Violence and duelling between exiled courtiers: the case of the Caroline Stuart Court in exile, c. 1649-c. 1660

Violence and duelling between exiled courtiers: the case of the Caroline Stuart Court in exile, c. 1649-c. 1660

Cronin, John J.

History Working Papers Project: Open Peer Review for the Humanities (2012)


It has frequently been noted in the existing historiography on the royalist exile of the 1650s that violent deeds, duels, brawls and other disreputable actions were regular features of relations between the courtiers in Charles II’s Continental Court. In his biography of Charles II, for instance, Ronald Hutton has argued that this was both a prominent and consistent feature of life within the exiled Court. It is certainly true that duelling and fighting were common amongst the members of the various exiled royal households during this decade. It is equally true that questions of honour were the leading cause of these incidents.This was not an especially unique characteristic of this Court. As has been noted in many general studies of all the Stuart royal courts, and not just Charles II’s exiled Court, such questions of honour frequently led to duels and violence amongst their members.

Violence between courtiers also occurred in other exiled courts. Nathalie Rouffiac, in her work on the banished Jacobite household of the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century, has drawn attention to the high levels of violence which existed amongst many of those who were attached to it. She blamed it on the sense of dispossession and powerlessness felt by many of those exiles. Other surveys of early-modern court life, meanwhile, have also highlighted the propensity to violence in all such institutions. This is ascribed to the courts being places where warriors, competitors and rival suitors became concentrated around a prince. In a wider context, then, the tendency of the Stuarts’ exiled courtiers of the 1650s to resort to violence to defend their honour and to resolve tensions is not unusual. In fact, a close comparison of the tendency to violence in the exiled Court with that in other courts would probably serve only to highlight the similarity between this exiled court and other such royal institutions.

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