The Strange Case of King Charles I’s Hidden ‘Daughter’
One of the great delights of writing this blog, of having a website, and of being moderately active on Twitter, is that I sometimes gets really interesting feedback from those who follow me. Last week’s post, for example, brought a reply from Steve Mercer of the Grimsby Wargames Society, who are already well advanced in planning a detailed reconstruction of the great Four Days Battle of 1666 – the subject of the fifth Quinton novel, The Battle of All The Ages – to mark the 350th anniversary in June next year. It’s great to hear that, and really appropriate, too, given the strategic importance of the Humber estuary during the Anglo-Dutch wars. Back in October of last year, I also heard from Michael Lowe, who’d picked up on a statement I made in a previous post about Joanna Bridges, a possible illegitimate daughter of King Charles I (and Michael’s direct ancestor). Her story provided the inspiration for one of the storylines in the third novel, The Blast That Tears The Skies, where one of the characters (which is about as spoiler-free as I can make this…) is similarly an illegitimate child of the King. I picked up this idea from Joanna’s story, which forms a very odd footnote in the histories of both the British Civil Wars and my home county, Carmarthenshire. So, somewhat belatedly, here’s the curious tale of Joanna Bridges, Michael’s ancestor.
Famously, Charles I’s attitude to sexual morality was very different to that of his two sons, who racked up the grand total of some sixteen or seventeen illegitimate children between them. But this very much reflected the situation after Charles’ marriage, when he and Queen Henrietta Maria became devoted to each other. His behaviour as Prince of Wales, and in his first years as King, was not necessarily quite so conventional – or, as one of the 19th century sources used for this blog put it, he was led astray ‘under the guidance of the dissipated and licentious [Duke of] Buckingham’. If he really had an illegitimate child, its birth almost certainly took place during a period in the 1620s, probably between c.1622 and c.1627. According to the legend of her paternity, Joanna Bridges was the child of Charles and the Duchess of Lennox, who was then raised ‘in much privacy’ in Wales, growing into a young woman who ‘both in circumstance and disposition…displayed a striking resemblance to her unfortunate father’. The only Bridges family of gentry status in Wales seems to have lived in Radnorshire, and that may have been where Joanna was brought up.
There is some evidence to support the otherwise very unlikely theory. The thrice-married Frances, Duchess of Lennox, was a prominent member of the circle around Buckingham and Charles when the latter was Prince of Wales; her husband Ludovic, a cousin of the Prince and of his father King James, had actually been the heir to the Scottish throne for some twenty years, and he plays a very prominent part in my book Blood of Kings: the Stuarts, the Ruthvens and the ‘Gowrie Conspiracy’. Although she was in her forties, it’s quite conceivable that the Duchess might have had a ‘Mrs Robinson’ affair with the young Prince, and Pauline Gregg, Charles’ biographer, documents the fact that the latter presented the Duchess with a chain of diamonds valued at over £3000 – although the latter was actually a gift from King James, who also seems to have been a target for the Duchess’ affections. (She had serious ‘form’ when it came to winning much older men – her second husband, forty years her senior, was Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, a nephew of Henry VIII’s Queen Jane Seymour.)
Further circumstantial evidence is provided by Joanna’s marriage, at some point in the mid-1650s, to Dr Jeremy Taylor, a prominent Anglican clergyman and religious writer who had served as a chaplain to King Charles I’s court at Oxford. Taylor was in Wales by the beginning of 1645, when he was in Lord Gerard’s force that was defeated at Cardigan Castle, and he then became a schoolteacher at Llanfihangel Aberbythych in the Tywi valley. This was almost immediately adjacent to Golden Grove, the home of the influential Vaughan family and its head, the Earl of Carbery, one of the most prominent Royalists in south Wales. Taylor soon became chaplain to Carbery and remained in west Wales for ten years or thereabouts. This explains his meeting with, and eventual marriage to, Joanna Bridges – she owned a small estate at Mandinam, a little further up the Tywi valley (possibly a telling fact in itself). But the most curious, and telling, connection of all is recounted by Pauline Gregg in her biography of King Charles. Following his defeat by Parliament, Charles was imprisoned at Hampton Court from August to November 1647. Taylor was among those who attended him there, and as Gregg records, ‘Charles gave Taylor a ring with two diamonds and a ruby, a watch, and a few pearls and rubies which ornamented the ebony case in which he kept his bible. There was no reason why he should give these to Taylor unless they were to pass on to Joanna Bridges…’
The couple married at some point between 1652 and 1656, had two children, and moved to Ireland, where Taylor became Bishop of Down and Connor; he died in August 1667. The date of Joanna’s death is unknown, but her eponymous daughter still owned Mandinam in 1707. The house still exists, and now provides holiday accommodation. Perhaps one day I’ll carry out more intensive research into the legend of Joanna Bridges – and of course, that would provide an ideal excuse to go and stay at her former home!