Monday, 30 April 2012

The Wild, The Beautiful & The Damned at Hampton Court Palace

Picture taken by me, and it's pretty good for a mobile phone pic don't you think?

Today, at quarter past eight in the morning, the other half and I toddled off to the train station and began to make our way towards Hampton Court. The reason for this was that there was a rather fantastic exhibition on by the name of "The Wild, The Beautiful & The Damned" which I had heard about on tumblr and started going a little crazy about on twitter. The exhibition, concentrating on sex, beauty and the beautifully decadent portraits of the later Stuart era has been on my radar for a very long time. I have loved the work of Sir Peter Lely for the longest time, particularly the portraits he worked on of Charles II's mistresses (and you all know how much I adore Nell Gwynne!) so it was an absolute honour to be able to see some of these very famous portraits in the flesh. And after a train journey full of delays, as we walked through the majestic gatehouse and up the beautiful staircase, I couldn't help but feel slightly giddy about seeing these portraits which I have wanted to see for such a long time.

I was slightly disappointed when we first entered the exhibition to find out that photography wasn't allowed. But then realised that yes, it was probably a good idea because with flashes and stuff...on portraits that have been lent to Historic Royal Palaces by good hearted people who have private collections...the damage could be huge. It is at this point that I would like to thank the lovely Melanie Clegg over at MadameGuillotine for allowing me to use the photographs that she took of the portraits at the recent press day when the exhibition first opened.

The exhibit concentrates not only on the famous mistresses of Charles II (Nell Gwynne, Barbara Villiers, Louise De Kerouelle etc) but also the famous beauties of his court as well as how men were portrayed in portraiture of the time also. I found it exceptionally eye opening, learning how the women of the court used their portraiture to convey innocence, yet there was some pretty scandalous things going on - and despite how many of these women tried to convey innocence through their portraits, they were still called whores. Yet with the men (ala Rochester, who we will come onto later) they were applauded for sleeping around. It really made no sense to me. It was also interesting to read, on the little info boards spotted around the galleries, how at the Restoration court, beauty was everything to these women - they spent hours in front of their mirrors making themselves beautiful, even going so far as to try and dye their hair darker with acid!!

Charles II by Melanie Clegg at MadameGuillotine

Charles II and the Restoration Court made up the majority of the exhibition, as of course it would considering as how he had rather a lot of mistresses, brought back the theatre and just generally having fun. And as you wander through the Stuart Rooms, sadly visited far less than the more well known Tudor areas of the Palace, you are taken on a story - a story that begins with the colourful reign of King Charles II and that of his sometimes brilliant, sometimes frightening mistresses; and ends in the reign of his niece Queen Anne - the final Stuart monarch, and one who I myself know very little about because just seems far less exciting. As well as this each and every portrait tells a story, and there were a couple that really struck me. In the very first room you enter was a large portrait of two men, one of which was a war hero by the name of Holles who had lost him arm in battle. In the portrait by Lely, you cannot see that the man on the left has only one arm. Instead he proudly holds a sword and is dressed in exceptionally fine clothing. Other stories include that of poisoned young wives, and wives whose young husbands died horrifically in battle. Some of the stories were particularly heart wrenching.

Holles & Holmes by Sir Peter Lely 

Barbara Villiers by Melanie Clegg at MadameGuillotine

Nell Gwynne by Melanie Clegg at MadameGuillotine

The portraits of Barbara and Nell were the ones I was particularly excited about seeing, particularly having been so interested in these women for so long. With Barbara in particular, you can see how the Lely portraits of her affected each and every portrait he painted after that - she set the scene, and indeed with every other portrait of a beautiful young woman you can see the same heavy lidded eyes, the same pouty lips an the same seductive blush. And with Nell, she was the first mistress that Charles had painted completely naked - according to the placards she would lie there as Lely painted her and Charles would come along and watch (just for kicks? who knows!) - still, there is something incredible about the portrait of Nell, this woman who started out as a common orange seller, moving onto one of the finest comedienne's of her time and eventually a mistress of the King whose Son would end up with a great title that would follow his family down through the centuries.

Frances Stuart by Melanie Clegg at MadameGuillotine

The portrait above of Frances Stuart was my other half's favourite portrait of the whole exhibition. He stood in front of it for a very long time before turning around to me with a look of awe upon his face and stating that she was very pretty and he understood why ole Charlie had a bit of a thing for her! During her time, her contemporaries were completely in awe of this beautiful young woman, calling her La Belle Stuart and she has even been immortalised as the famous Britannia figurine so often seen on our coins!

As you walk through the exhibition, you are also treated to other works of art including the famous Windsor Beauties by Lely, as well as stunning works of art by other artists at the time including a few by the wonderful Kneller (who painted the lovely Lady Middleton!) - there are also works of art from some prominant Italian artists at the time including Gennari and Parmigianino, who Lely used as inspiration.

Palas Athene by Parmigianino

Of course, any exhibition of lasciviousness and Sex at the Stuart court wouldn't be complete without the appearance of the lovely John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. That man who wrote bawdy poetry, pornographic plays, had his portrait painted with a monkey and who died of Syphilis. I'm sorry, the man was a legend. I'm not sorry at all.

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, by Melanie Clegg at MadameGuillotine

The costumed displays done by members of staff here were also top notch. There were two people playing Barbara Villiers and Sir Peter Lely, and I may have made a bit of a show of myself creeping around Sir Peter and asking him for a picture. Sir Peter sadly refused on the grounds that photo's weren't allowed in the exhibition, and instead I would have to make do with looking on his pretty face. It was pretty hilarious. Anyway, shortly after I was done creeping around him, there was a bit of a show on in a room at the end of the exhibition whereupon Barbara Villiers was getting ready to have her portrait painted. It turns out that Lely was a bit of a dude, who enjoyed dancing around a pretend maypole and making jokes about his favourite actresses and I also learnt a fair bit about restoration dress and how it was boring if a lovely lady was painted in her normal dress, and that silk was much much better.

I have to say, I loved each and every second I spent in those galleries, as did my partner. We loved it so much we ended up having another look at least 3 times before we decided it was time to go home! It was laid out fantastically, telling a story as you went in chronological order. And well, the portraits were just eye meltingly gorgeous. So gorgeous in fact, I'm going again in a couple of weeks. This has actually been planned for week but shhhhh, don't tell anyone...

I thoroughly, THOROUGHLY recommend this exhibit to anyone interested in Stuart England because it certainly has taught me a hell of a lot and I have loved this family since well...forever. I would have loved to organise staying on for one of the salacious gossip tours but alas, time and money was an option for this one. In fact, Hampton Court has gone rather mad for salacious, sexy, restoration court stuff it seems with a special Audience With Charles II next Monday. Again, I wish I was going, but alas, time and money is again an option here. It's made me rather tempted to buy a years membership to the HRP! Oh, and on my way out I also picked up a copy of the accompanying book to go with the exhibition by the name of "Beauty, Sex and Power" which I am very much looking forward to reading, as well as another book on Royal Sex by Roger Powell which looks interesting and ranges from the Stuarts right up to the modern day!

Of course, we did a lot more than just wander around this fantastic exhibition all day. But that is for another post!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Prince Rupert's Reputation, And His Dog Boye

A couple of days ago I started reading "Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier" by Charles Spencer (the very same Charles Spencer, brother of the amazing Princess Diana) and well...I think you may have all gathered from my post on Stuart crushes, and the fact that the blog header has a rather dashing portrait of the young man splashed across it...and the fact my new twitter user pic is the very same portrait as above, that I have a bit of a thing for the Prince from Prague. And I regret absolutely nothing. Anyway, as I was reading the book this evening during a particularly quiet period at work I came across a quote that really got me thinking (and also made me laugh out loud):

"There was a determination that the most eye-catching of the Royalist leaders should be characterised as wild, dangerous, and even devilish. He was portrayed as a deviant who enjoyed sex with his white poodle, Boy..."

