By , .

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.

Further Resources

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

Additional Background Articles


This text was copied from Wikipedia on 15 July 2024 at 6:11AM.

The Duchess of Cleveland
Countess of Castlemaine
Portrait attributed to John Greenhill. Dated to no later than 1676.
BornBarbara Villiers
27 November 1640 (17 November Old Style)
Parish of St. Margaret's, City and Liberty of Westminster, Middlesex, England
Died9 October 1709(1709-10-09) (aged 68)
Chiswick Mall, Middlesex, England
Spouse(s)Roger Palmer, 1st Earl of Castlemaine
Robert Fielding
IssueAnne Lennard, Countess of Sussex
Charles FitzRoy, 2nd Duke of Cleveland
Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Grafton
Charlotte Lee, Countess of Lichfield
George FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Northumberland
Barbara FitzRoy
ParentsWilliam Villiers, 2nd Viscount Grandison
Mary Bayning
OccupationLady of the Bedchamber
Arms of Barbara Villiers as the only daughter of William Villiers, 2nd Viscount Grandison: Argent on a cross Gules five escallops Or.[1]

Barbara Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland, Countess of Castlemaine (née Barbara Villiers /ˈvɪlərz/ VIL-ərz; 27 November [O.S. 17 November] 1640[2] – 9 October 1709), was an English royal mistress of the Villiers family and perhaps the most notorious of the many mistresses of King Charles II of England, by whom she had five children, all of them acknowledged and subsequently ennobled. Barbara was the subject of many portraits, in particular by court painter Sir Peter Lely.

Barbara's first cousin, Elizabeth Villiers (later 1st Countess of Orkney 1657–1733), was the presumed mistress of King William III.

Early life

Born into the Villiers family as Barbara Villiers, in the parish of St Margaret's, Westminster, Middlesex,[3] she was the only child of the 2nd Viscount Grandison, a half-nephew of the 1st Duke of Buckingham, and of his wife Mary Bayning, co-heiress of the 1st Viscount Bayning. On 29 September 1643, her father died in the First English Civil War from a wound sustained on 26 July at the storming of Bristol, while leading a brigade of Cavaliers. He had spent his considerable fortune on horses and ammunition for a regiment he raised himself; his widow and daughter were left in straitened circumstances. Shortly after Lord Grandison's death, Barbara's mother next married Charles Villiers, 2nd Earl of Anglesey, a cousin of her late husband.[4]

Upon the execution of King Charles I in 1649, the impoverished Villiers family secretly transferred its loyalty to his son, Charles, Prince of Wales. Every year on 29 May, the new King's birthday, young Barbara, along with her family, descended to the cellar of their home in total darkness and clandestinely drank to his health.[5] At that time, Charles was living in The Hague, supported at first by his brother-in-law, Prince William II of Orange, and later by his nephew, William III of Orange.


Barbara Palmer's lack of fortune limited her marriage prospects

Tall, voluptuous, with masses of brunette hair, slanting, heavy-lidded violet eyes, alabaster skin, and a sensuous, sulky mouth,[6] Barbara Villiers was considered to be one of the most beautiful of the Royalist women, but her lack of fortune left her with reduced marriage prospects. Her first serious romance was with the 2nd Earl of Chesterfield, but he was searching for a rich wife; he wed Elizabeth Butler in 1660.[7] On 14 April 1659 she married Roger Palmer (later 1st Earl of Castlemaine), a Roman Catholic, against his family's wishes; his father predicted that she would make him one of the most miserable men in the world. The Palmers had joined the ambitious group of supplicants who sailed for Brussels at the end of 1659.[8] In 1660, Barbara became the King's mistress, and on 20 August 1660 was awarded two pennies seigniorage on every Troy pound of silver minted into coins.[9][10] As a reward for her services, the King created her husband Baron Limerick and Earl of Castlemaine in 1661. These titles were given with the stipulation that they would only be passed down through Roger's heirs by Barbara, and thus served as a way for the king to indirectly secure an inheritance for his illegitimate children.[11] The two officially separated in 1662, following the birth of her first son. It has been claimed that Roger, Lord Castlemaine, did not father any of his wife's children.[12]

