Cider Musings

George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and Lord Scudamore in C17th Century English Politics

In Seventeenth Century England the Kind was God’s appointed instrument of justice and Governance on Earth. This held through the reigns of James I and Charles 1 ( well until his death!). Parliament was quite subservient if a little bolshy. On the Restoration this power relationship was made more neutral.

Favours and appointments flowed from the King’s largesse by inheritance or in recognition of good works or good looks. George Villiers was one such for the latter reason. Handsome and in the right place at the right time to capitalise on this with aid of other interest groups.

He became a courtier, statesman, and patron of the arts. He became the last favourite and possibly also a lover of King James 1st. He remained at the height of royal favour for the first three years of the reign of James's son, King Charles 1,  until a disgruntled army officer assassinated him in 1628. 

Villiers was born in Leicestershire, on 28 August 1592, the son of the minor gentleman. His mother educated George for a courtier's life.

Villiers took to the training set by his mother: he could dance and fence well, spoke a little French, and overall became an excellent student. He was  declared by some as  "the handsomest-bodied man in all of England”. In August 1614, at age twenty-one, Villiers caught the eye of King  James 1st at a hunt. Opponents of the king's then favourite Earl of Somerset, saw an opportunity to displace Somerset and began promoting Villiers, and intense lobbying secured his appointment as Royal Cup bearer, a position that allowed him to make conversation with the king. Villiers began to appear as a dancer in masques from 1615, in which he could exhibit his grace of movement and beauty of body.

Under the king's patronage Villiers advanced rapidly through the ranks of the nobility, and his court appointments grew in importance. In 1615 he was knighted as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. In 1616, when he became the King's Master of the Horse, he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Whaddon, Viscount Villiers , and made a Knight of the Garter. The next year he was made Earl, and in 1618 promoted Marquess of Buckingham, then finally in 1623 the Duke of Buckingham a title which was recreated for him . Villiers' new rank allowed him to dance side by side with the royal heir Charles 1st, with whom his friendship developed through his tutoring of the prince in dance.

Until James I died in 1625, Buckingham was the king's constant companion and closest advisor, enjoying control of all royal patronage. Buckingham used his influence to prodigiously enrich his relatives and advance their social positions, which soured most of the gentry’s opinion towards him.

In his rise to power, Buckingham became connected with the philosopher scientific thinker Francis Bacon who established England’s progressive scientific thinking which amongst other things lead to the Royal Society and cider making.  With Buckingham's support, Bacon was appointed Lord Chancellor  in 1618.  Following an investigation by Parliament into royal grants of monopoly, financial peculation and corrupt officials, Bacon was convicted of corruption and forced into retirement. Neither Buckingham nor the King attempted to intervene on Bacon's behalf. Many of Buckingham's contemporaries believed he had sacrificed Bacon to save himself from Parliamentary scrutiny, as he had been liberally spending public funds and accepting gifts and bribes. 

In 1623 Buckingham, now Lord Admiral and effective Foreign Minister, accompanied Charles 1st, then Prince of Wales, to Spain for marriage negotiations regarding the Infanta Maria. The negotiations had long been stuck, but it is believed that Buckingham's crassness was key to the total collapse of agreement.  The Spanish ambassador asked Parliament to have Buckingham executed for his behaviour in Madrid, but Buckingham gained popularity by calling for war with Spain on his return.

He headed further marriage negotiations, but when, in December 1624, the betrothal to Catholic Henrietta Maria  of France was announced, the choice  was widely condemned.  Whilst the King’s favourite Buckingham was secure and despite shambles in foreign and military affairs his relationship with Charles 1st secured him continuing support when the latter became King. During the course of the duke's incompetent leadership, Parliament had twice attempted to impeach him. The king had rescued him by dissolving Parliament both times. The duke ‘reign’ was finally brought to an end by being stabbed to death, on 23 August 1628, at the Greyhound Pub in Portsmouth by John Felton  an army officer who had been wounded in the earlier failed military adventure; and believed he had been passed over for promotion by Buckingham. Buckingham  had gone to Portsmouth organise yet another campaign, after failures of several against foreign powers particularly Spain. According to an eye-witness account, he lived just long enough to jump up, shouting "Villain!" and making to chase after his assailant, but then fell down dead. 


