Here lyes interred ye body
of BAPTIST MAY Esq. Privy
Purse to his Ma..tie KING CHARLES
the second, who departed
this life ye second of March
1696 Aged 69.
The large black marble ledger on the pavement of the Rutland Chantry in St George’s Chapel marks the last resting place of one of the most fascinating personalities of the Restoration era.
Baptist May, the son of a privy councillor, first entered royal service in 1648 as one of the Duke of York’s pages and from 1662 to 1665 was a groom in the Duke’s bedchamber. At the Restoration he was part of the libertine element at Charles II’s court. His appointment in 1665 to the office of Keeper of the Privy Purse, an office he was to hold for the rest of Charles II’s reign, was probably due to the influence of Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, who had an interest in ensuring payments should reliably be paid to her.
May was a trusted servant who enjoyed Charles II’s friendship. The king found him amusing although May’s tactless comments, as for instance when he welcomed the Great Fire as making the City easier to control, shocked even the king. May also meddled in high politics. In 1670, having been elected MP for Midhurst, he tried to introduce a bill to enable the king to divorce his childless wife. Eleven years later he supported a bill to exclude from the succession James, Duke of York, who had become a Roman Catholic, and, shortly before Charles II’s death in 1685, he plotted with Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth, and with York’s other enemies at court to have the Duke sent back to Scotland.
Bishop Burnet, whose History of my own time is a major source for this period, wrote that May had
“……the greatest and largest share in the King’s secret confidence of any man in that time, for it was never broken off though often shaken, he being against everything that the King was for, both France, popery, and arbitrary government, but a particular sympathy of temper, and his serving the King in his vices created a confidence much envied and often attempted to be broke, but never with any success beyond a short coldness.”
May ceased to be Keeper of the Privy Purse at the accession of James II but continued to be Ranger of Windsor Great Park, an office he had held since 1671, and he continued to use as his main country seat the Great Lodge now known as Cumberland Lodge. He was MP for Thetford in the first parliament of William and Mary’s reign and died in 1697.
Jill Hume, Archives Volunteer