Royal mistress

Lady Castlemaine's influence over the King waxed and waned throughout her tenure as royal mistress. At her height, her influence was so great that she has been referred to as "The Uncrowned Queen" and she was known to assert her influence with the King over the actual Queen, Catherine of Braganza.[13] This initially began upon the Queen's landing at Portsmouth. Samuel Pepys reported that the customary bonfire outside Lady Castlemaine's house was left conspicuously unlit for the Queen's arrival.[14] In point of fact, she planned to give birth to her and Charles' second child at Hampton Court Palace while the royal couple were honeymooning.[15]

Of her six children, five were acknowledged by Charles as his. Charles did not believe he sired the youngest, but he was coerced into legally owning paternity by Lady Castlemaine:

Lady of the Bedchamber

Portrait by Sir Peter Lely (c. 1666)

Upon the birth of her oldest son in 1662, she was appointed Lady of the Bedchamber despite opposition from Queen Catherine and the 1st Earl of Clarendon, chief advisor to the King and a bitter enemy of Lady Castlemaine. Behind closed doors, Barbara and the Queen feuded constantly.

Her victory in being appointed as Lady of the Bedchamber was followed by rumours of an estrangement between her and the King, the result of his infatuation with Frances Stuart. In December 1663, Lady Castlemaine announced her conversion from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. Historians disagree as to why she did so. Some believe it was an attempt to consolidate her position with the King, and some believe it was a way of strengthening her ties with her Catholic husband. The King treated the matter lightly, saying that he was interested in ladies' bodies, but not their souls. The Court was equally flippant, the general view being that the Church of Rome had gained nothing by her conversion, and the Church of England had lost nothing.

In June 1670, Charles created her Baroness Nonsuch (as she was the owner of Nonsuch Palace). She was also, briefly, granted the ownership of the Phoenix Park in Dublin as a present from the King. She was made Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland in her own right. However, no one at court was sure if this was an indication that she was being jettisoned by Charles, or whether this was a sign that she was even higher in his favours. The dukedom was made with a special remainder which allowed it to be passed to her eldest son, Charles FitzRoy, despite his illegitimacy.

King Charles II took lower status lovers, in particular actress Nell Gwynne, who is commonly romanticised as an orange seller. So did Barbara, who built up a reputation for promiscuity; her daughter Barbara Fitzroy, born in 1672, is believed to have been fathered by her second cousin John Churchill who went on to build Blenheim Palace later in life.


Lady Castlemaine was known for her dual nature. She was famously extravagant and promiscuous, with a renowned temper that often turned itself on the King when she was displeased. Diarist John Evelyn called her "the curse of the nation".[16] She held influence over the King in her position as royal mistress and helped herself to money from the Privy Purse as well as taking bribes from the Spanish and the French, in addition to her sizable allowance from the King.

She also participated in politics, combining with the future Cabal Ministry to bring about Lord Clarendon's downfall. On his dismissal in August 1667, Lady Castlemaine publicly mocked him; Clarendon gently reminded her that if she lived, one day she too would be old. There are also accounts of exceptional kindness from Lady Castlemaine; once, after a scaffold had fallen onto a crowd of people at the theatre, she rushed to assist an injured child, and was the only court lady to have done so.[17] Others described her as great fun, keeping a good table and with a heart to match her famous temper.


Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland, circa 1705

The King had taken other mistresses, the most notable being the actress Nell Gwynne. Later in their relationship, the Duchess of Cleveland took other lovers too, including the acrobat Jacob Hall, the 1st Baron Dover and her second cousin John Churchill. Her lovers benefited financially from the arrangement; Churchill purchased an annuity with £5,000 she gave him. The King, who was no longer troubled by the Duchess's infidelity, was much amused when he heard about the annuity, saying that after all a young man must have something to live on. Her open promiscuity and extravagant spending made her a popular figure for satirists to use to indirectly ridicule the King and his court, which made her position as royal mistress all the more precarious.[18] In 1670 Charles II gave her the famed Nonsuch Palace. As the result of the 1673 Test Act, which essentially banned Catholics from holding office, she lost her position as Lady of the Bedchamber, and the King cast her aside completely from her position as a mistress, taking Louise de Kérouaille as his newest "favourite" royal mistress. The King advised his former mistress to live quietly and cause no scandal, in which case he "cared not whom she loved".[19]

