A Man of Spotless Integrity: The Life and Legacy of the Lost Lord Keeper of the King’s Great Seal (Part II of III)

In this second part of the article submitted for publication in the 2018 Annual Bulletin of the Société Jersiaise, Richard Lane rises quickly in the king’s service amid dire circumstances in the wartime capitol of Oxford.

The rise of Lane and the fall of Oxford

In 1643 Oxford, Richard Lane’s career quickly became meteoric.  Shortly after his arrival, he was knighted for his loyalty to the crown. Over the next two years, he was appointed Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer Court and received two degrees from Oxford, including a Doctorate of Civil Law. [11] When the royalist cause began its final, steady decline in January 1645, Lane was appointed one of the king’s commissioners attempting to reach a negotiated peace at the unsuccessful Uxbridge Treaty negotiations.

Lane’s career achieved a remarkable pinnacle when Lord Keeper Littleton died in late summer of that year. With the adamant approval of his council, King Charles I appointed his Lord Baron of the Exchequer Court, Sir Richard Lane, to be his new Lord Keeper of the Great Seal—a position that also made him the first Lord of the King’s Privy Council. [12]

A portrait of Lane in his new role was commissioned to be painted by the royalist artist Daniel Mytens. This 1645 portrait (which is now seemingly lost) is known to have survived until at least 1886. [13] A recently discovered photograph of this portrait of Lord Keeper Lane offers a fascinating insight into the realities of that harrowing time.  Rather than appearing in the elaborate ornamental robes of that esteemed office, Richard Lane is depicted wearing the simple black robe and white collar of a judge–in stark contrast to the grandly ornate “purse” of the Great Seal he is holding.

Figure 3 : Left: There was no other known image of Sir Richard Lane before this single 1886 photograph was discovered in early 2018. The “purse” Lord Keeper Richard Lane is holding contains the silver “matrix” (moulds) of the Great Seal and supplies of several colored waxes for authenticating the king’s critical public documents (credit: New York Public Library, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs).
Right: Example of a traditional period portrait of a Lord Keeper featuring Francis North, 1st Baron Guilford in 1682.  This image provides a vivid depiction of the ornate period robes of the Lord Keeper and also of the purse of the Great Seal (credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain).

The decline of the royalist cause reached its conclusion shortly after the third siege of Oxford in May 1646. Following his midnight escape in disguise, King Charles I authorized the Governor and his Privy Council, led by Lane, to negotiate with the Parliamentary Army’s General Fairfax for an honorable surrender of the king’s forces defending Oxford.

In those negotiations, Lord Keeper Richard Lane strenuously negotiated to be allowed to carry away the Great Seal in his charge, but was unsuccessful.  General Fairfax had specific orders to secure the king’s great symbols of state.  Richard Lane was forced to leave the Great Seal (along with the Sword of State and the many lesser court seals) in a chest in the “publik” library (today’s Bodleian Library) in Oxford.  This captured seal was later brought before a gathered parliament where it was shattered under a blacksmith’s hammer, and its fragments handed out as souvenirs.

Thomas Bodley’s chest at Oxford. This famous chest was owned by the founder of the Bodleian Library in Oxford in the early 1600’s. Used by Bodley as his principal strongbox, this chest was used after his death by the library well into the 1700’s, and is the likely repository of the symbols of the monarchy (including the Great Seal) left for General Fairfax as part of the surrender of Oxford in 1645. Photo credit, University of the Third Age (www.u3a.co)

The terms of the surrender Lane negotiated were otherwise generous, preserving the city from destruction and allowing the defenders to depart honorably–armed and under their banners.  Outside the city, the soldiers exchanged their arms and a vow of future non-aggression for passes bearing General Fairfax’s personal guarantee of safety from harm (or even harassment) as they returned to their homes.