At first glance the quote above seems rather shocking. How could this young man, a favourite of his Uncle Charles I's and a celebrated military man, enjoy such depravities? But then you read a little deeper and realise that this is all propaganda circulated by the Parliamentarian forces. Did Rupert do this with his little dog named Boye? The answer is, in my humble opinion, 100% not true - Rupert was a highly religious human being, and from what I've read so far exceptionally honourable. The likelihood of him getting friendly with his pet dog was therefore...well...not likely in the slightest.

So why did Parliament concoct such propaganda?

The answer is relatively simple. They were afraid of Rupert. Despite his youthful years, he was an accomplished military man, had fought from the age of 14 in warfare and during the early stages of the English Civil War had been placed in command of the Cavalry by Charles I. Despite the fact he had been a prisoner of war for many, many years, he was seen by the opposition to be a formidable foe, and a man who had taken part in some of the bloodiest atrocities during the early days of the Civil War, including his demands of £2000 from the City of Leicester to stop him and his troops from invading them. Charles I in the end sent apologies to the City, saying he had nothing to do with his behaviour.

Rupert's reputation never really recovered, especially with when it came to his little dog, Boye. Thanks to Parliamentarian propaganda Rupert faced numerous accusations of witchcraft and Boye was accused of being his familiar. Many accused Boye of being the devil in disguise, being able to find hidden treasure, being invulnerable to attack and having the ability to catch bullets fired at his master in his mouth.

Boye was sadly killed at the battle of Marston Moor. Despite having been tied up at the Royalist camp, he escaped and followed Rupert into battle, being killed in the fighting. What did Rupert think of the death of his faithful dog, an animal that had been given to him during his time as a prisoner of war? I have found very little to tell me of what he felt after this but I can imagine him being distraught. Not only that but those who produced the propaganda against Rupert and his apparently magical dog must have rejoiced. 

I have plans to write a series of posts on Prince Rupert, similar to what I have previously done on Nell Gwynne and Barbara Villiers, as there seems to be so much to learn about this interesting man. His dog however, grasped my imagination this afternoon!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Review: Marie Antoinette by Evelyne Lever

I'm not gonna lie to you guys, I've been struggling to think up stuff to write about. Oh there are plenty of starter ideas, historical people I want to ramble on about but thanks to some rather nasty hours at work I've just been coming home and practically falling into bed. But now it's Friday, and I am now off work for a whole week, so that means plenty of time to write about fun people in history, historical hotties who I have a bit of a crush on or just various historical ramblings about whatever takes my fancy. As I was sat about on my lunch break at work today reading my new book about Prince Rupert, I thought about reviewing the latest book I read about Marie Antoinette but then I thought the review would probably end up in a very long post with me grossly sobbing about how much I love Marie Antoinette and quite frankly how perfect I think she is, and how sad her story is. MadameGuillotine, I totally blame you for this new love (and I regret NOTHING!). But now as I sit here listening to some rather nice music that reminds me at the same time of both Charles II's Restoration Court and the Court at Versailles, I thought I would write it anyway. Gross sobbing or not, you have been warned...

Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France by Evelyne Lever is the second book I've ever read on Marie Antoinette, and I have to say I was not disappointed. After reading Antonia Fraser's biography of the ill-fated Queen I found myself hooked, desperate to find out more, desperate to visit the Palace at Versailles. And whilst this new found love is nowhere near as intense as my love for anything Charles I/II related, I have revelled in the fact that new doors have been opened to me and thus I have found new interests. I even sat down and watched Sophia Coppola's 2006 film "Marie Antoinette" starring Kirsten Dunst; and despite realising that it probably wasn't the most historically accurate of films, I thoroughly enjoyed it because it was just so beautiful, and the performances from the actors were just amazing.

Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI in Sophia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" played by Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman

First of all, I want to point out that Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette went into a lot of detail and was a lot thicker than Lever's work. This is not a bad thing, because at time Fraser's work may have become a little dry. That's not to say I didn't love Fraser's love and devour it, because I really did. But with Lever's book I found that I literally could not put it down - and normally I hate that phrase, but I just couldn't. Her writing was snappy, and it gave the information that was needed, yet described enough of Marie Antoinette's life to paint a beautiful portrait in your mind. The snappy writing style also meant that the chapters were not overly long, they got the point across with just enough information to keep you hungry for more. There were points where, even though I was reading a historical biography and academic work, I felt like I was reading a historical novel set in Versailles because Lever managed to pull me into the excesses of the French court with her writing. And it's not often that a book does that to me.

The majority of the book, of course, concentrated in the life of Marie Antoinette leading up to her downfall from her early life up until her family's imprisonment at the Temple in Paris. This of course is to be expected because after the death of her husband Louise XVI her own downfall was exceptionally quick. But through this huge part of the work, we are able to see how Marie Antoinette went from adored Dauphine of France to hated Queen. We also see how she went from a carefree young woman who loved to party to a woman on edge, who hid behind a false smile, and a woman who suffered almost silently from horrific health issues. As I read I often found myself shocked at how Marie Antoinette was treated in her later years as Queen of France - the horrible pamphlets that were published about her so called orgies and her loose living at court; the names she was called. It amazed me that she managed to stay so strong for so long.

When I watched Coppola's movie, and saw that Marie and Louis took so long to consummate their marriage I could barely believe it. 7 years!! But after doing some reading I realised that this was accurate, but the film didn't really explain why it took so long - the shyness of Louis, his psychology of thinking that he was a lesser man than the rest of the court, it all counts and again, I felt very sorry for this young man. Despite being presented with portraits showing a rather handsome young man, Louis in fact was a rather portly young man who waddled rather than walked so was it any wonder that in her younger days the beautiful young Dauphine didn't really make any move towards her husband? She tried of course, and to me it seemed halfheartedly, on the wishes of her mother the Empress Maria-Teresa and it ended up with visits for the Dauphin/King of France visiting his doctor!! Seven years later they finally consummated their marriage much to the joy of the Court and eventually had many children. What really got to me about their relationship was how close they became in their later years, and it seems to me that they really loved each other. Marie Antoinette insisted on staying with her husband throughout the dangers that beset them in their later years and during the beginning of the French Revolution, how he panicked when she took so long to reach their carriage upon escape from the Tuileries and how Louis always stayed loyal to his wife, despite the horrid rumours spreading amongst the populace about her, and about the paternity of her children. It also struck me how after Louis' execution, Marie grieved deeply, and wore mourning clothes for the rest of her life, and how she refused to walk past her husbands old room door in their prison after his execution.

As I mentioned in my review of Fraser's book, the Diamond Necklace Affair really struck me. It was a huge part of Marie Antoinette's life and I thought Lever did an excellent job telling the story of what happened, perhaps even better than Fraser did! Lever's writing style helped, because there seem to have been a hell of a lot of politics playing around in this part of Antoinette's life, but Lever did an exceptional job. She tells the reader what happened, and explains the reason behind it as well as the outcomes and the repercussions. As previously mentioned, Lever keeps her chapters short and sweet and the chapter on the Diamond Necklace Affair is no different and comprises of a grand total of 10 pages but Lever explains everything to the point without rambling on for pages and pages without getting into the nitty gritty details which for the most part will bore the reader. Well, unless they're me who devours all the nitty gritty political stuff. But still! Fraser went more into the nitty gritty, and whilst she did a good job it did get rather dry. Lever's chapter on the Affair, her wonderful narrative on the fraudulent notes from the Queen saying she would have the hugely expensive diamond necklance, just made me want to know more but didn't go into too much detail to let my mind wander. And I like that in an author.

