By Jeannine Kerwin
Biographies and Portraits
Barbara Palmer, Lady Castlemaine in the Diary, and later the Duchess of Cleveland, as depicted by artist Peter Lely here and here was one of the many mistresses of King 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. Several wonderful websites offer excellent short biographies or stories related to Barbara, including: 1911 Encyclopedia;Wikipedia; Everything2 and Grammont, which include references to anecdotes from Pepys’ Diary.
Barbara in the Diary
Barbara’s first entry into the Diary takes place on 13 July 1660 where Sam records that it is already the intent of the King “to make her husband a cuckold”. Soon afterwards, he declares her the King’s mistress and begins a long period of recording his admiration of her beauty. While walking one day Sam 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, Sam admits “I know well enough she is a whore”. Sam’s entry on 26 July 1662 records Barbara’s controversial christening of her son and the infamous Bedchamber Incident which was her “power play” involving the Queen. By this time, Barbara has established herself as a force to be reckoned with in the Court of Charles II.
In February1662/1663 Sam introduces gossip from Captain Ferrers detailing the mock marriage of Lady Castlemaine to Frances Stuart, a young Court beauty who will totally captivate the King. This mock marriage frolic and the implications behind the court politics of the time are further detailed in Section I of the Article A Walk with Ferrers.
Although Sam continues to be captured by her beauty, he is somewhat dismayed by the rise of Barbara’s powers and the growing Court factions which he believes are distracting Charles II from his responsibilities of state. By 15 May 1663 Sam laments that:
the King do mind nothing but pleasures, and hates the very sight or thoughts of business; that my Lady Castlemaine rules him, who, he says, hath all the tricks of Aretin that are to be practised to give pleasure. In which he is too able … , but what is the unhappiness in that, as the Italian proverb says, “lazzo dritto non vuolt consiglio.” If any of the sober counsellors give him good advice, and move him in anything that is to his good and honour, the other part, which are his counsellers of pleasure, take him when he is with my Lady Castlemaine, and in a humour of delight, and then persuade him that he ought not to hear nor listen to the advice of those old dotards or counsellors that were heretofore his enemies: when, God knows! it is they that now-a-days do most study his honour. It seems the present favourites now are my Lord Bristol, Duke of Buckingham, Sir H. Bennet, my Lord Ashley, and Sir Charles Barkeley; who, among them, have cast my Lord Chancellor upon his back, past ever getting up again; there being now little for him to do, and he waits at Court attending to speak to the King as others do…
During the Queen’s illness Barbara was faced with the possibility that she could lose her position if Queen Catherine died. Court gossips believe that if the Queen died that Charles’ infatuation, Frances Stuart would become the new Queen. Luckily for Barbara, Queen Catherine survived.
Throughout the Diary years, Barbara, moves in and out of the King’s favor, but remains a force to be dealt with within the Court of the King. She offers Sam a continuous source of enjoyment of her beauty, concern regarding her power over the King, and never ending gossip, which Sam dutifully has recorded.
Biographies and related non-fiction about Barbara are listed below. These books may be available through your local library (with the help of the research department) or are sometimes available through the used book search. Some may be available on the US Amazon or UK Amazon .
- All the King’s Women by Derek Wilson
- The Illustrious Lady by Elizabeth Hamilton
- The King’s Ladies by Dorothy Ponsonby Senior
- The Royal Whore by Allen Andrews