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The Busy Love Life of Charles II And His Many Mistresses



Charles II earned the nickname 'The Merry Monarch' not only for his love of wine, song, and music but also for his extensive womanising, surpassing any other British monarch in history in the number of mistresses he kept (that we know of). Despite being married to Catherine of Braganza, a reserved Queen, she chose to overlook her husband's extramarital affairs. Their marriage remained childless, yet Charles fathered more than 11 illegitimate children with 14 mistresses and brief liaisons.


Lucy Walter

Walter was the mistress of Charles II during the tumultuous period of the English Civil War and its aftermath. Born around 1630 in Roch Castle, Wales, Walter's early life remains shrouded in mystery. Little is known about her upbringing, but she is believed to have come from a Royalist family loyal to the Stuart cause.

Walter first crossed paths with Charles II during his exile in Europe following the execution of his father, Charles I, in 1649. Their passionate and tumultuous relationship began during this period, with Walter accompanying the exiled king to various European courts. Despite their intense love affair, Charles's obligations as a prince in exile often kept them apart.


Their union bore a son, James, who was born in 1649. James was recognised by Charles II as his son, although his paternity remained a subject of speculation and controversy. Lucy Walter's influence over Charles II waned over time, particularly as he ascended to the throne and faced increasing pressure to secure political alliances through marriage.


Despite their separation, Lucy Walter continued to assert her status as Charles's mistress, causing diplomatic headaches for the king as he navigated the delicate balance of power in Restoration England.


Lucy Walter's life took a dramatic turn when she was suspected of espionage in England, leading to her imprisonment in the Tower of London in 1656 alongside her lover, Lord Thomas. Following her release, she was deported back to the Dutch Republic, where financial struggles drove her to attempt to blackmail the king by threatening to disclose private correspondence. In response, Charles II took custody of their 8-year-old son, arranging for his kidnapping and relocation to Paris. Meanwhile, Walter faced her own hardships in Paris, grappling with relative poverty and ultimately succumbing to syphilis (or perhaps a more sinister death) in 1658.



Barbara Villiers

Barbara Villiers, born Barbara Palmer, was a prominent figure in the court of King Charles II of England. Born on November 27, 1640, she was the daughter of William Villiers, 2nd Viscount Grandison. Barbara caught the eye of the king while still married to Roger Palmer, and their relationship became well-known despite her marital status.


Barbara's charm and wit captivated Charles II, and she soon became his mistress, earning the title of Countess of Castlemaine. Their affair was highly publicised, and Barbara wielded significant influence at court, often using her position to advance her family's interests. She bore Charles several children, including five who were acknowledged by the king.


Barbara's flamboyant personality and quick temper drew numerous adversaries, particularly the Earl of Clarendon, Charles II's chief advisor. Her extravagant lifestyle, penchant for gambling, and greedy behavior also earned her disfavor with the devout Queen Catherine. Despite this, Barbara wielded considerable influence over the king, earning her the epithet of the "Uncrowned Queen" and securing substantial annual grants exceeding £45,000.


As Charles grew weary of Barbara's excesses, he turned his affections to a new paramour, the Duchess of Portsmouth. In a notorious act, Barbara knocked down the magnificent Nonsuch Palace in Surrey, a gift from Charles, to settle her substantial gambling debts. This impulsive action further tarnished her reputation and marked the end of her reign as one of Charles II's most influential mistresses.


Despite Charles II's other affairs, Barbara remained a dominant figure in his life for many years. However, as the king's attentions turned elsewhere, her influence waned. She continued to play a role at court until Charles's death in 1685.


After the king's death, Barbara's fortunes declined, and she faced financial difficulties. She spent her final years in relative obscurity, passing away on October 9, 1709, at the age of 68.



Moll Davis

Born Mary "Moll" Davis around 1648, little is known about Davis' early life but she rose to fame as a celebrated actress in London theatres during the late 17th century.

Known for her beauty and charm, Moll Davis captured the attention of King Charles II, who was known for his numerous mistresses. She became one of his most favoured companions, enjoying a lavish lifestyle and significant influence at court.