Throughout the book as well I found myself struck with the relationship between Marie Antoinette and Count Axel Fersen - I don't want to go too much into this because it would end up being far too much conjecture for a book review but I do like to think that maybe, just maybe, she sought solace from the excesses of Versailles in his arm. Of course this can never be proven really, but they were close right until the end, and I found myself getting rather irritated when I found out that when Marie Antoinette was imprisoned he ended up in another relationship with Eleonore Sullivan. Yet at the end he mourned her hugely and it seems developed a distaste for Elenore, due to the fact that with her he didn't share the care and tenderness that he had with Marie Antoinette. I would love to know what really happened between the Queen and her Count, and Lever does a very good job at showing her readers what can be deduced from the surviving letters and his later actions. Alas I don't think that we will ever know. As I said previously, I like to think that they had a bit of a thing going on, especially considering as how the King often left them alone, especially at their last meeting. Did he know? That's a question I doubt we can ever answer.

Count Axel Von Fersen

As I read the closing chapters of Lever's book this morning before work I found myself tearing up. Just nine months after the execution of her husband, Marie Antoinette found herself being lead to her own death at the Guillotine. In her short chapter on the death of the Queen, I found myself exceptionally moved as I read about her trial at a Kangaroo Court that had already decided her fate, and how just 2 after the start of her trial she found herself being faced by her executioner in her cell at the Conciergerie as they tied her hands and hacked her hair off. She protested, saying they hadn't tied her husband's hands but was ignored. And despite the plots to free her, including the famous Carnation Plot, she was executed on 16th October 1793 at the Guillotine set up on the Place De La Revolution. Was she guilty of what she was charged of? High Treason? Incest? According to Lever, she would have been guilty of treason after releasing details of France's military plans yet the official verdict was unproven. The people just wanted her dead, the woman who they unjustly saw as the reason for their sorrows and hardship.

I have to say, both books I have read on Marie Antoinette have been seriously hard going as I reached their conclusion very likely due to how heavy their subject matter became. Yet at the same time, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story of the Austrian Archduchess and Queen of France. Her life was exceptional, so full of fun but ended in heartbreak and I thought that Lever did an exceptional job telling the story of Marie Antoinette - and she certainly showed the transition of the carefree, party loving Marie Antoinette to the Queen weighed down by politics and by the people's hatred, exceptionally well. I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in the life of Marie Antoinette who doesn't know too much on the era, and even to those who know a lot about it! It is a wonderful work, and it tells the story of the ill fated Queen in a way to inspire pity in even those who believe that the verdict on Marie Antoinette was the true one. This is certainly a book I will return too, and it has helped to give me a taste for more. Thanks to this work, and that of Fraser, I will certainly be reading more about this fascinating woman.

Monday, 23 April 2012

It's Coronation Day for Charles II

On 23rd April 1661, King Charles II was crowned at Westminster Abbey, and I thought that I would write a little something about it. Just because you know, I think ole Charlie is rather fab.

The night before his Coronation, Charles took part in the traditional procession from the Tower of London to Whitehall, treading the same route as previous Kings. He was however, the last English Monarch to take part in this traditional procession. It started early, and everyone was mustered on Tower Hill at 8am on the morning of 22nd April. The diarist John Evelyn commented that the horses mustered there acted elegantly, which had to be a good thing as the horses were not allowed to be unruly or prove to be a menace. Samuel Pepys (another diarist close to my heart!) commented more so on the houses that lined the procession route, taking note of the rich carpets hanging out of their windows. Good old Samuel Pepys would also prove himself to be a bit of a party animal after the Coronation, getting himself stinking drunk! But more on that later. What's more, the streets ran with wine as Charles rode through the streets towards Westminster, stopping to watch plays set up in his honour. And along the way, it is said that Charles stopped at St Paul's, in front of a tavern to kiss the head of a newborn infant!

On 23rd, Coronation Day, Charles made his way to Westminster Abbey. And at 11am Charles entered the Abbey, with his periwigged head bare but he was dressed in full Coronation regalia of ermine, crimson and gold. There was just one problem, during Oliver Cromwell's time as Protector during the Interregnum, the Coronation adornments had been melted down including the famous crown of King Edward. The goldsmith Sir Robert Vyner came to the rescue however, replacing each piece exactly as it had been at a price of £30,000. The newly made regalia was carried before Charles as he made his way towards the front of the Abbey, with prominent nobles bearing the Crown (Ormond), the Sceptre (Albermarle), The Orb (Buckingham) and the Sword (Shrewsbury). Once they reached the altar, these were laid on top of it and Buckingham, Albermarle, Berkshire and Sandwich held a great cloth of gold over Charles' head for the annointing ceremony.

At the end of the service, the Archbishop of Canterbury placed the Crown upon Charles' head and according to Pepys "a great shout began" - can you imagine the sound, and how it must have felt standing upon the Altar in that huge Abbey as your entire audience shouted in happiness at the return of their King? It must have been utterly brilliant! The nobles of the realm then lined up before their King to swear fealty, rising to touch the King's crown and promising to be ever ready to support it. The Lord Chancellor then read out a General Pardon to all those who had fought against the monarchy in the previous years, and medals were thrown into the air - these medals showed an engraving of an oak, a poignant look back to Charles' escape from Worcester.

Following this, the party moved across to Westminster Hall. There, in the great space where his father had faced trial, Charles II attended a massive banquet in his honour, watched by his subjects on massive scaffolds built around the room. The space was then filled with music, dancing and feasting and even the weather held out for them. Well, until at about 6pm in the evening a huge thunder storm began and the rain came down in sheets. This meant cancelling the fireworks, although in the streets the celebratory bonfires still raged.

It was at one of these bonfire parties that Samuel Pepys and his wife began to drink to the King's health. After a while, and after a lot of drinking, Pepys sent his wife home and moved on to one of his friends where they continued drinking. They continued drinking "til one of the gentlemen fell down stark drunk and lay there spewing". A very tipsy Pepys staggered to his friend Sandwich's house where he woke up to find this he was vomiting too. And he wrote in his diary, "Thus did the day end with joy everywhere".

The Coronation of Charles II heralded a new era to his people, they had come out of years of darkness at the hand of Oliver Cromwell and had restored their rightful monarch to his throne. And Charles would end up, for the most part, being loved by his people. And what a great start to his reign it was, filled with joy, parties and a very drunk Samuel Pepys!

Further Reading

Fraser A, 1979, King Charles II, Butler & Tanner: London
Uglow, J, 2009, A Gambling Man, Faber & Faber: London

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Barbara Villiers Part 4: Downfall and Death

Barbara Villiers by Sir Peter Lely

 It's been a while since I posted about Barbara Villiers, mainly because writing about how her relationship with Charles affected Catherine of Braganza got me a little teared up. I can't help it, this family just give me way too many feelings ok? As I've said previously, I find Barbara utterly fascinating but well, she really wasn't the nicest of women was she? Anyway, today's post will concentrate on her downfall, her banishment and her death as a lonely, penniless old woman.