The officers of the king’s government were granted six months of protection to make their individual peace with the victorious parliament, or depart the country if they could not. [14]

Although many others would be allowed to “compound” for their estates and freedom following the king’s defeat, Richard Lane’s unyielding loyalty to the crown would not be forgiven.  His petition for pardon was voted down in parliament, forcing him into exile in late 1646.  Accompanied by his only surviving son and namesake, Lord Keeper Richard Lane would never see his wife Margaret, nor his Northampton home, again.

[11] Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxienses (London, 1692) 720.  Regarding his facility with ancient languages, see also: John Wallace, The Reporters (Soule and Dubgee, Boston 1882) 237-238.

[12] John Lord Campbell, The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal, vol 2, 633.

[13] Records of the portrait itself show that it was in the collections of Cambridge in the 1800’s, but disappeared after being exhibited in the 1866 First Special Exhibition of National Portraits in Kensington. Before this single photograph of the portrait (as it hung in the 1866 Exhibition) surfaced in early 2018, no known, verifiable image of Lord Keeper Richard Lane existed.

[14] Bulstrode Whitelocke, Memorials of the English Affairs, 210-213.

‘Anybody thou thinkest will lende’

Over the next few years, many individuals in exile chose to compound and return to England, generally under a heavy fine.  The “holdouts” who remained in the service of Prince Charles generally found themselves in the sorest poverty, writing to borrow money from “…anybody thou thinkest will lende” to sustain themselves. [15]

While the protracted drama of the captured King Charles I played out in England, Prince Charles spent two years in Paris supported by a meager allowance from Louis XIV, before moving to The Hague, Netherlands in 1648.  There, he lived as a guest of his sister Mary and her husband William (Prince of Orange) while his counselors (assembled to manage the brief “Second Civil War” of 1648) found whatever accommodations they could nearby.

Frustrated by years of the imprisoned king’s unwillingness to concede authority, and provoked by the recent rebellions and attacks led by the exiled Prince Charles and his cousin Prince Rupert, parliament shocked the world by executing King Charles I in January 1649.  

Grieving the appalling death of his father, 19-year old Prince Charles nonetheless set himself to the task of establishing his throne in exile, swearing most of his father’s council as his own. [16]  Richard Lane was confirmed as the first Lord Keeper to King Charles II, and a new Great Seal was created and placed in his custody.  Lord Keeper Richard Lane would be the only Lord Keeper to carry this first Great Seal of King Charles II.

[15]Lucy Moore, Lady Fanshawe’s Receipt Book, 162.

[16] Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, The History of the Rebellion (a new selection, edited by Paul Seaward), (Oxford University Press, 2009) 337-338. See also George Warner, The Nicholas Papers, Correspondence of Sir Edward Nicholas, Secretary of State (Camden Society, London, 1886) 124.

The first Great Seal of King Charles II

Historians often refer to the Great Seal of King Charles II, but there were actually four versions–each subtly distinct from its predecessor. The original is known as the “exile seal” of King Charles II, and is extremely rare.

In an article on the history of an important source collection held at the Somerset Archives appears research regarding a surviving “perfect” specimen of this Great Seal at the Somerset Archive.  According to that research, there were only four identified specimens of this original Great Seal of King Charles II in existence (one of which was described as a “shapeless blob of wax”). [17]

Noticing that the Somerset Archives research hadn’t referenced any specimens of this seal in Jersey, an inquiry was undertaken to see if any additional, unrecognized specimens might be found there.  The result of this inquiry is that, indeed, Jersey is host to at least three additional, fully intact copies of this very rare seal! [18]  A compiled table of all such known specimens of this rare Great Seal appears below. Excepting only the 20 May 1650 specimen (which was created weeks after the King’s departure, and 8 days after Lane’s death in Jersey) all of these Great Seals listed in the table below were probably cast by Lord Keeper Richard Lane.

