FITZCHARLES, Charles (c. 1657-80)

FITZCHARLES, Charles (c. 1657–80)

cr. 29 July 1675 (a minor) earl of PLYMOUTH

First sat 8 May 1679; last sat 27 May 1679

b. c. 7 May 1657, s. of Charles II with Catherine (d.1678), da. of Thomas Pegge of Yeldersley, Derbys. and Catherine Kniveton. educ. in Flanders; travelled abroad (France and Holland), 1674–6. m. 19 Sept. 1678, Bridget Osborne (1661–1718), 3rd da. of Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby (later duke of Leeds), s.p. d. 17 Oct. 1680; will none found.

Master of the horse to Queen Catherine, 1678.

Vol. Dutch army 1677; col. 4th Ft. 1680.

Likenesses: mezzotint, by J. Smith, c. 1689-1700, NPG D29514.

Charles Fitzcharles, popularly (and dismissively) known as Don Carlos, was brought up in the Spanish Netherlands by his mother, the daughter of a royalist country squire who subsequently married (c.1667) Sir Edward Green. Apparently ignored by Charles II for much of his early life, Fitzcharles charmed his way into the court and the king’s affections after arriving in England in 1672. For a while it seemed that he had eclipsed his older half-brother, James Scott, duke of Monmouth, in the king’s favour. In October 1672 it was rumoured that he was to be given command of a regiment of foot and an income of £10,000 a year, but rumour proved to be inaccurate. He actually received a pension of just £2,000 a year, a relatively insignificant sum when compared to Monmouth’s £8,000 a year.1 By July 1673, when George Villiers, 2nd duke of Buckingham, wanted to give his mastership of the horse to Fitzcharles, the king was noticeably ‘not so favourable as formerly’ and Buckingham was pressurized to give it to Monmouth instead.2 Fitzcharles had apparently acquired a reputation for idleness, extravagance, and loose morals.3 Such qualities were scarcely out of place at Charles II’s court but subsequent discussions about Fitzcharles’ need for education suggest that he lacked the veneer of aristocratic polish that rendered them acceptable.

Although the letters patent creating Fitzcharles earl of Plymouth were not issued until July 1675, the warrant was issued on 31 Aug. 1674 and the intention was so well known that he and others used the title even before that date.4 At or about this time it was proposed that Plymouth be sent to Cambridge as part of a deal by which his debts would be paid and he would agree to dismiss his Catholic servants.5 An undated draft budget for ‘Lord Plymouth’s establishment at the rate of £4,000 p.a.’ probably also belongs to these negotiations. Instead of enrolling at Cambridge, Plymouth embarked on a period of foreign travel in which he was accompanied by Robert Paston, the son of Robert Paston, Viscount (later earl of) Yarmouth.6 His surviving letters make veiled references to his ‘enemies’ and to ‘those disgraces that malice itself dares threaten me with’, and demonstrate that he had become very dependent on the earl of Danby’s friendship and support to overcome jealousies at court. Some found Plymouth to be a likeable young man: Robert Spencer, 2nd earl of Sunderland, for example, declared that ‘I am confident everybody that is not prepossessed with malice, prejudice and ignorance will grow to like him more as they grow to know him better.’7 It may be that Plymouth genuinely did have enemies at court and that his absence abroad freed his enemies to represent his actions in the worst possible light. In January 1677, while on his way back to England, he was reported to have been ‘wholly in fault’ in initiating a quarrel with Francis Seymour, 5th duke of Somerset, and to have provoked Charles II to declare that ‘he shall make him know he hath no rank but what he has given him’.8

In the summer of 1677 Plymouth went to serve at the siege of Charleroi but his departure was delayed until his inability to afford a suitable equipage was eased by an infusion of an additional £5,000 from the king.9 His military service seems to have been used as a cover for diplomatic activities, for he, together with Christopher Monck, 2nd duke of Albemarle, and Thomas Butler, earl of Ossory [I] (Baron Butler of Moore Park in the English peerage), was involved in negotiations on behalf of Charles II with William of Orange.10 By the summer of 1678, when Danby had won a temporary victory over Ralph Montagu, the future duke of Montagu, Plymouth was clearly back in favour. His impending marriage to Bridget Osborne was already well known, and there were rumours that he would be made master of the wardrobe and vice-treasurer of Ireland and be promoted to a dukedom.11 Ossory suspected him of being behind a proposal that Henry Jermyn, earl of St Albans, buy the office of lord steward from Ossory’s father, James Butler, duke of Ormond.12 Although the rumours proved to be unfounded, Plymouth was appointed master of the horse to the queen and was spoken of as possessing ‘admirable endowments’. A passing reference in a letter from Danby to Sunderland not only mentioned Plymouth’s friendship for Sunderland but stressed his reliability and loyalty.13

Plymouth was noted as being under age at a call of the House on 16 Feb. 1678. He took his seat on 8 May 1679, in the second session of the first Exclusion Parliament, in consequence of a writ of summons dated 7 May 1678, which was probably his 21st birthday. He then attended every remaining day of the session, just under 30 per cent of the whole. Despite his close relationship with Danby, it is far from clear whether he supported his father-in-law. In April 1679 he referred, without explanation, to the displeasure of Lady Danby, who blamed him for contriving Danby’s ruin.14 Danby’s own canvassing lists do not include Plymouth as they were drawn up in March and April 1679, before Plymouth had been summoned to Parliament. On 10 May Plymouth voted, alongside several of his father-in-law’s opponents and just a handful of his supporters, in favour of appointing a joint committee of both Houses to consider the method of proceeding against the impeached lords and entered a formal dissent when the vote was lost.15 On 27 May he probably voted for the right of the bishops to stay in the House during capital cases.

Although the fall of Danby threatened to damage Plymouth’s career at court, it soon seemed likely that this would be more than offset by the effects of Monmouth’s fall from favour. In December 1679 Plymouth was tipped to become master of the horse in Monmouth’s place.16 However, he did not live to find out whether his change of fortune would prove to be permanent. In the summer of 1680 he was appointed colonel of a new regiment formed for the defence of the beleaguered city of Tangier. His service there was distinguished but brief. In September he contracted a ‘bloody flux’ (probably dysentery), of which he died a month later. His widow married her chaplain, Philip Bisse, later successively bishop of St Davids and of Hereford in 1704. At Plymouth’s death the peerage became extinct but it was recreated for Thomas Windsor alias Hickman, just two years later.


  • 1 Eg. 3351, ff. 89, 166–7.
  • 2 HMC 7th Rep. 491.
  • 3 HMC 6th Rep. 388; HMC Leeds, 18.
  • 4 CTB, 1685-9, p. 1147; HMC Hastings, ii. 165; CSP Dom. 1673–5, p. 343; Eg. 3328, f. 126.
  • 5 Eg. 3331, ff. 128, 106.
  • 6 HP Commons, 1660–90, iii. 212.
  • 7 Eg. 3328, f. 126; 3329, f. 43; 3330, f. 11; 3338, ff. 109–10.
  • 8 HMC Rutland, ii. 35; Browning, Danby, ii. 259.
  • 9 Bodl. Carte 79, f. 112.
  • 10 HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 65.
  • 11 Ibid. iv. 442, 443; Add 29572, f. 10.
  • 12 HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 225.
  • 13 Browning, Danby, i. 287, 289 and n. 2; ii. 527.
  • 14 Add. 28050, f. 9.
  • 15 Bodl. Carte 103, f. 270.
  • 16 HMC 7th Rep. 477–8.