Women During the Reign of Charles II: Guest Post by Richard Endsor

It’s such a delight to welcome Richard Endsor to The Seventeenth Century Lady! Richard tells us about some remarkable women during the Merry Monarch’s lusty reign. So, please give a very warm welcome to Richard!

Women During the Reign of Charles II:

Dear Andrea, thank you for inviting me as a guest to your beautifully presented blog. Following Julian Kingston’s piece about  Build the Lenox ship Project at Deptford and Sara Reed’s about um, ladies private matters, I offer this as an attempt to reconcile such diverse subjects touching on both Deptford dockyard and seventeenth century ladies. I am actively researching the women of seventeenth century Deptford which I hope will result in a book.

King Charles visiting Deptford Dockyard with Louise for the launch of Lenox named after their son, Charles Lenox, 1678. Image: Richard Ensor

King Charles visiting Deptford Dockyard with Louise for the launch of Lenox named after their son, Charles Lenox, 1678. Image: Richard Ensor

Many are familiar with stories of the mistresses of King Charles II and the power they gained from their position! Kings had always had mistresses but Charles’s were different, many were elevated to become Duchesses and their illegitimate offspring the founders of great estates and titles such as the Dukes of Richmond through their mother Louise de Keroualle, whom Charles created the Duchess of Portsmouth:

Image: Richard Ensor

Louise de Keroualle with fashionable hair style. Richard Ensor’s Collection.

It certainly appears that under Charles’s reign women achieved prominence and respect. While the story of Louise and Charles’s other mistresses are well known that of ordinary women is not. During my research into Restoration Warship, a book about a ship built at Deptford in 1678, I came across many women from the town. Mrs Susana Beckford was one; she was the legitimate and approved supplier of ships ironwork to Deptford and Woolwich yards and was a business woman of some acumen.

Susan Beckford. Image: Richard Ensor

Susana Beckford negotiating with the Shipwrights of Deptford Yard. Author’s Image (Richard Ensor)

On 3 September 1677, John Shish, the Master Shipwright had typical dealings with her. He had few problems handling the workmen but dealing with Susan Beckford was more than he could handle for he wrote to the Navy Board. There is one brass plate lock belonging to His Majesty’s Ship the Greyhound which wants a new key. The lock is very good, but Mrs Beckford refuses to make a new key to the said lock. The reason, as she informs me, is that she hath not a price answerable for such a key which I humbly leave to your Honourables consideration. Mrs Beckford was of course fully aware of the commercial advantage of supplying a new brass plate lock rather than just a key.

Another interesting woman, well known through Pepys’s diary was Mrs Bagwell, a member of the Bagwell family of shipwrights who also lived at Deptford. Owen Bagwell was the Foreman and his son, William, a shipwright and warrant officer was her husband. She unashamedly had an affair with Pepys for the advancement of her husband who eventually became a Master Shipwright.

Such goings on were not particularly unusual in the seventeenth century and Mrs Bagwell was not the only woman in Deptford who enjoyed a frollick. A ballad relating to another woman from the town during the same period survives. Her husband appears to have been a watchman who worked in the Dockyard. Take your time reading it for the seventeenth century English is not always immediately understandable but with a little patience you will find it worthwhile:

The Deptford Frollick; or a Hue and Cry after the Shag-Breeches 

Young women all, both great and small,
That handleth Pot and Pail,
Forsome I hear, and greatly fear,
Do oft play with their tayl. 

One night when blustering winds blew
And busy was the sky
Tho’ I was feeble weak and old,
A watching then went I:
But cruel fate did prove unkind,
My grief did then begin;
And quite contrary to my mind,
At anger he got in. 

Two keys unto my house I had,
As I did think it fit,
But now it makes me almost mad
I had so little wit;
For when a watching I was gone;
A wanton licentious man
Unknown to me got in. 

Into the bed straightway he went,
And hugg’d my loving Wife,
Who used to give me hearts content,
I loved her as my life,
And grieve to think she should commit,
So foul and grosse a sin,
And let him do what was not fit,
When she had let him in. 

As they in sweet embraces lay
I chanced to return,
And spoiled the game which they did play,
For which my wife did inform
She told me she was wonderous ill,
And thus she did begin
With shrieks & groans she made her moans
Cause she let him in.

I willing was to go to bed
And off my breeches threw
She told me she was almost dead,
And knew not what to do:
Dear love (quoth she) a cordial get,
My pains, my pains afresh began:
I little thought she was so naught
To let another in. 

Away went I most willingly
For my dear spouses sake
A pair of breeches on put I
Which proved a mistake;
I to the Apothecaries went
Thinking her love to win.
A cordial made I asked to have,
Not thinking who got in. 

A cordial was prepared for me
Then thus I did reply:
At present I cannot pay thee
But yet assuredly
Tomorrow I will come and pay:
My pocket I felt in,
And there behold was store of Gold
The youngster had brought in.
The Apothecary he did know
The breeches I had on,
And then he said full well he knew
The things I stared upon
How I by these Shag-Breeches came:
to pause then did begin
At last thought I assuredly
She let some Gallant in. 

Away went I most furiously
This trick to think upon;
But when I came with grief and shame
The youngster he was gone
I had his watch and money to
And I the things did win
But I am mad and monstrous sad
That she had let him in.

Take warning, all both great and small
In women ne’r confide
For some pretend to their lives end
They constant will abide
Past all relief unto my grief,
I know they are prone to sin
And when you’re gone some other men
Sometimes may happen in.

Richard Endsor is a former engineer who has been devoted to researching 17th century ships and shipbuilding practice. He is also a Maritime artist and is working on the project to build a full size replica of Lenox at Deptford. He is the author of The Restoration Warship.

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