By Jeannine Kerwin

Biographies and Portraits

Frances Stuart, or “La Belle Stuart” as seen through the eyes of Samuel Pepys and beautifully depicted by artist Peter Lely here and by Wissing and Van der Vaart here, won her fame as the love interest of King Charles II and was “immortalized” in coinage as the face of Britannia. Pepys and other writers of the time extolled on her beauty and charms and all noted her dramatic impact on King Charles. Several wonderful websites offer excellent short biographies or stories related to Frances, including: Face of Britainna; 1911 Encyclopedia;Wikipedia and Royalty Restored or London under Charles II by J Fitzgerald Molloy where Frances first appears in Chapter 7. Of note, although some of these sites, and even initially Pepys in his Diary, assume that she was a “mistress” of Charles II, most historians consider her to have actually eluded the charms of the sovereign, remaining a virgin until her “runaway” marriage to the Duke of Richmond.

Frances in the Diary

Frances’ first entry into the Diary takes place on 8 February 1662/1663 when Sam introduces gossip from Captain Ferrers detailing the mock marriage of Frances to Lady Castlemaine. 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. In Sam’s words, Ferrers shared the following:

Another story was how my Lady Castlemaine, a few days since, had Mrs. Stuart to an entertainment, and at night began a frolique that they two must be married, and married they were, with ring and all other ceremonies of church service, and ribbands and a sack posset in bed, and flinging the stocking; but in the close, it is said that my Lady Castlemaine, who was the bridegroom, rose, and the King came and took her place with pretty Mrs. Stuart. This is said to be very true.

Several months later Sam catches a glimpse of Frances, and sees that her beauty sets her apart from all other beauties of the day, even the now “former” beauty of all beauties, Lady Castlemaine:

into the Queen’s presence, where all the ladies walked, talking and fiddling with their hats and feathers, and changing and trying one another’s by one another’s heads, and laughing. But it was the finest sight to me, considering their great beautys and dress, that ever I did see in all my life. But, above all, Mrs. Stewart in this dress, with her hat cocked and a red plume, with her sweet eye, little Roman nose, and excellent taille, is now the greatest beauty I ever saw, I think, in my life; and, if ever woman can, do exceed my Lady Castlemaine, at least in this dress nor do I wonder if the King changes, which I verily believe is the reason of his coldness to my Lady Castlemaine.

Other Court political players will also note Frances’ beauty and her impact on the King’s affections. They will try to use her to their benefit by hopefully establishing her as the King’s mistress. Sam shares the gossip that he hears about the “committee” from Lord Sandwich:

… we begun to talk of the Court, and he tells me how Mr. Edward Montagu begins to show respect to him again after his endeavouring to bespatter him all was, possible; but he is resolved never to admit him into his friendship again. He tells me how he and Sir H. Bennet, the Duke of Buckingham and his Duchesse, was of a committee with somebody else for the getting of Mrs. Stewart for the King; but that she proves a cunning slut, and is advised at Somerset House by the Queen-Mother, and by her mother, and so all the plot is spoiled and the whole committee broke. Mr. Montagu and the Duke of Buckingham fallen a-pieces, the Duchesse going to a nunnery; and so Montagu begins to enter friendship with my Lord, and to attend the Chancellor whom he had deserted.

During the months of October and November 1663, Queen Catherine fell sick, with an illness that almost claimed her life. Shortly after this, on 9 November 1663 Mr. Pierce, confirms the general belief shared by many of the Courtiers, that had Queen Catherine died during her illness, Frances would have taken her place as Queen:

and how the King is now become besotted upon Mrs. Stewart, that he gets into corners, and will be with her half an houre together kissing her to the observation of all the world; and she now stays by herself and expects it, as my Lady Castlemaine did use to do; to whom the King, he says, is still kind, so as now and then he goes to have a chat with her as he believes; but with no such fondness as he used to do. But yet it is thought that this new wench is so subtle, that she lets him not do any thing than is safe to her, but yet his doting is so great that, Pierce tells me, it is verily thought if the Queene had died, he would have married her.

From this point on, Frances is now well established as a “presence” in the Court of the King and a much admired beauty of Sam and others. Although her nature never revealed an interest in the world of politics and intrigue, her beauty and the King’s desire to have her for his mistress dominated much of her role in the Diary.