In 1676, the Duchess travelled to Paris with her four youngest children, but returned to England four years later. Her extravagant tastes didn't lessen with time, and between 1682 and 1683 she had Nonsuch Palace pulled down and had the building materials sold off to pay gambling debts. She was eventually reconciled with the King, who was seen enjoying an evening in her company a week before he died in February 1685. After his death, the 45-year-old Duchess began an affair with Cardonell Goodman, an actor of terrible reputation, and in March 1686 she gave birth to his child, a son.[20]

Second marriage

In 1705, Lord Castlemaine died, and she married Major-General Robert Fielding, an unscrupulous fortune-hunter whom she later had prosecuted for bigamy, after she discovered that he had married Mary Wadsworth, in the mistaken belief that she was an heiress, just a fortnight before he married Barbara. She had complained of his "barbarous ill-treatment" of her after she stopped his allowance, and was eventually forced to summon the magistrates for protection.


Barbara died at the age of 68 on 9 October 1709 at her home, Walpole House on Chiswick Mall, after suffering from dropsy, now described as oedema of the legs, with congestive heart failure.

Cultural depictions

Barbara Palmer is often featured as a character in literature.


Barbara Villiers figures prominently in Bernard Shaw's In Good King Charles's Golden Days (1939) and Jessica Swale's Nell Gwynn (2015), played in the premiere productions by Daphne Heard and Sasha Waddell respectively.


Villiers is the protagonist in the following literary fiction novels:

And as being a recurring character in Susanna Gregory's Thomas Chaloner series of mystery novels.


Barbara is played:


Barbara is played:


  1. ^ Burke, Bernard (1884–1969). The general armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales: comprising a registry of armorial bearings from the earliest to the present time. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co. ISBN 978-0806349480.
  2. ^ The Complete Peerage
  3. ^ Thornbury, Walter. "St Margaret's Westminster Pages 567-576 Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878". British History Online. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  4. ^ Gilmour 1941, pp. 9–10.
  5. ^ Gilmour 1941, p. 10.
  6. ^ Fraser 2002, p. 209
  7. ^
  8. ^ Gilmour 1941, p. 15.
  9. ^ This right was protected in a schedule to the Coin Act 1666 which suspended seigniorage.
  10. ^ del Mar, Alexander, (1899). Barbara Villiers: or a history of monetary crimes. New York: Groseclose, Money & Man. (repr. Omni Publications, 1967, 1983), chapters 1-VIII (pp. 1–48)
  11. ^ "PALMER, Roger (1634-1705), of Llanfyllin Hall, Mont. | History of Parliament Online". Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  12. ^ "Barbara Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland". Archived from the original on 8 January 2007. Retrieved 16 March 2010.
  13. ^ William de Redman Greenman Romances of the Peerage, p.1 Reprinted online "". 1914.
  14. ^ Pepys, Samuel, 1633-1703. (1995). The diary of Samuel Pepys. Latham, Robert, 1912-1995., Matthews, William, 1905-1975., Armstrong, William A. (William Arthur), 1915-. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-499021-8. OCLC 34317364.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Gilmour 1941, p. 75.
  16. ^ Fraser 2002, p. 208.
  17. ^ Fraser 2002, p. 209.
  18. ^ Pritchard, R. E (2015). Scandalous Liaisons, Charles II and His Court. UK: Amberley. p. 167. ISBN 978-1-4456-4878-1.
  19. ^ Pritchard, R. E (2015). Scandalous Liaisons, Charles II and His Court. UK: Amberley. p. 182. ISBN 978-1-4456-4878-1.
  20. ^ Mosley, Charles, editor. Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, volume 2, p. 2096. Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003.