Figure 4 : A 2007 photograph showing the matrix of the (current) Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth II (right). Each matrix is destroyed when its successor is created, so historical versions of the matrix generally do not exist. Photograph credits to Jersey Archives, reference: L/F/99/A/9 (left) and website for the National Records of Scotland (right).
Figure 5 : The rare first Great Seal of King Charles II carried by Lord Keeper Richard Lane. The Latin inscription around the border translates to: “Charles II, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith”. Several key indicators of this specific Great Seal include: the unicorn at the left hand of the seated king in the reverse view is fully facing the monarch (in other seals, it is either facing fully away or looking over its shoulder at the monarch). On the obverse view, note that a lion (a symbol of strength and courage) appears under the horse instead of the dog (a symbol of loyalty) that appeared under the horse of King Charles I). Photo credit: history-box.com (Note: This is a substitute image. I am not able to include the original photograph from the article until I obtain permission for its use on this site).

.[17] Anonymous, Walker-Heneage and Button Family and Estate Papers, Coker Court, 12th Century-20th Century (collection history) South West Heritage Trust and Archives: Reference DD\WHb.

[18] An earlier Jersey reference to the rarity of this Great Seal appears in: George Reginald Balleine, All for the King: the Life Story of Sir George Carteret (Société Jersiaise, St. Helier, 1976) 173.  Mirroring the article found at the Southwest Archives (Somerset), this Jersey source described examples of the seal in Jersey, but was unaware of any intact specimens of the rare first Great Seal of King Charles II in England, stating, “only small fragments of this seal exist in England.”  Beyond the three confirmed in the Jersey Archives, a few additional impressions of this rare seal may exist in Jersey, possibly including the St. Ouen’s “manor document” and a 1650 order to sell “Crown Lands” (with sincerest thanks to Jersey’s Jean Trevelen, Linda Romeril and Neil Molyneux for their research assistance in this regard).

Travel to Jersey with the Young King in 1649-50

Freed from the paralyzing necessity of divining the wishes of a distantly imprisoned king, the new council of King Charles II leapt to devising plans of action for restoring him to the throne of England.  Of course, retaking England by force required an army the exiled king did not have, and could not buy.

But there was an opportunity in the weakness of the English Parliament’s control of the kingdoms of Ireland and Scotland. If Charles were able to ascend one of these thrones, he could leverage that kingdom’s army to invade England, potentially swelling the initially undersized forces along the way with the English-royalist sympathizers many believed were waiting for their chance to act.  The King favored this course of action, but there was disagreement in his council. [19]

Finally deciding to pursue the path of a military overthrow via the throne of Ireland, King Charles II activated the agents of rebellion in Ireland before departing The Hague in mid 1649.  Following a brief stop in Paris, he planned to move on to Jersey to gather his fleet and wait for the rebellion in Ireland to mature. Along the way, Charles was informed that despite early achievements, the royalist uprising was not going as well as had been hoped.  Responding quickly, Cromwell’s armies had landed and were viciously reversing the rebellion’s early gains.  By the time the young king stood on Jersey soil again, his hopes in Ireland had been crushed. Scotland was the only remaining hope of the military conquest he sought.

Between September 1649 and February 1650, St. Helier became the temporary “war capitol” of royalist England, with the Elizabeth Castle as its seat. As messengers, envoys, and scattered counselors congregated in Jersey in late 1649, the initial arrival of 300 “guests” in Jersey had swollen to an estimated 500. [20]  Once again, the DeCartaret-led royalist supporters engaged the resources of the island on behalf of the crown. The people of Jersey would again provided board and lodging for the impoverished visitors, some of whom would linger into the Spring of 1650, or beyond.  After years of subsisting on the strained grace of foreign hosts in France and Holland, being back on English soil and basking in the hospitality of their countrymen must have been exhilarating for the exiles.

The most important business occupying the king and his council during this time was planning the negotiations with the Scots in Holland. This planning continued through the Fall of 1649 (as did the debates concerning it).  Richard Lane’s alarm regarding the king’s plans in Scotland seems to have been unmitigated.  As Jean Chevalier noted, he “…had opposed with all his power the King’s departure to treat with the Scotch.” [21]  The king, however, saw no alternative.

