'A prince of much and various knowledge, and curious observation' : Charles II's cultural interests through his collecting

Helman, Susannah (2004). 'A prince of much and various knowledge, and curious observation' : Charles II's cultural interests through his collecting PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Helman, Susannah
Thesis Title 'A prince of much and various knowledge, and curious observation' : Charles II's cultural interests through his collecting
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2004
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr. Simon Devereaux
Dr. Rod Fisher
Total pages 361
Collection year 2004
Language eng
Subjects L
430107 History - British
780199 Other
Formatted abstract
This thesis examines evidence for Charles II's collecting with a view to reassessing his tastes and cultural interests. These areas have been little explored and often set aside. This study shows that dismissing Charles II's interests, tastes and collecting is of questionable evidentiary basis. While it does not seek to rehabilitate him into the collector he never was, it is inspired by recent reassessments of his ability as king and increased interest in court studies and the history of collecting. As surviving evidence does not allow for a full reconstruction of his collections, the thesis takes a broader historical approach.

This study argues that Charles IPs cultural interests, tastes and collecting have been unfairly dismissed and that there is much extant evidence which has not been interpreted. It suggests that misinterpretations of Charles II's interests, tastes and collecting stem from ingrained moral and historical prejudices against his intellect and interests. More importantly, it proposes that what underlies this is a misunderstanding of what Charles II was educated to be and what he believed his role was as well as the informal and unsystematised channels of accession to the collection.

It becomes clear that Charles was expected to be, and thought himself, a king as well as a gentleman. His collecting was part of a broader sense of self and a direct manifestation of his interests and tastes. By examining how he participated, expressed interest, pleasure and opinion, a more accurate understanding of the cultural mindset of the king can be gleaned. Although he saw his role as encouraging others, he was obviously a participator and collector, and also an observer, a coordinator of knowledge and an employer of people to administer his collections. This thesis particularly focuses on the administration of his collections and Charles II's interactions with these, as a reflection of his attitudes to his collections.

Incomplete records hinder as well as illumine Charles II's attitude to collecting. Some of Charles II's collecting is unrecorded or inadequately documented. There is a clear distinction between records for the King's private business and well-documented royal household departments. The shady underbelly of Charles II's court extended to Charles's interests, purchases and activities. His most intimate servants, some of whom were responsible for the care of his collections, were probably not required to document their affairs on behalf of the king, or their papers have not survived. This has been a reason why Charles II's collecting has not been studied. Nonetheless, this does not mean that Charles did not collect or that his interests should be neglected. Indeed, various records have been found which although scattered, provide hitherto ignored insights into Charles II's private business, including his collecting.

Particular attention is paid to studying this information against his cultural framework, his education and the influence of others on his cultural life and collecting. His cultural interests are clearly echoed in his collecting of curiosities, paintings and drawings, and his books. All of these display a haphazard approach to collecting but also a degree of determination and opportunism. It becomes obvious that his cultural tastes are easily pinpointed and that contemporaries were not interested in recording his cultural engagement or the depth of his interests. The king was not expected to be knowledgeable and indeed surprise and disapproval was expressed when he was. He was rather a fountain of patronage, a giver of money, honour and position. Little was expected of him apart from an open hand and a quick compliment. As such, his collections were obviously augmented by those who sought to gratify his tastes and interests in order to reap a desired material benefit. Addressing his interests was a sure way to gain his attention.

As a whole, therefore, the thesis argues that under all of these pressures, the king exercised his interests through his collecting surprisingly effectively. He was able to collect in some cases many important works and the credit for these has been mostly denied him. Although he did not make a business of his collections, as had his father and foreign monarchs, his collections are arguably an area which has been unnecessarily and inaccurately overshadowed.
Keyword Charles II, King of Great Britain, 1630-1685

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
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Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 18:23:50 EST