Friday, 14 November 2008


Barbara Villiers Palmer, Lady Castlemaine, Duchess of Cleveland, Mistress of Charles II

Pepys was enthralled by her beauty but, like others of the times, feared her impact on King Charles II to be far too great for the good of England.
While walking one day Pepys finds himself in the Privy-garden where he “saw the finest smocks and linnen petticoats of my Lady Castlemaine’s, laced with rich lace at the bottom, that ever I saw; and did me good to look upon them”. In spite of her beauty, upon her separation from her husband, Pepys admits “I know well enough she is a whore”.

A Viscount's daughter, Barbara was already married when she met Charles soon after his return to England in 1660. When Charles' future queen, Catherine of Braganza arrived from Portugal in 1662, Barbara appears to have been heavily pregnant by him. She gave birth to a son on 18 June, five weeks after Catherine's arrival. That same day, the Queen visited Barbara in her apartment at Hampton Court, and was so shocked to see the newborn child that she threw a fit and had to be carried out.

Although she was never faithful to her royal lover, the King used to visit Barbara four nights a week at her apartments in Whitehall. When her second son was born in 1663, Charles denied paternity but nevertheless gave Barbara lavish Christmas presents the same year. When she was expecting another child in 1667, Barbara swore that if he denied paternity again, she would dash the infant's brains out. Barbara's power over Charles was such that he went down on his knees to be 'pardoned' for his very well-founded suspicions.

Barbara's demands were so great, her temper so fierce and her infidelities so brazen that Charles tired of her. When Barbara announced she had converted to Catholicism, this was the ideal excuse to have her removed from court. She left for Paris in the spring of 1677, to embark on more liaisons.

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