Scudamore at first was not associated with Buckingham as he was based in Herefordshire well away from this Courtly activity. Scudamore family was the premier family of Herefordshire in position and wealth. An old family with an illustrious long history. John Scudamore had this position through his father James and grandfather. His father was an usher at the Court of Elizabeth I and a successful sailor and soldier. He was also cultured man and patron of literature, Scudamore was a great friend of scholar Thomas Bodley, and contributed to the founding of the Bodeian Library at Oxford

Sir James hosted such cultural figures as Bodley, scientist John Dee, the polymath Samuel Hartlib and the mathematician Thomas Allen. However Scudamore has aspirations to join the Royal circle. Scudamore raised a private horse troop to support the King as was common in those days. Buckingham and many others did. He was not backwards in letting Charles 1 know of this. He was one of a group of like minded gentry who rented land off the Dean of Westminster to exercise the horses. Robert Palmer a distant relative of Scudamore served in the bedchamber and at Charles table and mentioned this to Charles, bypassing Buckingham’s increasing stranglehold. William Laud  is friend and religious mentor  who became the Archbishop of Canterbury was another Scudamore used to achieve preferment but often to no avail in secular matters especially whilst Buckingham prevailed as Charle’s closest advisor (After Buckingham's death it was probably Laud who obtained Scudamore he Ambassadorship). 

However Buckingham also affected the power structure in Herefordshire by buying the manor of Leominster from the crown in 1620 and its influence over the parliamentary seats. 2 local gentry that previously had been in Scudamore’s fold, Robert Hartley and Walter Pye both distant relatives joined the Buckingham camp and ousted Scudamore from his county seat for the first time since 1572. 

This was one reason Scudamore felt he was better placed in Court.

He had  plenty of ambition. However there was quite a difference between having  standing in the rural seats and  Court. Sir Robert Hartley his processor as MP for Hereford was warned “two dangerous temptations between which you now stand viz. the applause of prince and people”.  Scudamore found promotion slow and difficult with only minor access to the King’s ear. 

It was not till 1625 Scudamore realised his fortunes were definitely in decline unless he aligned himself to Buckingham. He sent horses for Buckingham’s expedition to La Rochelle  protestants ( despite his deeply Laudism feelings) . He gifted some of his prized cider to Buckingham. 

Sadly this new advocate in Court was short lived Scudamore was with Buckingham in in Portsmouth when he was assassinated in 1628.

Scudamore never progressed further at Court. It was only in the aftermath of new relationships at Court that Laud managed to get Scudamore the Ambassadorship. This was the peak of his career and sadly he was well out of his depth. Ambassadors were the personal representatives of the sovereigns. Countries relations were those of sovereigns. The ambassador needed to be wealthy and project the image of his monarch. And had to operate in the rules set by diplomacy and the monarch ( Charles’ wife Henrietta Maria had a seperate agenda) Charles’ foreign policy was confused. Some would say had none. To project wealth Scudamore would host receptions and it is thought the famous Scudamore flutes were for this , serving the best ciders and wine.

Sadly for Scudamore this was too much for him. He followed the orders including not talking to Richelieu due to religious differences which left him out of the action. Richelieu being King Louis XIII foreign Minister! And also Charles instructions to basically stymy negotiations in the hope that English Spanish relations would improve and solve the major European problem of the time, the Palantine lands. So at Scudamore’s arrival in France, he was “Laden with complaints” However his later appointed co-ambassador has nor qualms about being more creative with his instructions and ran rings around the dutiful Scudamore. All this aided by a personal dislike between the two esp. over religion. Scudamore had the backing of Charles to begin with but soon became irrelevant. 


Sadly though his own faults and circumstances Scudamore did not reach his potential. If he had sided with Buckingham earlier the story may be different. Perhaps not he did not have the skills to operate effectively at Court or internationally. However his return to local Herefordshire politics and living helped us as he  more time to devote to cider glass bottles and storing it in cellars or wells to keep dark and cool. 

The civil war was a further major hindrance to his career as being an ardent Royalist he endured lengthy forced detainment in London. 

On return to Herefordshire again he devoted his time to local politics. God, Cider and Cattle.