[19] George Warner, The Nicholas Papers, Correspondence of Sir Edward Nicholas, Secretary of State (Camden Society, London, 1886) 123-124. It is clear the council of King Charles II was in turmoil, primarily due to the existence of a Paris-aligned faction influenced by the ambitions of the Queen Mother, Henrietta Maria.

[20] Major NVL Rybot, The Islet of St. Helier and Elizabeth Castle, 61-62.

[21] Jean Chevalier, A Chronicle of Events in the Island of Jersey During the Years 1649-1651 – A translation from the French by N. V. L. Rybot (Société Jersiaise, ca 1930) 20.

The End of Richard Lane’s Service

Despite departing with the determined king for Breda, Holland in February 1650, Lord Keeper Lane fell ill, and was unable to travel further.  Suffering from the onset of a debilitating case of bladder stones, Richard Lane made plans to recover in St Malo France before travelling separately to Holland by sea (anticipating it would be easier to bear a sea passage than an overland journey through France). [22] But the relapse of his condition triggered by the short sea journey from Jersey rendered Richard Lane utterly bedridden in St. Malo.

Figure 6 : Richard Lane’s “deathbed” letter to King Charles II from St. Malo.  In this letter, Lord Keeper Richard Lane explains his absence and his grave condition before requesting a position for his only son in the king’s household.  The letter shown is the original of March 19, 1650 from the National Archives in Kew (London). It is overlaid with transcription much assisted by an earlier transcription appearing in the Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, 1650.

Apparently sensing that he might not survive his condition, Lane concentrated on ensuring the career of his only surviving son. Richard Lane the younger was sent to join the king’s party in Breda without his father. Separately, Lane sent a letter to King Charles II requesting that his son be enrolled as a ‘Groom of the Royal Bedchamber’–an officer of king’s personal household. The same day, he sent another letter to his ally and friend, Secretary of State Edward Nicholas, enlisting his support on his son’s behalf. [23] 

This was a desperate sacrifice, as it left Lane trapped bedridden in a foreign land, grappling in agony with his condition. But he was not without friends. When word reached Jersey of the marooned Lord Keeper’s plight, the Duke of York (the future King James II), along with Sir George and Lady DeCartaret sent an “express order” to have him brought back to the Elizabeth Castle where he could be cared for. [24]  

Figure 7 : The signet seal discovered on Sir Richard Lane’s last letter to Secretary of State Sir Edward Nicholas (left) is that of Sir Richard Lane’s original family arms.  The fob or ring that made this seal may be among personal effects buried with Sir Richard Lane under the floor of St. Helier’s Town Church.

Richard Lane’s final letter to Secretary Nicholas (written a month later from the Elizabeth Castle in Jersey) echoed gratitude and relief to be among friends again, writing, “though I have come hither in a very weak condition, I chose rather to adventure that journey in danger of my life than to stay in St. Malo, where I was confident I should perish.”  This April 16 letter concludes in frustration, “…it has been a great grief to me that I have not been able to do my duty to the King as I would have done, but I hope his goodness will consider my necessity…” [25]  On its reverse appears the sentimental notation from Secretary Nicholas that this letter was “My Lord Keeper Lane’s last letter to me.”

Figure 8 : The last recorded words of Lord Keeper Richard Lane, signing his letter to Secretary of State Nicholas from the Elizabeth Castle in Jersey, 16 April 1650.  State Papers collection, National Archives, Kew.

[22] Jean Chevalier, A Chronicle of Events in the Island of Jersey (Rybot Translation) 20.  Also elaborated in Richard Lane’s 19 March 1650 to the king from St, Malo:  Mary Ann Green, Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, 1650 (London, 1876) 612-613.

[23] This request to the king was granted. Richard Lane the younger was one of two Grooms of the Royal Bedchamber to serve King Charles II throughout his entire reign.

[24] Jean Chevalier, A Chronicle of Events in the Island of Jersey (Rybot Translation), 20-21.

[25] Mary Ann Green, Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, 1650 (London, 1876) 612-613.

This article continues:  Part III

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