your self, you cannot put upon you too much King.” This passage (from She-philosopher.​com’s forthcoming digital edn. of the Instructions) has been excerpted & included with the IN BRIEF biography giving Margaret Cavendish’s character of Elizabeth I (1533–1603), Queen of England and Ireland.

William Cavendish’s MS. Letter to Charles II is also available as an original She-philosopher.​com e-publication. See the digital edition, Lib. Cat. No. WC1650s.

For full bibliographical descriptions of any works cited here, see:

• for pre-20th-century works, She-philosopher.​com’s selected list of Primary Sources

• for 20th-century and 21st-century works, She-philosopher.​com’s selected list of Secondary Sources

For more about forthcoming projects planned for this website, see the PREVIEWS section.

First Published:  September 2012
Revised (substantive):  9 May 2021

Under Construction

S O R R Y,  but this e-publication page— with an HTML transcript of William Cavendish’s Letter of Instructions to Prince Charles for his Studies, Conduct, and Behaviour, written about 1638 after the earl of Newcastle was appointed governor to the future king, whom he here instructs in statecraft — is still under construction.

17th-century head-piece showing six boys with farm tools, by Wenceslaus Hollar

We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope that you will return to check on its progress another time.

If you have specific questions relating to’s ongoing research projects, contact the website editor.

B Y   W A Y   O F   I N T R O D U C T I O N

This is the text of William Cavendish’s letter to Prince Charles, written c.1638 after becoming the prince’s governor (the patent appointing the earl of Newcastle governor of the Prince is dated 4 June 1638).

In her biography of her husband, Margaret Cavendish gives the following account of his governorship, stressing (as she will throughout this book) the large amount of his personal fortune that Newcastle invested in the royal family:

Within some few years after, King Charles the First, of blessed Memory, His Gracious Soveraign, in regard of His true and faithful service to his King and Country, was pleased to honour him with the title of Earl of Newcastle, and Baron of Bothal and Heple; which Title he graced so much by His Noble Actions and Deportments, that some seven years after, which was in the Year 1638. His Majesty called him up to Court, and thought Him the fittest Person whom He might intrust with the Government of His Son Charles then Prince of Wales, now our most Gracious King, and made him withal a Member of the Lords of his Majesties most honourable Privy Council; which, as it was a great Honour and Trust, so He spared no care and industry to discharge His Duty accordingly; and to that end, left all the care of governing his own Family and Estate, with all Fidelity attending His Master not without considerable Charges, and vast Expences of his own.
     In this present Employment He continued for the space of three Years, during which time there happened an Insurrection and Rebellion of His Majesties discontented Subjects in Scotland, which forced His Majesty to raise an Army, to reduce them to their Obedience, and His Treasury being at that time exhausted, he was necessitated to desire some supply and assistance of the Noblest and Richest of his Loyal Subjects; amongst the rest, My Lord lent His Majesty 10000 l. and raised Himself a Voluntier-Troop of Horse, which consisted of 120 Knights and Gentlemen of Quality ....

(Margaret Cavendish, The Life of ... William Cavendishe ..., 1667, 6–7)

And, indeed, life at court wasn’t cheap. “A letter in the Record Office, written by one Thomas Wiseman on Newcastle’s retirement from this post, states that the Earl ran himself into debt to the amount of £40,000 during his employment.” (C. H. Firth, 1886, 9–10n1)

What Margaret doesn’t mention in her account was how much her husband wanted this particular appointment, and lobbied for it behind the scenes.

This earliest letter of advice intended for the monarch and court anticipates the longer, more detailed Letter to Charles II Newcastle would write in the 1650s.

One literary critic has called it “a remarkable document, intrinsically of greater worth than the Earl’s pretentious dramas” from the same period (H. T. E. Perry, 118–19), and it is certainly an important piece of political writing.

The letter’s contents have been nicely summarized by A. S. Turberville, in his two-volume work responding to a request from the Duke of Portland for a text covering the owners of Welbeck Abbey (from its dissolution as a religious institution in 1538, on).

