I spent some time on my back this weekend contemplating a ceiling. Before you jump to any hasty conclusions, I have not taken up the oldest profession in the world, but was lying on a beanbag staring at the stunning ceilings of the Banqueting House in London, scene of King Charles’ I execution in 1649. The panels, painted by Rubens, and extolling the virtues of kingship, cost £3000 – a fortune in the seventeenth century – and were classic examples of the extravagant spending that contributed to the Stuart King’s downfall. Of course it was the troubled reign of King Charles I that provided the setting for Fair Game and I could hardly write it without getting to know him a little. For that reason, the visit to the Banqueting House was a very personal experience, and quite moving, particularly in the knowledge that King Charles had entertained so richly there during his reign, prized it enough to set jewel-like paintings in its ceilings, only to return in disgrace; a defeated king, condemned to die where he had once celebrated the glory of his kingship.
His father, King James I, features a lot in my upcoming novel, A Feminine Crime and he’s quite a character. The successor to Queen Elizabeth I, already King of Scotland, James was the monarch to combine the English and Scottish thrones. Son of the murdered Lord Darnley and Mary Queen of Scots, he was immersed in drama from the day he was conceived. He was only a few months old when his mother was forced to abdicate. She fled Scotland only to be imprisoned by her English cousin, Elizabeth and James never saw her again. Mary died on the block at Fotheringhay Castle, nineteen years later. Scotland was a violent country, with several families vying for power and, during his lonely childhood, James saw several of his regents murdered. He was himself kidnapped. This had a profound effect on him, giving a morbid fear of assassination. Although weapons were banned in his presence, he was known to flinch at every sudden movement or loud noise, and he always wore a padded waistcoat under his clothes. He craved friends and company and gravitated towards ‘beautiful people’. A copious drinker, he was known for sloppy eating habits and an uncouth sense of humour. It has been suggested he was homosexual due to his habit of kissing and fondling his ‘favourites’, handsome young men for the most part, in public, but it’s my belief he was starved of affection as a child and admired those that had the looks and grace he lacked. These character traits, along with his, famously decadent court, made him a fascinating character to write about. It was perhaps his belief in the divine right of kings to rule, celebrated by the Rubens paintings, that set in motion the events that would lead his son into Civil war.