17th Century: Sex, Scandal, and Syphilis


As I’ve mentioned before, I was an only child growing up. Of course I did the usual only child things like making dinosaurs fight Power Rangers and collecting statues of pigs (shush, they were totally normal), but I also really liked to fill my time with learning. My mum always brings up how when I was about three years old I was sat in the back of the car, not making any sound, when something about the Great Barrier Reef comes on the radio and I chime in with ‘that’s in Australia’. My parents had no idea how I knew this and when they asked me, I told them that Sooty had taught me. I used to bring an encyclopaedia out with me to read when I was bored and I was always spouting out facts and probably looking like a complete know-it-all to every other child I knew. My first specialist subject, if you will, was the monarchy. Someone bought me this big gold book called Kings and Queens and I completely fell in love. As a kid I loved hearing about Henry VIII beheading his wives, and being fiercely loyal to the House of York in the War of the Roses, but over time my area of interest in the monarchy has changed a bit, and this is what 21 year old Zanna loves (which maybe she shouldn’t tell the seven year old version).

I’ve said it before and I will say it a thousand times again. I love the Restoration. King Charles II is my favourite monarch. I mean, his dad was beheaded for treason, the throne was taken by some grumpy old religious man who banned music and theatre, and poor old Charlie had to hide around Europe in exile. It’s literally an episode of Game of Thrones. The beheadings and the dogs that carry their namesakes are great and everything, but my favourite part of the Restoration comes into light when Charlie gets the throne again. He had a really wonderful taste in mistresses. Told you it was like Game of Thrones.

First came Lucy Walter. Although born in Roch Castle in Wales, her family weren’t particularly noble, and they fled when Puritans invaded it during the English Civil War. She then met Charles in The Hague, and together they had a son, James, who would later argue his right to the throne, claiming that his mother and father had been secretly married. No evidence was found of this and even Charles himself wanted his brother to have the throne. James VS James. Lucy was pretty much just a nuisance to the royal court after her breakup from Charles, always attempting to find a way to get more money and power, and in the end they paid her £400 a year just to go back to London and stay away from them. When she still didn’t stop causing trouble, she was convinced to give James to a royal tutor, before going to Paris and dying of an STD. Yay, Restoration!

There was also Barbara Palmer, The Uncrowned Queen. Known as such because she had five acknowledged and illegitimate children to Charles. She was also referred to as The Curse of the Nation, so opinions of her definitely differed. Unlike Lucy, she was born into a noble family, but her father had died fighting for the Royalists and they lost most of their money to the war efforts. Her family were still secret supporters of Baby Charles though, and they would drink to his health on his birthday. Which is kind of like the lanterns in Tangled, right? They’re both hoping that the rightful heir will come home and regain power! I mean, Rapunzel was in a tower, and Charles was in exile, but it’s totally the same thing. Barbara’s relationship with Charles began when he was still in exile and lasted into his reign. She was technically married to some politician dude, but no one actually thinks any of the six children she had were by him. The Queen hated her, probably for good reason, so Charles obviously thought it would be a great idea to appoint Barbara to Lady of the Bedchamber, so his wife and mistress could spend more time together. Charles at least gave his children with Barbara some titles, which is more than poor Jon Snow got.

Next we have my darling Nell Gwyn, someone I love so much I wrote an essay on. Nell’s mother was an alcoholic who ran a brothel and they didn’t have much money, so some sources suggest that Nell probably worked as a child prostitute for a while. As a teenager she experimented with cross-dressing and called herself William Nell, whilst wearing a fake beard. She got a job selling oranges at the theatre, which exposed her to theatre life, and eventually lead to her becoming one of the most popular actresses of the Restoration. Let’s also take a brief interlude to mention that not only did King Charles II restore the theatre after it was banned by Oliver Cromwell, he also legalised women actors. You go, Charles! When Nell and Charles first met, he invited her for dinner with James and himself, only to find when they had finished that both men had no money– meaning Nell had to pay for it. Charles was also the third Charles that Nell had had an affair with, so even though he was our Charles II, he was Nell’s Charles III. Nell’s popularity as a mistress definitely helped her career as an actor until she decided to retire at age 21. She lived a pretty good life off a pension until her death at age 37, with Charles on his deathbed telling James to ‘let not poor Nelly starve’.