As mentioned in the previous post, Barbara had taken the pretty young Frances Stuart under her wing, manipulating the King's obsession with her to her own ends. Sadly for Barbara, the King's obsession with Frances meant that he began to spend less time with Barbara, and Frances had really begun to outshine the King's main mistress. And so, in a carefully planned display of power, Barbara would take it upon herself to wear more Jewell's than both Frances and the Queen put together. There was also an incident at the theatre where one evening she left her ow box and walked uninvited into the King's box, perching herself between the King and the Duke of York. This was Barbara Villiers making sure that people knew she wasn't going to be left out. Barbara was also incredibly greedy, raiding the Privy Purse on her own whim, and taking the King's New Year gifts of silver all for herself, and she would end up gambling a lot of money away - some estimates say she squandered over half a million pounds on her gambling habits. She would also then have to find ways of paying off her debts, which lead to her acquiring land from the King and then selling said land off - a good example of this being her being given Nonsuch Palace which she consequently ransacked and demolished to pay her debts.

The next really important event in Barbara's life that needs talking about is her role in the downfall of Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon. As we have already seen, the two did not get on at all and Clarendon particularly disliked her. The main issue was that Barbara had placed her own puppets at the centre of politics and this left poor Clarendon with very little to do. Barbara had been waiting for a long time to be rid of Clarendon and to get rid of the man that she so despised; that opportunity came with the signing of the Treaty of Breda which was agreed before Parliament could be assembled. Clarendon was blamed for preventing Parliament from doing anything about it, and the outcry was headed by none other than Barbara Villiers.

The Treaty of Breda

As such, Charles was persuaded. Clarendon had to go. Clarendon was thus summoned to a private meeting in which he spoke out against Barbara's influence on the King. Charles, of course, was outraged and stormed out leaving Clarendon standing there at a loss. What on earth had he done? Two days later, Charles sent to Clarendon to collect the seal of Office from Clarendon and dismissed him from service. Poor Clarendon, victim of Barbara's scheming, left England on 3rd December 1667.

What was it that made Charles want to get rid of Barbara though? It started when Barbara was pregnant again, this time with Jermyn's child. She attempted to force Charles to admit paternity of the child but Charles resisted, saying he hadn't slept with her for months. "God damn ye, but you shall own it!" she cried; and she threatened that if he did not acknowledge the child she would dash its brains out before him, and parade all of his bastards before him. The real turning point came when Barbara made a public fool of the King, and made him fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness saying she didn't care whose child she bore as long as the King recognised it as his own.

Charles on his knees before Barbara Villiers by William Powell Frith

From then on, the King wanted rid of her, or so the court talk said. After an episode of insolence (yet again) he banished her from court and after three days she collected her things. But once they came face to face everything would be fine again. But at this stage, they were really beyond repair and began to outdo each other in their infidelity - Charles took a fancy to the actress Moll Davis, and later Nell Gwynne would make her way into the King's affections. She would end up lasting much longer than Moll ever did. And to keep Barbara out of the way at this time, Charles bestowed more and more gifts upon her. To remove her from the immediate vicinity of Whitehall he gave her Berkshire House, and she lived there with her children until it became necessary to sell due to her debts. During this time she also took countless other lovers including a rope dance by the name of Jacob Hall. Much later she would take John Churchill, Duke if Marlborough to her bed, By this time she was well out of favour and was making the most of Charles' "gifts" whilst he spent his time with his other mistresses.

Louise De Kerouelle eventually became Charles' Maitresse-En-Titre, completely eclipsing Barbara. And at the same time Nell Gwynne was the woman that Charles escaped too when he wanted a break from the political machinations of his mistresses - Nell made him laugh, and asked little from him unlike Louise. Yet at the same time Barbara still demanded that her sons be given titles.

In 1676, Charles finally managed to get Barbara out of the picture and she moved to Paris where she took a number of lovers. But by the time of Charles' death in 1685, they were still friends despite everything and on his deathbed Charles apparently asked his brother to be kind to her (as well ash is famous comment to "Let not poor Nelly starve"). After Charles' death, Barbara was heavilly involved with a man by the name of Cardonell Goodman, nicknamed "Scum", and there was an incident in which he was found guilty of trying to poison her children which she ultimately ignored.

Barbara would live to a relatively old age and at the age of 64 would become involved in a massive scandal, which involved a trial for bigamy. At 64, completely based on lust, Barbara threw herself into a relationship with Robert Fielding, a man who was known to be incredibly violent. They married on 25th November 1775, and 6 months later she discovered that he had another wife who he had married just two weeks before their own wedding. Why had he done this? To get his hands on their money of course, Barbara herself was said to be worth over £60,000! She had, of course, lost most of her fortune in this unfortunate marriage.

On 9th October 1709, Barbara Villiers died at the age of 68 having spent her last few years at Chiswick. She was cared for by the Duke of Grafton who showed real devotion to her despite her previous issues with Fielding. Her once famous beauty had been destroyed by dropsy, a condition which swelled her body to a vast bulk. She was buried at Chiswick Parish Church in 1709.

Barbara Villiers may have been a nasty piece of work, a woman who had a brilliant mind and who knew who to twist people around her little finger but she died a sad death, lonely and, it seems to me at least, unloved. She had known great power, both being loved by a King and politically but in the end she allowed her lust to get the better of her. Fielding used her, spent most of her fortune and left her high and dry and let her die a sad, lonely old woman. In this sense I feel incredibly sorry for Barbara, she had had a brilliant life spent in the limelight at court, she didn't care that many hated her. She had real political influence over the King and managed to keep his attention on her for a good many years. She had known the best, only to die with nothing. She was a remarkable woman and a woman who honestly interests me greatly. And whilst as a person, from reading about her, I may dislike her immensely (if only for how she made poor Queen Catherine feel) but also as a person she interests me greatly, she knew how to get what she wanted and managed to keep the King's interest for many, many years. Barbara Villiers was a woman of her time, who used her womanhood and sexuality to get what she wanted, yet at the same time immersed herself in the male role of politics - and despite how nasty she could be, those qualities alone make her a woman to look up to!

Further reading

Fraser, A, 1979, King Charles II, Butler & Tanner: London
Fraser, A, 1984, The Weaker Vessel: Women's Lot in Seventeenth Century England, Phoenix: London
Masters, B, 1979, The Mistresses of Charles II, Constable: London
Uglow, J, 2009, A Gambling Man, Faber & Faber: London

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Stuart Crushes...? Oh Go On Then.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I have a huge obsession with the Stuart era. I can't help it, I just love it. I mean, it was an era full of rather dashing men, battlefield heroics and amazing beards. Not only that (and we're getting serious now) but it was a dark period of Civil War, followed by a totally unfun England (cheers for that Cromwell) and ended up as a much more fun England under Charles II - bawdy poetry, theatre, dancing...general fun! My problem is that I love the era so much, the WHOLE era from James I all the way up to the reign of Queen Anne, and I have ended up developing way too many crushes on some rather dashing young men from the period. So I thought I would present you all with some pictures of these rather dashing young men and a little bit about who they are, and why I love them so much.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine

Born in December of 1619, this rather handsome young man played a huge part in the English Civil War, fighting and commanding parts of the Royalist army. He was also nephew of the lovely Charles I (see below). Prince Rupert became the poster boy for the perfect Cavalier with his dashing good looks, arrogance and enthusiasm. As commander of the Royalist Cavalry, Rupert took part in many of the English Civil Wars biggest battles including Edgehill, Marston Moor and the Siege of Bristol. Despite being rather dashing and a competent military commander he realised that the Royalist cause was lost and in 1645 advised Charles to treat with Parliament. Charles, of course refused and Rupert surrendered Bristol to Parliament ending up in him being court marshaled. His name was cleared, but in 1646 Rupert was exiled from England by his uncle. He did however have a part to play in his cousin Charles II's exile, and became a part of the exiled court, and when Charles was restored to the throne Rupert was granted a pension and made a part of the Privy Council, and took an active role in the Naval pursuits of the time. Prince Rupert is just so fabulous he deserves a post all of his own, full of pictures of his handsome face. So this will be done. For sure. Because well...LOOK AT HIM!

