It is time for our Writer in Residence, Paul Andruss, to investigate the myths and legends surrounding the great and sometimes infamous. Kings having mistresses was accepted as a reward for marrying a stranger so that an alliance was cemented or war averted. And they were not likely to look a gift horse in the mouth when presented with an opportunity. Which leads us to Barbara Villiers who had Charles II wrapped around her little finger.
But before we get to Barbara, Paul gives us the lowdown on the background and peccadillos of those that went before…..buckle up and make notes, there will be a test later!
Barbara Villiers Part 1: The Return of the King by Paul Andruss
Barbara Villiers (National Portrait Gallery)
If you thought Lady Macbeth was a right cow, I can only assume you’ve never heard of Charles II’s mistress, Barbara Villiers, the Countess of Castlemaine.
But before we get to the salacious sex and scandal let’s have a little recap shall we?
O bloody hell! Not more history!
Elizabeth I wasn’t called the Virgin Queen for nothing. She died without ever being married or having a child, which probably means she was a virgin. In those days, nine times out of ten, sex led to pregnancy.
Believe it or not, some mental historian suggested Elizabeth was a man in drag. We know she wasn’t and we also know she never got pregnant because as a piece of prime real estate in the old game of thrones, the Spanish Ambassador bribed the laundry mistress to send him Elizabeth’s blood stained bedsheets each month so he could inform the Spanish King, Elizabeth was ipso facto virgin intacto, and more to the point in good working order.
The Spanish king had been stung before with Henry VIII’s elder daughter Mary. The poor woman suffered miscarriage after miscarriage. Not though her loving husband, the Spanish King, with his feel-sorry-for-me-for-not-having-a-son-and-heir wasted any human feelings for his tragically unhappy wife.
A friend of mine, a PhD student in Elizabethan history, once told me Elizabeth had a ripe sense of humour. Edward De Vere the Earl of Oxford, while making a low bow to the queen, let go a right ripper, much to Elizabeth’s amusement and his horror. He was so ashamed he absented himself from court for seven years. Upon his return Elizabeth greeted him, no doubt with a twinkle in her eye, with: ‘My Lord I had forgot the fart!’
When Elizabeth died she left the throne to her cousin’s son James. Her cousin was Mary Queen of Scots, who she executed. James was taken from his mother as an infant by Church of Scotland Elders (well, she was deemed an unfit mother) and brought up Protestant; leading Elizabeth to believe the throne was safe from Catholics.
George Villiers (National Portrait Gallery)
James VI of Scotland, now James I of England, was the intended victim of the infamous gunpowder plot. He also had the bible translated into English: the King James Version (named after him). While married to Anne of Denmark and having children with her, James definitely preferred to travel by bi-cycle, shall we say. My friend the historian, informed me James’ favourite, George Villiers, the 1st Duke of Buckingham was disparagingly known as the ‘King’s Filly’. Rumour has it he had a 12 inch willie. But didn’t use it as a rule!
Oh come on people work with me on this!
Interestingly Barbara Villiers, his grandson’s lover, who we will get to before long, was a descendant. Small world eh!
James son was Charles I. During his reign, civil war erupted between the Royalists and the Roundheads. Charles was defeated by Oliver Cromwell who became lifetime dictator of a Puritan Republic, ‘the Commonwealth’. Charles’ family went into exile in Europe. One of his daughters married the French Sun king’s gay brother and became the Sun King’s favourite mistress at Versailles until her death.
Oliver Cromwell (National Portrait Gallery)
Ironically when Cromwell disagreed with Parliament he dismissed them, which is exactly what the King was accused of doing to cause the civil war. Cromwell ruling through a military junta, and by the grace of god, closed down theatres, taverns, and other entertainments, banned drinking, and even Christmas, turned marriage into a civil institution and was pretty humourless about every sort of sexual misdemeanour.
When Cromwell died, and his son and heir overthrown, Charles I’s son Charles II returned to the throne in a period known as the Restoration. A loyal son, Charles II arrested the Commissioners who signed his dad’s death warrant; despite Parliament issuing an indemnity to protect them. Nine were executed, a few pardoned, some had their property confiscated and were allowed to live in disgrace, while a lot fled the country in fear of their lives.
Charles II (National Portrait Gallery)
By this time a fair few were already dead. Charles II had Cromwell and his dad’s two judges dug up. Their corpses were hung drawn and quartered with their decaying head stuck on spikes over the Westminster Court of Justice where his dad was tried.
Cromwell’s head was left there for 20-odd years before being taken down and sold on.
Cromwell’s head changed hands a number of times, there is a bill of sale for 1814. It was publically exhibited for all that time, before being quietly and secretly buried in 1960.
Apart from this Charles II was actually pretty easy going, despite having Catholic sympathies (something which wouldn’t have gone down well in Protestant England) and being as autocratic as his old dad: believing he had a divine right to rule having been appointed by God himself.
A clever man, Charles knew the only to keep the throne was by staying popular. A sure way to achieve that was by being everything the miserable puritans were not: a glamourous sexy beast, just like the fab French Sun King in Versailles. Knowing Charles’ reputation as a playboy (he already had 4 illegitimate children before ascending the throne) Britain’s relieved citizens knew they would no longer be fined or beaten for their own sexual peccadillos and could have a bloody good night out into the bargain: going to the theatre and getting blind drunk.
Having acquired wealth and power from George Villiers ‘friendship’ with King James, it is not a surprise the Villiers family supported his son Charles I during the English Civil War.
Being on the losing side, they suffered financially. Due to their reduced circumstances, daughter Barbara, although a great beauty (tall and voluptuous, with alabaster skin, masses of brunette curls, languorous violet eyes and a sensuous, sulky mouth) was not deemed a great catch. So much so, when she fell for the Earl of Chesterfield, he threw her over for a wealthy heiress. Perhaps this was a lesson Barbara was destined not to forget.
At the age of 19 she married quiet and pious Roger Palmer (much to his family’s horror) and the happy couple (well, the couple at least) visited the Charles, the Prince of Wales in exile in Holland to pledge their allegiance, and in Barbara’s case a whole lot more. She became Charles’ mistress.
None of Barbara’s 6 children were her husbands’. For her husband’s acquiescence, Charles made him Earl of Castlemaine. Barbara gave each of her children the moniker Fitzroy (of the king). All were subsequently ennobled by the king; even the 6th who many suspect was her current lover’s, John Churchill.
By the time she was having number six, Barbara’s influence was on the wane. No shrinking violet, she threatened to kill the child if Charles denied paternity. And probably with good reason, for despite Charles having replaced her with another official mistress, he was still visiting Barbara’s bedchamber four nights a week. To make sure Charles got the point she then demanded the King publically beg forgiveness for doubting her. It is testament to Charles’ good nature and enduring affection for his spitfire minx that he did.
My thanks to Paul for another of his fascinating posts on the famous and sometimes infamous characters from the past.
About Paul Andruss
Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.
Paul is the author of two books and you can find out more by clicking the image.
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Find out more about Paul and his books – Writer in Residence: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/writer-in-residence-writer-paul-andruss/
and Paul’s Gardening Column: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-gardening-column-by-paul-andruss/