Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Friday, January 6, 2017

Jane Whorwood, a Royalist Secret Agent

Jane Ryder Whorwood (House of Commons declares its right to try Charles I of England, 6 January 1649)


An ardent supporter of the Royalist cause, a smuggler and a spy for the English king, Charles I, and, most likely, his lover, Jane Ryder was born in 1612, the daughter of William Ryder, a member of the Scots gentry, and Elizabeth de Bonfyn, originally from Antwerp, a member of Queen Anne of Denmark's court. 

No portrait of Jane Whorwood
survives, but she is said to
have resembled her half sister,
Diana, viscountess Cranborne,
pictured here
After William Ryder's death in 1617, his widow remarried, her new husband another Scots courtier, James Maxwell, a confidant of King James's son and heir, Charles. Jane Ryder and her sister, Anne, were joined by two half sisters, Elizabeth and Diana Maxwell. Nothing is known about her childhood training, but her letters (and later activities) suggest some degree of education. 

In 1634, Jane's family arranged her marriage with Brome Whorwood, heir to an estate near Oxford. The marriage was not a happy one, but it nevertheless produced four children, two of whom survived, Brome and Diana. 

In 1642, as the civil wars began, Brome Whorwood decamped for the continent, leaving his wife and children behind, along with any political allegiances or loyalties. Meanwhile, the royal court relocated to Oxford, and Jane Whorwood, unlike her husband, became an active participant in the civil wars. Using her family's contacts, she smuggled various items for the king--gold as well as more personal items, like Charles's stockings. 

During the 1640s, Whorwood established a network of spies in order to gather needed intelligence for the king, she herself frequently carrying information on behalf of the royalist cause. After the king fled Oxford in 1646, Whorwood continued her efforts on his behalf. Despite the collapse of royalist forces and the capture of the king, she remained true to the his cause. 

As historian John Fox describes her daring role in an attempt in 1648 to help the king escape from custody,
[the king] spent exactly 12 months on Wight, at Carisbrooke Castle, first in open "protection," then under close guard without right of contact. Jane Whorwood brought him intelligence, ran a correspondence network for him to London and Edinburgh, and managed plans for his attempted escapes in March and in May. Both attempts failed, the second stranding Jane in serious danger for 5 weeks in the Medway waiting for the King to join her boat; around her the fleet mutinied and Kent county rose in rebellion. She had smuggled gold and intelligence for him, and her final plan was to smuggle him in person to Holland, but it failed. The Marquis of Hertford paid her a tribute afterwards: "had everyone played their parts like Whorwood, the King would now be free."
Recent scholarship has revealed evidence of the intimate relationship between Whorwood and the king in 1648 while he was in Carisbrooke Castle. In 2007, Sarah Poynting's work on the ciphers Charles used revealed the sexual component of their relationsip. Fox's The King's Smuggler: Jane Whorwood, Secret Agent to Charles I, provides a full account of her efforts on the king's behalf and details their relationshi.

After the king's execution in 1649, Whorwood's life collapsed. She was forced to return to her husband, who had returned to England (bringing his mistress with him), Not only faithless to his king, he was violent and abusive to his wife. Whorwood's mother, Ursula, blamed Jane for her son's violence--none of it would have happened if Jane "had she been a better wife."

Charles Stuart's death warrant

In 1651, Jane Whorwood was herself imprisoned for her efforts on behalf of the king. Once she returned to her husband's household, he confined her too. By 1653 she had left him, returning to the home of her mother, but she returned to her husband, who retained custody of their children. In 1657, after the death of her son, she separated from Whorwood, the two entering into an extended conflict that would last the rest of their lives. 

Here, from James Fox, is yet another example of what "traditional marriage" entailed in the seventeenth century: 
Brome Whorwood became an MP in 1661, just after the couple separated on grounds of her fear of death from his manic violence. She was awarded alimony, only a fraction of which Brome paid, despite repeated orders from the Crown, the Lord Chancellor and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The accounts of the violence, her injuries and her struggle right up to her death to obtain her awarded alimony, are preserved in Lambeth Palace and in State Papers. Brome took up with a servant whom he appointed governess at Holton. He demanded of Jane a 3-way relationship; she fought back, defied the judgement of Charles II and demanded action from sluggish bishops. She stood before the Bar of The Commons to demand member’s privilege (as a spouse); she took Brome before Chancery repeatedly. The neighbours from Holton estate village and staff from the House took her side in and out of court. Stories were still being told in Holton of the horrific violence at the House well into the 19th century, a surviving folk memory within a closed community. She spent much of the period of separation 1659-84 in London.
The battle between the two, husband and wife, ended in 1684, when Brome Whorwood died in April. Jane Whorwood's death followed soon after, in September.

No portrait of Jane Whorwood survives, but she was describedin 1648 by a fellow spy, Anthony Wood (who worked on behalf of parliament) as "a tall, well-fashioned and well-languaged gentlewoman, with a round visage and with pock holes in her face." In 1672, he added that she was "red haired " as well as "exceedingly loyal." She had "understanding," "good judgement," and was "the most loyal to King Charles in his miseries of any woman in England."

In addition to the work of Fox and Poynter, to which I've linked, above, you might also enjoy "Most Loyal in Misery," novelist Jemahl Evans's essay on Jane Whorwood.