John Wilmot - Earl of Rochester

Anyone who knows about Charles II and the Restoration should have heard the name of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. And if not, why not? This guy is famous for having his portrait painted with a monkey, wrote some of the best bawdy poetry and plays of his time as well as some of the most gorgeous love poems I have ever read, wrote a ton of hilarious seventeenth century pornography and loved booze and women a little bit too much. Also, if you haven't seen The Libertine with Johnny Depp starring as the lovely Rochester then you are missing out because it is rather amazing and Mr Depp makes a brilliant Rochester! My favourite little ditty of ole' Johnny's is the following:

Here lies a great and mighty King,
Whose promise none relied on;
He never said a foolish thing,
Nor ever did a wise one.

Poor Rochester kept falling out of favour with his friend Charles II, mainly because a lot of his work made fun of the King and made out he was obsessed with sex. So he was exiled, and then came back only to be exiled again after a midnight brawl ended up in the killing of one of his companions in 1676.  But poor Rochester was to die young, and it is said he died of a plethora of venereal diseases including Syphilis and alcoholism.

Charles II

I think you all know why I love this man. I MEAN LOOK AT HIM AND HIS FABULOUSNESS AND HIS SHOES AND JUST EVERYTHING ABOUT HIM. Ahem. Please see my previous posts on Charles and his mistresses Nell Gwynne and Barbara Villiers if you want serious information about this guy. For now I will leave you with more pictures.

James Duke of Monmouth

James Duke of Monmouth has long fascinated me, since driving through Norton St Phillip on the way home from a day of digging up a Roman Villa and being told all about the George Inn where the ill fated Monmouth stayed during the Monmouth Rebellion. Monmouth was the illegitimate son of Charles II and his first mistress Lucy Walter. Monmouth was doted on by his father but there were loads of rumours that he had married Lucy and so the boy was actually the heir to the throne. It didn't help that Monmouth had proven to be a military hero and the people loved him, and those who didn't want James Duke of York on the throne got ideas into their heads that Monmouth should be the next King because he was Protestant. In the end, and this is putting it simply because again this could be a post all of its own, Charles got a little bit fed up of Monmouth and his big head so exiled him. After Charles II died, Monmouth came back to England and started the Monmouth rebellion to kick his Uncle James off the throne. And it failed, badly. Monmouth ended up being executed for high treason - he was beheaded on Tower Hill by the famous executioner Jack Ketch. Before he died, Monmouth felt the axe and asked Ketch to dispatch him quickly, fearing the axe wasn't sharp enough, even going so far as to give Ketch a bag of coins to encourage him. It still took 5 blows to kill him, and Ketch ended up removing Monmouth's head with a butchers knife. Monmouth's story is fascinating and incredibly sad - all he wanted to do was please his father, but at the same time wanted desperately to believe that he was legitimate and his parents had been married. I'm currently reading a biography of him by J.N.P Watson which is proving to be a great read and I can tell that by the end of it, I will be sobbing into my cup of tea.

Charles I

Charles I was my first Stuart love. I mean, look at that beard and you will understand why! Poor Charlie, he made some bad choices when it came to running the country and arguing with Parliament but I really do believe he was in the right. Him and his Royalists fought for tradition, and he firmly believed in the Divine Right of Kings, that he was ordained by God and so he was the big dog and so, above Parliament. Parliament didn't like that idea and so we all know how the story goes...the English Civil War. And sadly we all know how it ends, with Charles I being tried in a kangaroo court and found guilty of treason (treason? How can a king be found guilty of treason when treason is a crime against the King?). He was beheaded upon a scaffold outside of Whitehall Palace, and the only part of that Palace that survives today - The Banqueting House. For more detail on Charles please see my previous post about him and his life.

Thomas Fairfax

This guy sadly fought on the wrong side during the English Civil War, and was a General of the Parliament Army. Despite this, I quite like Fairfax not only because he was a rather handsome devil, but he managed to see through the Civil War, fought for what he believed it and also had a hand in bringing Charles II back to England. He also loved literature (maybe that's why I love him so much!) and gave loads of manuscripts to the Bodleian library as well as writing his own poetry and translating Psalms. His nick name, quite adorably, was Black Tom due to his dark eyes and dark hair.

Edward Sexby

The picture above is of John Simm's portrayal of Edward Sexby in the Devil's Whore because I couldn't actually find a portrait of Sexby from the time. Which is rather annoying.  If anyone knows of any then please do email me. Anyway, the portrayal of Sexby in the Devil's Whore wasn't exactly the most accurate although he was ruggedly handsome! The REAL Sexby fought for Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentarian army during the English Civil War and was also a follower of the Leveller John Lilburne, and thus believed in government being left to the people rather than having to answer to King or Parliament. When Cromwell took up the Protectorship in 1653 Sexby opposed it hugely, as it went against everything that had been fought for in the Civil Wars - Cromwell would for all intents and purposes be a King. Sexby and other Levellers began plotting against the Protectorship, publishing pamphlets and Sexby himself even turned up at the exiled court of Charles II to tell them all about leading an uprising against Cromwell and bringing Charles II back. Edward Hyde (Clarendon) was of course sceptical, wondering how on earth the levellers and a reinstated monarchy could work together. Sexby was the author of a pamphlet named "Killing No Murder" in which he said that Cromwell was a tyrant and worse than Caligula, and in such circumstances Tyrannicide was justifiable. He then began to plot to assassinate Cromwell. He was arrested in 1657, locked up in the Tower of London and questioned where he admitted to writing the pamphlet and plotting to assassinate Cromwell, but he wouldn't name any of his accomplices. Good man. Poor Sexby died of a fever whilst locked in the Tower in 1658 before he could be tried.

John Donne

This guy was a poet, a satirist, a lawyer and eventually a priest. He didn't take part in the English Civil Wars, dying before they could even start. He was born in 1572 and died in 1631, and this the majority of his adult life was lived during the reign of James I. Whilst Donne didn't really do anything particularly exciting, he was a member of parliament and later became a priest, he did write a love poem involving a flea. And that therefore makes him awesome.

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deny'st me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be;
Thou knowest that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead.
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pampered, swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than we would do.
Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, we are met
And cloistered in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be
Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and sayest that thou
Find'st not thyself, nor me, the weaker now.
'Tis true, then learn how false fears be;
Just so much honor, when thou yieldst to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Borgias - Were they really incestuous?

The Borgia Family, from Showtime's The Borgias.

You all know how much I love the Borgia family, and sometimes I think that love sometimes borders on a strange obsession somewhat akin to my obsession with the Stuart family. In fact I'd say the love I have for these two families goes hand in hand, skipping through the daisies. Or something. Anyway, moving swiftly on, you all know that I have a bit of a thing for Showtime's TV show "The Borgia's" despite its historical inaccuracy and its time line mix ups - it may have something to do with the very very pretty people. The show and interesting conversations both online and in real life have brought the same thing up again and again: "The Borgia family were murderers and involved in incestuous relationships with each other"

I suppose that we can't help but think that way about the Borgia family, after all these things have been said since their own times, and nowadays any media that even mentions the family makes a big deal about the so called incestuous relationship between Lucrezia and Cesare - the perfect example is of course from the recent videogame Assassins Creed Brotherhood.