In the spring of 1636 [William Cavendish] was making great efforts to secure the position of governor to the Prince of Wales, the future Charles II, but at first it seemed with no better prospect of success than in similar attempts before. He wrote on 8 April from London to his [first] wife:
     “There is nothing I either say or do or hear but it is a crime, and I find a great deal of venom against me.”
     The King and Queen both used him “very graciously”, but no one else did; he was cried down more than he had ever been cried up, and he was looked upon as a lost man. Hobbes, in a letter from Paris, mainly concerned with questions of natural philosophy, expressed his sorrow that his Lordship found not so good dealing in the world as he deserved. But Newcastle did not entirely abandon hope; he calculated the chances of his chief rivals for the coveted post — the Earl of Leicester and Lord Danby, and when they each received other appointments, really could not believe that the pretensions of Lord Goring need be taken seriously.
     Eventually, after he had passed through great perturbation of spirit, Newcastle received from Mr. Secretary Windebank the formal notification that
     “his Majesty having a purpose, according to the precedents of former times, to settle the government of the person and family of the Prince answerable to his state of years, and having deliberately advised upon some person of honour and trust, to be near his Highness, to be a chief director in so weighty a business, hath been pleased, in his gracious opinion of your Lordship, to make choice of you to be the only gentleman of his Bed-chamber at this time, and hath commanded me to give you knowledge of this princely resolution”.
     The Secretary added an assurance such as Newcastle plainly had been curiously anxious to receive, however little reality there may have been in it, that he did not owe his success to the influence of friends, “but merely and entirely to the King’s and Queen’s Majesties alone”. Wentworth, who had been zealous on the Earl’s behalf for so long, wrote to him to the same effect. The King, he said, had been particularly anxious to make it clear that the appointment was made immediately by himself, and jealous lest his lordship “should have the least apprehension any other creature” had any share in the transaction. The formal commission to Newcastle to take Prince Charles into his charge was issued on 15 May, 1638.
     Thus Newcastle assumed the responsibility of bringing up the heir to the throne, who was at this time eight years old. Some of his duties appear to have been those of a nurse. Queen Henrietta Maria writes to her son:
     “Charles I am sore that I must begin my first Letter with chiding you because I heere you will not take physike. I hope it was onlei for this day and that to morrowe you will doe it, for yf you will not I must come to you, and make you take it, for it is for your healthe. I have given order to my lord Newcastell to send mi worde to night whether you will or not, therefore I hope you will not give mi the paines to goe and so I rest your affectionate mother,
                    Henriette Marie, R.”
     Even in his childhood the Prince had a lively sense of humour, for when his preceptor himself happened to be unwell, his Royal Highness wrote solicitously:
     “My Lord, I would not have you take too much Phisick; for it doth alwaies make my [sic] worse, and I think it will do the like with you.”
     Besides generally superintending the welfare of the Prince of Wales, Newcastle took a personal part in his instruction. The most skilled and enthusiastic of horsemen gave the Prince riding lessons, and apparently with the most admirable results: for in his work, La Méthode et Invention Nouvelle de Dresser les Chevaux, published in 1658 and dedicated to Charles, he describes him as “not only the handsomest and most comely horseman in the world, but as knowing and understanding in the art as any man”. The guardian also essayed to give his pupil lessons in statecraft, and he composed a Letter of Instructions to Prince Charles for his Studies, Conduct, and Behaviour, which is a very interesting document if only on account of the light which it throws upon its author’s political opinions. It is not surprising to find that one who had made scant use of the academic opportunities of his university life considered book learning to be of little use for the heir to the throne. The greatest clerks, he said, were not the most learned men, and the greatest captains — “the greatest troublers of the world” — were not its greatest scholars. Great bookworms did not make great statesmen. He admitted that there had been in the past, and were now, a few instances of statecraft and learning being combined; but “they study men more now than books, or else they would prove but silly statesmen”. The acquisition of languages might be useful; but, he adds, “I confess I would rather have you study things than words, matter than languages”. Besides, studiousness was a positive disadvantage, for contemplation spoilt action, “and virtue consists in that”. If any books were to be read they should be histories, because they afforded lessons both from the excellences and the errors of rulers and subjects; there were the same “humours” now as in the past — only the names were different. Just as he did not wish to see his future sovereign too much given to study, so Newcastle objected to his being too religious. “One may be a good man but a bad king”; history proved that a ruler might gain the kingdom of heaven, but lose his own kingdom. Whatever the author’s own scale of values, whatever he may conceive to be the proper scale of values for the private individual, he is quite certain that the ruler must place the earthly before the heavenly. At the same time the prince ought not to be neglectful of his devotions; it was indeed essential that he should be punctilious — for reasons not of piety but of polity!
     “Were there no Heaven or Hell you shall see the disadvantage, for your government; if you have no reverence at prayers, what will the people have, think you? They go according to the example of the Princes; if they have none, then they have no obedience to God; then they will easily have none for your Highness; no obedience, no subjects.”
     On the other hand, added Newcastle, with an oblique reference to the English Puritans, for whom he at all times felt the utmost disapproval, if the people go
“Bible mad, over much burned with fiery zeal, they may think it a service to God to destroy you and say the Spirit moved them and bring some example of a King with a hard name in the Old Testament. Thus one way you may have a civil war, the other a private treason.”
     The remainder of the advice which Newcastle tendered to the Prince in this remarkable document was such as would meet with universal approval; for he dwelt mainly upon the need of shewing constancy and civility to everyone. On the one hand, the ruler should not be so familiar as to bring himself into contempt; on the other, he should not be “so seared with majesty as to imagine himself not of mankind”. There were things in life which a king must do in common with the very meanest or not live at all, and he would be a better king for recollecting that he was “of the lump of man”. While he should be no anchorite, no Diogenes in his tub, a philosophic outlook would enable him to be a brave, noble, and just king.
     The most notable feature of this Letter of Instructions is obviously its machiavellianism. Newcastle uses the word virtue in the same sense in which it is used in Il Principe, and preaches realpolitik. A ruler must be no slave to phrases or to abstract principles; he must be guided by maxims of expediency. But the attitude is not wholly cynical. Newcastle wished his prince to ponder the thought of morality as well as that of profit, to be just as well as successful. The other obviously striking feature of the document is its suggestion of what may happen if a people becomes “Bible-mad”. In after days Newcastle may well have prided himself upon his prescience, and felt that the Civil War afforded abundant evidence of the wisdom and essential rightness of his principles. His views throughout his career remained fundamentally the same, only deepened and strengthened by unhappy experience of the evils entailed by what he regarded as deplorable fanaticism both upon the monarch and upon his loyal servant.
     When Newcastle was made a Duke in the reign of the sovereign whose youthful steps he had endeavoured to guide, a reference was made in the patent to his services as a guardian. This appreciative passage runs:
     “The great proofs of his wisdom and piety, are sufficiently known to us from our younger years, and we shall always retain a sense of those good principles he instilled into us; the care of our youth, which he happily undertook for our good, he as faithfully and well discharged.”
     Some may feel that the career of Charles II does not afford a very satisfactory example of “good principles”, and doubt whether the principles which the guardian inculcated really were good ones.

(Turberville, A History of Welbeck Abbey and Its Owners, 2 vols., 1938, 1.58-62)

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