Then came Moll Davis. I feel that my love of Nell probably hinders my views on Moll, as they were seen as rivals for the King’s affections. Moll, like Nell, was an entertainer, and was popular for her acting, singing, and dancing. It is often speculated that she was the bastard daughter of the Earl of Berkshire, giving her lowborn status, much like Nell had. However, whereas Nell was mostly loved, Moll was once described as ‘the most impertinent slut in the world’. Moll was eventually dismissed as a mistress, something which many believe had to do with Nell Gwyn’s wishes. However, even though she was replaced, she received a yearly pension for the rest of her life and a house from the King, before eventually marrying a French musician.

Louise de Kêrouaille was yet another of Charles’ mistresses, and she was pretty much bred to be a Royal Mistress all her life. Her parents had hoped that it would be to King Louis XIV, but she caught Charles’ eye instead. France seemed proud that a mistress of the English king was French, and so they presented her with lavish gifts. This, on top of what she already received from the English crown, made her quite an unpopular mistress. And whereas Barbara clashed with the Queen, Louise clashed with Nell Gwyn. Nell referred to Louise as Squintabella, and claimed that her underclothing was unclean. It was like a seventeenth century Burn Book. Whenever Nell was mistaken for Louise, she would reply ‘pray good people be civil, I am the Protestant whore’. It’s totally the same as being a fugly slut.

Another great mistress was Hortense Mancini, who I might love as much as I love Nell. Hortense was one of five Italian sisters who all married rich and influential men. Charles originally proposed to Hortense when he was still in exile, but her uncle rejected the offer believing he was not suitable. When Charles regained the throne, her uncle tried to reverse his rejection, but this time Charles was the one to refuse. Many more proposals were given to Hortense, but all failed due to issues with the dowries. However, when Hortense was fifteen she was married to a man with a really long name that I’m not going to type out. He was one of the richest men in Europe, and fourteen years her senior. He was also totally crazy. He wouldn’t let his cows be milked, because he thought that it was too sexual, and he knocked the front teeth out of all his female servants so they wouldn’t be attractive to men. Completely paranoid about his young wife’s loyalty, he insisted they leave Paris and move to the country. This turned out to be a pretty bad idea, because Hortense began having an affair with a sixteen year old girl called Sidonie. Her husband ended up sending both girls to a convent in hopes of curing them, but all the girls did was annoy the nuns by putting ink in the holy water.

Despite having four children with her insane husband, she managed to escape and floated around Europe for a while. But soon her husband had frozen all of her income, so she travelled to London dressed as a man in an attempt to replace Louise as Charles’ mistress. It worked! But good things do not always last, and Hortense began a relationship with Charles’ illegitimate daughter, Anne. Wearing nightgowns, both women had a fencing match in St. James’s Park (seriously, everything cool that happened during the Restoration happened in St. James’s Park), which ended with Anne’s husband sending her to the country. But like Miley, Hortense can’t be tamed, so she began an affair with the Prince of Monaco instead. Louise quickly returned to being the King’s favourite, but he remained good friends with Hortense, and she continued to be paid her pension after his death.

If this hasn’t convinced you why I love the Restoration so much, then I give up. King Charles II for the Iron Throne! This is why I’m totally rooting for Prince Charles to get the throne next. We need another Charles, we always have fun with a Charles on the throne! Beheadings, syphilis, illegitimate children– where did the Royal Family go wrong? And if Charles ever does become King, then I can do a follow up post about Camilla! See, it’s totally a Charles thing.

(Disclaimer: Everything in this blogpost could be wrong, it’s only what I’ve found from other websites people have written and the great and glorious Wikipedia. I didn’t use any real books or academic sources. I have not studied history since I was fifteen, and even then I’m not sure they would have taught us this stuff. I took a class on the seventeenth century at University, but we mainly talked about prostitutes and the plague).

Images of Charles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:King_Charles_II_by_John_Michael_Wright_or_studio.jpg

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 17.17.51


Author: Rosanna Parrish

Brit exiled in Spain.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s