The King’s Anguish

While the King surrounded himself with a bevy of mistresses throughout his life, most historians see Frances, the “one who got away”, as the one love interest who truly broke his heart. During his pursuit of her, Charles wrote her the love poem, “The Pleasures of Love”:

I pass all my hours in a shady old grove,
But I live not the day when I see not my love;
I survey every walk now my Phyllis is gone,
And sigh when I think we were there all alone,
Oh, then ‘tis I think there’s no Hell
Like loving too well.

But each shade and each conscious bower when I find
Where I once have been happy and she has been kind;
When I see the print left of her shape on the green,
And imagine the pleasure may yet come again;
Oh, then ‘tis I think that no joys are above
The pleasures of love.

While alone to myself I repeat all her charms,
She I love may be locked in another man’s arms,
She may laugh at my cares, and so false she may be,
To say all the kind things she before said to me!
Oh then ‘tis, oh then, that I think there’s no Hell
Like loving too well.

But when I consider the truth of her heart,
Such an innocent passion, so kind without art,
I fear I have wronged her, and hope she may be
So full of true love to be jealous of me.
Oh then ‘tis I think that no joys are above
The pleasures of love.

As Frances started to mature and “come into her own” she realized that the only role she would ever have in the Court of Charles II, would be that of his mistress. In order to avoid that role, on March of 1667, she eloped with the Duke of Richmond, a shock that would cut to the heart of the monarch.

Months after Frances’ elopement her departure still pained Charles greatly as seen in this portion of a letter he wrote to his sister Minette (from Ruth Norrington’s My Dearest Minette) dated 26 August 1667:

I do assure you I am very much troubled that I cannot in everything give you the satisfaction I could wish, especially in this business of the duchesse of Richmond [Frances’ formal title through marriage], wherein you may think me ill natured, but if you consider how hard a thing ‘tis to swallow an injury done by a person I had so much tendernesse for, you will in some degree excuse the resentment I use towards her; you know my good nature enough to believe that I could not be so severe, if I had not great provocation, and I assure you her carriage towards me has been as bad as breach of friendship and faith can make it, therefore I hope you will pardon me if I cannot so soon forget an injury which went so neere my hart.

Charles eventually forgave Frances and established her as a Lady in Queen Catherine’s bedchamber. After the death of her husband, she never remarried.

Further Resources

Biographies and related non-fiction about Frances are listed below. Although the Hartmann biography is the only book focused solely on Frances, additional information about her is found on books related to the mistresses of Charles II. 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 .

  • La Belle Stuart by Cyril Hughes Hartmann
  • All the King’s Women by Derek Wilson
  • The King’s Ladies by Dorothy Ponsonby Senior

Additional Background Articles

5 Annotations

Jeannine  •  Link

"La Belle Stuart" by Cyril Hughes Hartmann is the biography of Frances Teresa Stuart, a young lady who was a distant relative of Charles II and a beauty of his court. While her family sought refuge in France during the Cromwell period, she was a favorite of the French court and well regarded by both Charles' mother Henrietta and his sister Minette. Her family returned to England upon the Restoration when Frances was still a young girl of about 13 or so. She was incredibly beautiful, silly and childish in her manner, but her looks and frivolous nature caught the eye of Charles II. During the next few years of immature flirtation she led him to believe that someday she would be his mistress and thus managed to unseat Lady Castlemaine's "power" over Charles. (Pepys makes note of this in several places, starting around 1663 and revels in the related gossip).
Around the time that Queen Catherine became ill (Sept, 1663) it was believed by almost everyone that if Catherine died from her illness that Charles would wed Frances and Castlemaine would be gone for good.
What is most interesting is Hartmann's view of the "curious complexity" of Charles' character through his interactions with Frances. He states that "Charles was dividing between three women at the same time the love that an ordinary man would devote to one at different stages of his passion." For Frances he had a young romantic passion for her gaiety and beauty. For Catherine " it was love growing old, a tenderness free from all passion, a placid affection which was a haven for all his better instincts" and with Lady Castlemaine both romance and tenderness were missing and all that remained were the basest physical element.
As Frances grew into womanhood she had to face the reality of her behavior which left 3 choices: mistress, convent or marriage to anyone who would take her. She threw herself at the Queen's mercy and Catherine guided her towards marriage to the Duke of Richmond. This marriage was an extreme insult and embarrassment to Charles, who banished Frances and her husband from court. The fall out of this situation turned political as the parties in the court opposing Clarendon (Buckingham and Arlington) blamed the marriage on him. Charles, who clearly was struggling to soothe his ego and couldn't think that any woman would leave him for the Duke of Richmond without someone manipulating her to do so, fell for the bait and Clarendon was forced to exile himself to France.
Over time the wounds began to heal and Frances and her husband were welcomed back to the court. After her husband's death Charles appointed her as a lady of Queen Catherine's bedchamber. Catherine and Frances shared a sincere friendship. Frances never remarried, but she remained friendly with Charles who granted her financial support for her life. This is usually available used through a search at

