Charles II returned from exile in France in 1660 to claim the English throne. He brought with him his father’s bedchamber servants and a penchant for French bedchamber ceremony and rituals. He introduced the ceremonies which were to become a feature of the bedchamber for the next 100 years. These were the lever and coucher – the morning and evening dressing and putting to bed ceremonies.
Charles was a savvy ruler and was able to maintain his power through political astuteness, and a secret pension from the French king. However, despite his love of public spectacle, he never quite went as far as introducing the French ritual of going to the toilet in the bedchamber in front of an audience of courtiers.
James II’s short three-year reign ended following the birth of his son James Frederick Stuart – baby James represented James II’s desire for England to be a Catholic country, something Parliament were staunchly against. One of the beds you will see in the exhibition is a testament to the birth of baby James. His mother, Mary of Modena, was accused of giving birth to a stillborn child and smuggling an alternative baby into the bedchamber in a warming pan – a hot water bottle.
William III and Mary II
Upon James II’s abdication from the throne, Parliament invited protestant Dutchman William of Orange, who was married to James II’s eldest daughter Mary, to take the English throne and reign jointly. William was a relatively shy monarch, though he understood the importance of bedchamber servants and rituals.
The throne passed to Mary’s sister Anne upon William’s death. Anne became queen in her own right and the rituals and ceremonies of the bedchamber had to be adjusted accordingly as Queens were not allowed to receive men into the bedchamber. As an alternative to receiving visitors in the bedchamber, Anne held Drawing Rooms where courtiers and politicians could petition her. However, by the time Anne became Queen her health was very poor and she was often bedridden and so protocol had to be changed so that she could receive important visitors in the bedchamber.
When Anne died without any heirs the throne passed to Hanoverian George I, her nearest Protestant relative. George was not keen on the ceremony and ritual of the bedchamber and preferred to surround himself with German friends and politicians. However, Parliament dictated that he was only allowed to appoint a limited number of German bedchamber staff. Instead George preferred his personal Turkish servants Mustafa and Muhammet to attend him – who were somewhat resented by the court.
In contrast to his father, George II and his wife Queen Caroline embraced the rituals of the bedchamber and court life far more enthusiastically. In one last hurrah before bedchamber rituals ceased, George and Caroline held a full complement of bedchamber staff and, in keeping with tradition, George kept a mistress picked from Queen Caroline’s Ladies of the Bedchamber.
By the time George III acceded throne politics had moved out of the bedchamber and into parliament. The lever followed suit and was held in the drawing room, a tradition that continued until the 1930’s.