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Charles The First’s Love Of The Fine Arts
by [?]

Herbert, the faithful attendant of Charles the First during the two last years of the king’s life, mentions “a diamond seal with the king’s arms engraved on it.” The history of this “diamond seal” is remarkable; and seems to have been recovered by the conjectural sagacity of Warburton, who never exercised his favourite talent with greater felicity. The curious passage I transcribe may be found in a manuscript letter to Dr. Birch.

“If you have read Herbert’s account of the last days of Charles the First’s life, you must remember he tells a story of a diamond seal, with the arms of England cut into it. This, King Charles ordered to be given, I think, to the prince. I suppose you don’t know what became of this seal, but would be surprised to find it afterwards in the Court of Persia. Yet there Tavernier certainly carried it, and offered it for sale, as I certainly collect from these words of vol. i. p. 541.–‘Me souvenant de ce qui etoit arrive au Chevalier de Reville,’ etc. He tells us he told the prime minister what was engraved on the diamond was the arms of a prince of Europe, but, says he, I would not be more particular, remembering the case of Reville. Reville’s case was this: he came to seek employment under the Sophy, who asked him ‘where he had served?’ He said ‘in England under Charles the First, and that he was a captain in his guards.’–‘Why did you leave his service?’ ‘He was murdered by cruel rebels.’–‘And how had you the impudence,’ says the Sophy, ‘to survive him?’ And so disgraced him. Now Tavernier was afraid, if he had said the arms of England had been on the seal, that they would have occasioned the inquiry into the old story. You will ask how Tavernier got this seal? I suppose that the prince, in his necessities, sold it to Tavernier, who was at Paris when the English court was there. What made me recollect Herbert’s account on reading this, was the singularity of an impress cut on the diamond, which Tavernier represents as a most extraordinary rarity. Charles the First was a great virtuoso, and delighted particularly in sculpture and painting.”

This is an instance of conjectural evidence, where an historical fact seems established on no other authority than the ingenuity of a student, exercised in his library, on a private and secret event, a century after it had occurred. The diamond seal of Charles the First may yet be discovered in the treasures of the Persian sovereign.

Warburton, who had ranged with keen delight through the age of Charles the First, the noblest and the most humiliating in our own history, and in that of the world, perpetually instructive, has justly observed the king’s passion for the fine arts. It was indeed such, that had the reign of Charles the First proved prosperous, that sovereign about 1640 would have anticipated those tastes, and even that enthusiasm, which are still almost foreign to the nation.

The mind of Charles the First was moulded by the Graces. His favourite Buckingham was probably a greater favourite for those congenial tastes, and the frequent exhibition of those splendid masques and entertainments, which combined all the picture of ballet dances with the voice of music; the charms of the verse of Jonson, the scenic machinery of Inigo Jones, and the variety of fanciful devices of Gerbier, the duke’s architect, the bosom friend of Rubens.[188] There was a costly magnificence in the fetes at York House, the residence of Buckingham, of which few but curious researchers are aware: they eclipsed the splendour of the French Court; for Bassompiere, in one of his despatches, declares he had never witnessed a similar magnificence. He describes the vaulted apartments, the ballets at supper, which were proceeding between the services with various representations, theatrical changes, and those of the tables, and the music; the duke’s own contrivance, to prevent the inconvenience of pressure, by having a turning door made like that of the monasteries, which admitted only one person at a time. The following extract from a manuscript letter of the time conveys a lively account of one of those fetes.