External links

1893 text

Barbara Villiers, only child of William, second Viscount Grandison, born November, 1640, married April 14th, 1659, to Roger Palmer, created Earl of Castlemaine, 1661. She became the King’s mistress soon after the Restoration, and was in 1670 made Baroness Nonsuch, Countess of Southampton, and Duchess of Cleveland. She had six children by the King, one of them being created Duke of Grafton, and the eldest son succeeding her as Duke of Cleveland. She subsequently married Beau Fielding, whom she prosecuted for bigamy. She died October 9th, 1709, aged sixty-nine. Her life was written by G. Steinman Steinman, and privately printed 1871, with addenda 1874, and second addenda 1878.

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

25 Annotations

First Reading

Pauline  •  Link

Fitzroys preceded by Fitzcharles
Catherine Pegge, an earlier mistress, was the first to use such a naming convention for the illegitimate children of Charles. Their son Charles Fitzcharles (Earl of Plymouth) was born in 1657; their daughter Catherine Fitzcharles became a nun as Sister Cecilia in Dunkirk.

See… for all 15 illegitimate offspring of Charles II

David Quidnunc  •  Link

How Restoration society viewed mistresses

A successful mistress to an aristocrat or the King, particularly if she was beautiful, was a celebrity -- even celebrated, at least in high society. The best painters would immortalize her and prints of the paintings were then bought and sold. Possible modern equivalents: Gypsy Rose Lee (the "high society stripper"), Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna.

This is from an article in the (British) "History Today" magazine about an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (London) in 2001-02 of Peter Lely's portraits of the women in Charles II's court [Minor plot spoiler until 1662 -- Pepys is mentioned as liking a particular portrait]:

"This aspect of Restoration society -- the widespread appreciation by men of feminine beauty -- becomes more interesting when one realises the extent to which these pictures were reproduced. For example, Jane Needham was a commoner without much to recommend her ... other than her looks. [She became the mistress of one aristocrat and then another] ... [H]er portrait by Lely existed in multiple versions and Robert Spencer, Earl of Sunderland, a prominent politician as well as a connoisseur of art, decided that it was appropriate for her portrait to hang in one of the main state rooms at Althorp.

"The stars of the exhibition are the two principal mistresses of the King, who set the tone for the court as a whole. First was Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and subsequently Duchess of Cleveland (1641-1709), whose influence on the King, as his leading mistress for the first ten years of his reign, extended beyond the bedroom. Rumoured to have shared the King's bed on the night before the coronation, Barbara bore him at least four children between 1661 and 1665.

"Barbara was the archetype of beauty during this period ... not conventionally beautiful, but with a certain languor and heavy-lidded, `bedroom' eyes, the physical effect of which was much admired, not least by Samuel Pepys who saw a portrait of her in Lely's studio in 1662 (it had been locked up on a previous visit) and was determined to acquire a copy. Lely painted her often, and described her `sweetness and exquisite beauty' as `beyond the compass of art'. His first portrait depicted Barbara as the Penitent Magdalen. This picture became a standard image of her and was much copied, not least by the engraver William Faithorne (1616-91), who was able to sell Pepys three prints, one of which he then varnished and framed as a memento of her beauty.

"Later in the 1660s, Lely painted her as the Madonna and Child, the best version of which was recently for sale. It is an image which, even now, has a capacity to shock in its sacrilegious combination of mistress and Madonna. The Duke of Sunderland, meanwhile, ordered her to be painted as a shepherdess for his collection at Althorp. This portrait of her (c. 1666-67) -- with drapery flying behind her in the wind -- is most striking: vigorous, beautifully painted, in fact Lely at his best.

"... at the level of the court, this was a society which had an extremely low regard for marital fidelity and a high regard for courtesans."

anonymous  •  Link

"This was a society which had an extremely low regard for marital fidelity and a high regard for courtesans."

Monsieur Quidnunc, immorality was primarly practised by the King and the aristocracy. The middle class was moral, though, and not all aristocrats were morally corrupt.

anonymous  •  Link

The Duchess of Cleveland was nothing more than an ugly, scheming slattern.

anonymous  •  Link

Her youngest child, Lady Barbara Fitzroy, was probably the bastard daughter of John Churchill, who would later become the first Duke of Marlborough, not a daughter of King Charles II