Cesare and Lucrezia in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

For those of you who have played the game, the Borgia family are the main antagonists and Cesare Borgia aims to completely take over Rome, and the rest of Italy at the head of the Templar Order. And at the same time, he is involved in a rather heavy incestuous relationship with his sister Lucrezia, promising her that when he has taken over the country she will be his Queen. Now I know, I know, there is very little historical fact here (despite the fact that the game *is* based around history and historical events; Cesare Borgia wasn't a Templar and believe it or not there was no Apple of Eden...) but this game has honestly made people believe that these two siblings were incestuously involved with each other. The Borgias, whilst nowhere near as in your face (and much more historically accurate) has begun to show the siblings as incredibly close. And when I say close I mean closer than a brother and sister should be...and let's just say that tumblr erupted after a certain scene from the second season. However, I honestly feel that the show is much more closer to what happened historically - that they were close, and for want of a better word in love with each other, but they never crossed that line that many throughout history said they did.

But where on earth did these rumours come from? Why has the slur come down through so many centuries and why does it still stick even today? I have written previously on the life of Lucrezia Borgia, and how she has been vilified throughout history but in that post mentioned little about the incest rumours other than the fact that it was said her brother murdered her lover and her husband.

 Pope Alexander VI

After marrying Giovanni Sforza in 1493, Lucrezia became Countess of Pesaro. It was a marriage of politics as these things always were. Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) wanted the Sforza's on side and despite the fact that Giovanni had little power himself, his family were powerful. And by marrying Lucrezia to Giovanni he was publically thanking the family for his election as Pope (Cardinal Ascanio Sforza had played a huge part in Rodrigo's election) and he was also punishing the Sforza's enemy, Ferrante King of Naples for a hostile move against him the previous year. Yet the Pope soon tired of the Sforza family and needed other, more politically powerful allies and so began to arrange an annulment of the marriage. When Giovanni refused to agree to the annulment a good ground had to be found. And so, Pope Alexander VI told Giovanni that the marriage was to be dissolved on the grounds that the marriage was never consummated due to the fact that Giovanni was, in fact, impotent.When accused with this, Giovanni denied it saying he had known her "an infinite number of times" and the Pope was taking her away from him in order that he could have her to himself. And thus, the incest rumours were born.

Not only was Lucrezia accused of incest with her father, but also with her brother Cesare - and it is these stories that come down to us nowadays and creep their way into modern media. Do I believe in the stories? No, I do not believe that they were sexually involved. But I do believe that they were exceptionally close and, for want of a better word, in love with each other in a kind of platonic love. After all, Lucrezia was able to forgive Cesare despite all the wrongs he did to her (the apparent murder of her second husband Alfonso at his hands, or the hands of his execution Michellotto). Yet he would rush to her side when she was unwell, make her laugh so she would feel better - there are so many stories that show how close these two were, stories that told on their own merits could well end up as a series of posts (Oh well there's an idea!!) - and of course the deep mourning that Lucrezia fell into upon learning of the death of her beloved brother. Yet despite the stories swarming Italy of their alleged incest, I have yet to come across a decent shred of evidence to say that these two were involved romantically. Sarah Bradford's biographies on both Cesare and Lucrezia mention very little on the possibility that this happened, and when she does mention it it is to say that there is so little solid evidence to even give the stories credence.

Could it have happened? Yes. Did it happen? We will never know for sure, at least not until reliable evidence is brought to light instead of vicious rumours sparked by the anti Borgia faction. Sadly, the whole thing will keep being told in TV shows, books and video games because it makes for good entertainment, and makes the Borgia family seem inherently evil. As I have mentioned, I don't believe it and won't until someone can prove to me that it did actually happen because for me, the Borgia family were a family who have been tarred with the paintbrush of vilification - murderers, power hungry and incestuous? Power hungry? yes, murderers? It depends what way you look at it but you know, I can see Cesare demanding Alfonso's death because he was jealous that Lucrezia was showing her husband more attention. But incestuous? Na - to me they were a close family who loved each other deeply, it's just that their enemies, and time have blurred the lines between fact and fiction.

Further reading

Bradford, S, 1976, Cesare Borgia: His Life & Times, Weidenfeld and Nicholson: London
Bradford S, 2004, Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love & Death in Renaissance Italy, Penguin: London
Hibbert, C, 2008, The Borgias And Their Enemies, Mariner: New York
Strathern, P, 2009, The Artist, The Philosopher And The Warrior, Vintage: London

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Review: Marie Anoinette by Antonia Fraser

Before reading this, I had very little knowledge of the French Revolution. Indeed I still have little knowledge but reading this has done what I can only describe as opening a flood gate of emotion and a thirst for more knowledge on a very dark period in history. I recall being told stories as I was growing up, that my ancestors on my mothers side of the family fled from France to England during the Revolution to escape the Guillotine, and whilst I am unsure whether to actually believe these stories (who knows, they may be true), I suppose I have always had a rather morbid fascination with this period which, until now, I have never done anything about. Now before I go any further I would like to thank MadameGuillotine for recommending this book to me - it has proved to be a fantastic read and one that has opened that aforementioned flood gate of full blown emotion!

Now onto the review!

I have read books by Antonia Fraser in the past and I have to say that I was less than impressed with them. Whilst her biography of Charles II had a damn good go at making the dry parts of his history more accessible, it kind of fell short of the mark. And her book the Six Wives of Henry VIII just read exactly like every other book on Henry's wives. With this book however, I was more than pleasantly surprised. From the moment I picked it up I found myself immersed in the world of Versailles, found myself tearing up as Marie Antoinette's story came to it's horrific end. I will say now that Fraser has done a remarkable job with this book, her writing flows beautifully and as you read you can (or at least I could) picture the sumptuous elegance of the French court, could imagine the beautiful gowns that Marie Antoinette wore, felt her embarrassment in the early days of her marriage when the entire court knew that her marriage to Louise XVI went unconsummated. It's not often that a history text allows me to feel so connected to the subject I am reading about, and for making me feel this way I really must applaud Antonia Fraser.

The book itself starts, of course, with the birth of Marie Antoinette to the Empress Maria Teresa on 2nd November 1755 and details her upbringing alongside her many brothers and sisters. The "Small but completely healthy Archduchess" had a carefree childhood, growing up in the Viennese Court which often lacked strict protocol - something which Marie Antoinette would have to deal with when she arrived at Versailles much later - and the little Antoine, as she was called growing up, ended up developing a very close relationship with her sister Maria Carolina. These two girls were close in age and retained a close relationship all their lives, despite the distance that separated them. We are also told of Marie Antoinette's education, or rather lack of it, which would later lead to the French believing her to be unintelligent. Her lack of education wasn't down to poor teaching, but rather down to her lack of concentration, and whilst she loved learning music and Italian, she seemed rather unwilling to complete much of any other work. Of course, Marie Antoinette was used as a political pawn by her mother (more so after the death of the Emperor Francis I) and against a backdrop of complex alliance treaties and wars she was betrothed to the French Dauphin Louis August.

Reading the chapters on Marie's travels to France, her marriage to Louis and the sumptuous court of Versailles felt like an attack on the senses. When she arrived in France she was no longer the Archduchess of Vienna, but the Dauphine of France and the future Queen. This young woman would have no idea where this life would take her, for now she was surrounded by an extravagant court filled with gossip, she would have so many beautiful things at her finger tips. Her reception in France was incredibly enthusiastic, with children handing her flowers as she passed, and when someone addressed her in German she told them to speak to her in French, as she was now a French woman.

