Undergraduate History Research: From Royal to Clever Bastards

Eastern Illinois University History Department undergraduate and graduate of Charleston High School, John Bays, recently presented a poster at the Showcase EIU in March and then delivered a paper at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at Eastern Washington University near Spokane in April on an intriguing group of courtiers.

John Bays at the Honors College's EIU Showcase in March

John Bays presenting at the Honors College’s EIU Showcase in March

This week John will be graduating with Departmental Honors after successfully completing his thesis on the political and cultural roles of the royal mistresses and natural sons of King Charles II at the English late-17th century court. Along the way, John received an Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (URSCA) award from Eastern to research this subject, traveling with his thesis advisor, Dr. Newton Key, to both the Rare Book Room at the University of Illinois Library and especially the Newberry Library in Chicago to read rare material from the 17th century as well as genealogical information on the bastards and their mothers. Rather than being ignored, the illegitimate sons were used by the king as part of the magnificence of his court, receiving honors and positions. Younger sons proved remarkably adept at surviving at court past the Revolution after their father’s death, and even into the Hanoverian era.

John began his interest in things historical in courses taught by Matt Schubert at Charleston High School. He was quite interested in the Tudor Court, but moved studying to late-17th century Stuart Court when Dr. Key suggested this subject. It takes a while to decipher the meaning of status and ceremony at courts, but John enjoyed going through “the process of becoming a real historian.” He especially liked the chance to present the material at the Honors Showcase and then at NCUR. NCUR found him in a session with gender and literary studies, where fielding “lots of questions” was “a really good experience.” Writing the thesis, John added, is a good “springboard to graduate school,” and he enters the M.A. program in History at Eastern in the Fall.

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