Pauline  •  Link

from L&M Companion
(1641-1709)...married Apr. 1659 to Roger Palmer, later Earl of Castlemaine. Mistress at 15 [c. 1656] to the Earl of Chesterfield and c. 1659-70 to the King. Tall and fair, with blue eyes, she was to Pepys the loveliest of all the court ladies. She exercised considerable political influence as the ally of Arlington and the enemy of Clarendon. Her greed and bad temper were notorious; so too was her promiscuity. Among her lovers were John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough, Wycherley the dramatist and Jacob Hall the rope-dancer. Her hold over the King (at its greatest when she made him force her on the Queen as a Lady of the Bedchamber in 1663) was almost gone when she had herself created Duchess of Cleveland in 1670. She was soon afterwards displaced by Louise de Keroualles (Duchess of Portsmouth). Between 1661 and 1665 she had borne five children acknowledged by the King and surnamed Fitzroy. A pension of L4700 paid to one of them, the Duke of Grafton, was continued to his descendants until 1856 when it was commuted for L91,000.

In 1660 she was living in a house belonging to her husband on the e. side of King St., Westminster, backing on to the palace orchard, later a bowling green, and next to the e. end of Sandwich's lodgings. In the spring of 1663 she moved into the palace, over the Holbein Gate with further rooms to the east of it. In Apr. 1668 she was given Berkshire House but still kept her apartments in the palace.

Pedro  •  Link

Sam remarks as Castlemaine "being quite fallen out with her husband"

A little background from Davidson's book "Catherine of Braganza"

"It was at the christening of this child of hers, whose paternity she used all her powers to link with shame, that an open rupture came between her and her husband. He insisted on considering the boy his lawful heir, and made preparations for having him baptized by a priest, as he himself was a Catholic. This his wife violently protested against. She said that the child was the King's son, and should be in his father's religion. She tore him from her husband and the priest, who had already christened him, and had the baby christened again by a clergyman of the Church of England, with Charles and the Earl of Oxford as godfathers, and Lady Suffolk, Catherine's chief lady of the bedchamber, for godmother. This so roused the poor-spirited and dishonoured husband that he went of in a rage to the Continent. She seized all the money and jewels of his that she could lay her hands on, and departed at once to her brother's house at Richmond, so that she might be close to Hampton Court and the King."

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Godmother of Connecticut?

In 1662, John Winthrop the Younger, son of Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop, sailed back to England to get a royal charter for the Connecticut colony. This was important for Connecticut because it would establish a regional government.

Winthrop, a cousin of George Downing, Pepys' former boss, was granted the charter, which was dated April 23, 1662.

According to this excerpt from David E. Philips' "Legendary Connecticut," Barbara may have had something to do with Charles II granting the charter, although all of this may be just legend:

"It has been said that back in the reign of King Charles I, the crown had no more faithful supporter in colonial America than John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. However, John Winthrop's grandson [Philips got that wrong, he was a son], popularly known as "Winthrop the Younger" to distinguish him from his grandfather of the same name, had early left Massachusetts to cast his lot with the Connecticut Colony. So, after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, when Connecticut decided to request a charter of liberties such as the other colonies had, Winthrop the Younger was chosen to carry the petition to Charles II, son of Charles I, who had been beheaded by Cromwell. The feeling was that the Second Charles might be especially generous with those who had been loyal to the First, and, thus, because of the family connection, Winthrop might be looked upon with special favor by the new king.

"In order to remind Charles II of his father's close ties with the elder Winthrop, Connecticut's Winthrop brought with him as a royal gift a magnificent ring, which Charles I had once bestowed upon the Massachusetts Bay Colony governor as a token of their friendship. But as influential as the ring must have been in currying the King's favor, it was as nothing, according to contemporary court gossip, compared to the good accomplished by Sequassen's deed and the covetous Dutchess of Castlemain. It seems that among the mementos which 'Young' Winthrop had brought with him from Connecticut was an exotic-looking parchment covered with queer totems, the document by which Sequassen had signed away his birthright lands to the English settlers at Hartford. They say that when the Dutchess of Castlemain, Charles II's current mistress, caught sight of the 'savage' deed, she instantly fell in love with it and vowed to have it for her own.