Despite her humble origins as an actress, Moll Davis quickly ascended the social ranks through her relationship with the king. She was often seen at court events and social gatherings, where her wit and charisma endeared her to many.



However, Moll's position as the king's mistress was not without its challenges. She faced rivalry from other courtiers and mistresses vying for the king's favour, leading to occasional conflicts and tensions within royal circles.


Although celebrated for her beauty, Moll Davis was also known for her ostentatious display of wealth and what some considered to be a lack of refinement. Criticised for her behavior, she was famously labeled the "most impertinent slut" by the wife of diarist Samuel Pepys. Despite her position as one of King Charles II's mistresses, Moll's conduct often drew negative attention.


Adding to the intrigue of her relationship with the king, Moll gave birth to a daughter named Mary, believed to be Charles II's child. However, shortly thereafter, Moll fell out of favor with the king, leading to her dismissal. Some speculate that the emergence of another actress, Nell Gwyn, contributed to her downfall, as both women vied for the king's affections.

Rumours abound regarding the rivalry between Moll Davis and Nell Gwyn, with one particularly colourful tale suggesting that Nell may have sabotaged Moll's encounter with the king by secretly lacing a piece of cake with a laxative.


Despite her status as one of Charles II's mistresses, Moll Davis largely avoided the scandal and controversy that often surrounded such relationships. She maintained a relatively low profile compared to some of her counterparts, focusing instead on enjoying the privileges afforded to her as a royal companion.


Moll Davis's relationship with King Charles II lasted until his death in 1685. After his passing, she retired from court life and largely disappeared from public view. Little is known about her later years, and the exact date of her death remains uncertain.



Nell Gwyn

Born Eleanor Gwyn, Nell rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most famous actresses and mistresses in English history. Born around 1650, her early life was marked by poverty, and she reportedly sold oranges at the King's Theatre in London, where she caught the eye of theatregoers with her wit and charm.


Nell's talent on the stage led to her being noticed by King Charles II, who was captivated by her beauty and vivacious personality. She became one of his many mistresses, and despite her lack of formal education, Nell possessed a quick wit and sharp tongue that endeared her to the king.

Known for her generosity and kindness, Nell was beloved by the public and the king alike. She bore two sons by Charles II, Charles Beauclerk and James Beauclerk, who were both recognised by the king as his children.


In addition to her role as mistress to the king, Nell continued to pursue her acting career, becoming one of the most popular actresses of her time. Her performances were often comedic in nature, and she was celebrated for her natural charm and talent on the stage.


Nell's influence extended beyond the theatre, as she used her position to advocate for the rights of actors and actresses, as well as for the poor and disadvantaged. Nell is believed to be responsible for the inception of the Chelsea Pensioners in 1682, when she campaigned for a hospital for war veterans after she came across an old soldier begging in the street.


Despite facing criticism and scandal throughout her life, Nell remained a beloved figure in English society until her death in 1687.


Louise de Kérouaille (Later the Duchess of Portsmouth)

Louise Renée de Penancoët de Kérouaille, known as Louise de Kérouaille, was a French noblewoman who became a prominent figure at the court of King Charles II of England. Born in 1649 in Brittany, France, Louise was raised in a wealthy and influential family.


In 1670, Louise caught the eye of King Charles II while he was in France seeking support against the Dutch Republic. Her wit, charm, and beauty captivated the king, and she soon became his mistress, despite already being married to the Duke of Richmond. Charles lavished her with gifts and titles, eventually making her Duchess of Portsmouth.


Louise's position as the king's mistress granted her considerable influence at court. She used her power to advance the interests of France in English politics, often at odds with the English Parliament and public sentiment, which viewed her as a foreign interloper.


Despite her political influence, Louise's relationship with Charles was marked by controversy and public scrutiny. She faced hostility from Charles's other mistresses, particularly Barbara Villiers, and from the English people, who resented her French heritage and perceived interference in English affairs.

