My intent is to allow the reader to walk down the lanes of old London (before it burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666) and feel as if you are actually there. You can smell and touch the nuances of London. You'll know what it's like to work your way through the City and its the conflicting laws where religion played in important part of everyday life. So sit back and enjoy the ride.

Oh, and then there's my French Revolution novel.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Whitehall Palace

My 1660's novels deal with the common man, and how they reacted to changes in the government, which also meant religion. As a result, the only times my characters touch Whitehall Palace is when they must go there as servants, or on errands, or to speak with the undersecretary re: nefarious topics.

Whitehall Palace was a the primary living quarters for the English monarchy from mid 16th century to the end of the 17th century when most of it burned to the ground. The Banqueting House remains, and can still be seen as a tourist attraction.

The palace was a massive, disjointed complex that rambled and convoluted over the years. Monarchs updated it or added to it as it served their purpose. There are indications that Charles II considered changing Whitehall to imitate the Louvre. During the first portion of his exile, he had been in Paris, poor and half starved. His mother took up residence there after Charles I was beheaded, and Charles's sister lived there.

Whitehall sat on the mud of River Thames when the tide was out, and in the water when the tide was in. The king's privy stairs could be accessed on the river side. It probably wasn't intended for what King Charles II used it for, but after he came to power, his men used the privy stairs to sneak women from London and environs. Women of every shape and size climbed the stairs to his private chambers. There the king would use them for a toss and a twirl, then without many knowing, send them back to London.

On the other side of the palace was a great garden where people met to socialize amidst grazing animals, geese, and ducks. Sporting games were played, such as the popular pall mall. Charles II used it for his daily constitutional, walking round the garden and accompanied by his spaniels. The king walked at such a fast rate, none of his toadies could keep up. The speed at which he walked allowed the king a few moments of quiet.

The palace was not a quiet place. It was crowded with all sorts of aristocracy, their servants, and general hangers-on. It was considered a den of iniquity by the Puritans. Not long into Charles's reign, gossip in London considered it a palace of vanity and vices, intemperance and clamor. It had tippling tents and gambling booths. The undercroft of the Banqueting House started off as a place to hold lotteries, but morphed into a place of drinking and gambling. On the opposite side of Whitehall for the personal use of the king was a theatre called the 'Cockpit', its origin a real cockpit.

In 1660 King Charles II brought back the ancient custom of 'Touching for the King's Evil'. Performed in the Banqueting House, the king was considered to possess healing powers. He touched common folk to cure the skin disease, scrofula, and each person 'touched' was given a coin to mark the event.

The Maundy Thursday celebration was another ancient custom associated with the Banqueting House. The king washed the feet of the poor, then distributed bread, wine, cloth, and money to them. The coins were generally fourpence or groats.

To read of Whitehall in historical fiction form (but well researched), please see my 1660 novels. In Viola, A Woeful Tale of Marriage, Viola goes to Whitehall to search for her sister at the same time Charles II touches the people for the king's evil. In TWINS, Edgar goes to Whitehall on errands whilst he learns the way of the mercantile business in London.

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  1. Charles II was quite a character wasn't he. Fascinating thanks, Katherine. I tweeted it.

  2. Looking forward to reading your books Katherine!!