jeannine  •  Link

From Grammont's footnotes (some spoilers)
Frances, Duchess of Richmond, daughter of Walter Stewart, son of Walter, Baron of Blantyre, and wife of Charles Stewart, Duke of Richmond and Lennox: a lady of exquisite beauty, if justly represented in a puncheon made by Roettiere, his majesty's engraver of the mint, in order to strike a medal of her, which exhibits the finest face that perhaps was ever seen. The king was supposed to be desperately in love with her; and it became common discourse, that there was a design on foot to get him divorced from the queen, in order to marry this lady. [Pepys describes her as the greatest beauty he ever saw in his life: "With her cocked hat and a red plume, with her sweet eye, little Roman nose, and excellent taille;" and adds, "If ever woman can, do exceed my Lady Castlemaine, at least in this dress: nor do I wonder if the king changes, which I verily believe is the reason of his coldness to my Lady Castlemaine."] Lord Clarendon was thought to have promoted the match with the Duke of Richmond, thereby to prevent the other design, which he imagined would hurt the king's character, embroil his affairs at present, and entail all the evils of a disputed succession on the nation. Whether he actually encouraged the Duke of Richmond's marriage, doth not appear; but it is certain that he was so strongly possessed of the king's inclination to a divorce, that, even after his disgrace, he was persuaded the Duke of Buckingham had undertaken to carry that matter through the parliament. It is certain too that the king considered him as the chief promoter of Miss Stewart's marriage, and resented it in the highest degree. The ceremony took place privately, and it was publicly declared in April, 1667. From one of Sir Robert Southwell's dispatches, dated Lisbon, December 2/12, 1667, it appears that the report of the queen's intended divorce had not then subsided in her native country. -- History of the Revolutions of Portugal, 1740, p. 352. The duchess became a widow in 1672, and died October 15, 1702. See Burnet's History, Ludlow's Memoirs, and Carte's Life of the Duke of Ormond. A figure in wax of this duchess is still to be seen in Westminster Abbey.

Note: For whatever reason Grammont was not taken by her looks and didn't speak highly of her, which sharply cotnracts other writers of the time. see note 69

JWB  •  Link

Edmund Waller:


Our guard upon the royal side!
On the reverse our beauty's pride!
Here we discern the frown and smile,
The force and glory of our isle.
In the rich medal, both so like
Immortals stand, it seems antique;
Carved by some master, when the bold
Greeks made their Jove descend in gold,
And Danaë[2] wond'ring at their shower,
Which, falling, storm'd her brazen tower.
Britannia there, the fort in vain
Had batter'd been with golden rain;
Thunder itself had fail'd to pass;
Virtue's a stronger guard than brass.

[1] 'Golden Medal': it is said that a Miss Stewart, the favourite of the
unprincipled king, is the original of the figure of Britannia on the
medals to which the poet here alludes.

Bill  •  Link

The dutchess of Richmond, who is better known by the name of Mrs. Stuart, was a daughter of captain Walter Stuart, son of lord Blantyre, a Scottish nobleman. She was perhaps the finest figure that ever appeared in the court of Charles II. Such were the attractives of her person, that, even in the presence of lady Castlemaine, she drew upon her the eyes of every beholder. It was supposed that Charles would have divorced his queen, and raised her to the throne: certain it is that she made the deepest impression upon the heart of that monarch; and his passion for her was daily increasing when she married the duke of Richmond. All the rage of a disappointed lover fell upon the duke, his consort, and the earl of Clarendon, who was supposed to be instrumental to the match. Her wit was so far from being extraordinary, that it stood in need of all her beauty to recommend it. See more of her in lord Clarendon's "Continuation of the Account of his own Life." There is a good deal of her secret history in the "Memoires de Grammont," written by count Hamilton.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.

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