"Promising to entice all kinds of exceptional charter provisions from her royal boyfriend in exchange for the novel parchment, the Dutchess finally persuaded the Connecticut emissary to give it to her."…

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

to help finding said painting, the Lass goes by the name Barbara Villiers (1640-1709);…

[she]"... was Charles II's leading mistress during the first decade of his reign, and the mother of five of his children. She set the standard for beauty in her day, but to the King's critics she represented all that was bad about the new regime. She acquired titles and great wealth, but also exerted considerable political influence through her access to the King. Her relationship with Peter Lely, the King's painter, operated to their mutual benefit, his many portraits of her publicising her beauty and status, and her prominence at court promoting his art. This most audacious, indeed shocking, of Lely's portraits - in which the King's mistress and son are depicted in the guise of figures of the deepest religious veneration - reflects the permissive atmosphere of the new court, reacting to the years of war and repression...."

Bradford  •  Link

Lady Castlemaine: Only a Handful of Appearances left!

Catch her career here, and submit your tally of how many children she had and by whom!…

language hat  •  Link

Conclusion of DNB entry:

As the first acknowledged royal mistress in Britain for some centuries, Cleveland's potential influence over the king was of prime concern to Restoration courtiers, and her great beauty, forceful personality, and genius for self-promotion made her both admired and feared. Contemporary comment concentrated on condemning her flagrant affairs and extravagant expenditure: in Bishop Burnet's disapproving opinion she was a 'woman of great beauty but most enormously vicious and ravenous; foolish but imperious' (Burnet's History, 1.132), while another observer wrote, 'the prodigious amount of money dissipated by this woman, who has no moderation or limit in her desires, passes all bounds and exceeds all belief' (Lorenzo Magalotti, 72). The author Mary Delariviere Manley, who had lived with Cleveland for a short time in the 1690s, characterized her in a scandal novel, The New Atalantis, as 'querilous, fierce, loquacious, excessively fond, or infamously rude ... The extreames of prodigality and covetousness; of love and hatred; of dotage and aversion were joyn'd together in Hilaria's [Cleveland's] soul' (Steinman, 192). Indeed, Cleveland's relationship with Charles II often threatened to dissolve under the strain of their respective infidelities, yet she maintained her position for some ten years, in the process establishing the position of royal mistress as one of political significance and acquiring great wealth and high honours for her children.

S. M. Wynne

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

Sam may wish it be this- only for fine art specialists and titled gents[DOM]…
The inscription on the ledge, 'Dutchess of Cleveland', was probably added a century later.
(From the display caption August 2004)

Jeannine  •  Link

"The Royal Whore" by Allen Andrews

Barbara Villiers, (Lady Castlemaine, infamous mistress of Charles II) is well known to diary readers for her beauty and adoration by Sam. Barbara was a beauty on the outside but underneath a greedy, vulgar, unfaithful, backstabbing, vindictive Libertine whose main purpose in life was to dig her claws into Charles II and bleed him dry for whatever land, titles, money, jewels, and prestige that she could get. Her tactics ranged from erotic sexual seduction, to blackmail, to emotional battery and politicking, etc. to get what she desired. In order to understand Barbara, Allen takes the reader into the Court of Charles II and then exposes the crass, debauched, libertine lifestyle of the idle, morally corrupt rakes that were the courtiers of the King. In addition, the secret cabals and back room intrigues, along with some not so morally stellar side anecdotes of the entourage are set forth in an entertaining fashion. Barbara had a notorious appetite, not only for sex, where she had an ongoing and never ending overlapping string of partners, but mostly for material gain. She even sunk to an event of prostitution in later days when she found a wealthy man willing to pay for what the King had already tasted. In her glory days she carried a power over Charles which caused fear in those around him. Over time the bond was drawn out to cover the bastards that Charles had so kindly accepted as his own (although it's doubtful that many of them actually were his as she was always active with an overlapping string of men). As her glory days faded out she sunk into more debauchery and vulgar antics including the all time low of turning the mummified body of Bishop Braybooke (died 1404) into a eunuch by dismembering his private parts right of his coffin with her mouth.
Allen explains "Female rakes are rare, because profligacy with its exaggeration of the natural masculine taste for risk, adventure and sporting insecurity is a gross aberration from the feminine inclination. When women develop as libertines, and retain their maternal instinct to the extent that they give priority to the protection of their children and their lovers, they enlarge the family which must be maintained before they attend to other pleasures; whereas the male voluptuary diminishes or obliterates his family. The consequence is of greater psychological interest to an observer, but entirely devastating to the rake's intended prey. For since the woman needs more, she is that much more rapacious. When Barbara Cleveland [she was made the Duchess of Cleveland over time]wanted something, or someone, men trembled and obeyed" (p 225). Barbara's grasp of greed extended to cover her children and ensure titles, land, wealth, noble marriages, etc. and to support the lovers that she "paid" during their periods of "servicing" her. Of note, none of her children who were claimed by Charles amounted to anything of intellect, achievement or "value" and were pretty much classified as "blockheads", albeit, overindulged and spoiled ones. An interesting read of a complex, highly unlikable woman and her times.

