Documents relating to the Duke of Buckingham, 1627
(Catalogue ref: SP 16/68/52, SP 16/68/54, SP 16/67/53)
These are extracts from the State Papers of Charles I. The documents concern George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.
By the early 1600s it was impossible for monarchs to look after every detail of government personally. Most relied on trusted allies to help them run the government. These officials usually came from important and powerful families.
The first two extracts are official documents that show how Charles gave various powerful positions to Buckingham.
(The third extract is a private letter to Nicholas Windebanke, Secretary of State, from a man in Buckingham’s household. We’ve included it just because it shows how different court life was in those days compared with modern times.)
Villiers (usually known as Buckingham) was Charles’s closest friend and political ally in the earliest years of his rule. Charles trusted him with many important posts.
Important posts in the government brought a lot of honour and prestige. They usually brought wealth and power as well. Important posts allowed you to appoint your own family members and friends to other positions (often in return for a fee). There was a lot of competition for the top jobs in the government. The great families expected to get a share of important positions in return for serving the king loyally.
James I had always been clever at giving different government posts to members of different groups or families. He tried to keep the political nation happy this way. Charles I was less skilled at spreading top jobs among different rival groups. He gave enormous power and influence to Buckingham.
Under James I it was relatively easy for an important noble to meet the king. Under Charles I it became much more difficult. Charles wanted a very formal, ordered court with rigid rules. He could only be seen at certain times. To get an appointment to see Charles, you usually had to go through Buckingham first. His job as first gentleman of His Majesty’s Bedchamber allowed him to control the king’s appointments.
Buckingham used his links to Charles to make himself, his friends and his family wealthy and powerful and exclude other families. Many rivals resented Buckingham. In 1627 many MPs felt that Buckingham was a bad choice to lead the army and navy. He had already led one disastrous expedition to Spain in September 1625. Charles refused to listen and Buckingham led his forces to another humiliating defeat in October 1627. Buckingham was later assassinated in August 1628.