Her years at Versailles as the Dauphine of France were filled with extravagance and sadly, embarrassment. When I watched Sophia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" and saw the story of how the marriage went unconsummated between herself and Louis I could hardly believe it - surely it couldn't be true? Research told me it was, and reading the chapters in Fraser's book confirmed it. Why did the marriage go unconsummated for so long? It was said that Louis had certain medical issues that stopped him from making love to his wife, but quite honestly I believe that it was nerves. Louis-August was, after all, not the most forthcoming of young men, and came across in Fraser's work as a very shy young man. It did in fact take the couple many years to consummate their marriage, despite the growing fondness between the royal couple. It should also be noted that Marie Antoinette's relationship with Madame Du Barry played a huge part in her early years at Versailles. Madame Du Barry was the mistress of Louise XV and universally hated, so much so that the hatred rubbed off on Marie Antoinette - so much so that for a long time she refused to acknowledge the King's favourite. Pressure from her mother and the Austrian minister meant that Marie eventually spoke with Du Barry, and the favourite was satisfied.

On 11th June 1775 Louise XV died, meaning that Louis August became Louise XVI, and Marie Antoinette became Queen of France. During her early years as Queen, Marie Antoinette hosted many parties, and loved to gamble. She also renovated the Petit Trianon, a gift given to her by Louise XVI. Their marriage was eventually consummated in 1777, and on 19th December 1778 Marie Antoinette gave birth to a daughter who was named Marie-Therese. Following the birth, due to the stifling atmosphere in the room thanks to the crush of people watching, she collapsed. The King had the windows open to revive her and following this incident courtiers were banned from the birthing room. The Queen gave birth to a son in 1781, the long awaited Dauphin and heir to the French throne. France was of course ecstatic at the news.

Yet amongst the happiness, the popularity of the French Queen was slowly declining.

After the birth of her second son Louis Charles in 1785, and a second daughter in 1786 (though who sadly died in June 1787); the wheels of revolution were turning. The financial situation in France was getting worse, and the Royal family were blamed for much of it. Due to a need to pass much needed reforms, Louis XVI was forced to recall the Assembly of Notables after Parlamente refused to help. It was a failure, and during this time Marie began to abandon her more carefree exploits to take more of a part in politics, not only because she was the mother of the future King of France but also to regain her reputation after the Diamond Necklace Affair in which she was accused of defrauding the crown jewellers.

During 1778-1789, the price of bread began to rise, due to the failure to reform the countries finances. At the same time, the health of the young Dauphin Louis-Joseph began to decline. And riots started to break out in Paris, whilst the public hissed at the Queen and shouted insults. And as Louis-Joseph passed away from tuberculosis, leaving the title of Dauphin to his younger brother Louis-Charles; the National Assembly was created and the French people ignored the death of their Dauphin.

The famous storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789 heralded everything that the Revolution stood for, and as Paris erupted in riots, Louis tried to halt the pushing forward of the National Assembly with little success. As many nobles fled France at this time, desperate to escape the revolution, Marie Antoinette made the decision to stay with her husband. Yet on 5th October, Versailles was stormed, forcing the royal family to move to Paris under constant guard. Yet all the time hatred was thrown at Marie Antoinette, libelles were published accusing her of having affairs, reiterating the stories from years previously that she had been involved in lesbian relationships. Yet she held her head high. It was during this time that an escape was attempted (and I loved this story as Fraser told it, despite it's sad ending) when the Royal Family escaped from Paris and tried to make their way to Montmedy - the plot failed, and the family were arrested at Varennes on 22nd July 1791. On 13th August the royal family were imprisoned at the Tower at the Temple of Marais. This was the last place that Louise XVI would ever see, and indeed one of the last places that Marie's loyal friend the Princesse De Lamballe would ever see. The Princesse was taken for interrogation and transferred to the Prison at La Force - she was horrifically killed in the September massacres and her severed head paraded at the windows of The Tower on a pike. The story of the Princesse is a truly horrific one which deserves its own post later. Upon learning the fate of her friend, Marie Antoinette fainted. On 21st September, it was announced that the monarchy no longer existed in France and would be ruled by the Assembly and the Royal family had to re brand themselves with the last name Capet. In December, Louise was separated from his family and tried for crimes against the country - he was found guilty and sentenced to death. His death would come at the hands of the gruesome contraption known as the Guillotine on 21st January 1793.

Following Louis' death, Marie Antoinette went into a deep mourning and wore black almost constantly. For a while she refused to eat or do any exercise. Her health declined and according to Fraser, she bled often and may have began to suffer with tuberculosis and uterine cancer. She was becoming a shadow of her former self, so much so that at her own trial her appearance shocked those present. She was tried on 14th October and accused of incest with her son, inciting orgies at Versailles and sending money to Austria as well as many other unbelievable accusations. The trial was a sham, her fate had already been predetermined; she was found guilty and sentenced to death. Back in her cell at the Conciergerie, where she had been moved following the death of her husband, she composed her last letter to her sister in law. The letter never reached Madame Elisabeth. On that same same, the 16th October 1793, Marie's now white hair was cut off and she was driven to the Place De La Concorde (then known as the Place De La Revolution) in the back of a horse and cart. As she walked up the scaffold, she stepped on the executioners foot and she apologised, her last words "Pardon me Sir, I meant not to do it". Following her swift death at around 12.15pm, her body was thrown into an unmarked grave, the same place where her husband had been buried nine months earlier. Their bodies were exhumed in 1815 during the Bourbon restoration and reburied at the Cathedral of St Denis.

Fraser has done an exceptional job in telling the story of Marie Antoinette and her life. She has really managed to capture the ups and downs of this remarkable woman's life, and by the end of the book I was sobbing. whilst above I have only given a brief review of the story, there were many moments which made me cry. The story of the Princesse De Lamballe, the brainwashing of Louis-Charles and indeed the last moments of Marie Antoinette. It is an incredibly moving story - this woman's only mistake was to be Austrian, and Queen of France. To me it seemed as if the common people blamed her for their troubles which is highly unfair. Despite her spending extravagantly on her own pleasure, Marie Antoinette took part in charitable works, and the stories of her sexual deviance are little more than...well, just that, stories. Whilst she may have had a sexual relationship with Count Fersen, much of what was told in the later Libelles were just horrible stories made up to discredit this woman. She was certainly no she wolf, and Fraser paints her in a very sympathetic light. As I mentioned previously Fraser's writing style flows beautifully and really helps weave Marie Antoinette's story onto the page. This book has really made me thirst for more knowledge on Marie Antoinette and the Revolution, and not only that has completely turned my opinion of Fraser's works around - so much so that I may give her book on Charles II another go!

Expect more posts on Marie Antoinette on this blog in the future, and in particular the Princesse De Lambelle!!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Barbara Villiers Part 3: The Cracks Begin To Show

Helen McCrory as Barbara Villiers in "Charles II: The Power & The Passion"

In the last post, I wrote about Barbara's early years at court, her rise to being known as "Lady Castlemaine", the rocky relationship with her husband and the children she bore the King. Today's post will concentrate in her years at court from the arrival of Queen Catherine of Braganza to the beginning of her decline.

Catherine of Braganza arrived in England in 1662 to a swathe of celebration and bonfires were lit in celebration in every street in London, except outside of the house of Barbara Castlemaine. During May 1662, whilst the celebrations raged, the King was inside Barbara's house in King Street dining and playing with her until it was time for him to leave for Portsmouth to meet his new Queen. Barbara was said to be very upset and the King leaving her company, and it should be worth noting that at this point she was heavily pregnant with the King's second child by her.

When Charles first laid eyes on Catherine, he was rather taken aback. The difference between her and Barbara was astounding. Catherine had lead such a retired existence in Portugal that she wore fashions that had not been seen in England since the late Tudor era, and would have looked rather odd to the eyes of the English. She had also been advised by her parents that to surrender to the English way of dressing would prove detrimental to the dignity of Portugal. Yet despite this initial stubbornness Charles found her demeanour to be incredibly pleasing, and he told Clarendon that he thought himself "very happy" at having her for a wife. Yet after their marriage, the two did not consummate their marriage - Charles complained that he was too sleepy. He claimed this was due to the journey but it may have also had something to do with the fact that he had come to meet Catherine straight from the bed of Babara Castlemaine!