Following the death of Charles II, Louise swiftly fell out of favour. She retired to France, where, aside from a brief return to England during James II's reign and her attendance at George I's coronation, she resided. At George I's coronation, she was joined by the Countess of Dorchester and the Countess of Orkney, earning them the moniker "we three whores." Together, they had served as mistresses to successive kings for over two decades. Louise's pensions and revenue grant from Charles II were lost during James II's reign or the Revolution of 1688.


In her final years, Portsmouth resided in Aubigny, burdened by mounting debt. However, King Louis XIV of France and later, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, provided her with a pension and shielded her from creditors. Louise passed away in Paris on November 14, 1734, at the age of 85.



Hortense Mancini, Duchess de Mazarin

Hortense was born on June 6, 1646, in Rome, Italy, into the powerful and influential Mancini family. She was the fourth of the five famous Mancini sisters, who were renowned for their beauty, wit, and intelligence. From a young age, Hortense showed a rebellious and adventurous spirit, which would shape her tumultuous life.


In 1661, Hortense's uncle, Cardinal Mazarin, arranged for her to marry Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye, one of the wealthiest people in Europe. Despite his considerable wealth and access to Hortense’s vast inheritance, he was notoriously miserly and paranoid about his wife's interactions with other men.


After enduring several years of a tumultuous marriage, Hortense fled to France, where she received protection from King Louis XIV along with a generous annual pension. She was among the first women in France to pen her memoirs, partly as a defence document against abusive husbands. In 1675, Hortense sought to supplant King Charles’s mistress, Louise de Kerouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth, and ventured to London in disguise as a man. She succeeded in her endeavour and became Charles's mistress by 1676.


The king provided her with accommodations in St James’s Palace and awarded her an annual pension of £3,000. However, Hortense's downfall stemmed from her promiscuity and continued extramarital affairs, which included a passionate liaison with one of Charles's illegitimate daughters, Anne Lennard. Her affair with the king caused a diplomatic incident between England and France and led to her eventual exile from the French court.


After fleeing France, Hortense traveled across Europe, living in various cities and continuing her affairs with prominent figures. She eventually settled in England, where she became a close friend of Queen Mary II and an influential figure in English society.


Despite her colourful personal life, Hortense was also known for her intelligence and wit. She was a patron of the arts and literature, and her salon in London attracted some of the leading intellectuals of the time.

In her later years, Hortense's life became more subdued, and she focused on writing her memoirs. She died in Chelsea, London, on July 2, 1699


Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond

Born in 1647, Frances was famously known as the "Protestant Whore" because of her refusal to convert to Catholicism despite offers and pressure from Charles.


Frances Stewart, later known as the Duchess of Richmond, was a prominent figure in the royal court during the Restoration era. Her captivating beauty and charm caught the eye of King Charles II, who reportedly harboured strong feelings for her, even considering marriage despite being already wed.


In March 1667, Frances married Charles Stewart, the Duke of Richmond, in a union arranged by the king himself. However, their marriage did not produce any children. There are rumours suggesting that Frances and the duke may have eloped, prompted by the discovery of their relationship by Lady Castlemaine, a rival for the king's affection.


Despite facing challenges such as disfigurement from smallpox in 1669, Frances remained a prominent figure at court, retaining the king's affections. However, there were speculations of her involvement in an affair, with Samuel Pepys recording an incident where the king clandestinely visited her at Somerset House.

he is mighty hot upon the Duchess of Richmond; insomuch that, upon Sunday was seen, at night, after he had ordered his Guards and coach to be ready to carry him to the Park, he did, on a sudden, take a pair of oars or sculler, and all alone, or but one with him, go to Somersett House, and there, the garden-door not being open, himself clamber over the walls to make a visit to her, which is a horrid shame.

Frances continued to be involved in royal affairs and was present at significant events such as the birth of James Francis Edward Stuart, son of James II, and the coronation of Queen Anne in 1702. Frances passed away in October 1702 at the age of 55. Her life was marked by her remarkable beauty, her influence in court circles, and the intriguing relationships she shared with members of the royal family.

 


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