CHARLES II, letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts

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The exiled Charles II in negotiation with Rome

CHARLES II (1630-1685). King of England.
Fine Autograph Letter Signed in French, to Cardinal Azzolin[o], 1 page 4to with address-leaf bearing a small red wax armorial seal, Anvers, 31 July 1658. Suggesting, on the recomendation of Cardinal de Retz, that the exiled King would not communicate with the Court of Rome regarding 'une affaire d'aussi grande consequence' without taking Azzolino's advice.
A good letter, written at a crucial time in Charles's exile, only a few months before the death of Oliver Cromwell, and throwing light on the controversial question of Charles's supposed conversion to the Roman faith.
It was at one time rumoured that Charles had converted to Catholicism during his exile, and had been received by Cardinal de Retz, but this idea is now discredited. According to Maurice Ashley (Charles II, the Man and the Statesman, 1971):
'... at one stage in the summer of 1658, having suffered disappointments from the Spaniards, Charles actually entered into negotiations with that elusive figure in French history, the exiled Cardinal de Retz, who boasted of his value as an intermediary with the Vatican. Retz thought that Charles was 'very naturally disposed to favour the Catholics of his kingdom', and that in time 'these affections which the King hath for their persons might even pass to their religion'. Charles owed a debt to English Roman Catholics for their help during his escape after the Worcester campaign, while the nucleus of the army that he formed in Flanders was Irish Catholics. ...'
Antonia Fraser (King Charles II, 1979) has this to add:
'... If it took place late in his exile, such a conversion would have been a most dangerous hostage to fortune, at a time when the King was desperately trying to assure the world of his Protestant 'stability'. If it took place earlier on, then, quite apart from the hypocrisy evinced in the correspondence about Harry [his brother], it is strange that the English King never chose to play this card in his dealings with the Catholic Spanish, and the militantly Catholic Don Juan. ...'
Nevertheless it is evident from the content and tone of the present letter that Charles was willing to use both de Retz and Cardinal Azzolino as intermediaries in his dealings, whatever they were, with the Vatican.
'Mon Cousin, Connoissant par reputation vostre merite, et ayant esté informé par mon Cousin de Retz du detail et du particulier de vos bonnes qualites, ie n'ay pas peu me resoudre a avoir une affaire d'aussi grande consequence a la Cour de Rome que celle que ie luy ay confiée, sans vous la communiquer et prendre vostre advis, Je vous pris de m'y obliger et de croire que ie seray tousiours / Mon Cousin / Vostre bien affecionné cousin / Charles R'
[at the foot:] Anvers ce 31 Juillet / 1658'

[No: 20149]

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