Queen Catherine of Braganza by or after Dirk Stoop

Charles II and Catherine were married in a private ceremony the day after her arrival in Portsmouth and from there the royal couple went to Hampton Court for their honeymoon. Almost immediately Barbara began causing a stir, as she proposed that at the same time as the royal couple were there, she should be at Hampton Court for the birth of her son. The idea was rejected outright by Charles! But as Barbara fought to maintain her place as the most important woman in Charles' life, it was the Queen's own ladies in waiting who helped to cement her place there. These women were old, proud and fiercely overprotective of Queen Catherine, they refused to learn English and kept wearing the Portuguese fashions whereas at least Catherine began to dress in more of an English manner, and they also made it startlingly clear that they would not sleep in any bed that had previously been slept in by a man! Charles of course would not put up with this behaviour for long, and began to put together a list of English women to be her new ladies in waiting. And the name at the top of that list was Barbara Castlemaine. At finding this out Catherine fainted in shock, it was obvious that she knew enough about the infamous Lady Castlemaine. How was it then that the King's mistress managed to receive this post? Quite simply Barbara had pleaded with the King to give her the post as a demonstration of his loyalty to her and of course, Charles weakly agreed to her demands. What Charles did not know was that Catherine had heard of Barbara, even all the way in Portugal, and Catherine's mother had told her not to allow Barbara's name to mentioned in her presence and for a long time Catherine made no allusion to Barbara's presence. Now though, she had the royal Mistresses presence slapped right in front of her and would be forced to deal with Charles' sexual betrayal every single day. In utter fury she struck Barbara's name from the list and demanded that the King allow her this privilege or she would go back to Portugal. Charles, of course, would have been taken aback and not prepared that his wife would have a will of her own. He tried to calm her down to start with, insisting that his affair with Barbara belonged to his past, he didn't need the mistress now that Catherine was in his life. Charles, as we know from hindsight, never kept this promise. Did he even intend to keep it?

A few days later, Charles managed to introduce his mistress to his wife. Catherine had of course never come face to face with Barbara and so, although had heard about her, would never recognise her if they came face to face. Queen Catherine received her gratefully, allowing her to kiss the royal hand but when one of Catherine's Portuguese ladies whispered in her ear who it was, Catherine became agitated and her eyes filled with tears but she tried to control herself, until blood began pouring from her nose and she had to be carried from the room. All Charles could see at this point was that his wife had denied him, it was if at this stage he hadn't quite realised just how deep his wife's feelings went for him. Clarendon was summoned, who of course took Catherine's side but Charles argued that if he allowed the Queen to get her way he would be seen as weak. Moreover, Charles used the argument that now Lord Castlemaine had left his wife, it was his own duty to secure her a position of honour in the Queen's household, and that if Catherine stopped making a fuss he would never push another appointment on her again. He also threatened that if she continued in this way, he would get himself even more mistresses. Clarendon was sent to her as the bearer of bad news and he, although siding with her, said that if she would only allow Barbara as first lady of the bedchamber then all would be well. Catherine of course flew into a rage, saying that the King must hate her and that she would pack her bags up and leave for Portugal. Clarendon tried to calm her down, advising her to accede to the Kings wishes and he also advised the King to let the matter lie for a few days for things to calm down. But a consequent meeting between husband and wife ended up in a full scale shouting match, he accused her of stubbornness and she called him a tyrant. He then told her he would send all her Portuguese ladies right back where they came from. The argument was so loud that the next day everyone at Court knew what had happened, and also noticed that they barely looked at each other! But now the King found himself in a quandary, he was growing ever more fond of his wife but couldn't let Barbara down. However Catherine spent the next few days crying alone in her rooms, and in public feigning indifference although still ignoring him. After this, Barbara formally took up her position as lady of the bedchamber at Whitehall Palace and there, poor Catherine had to see her husbands mistress  as more popular than she was. For months she took everything in silence, noticing as her own servants showed more respect to Barbara knowing full well she had more influence with the King than Catherine did. But this silence gained her many admirers, and one day bored with loneliness she began to chat happily with Barbara, showing outwardly all signs of friendliness, and Barbara was even seen to be waiting on the Queen at Mass. Catherine, although only outwardly showing her acceptance did so as she did not want to displease her husband due to the simple fact that she was so in love with him that she would put up with his lover.

During this time, Barbara used her influence at court and there seemed no end to it. After Lady Gerard, another lady of the Queen's bedchamber made remarks that Barbara took offence to, she had her dismissed. She began persuading Charles to dismiss elderly statesmen, and having them replaced with younger men who were more in touch with the modern world, and there was no point in Charles protesting this despite the alarm felt by others at court. And it was during 1662-63 that Barbara began to use her influence to bring about the downfall of Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon. He had much to fear from her, knowing how much she hated him, and it was Barbara who influenced the decline in his influence.

This was when Barbara was at her height, the King would dine with her four or five times a week, often not returning to Catherine's bed until the next morning, and he made n effort to hide it from her. He would openly walk from Barbara's apartments to the palace and for a period of about three months did not dine with the Queen once, preferring to spend his time with Barbara. By April 1663, Barbara had apartments in Whitehall near the King and no matter how fond of Catherine Charles was, she could not compete with Barbara's dazzling wit and her sexual prowess.

Barbara was certainly not loyal to Charles, and she had a string of other lovers including Sir Charles Berkeley, James Hamilton a groom of the King's bedchamber, Lord Sandwich and Henry Jermyn.

Yet Barbara's power would soon start to crack when rival's for the King's affection began to make their mark. The earliest example is when Frances Stuart, a young girl of fifteen from Paris, joined the court as a maid of honour. This girl was apparently incredibly beautiful and immediately captivated the King, and she was the polar opposite of Barbara Castlemaine and was incredibly virtuous. So virtuous in fact that she just kept on refusing the King.

Frances Stuart, La Belle Stuart by Sir Peter Lely

Of course Barbara quickly took the young, naive Frances under her wing, inviting the young thing to all nights out and making sure that she was always present at occasions where the King was, and indulged Frances' love of childish games. One famous story (which can be seen in Charles II The Power & The Passion with Rufus Sewell) involved a play where Barbara and Frances would pretend to be man and wife, going through a pretend marriage and going to bed in the traditional manner. When the King arrived, Barbara ceded the place of the husband to him but still Frances would now allow anything to go beyond a game which must have been very frustrating for Charles! However during Charles' seeming obsession with young Frances, Barbara began to go about the Court with a sour look on face and it was clear that she was beginning to lose favour. She was seen less and less in the Kings company, and in public people began to pay less attention to her.

One of the main events that saw Barbara's fall from favour in 1663 was the fact that Catherine became seriously ill in the October. It was sudden and mysterious and it was feared that she would not recover. The raging fever made her believe that she had given birth to a son, and she apologised to Charles that he was so ugly. The King, who had spent many hours by her bedside, told her that their son was a pretty boy. By this time, it had been established that the Queen must be barren, and thoughts that she may be dying gave way to talk of a new Queen for Charles, and the name of Frances Stuart was thrown around. The Queen however recovered only to be faced with the reality of her childlessness and the King's continued dalliance with his mistresses.

Further reading

Fraser, A, 1979, King Charles II, Butler & Tanner: London
Fraser, A, 1984, The Weaker Vessel: Women's Lot in Seventeenth Century England, Phoenix: London
Masters, B, 1979, The Mistresses of Charles II, Constable: London
Uglow, J, 2009, A Gambling Man, Faber & Faber: London