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jeannine  •  Link

from Grammont's footnotes (quoting Burnet)
This lady who made so distinguished a figure in the annals of infamy, was Barbara, daughter and heir of William Villiers, Lord Viscount Grandison, of the kingdom of Ireland, who died in 1642, in consequence of wounds received at the battle of Edge-hill. She was married, just before the Restoration, to Roger Palmer, Esq., then a student in the Temple, and heir to a considerable fortune. In the 13th year of King Charles II. he was created Earl of Castlemaine in the kingdom of Ireland. She had a daughter, born in February 1661, while she cohabited with her husband; but shortly after she became the avowed mistress of the king, who continued his connection with her until about the year 1672, when she was delivered of a daughter, which was supposed to be Mr. Churchill's, afterwards Duke of Marlborough, and which the king disavowed. Her gallantries were by no means confined to one or two, nor were they unknown to his majesty. In the year 1670, she was created Baroness of Nonsuch, in Surrey, Countess of Southampton, and Duchess of Cleveland, during her natural life, with remainder to Charles and George Fitzroy, her eldest and third son, and their heirs male. In July 1705, her husband died, and she soon after married a man of desperate fortune, known by the name of Handsome Fielding, who behaving in a manner unjustifiably severe towards her, she was obliged to have recourse to law for her protection. Fortunately it was discovered that Fielding had already a wife living, by which means the duchess was enabled to free herself from his authority. She lived about two years afterwards, and died of a dropsy, on the 9th of October, 1709, in her 69th year. Bishop Burnet says, "she was a woman of great beauty, but most enormously vicious and ravenous; foolish, but imperious; very uneasy to the king, and always carrying on intrigues with other men, while yet she pretended she was jealous of him. His passion for her, and her strange behaviour towards him, did so disorder him, that often he was not master of himself, nor capable of minding business, which, in so critical a time, required great application." -- Burnet's Own Times, vol. i. p. 129.… see note 55

Barry Reich  •  Link

From today's CNN.

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- A 17th century portrait by Dutch-born painter Peter Lely of a semi-naked English royal mistress goes on sale in July with a price tag of up to two million pounds ($4 million).

Painted for Charles II in the hedonistic days of the English Restoration after years of Puritanical rule, the painting depicts a slim young woman lounging against pillows with only a sheet draped lightly across her thighs to preserve her modesty.

Hanging in the royal bedchamber behind a secret sliding panel to keep it from prying eyes, the painting was initially catalogued in 1688 as a portrait of famed royal mistress Nell Gwyn.

But there has always been some doubt that this was accurate, with many experts believing that it is in fact a portrait of Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castelmaine, an earlier favourite mistress of the notoriously philandering king.

"The scales are tipping in favor of it being Barbara Villiers because of the eyes and the hair color and the date it was painted," said a spokesman for auction house Christie's which will put the painting on sale on July 5.

Villiers, who was considered one of the most beautiful Royalist women of the era, became mistress to Charles in 1660 aged 20 even though she was married, and rose to wield immense power in the royal court.

The king later acknowledged that five of her six children were his.

But her extravagance and open promiscuity led to her downfall, and Charles eventually dumped her in around 1673 in favour of Gwyn.

Villiers died in 1709 after suffering from dropsy, an intestinal disease now known as oedema.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

Barbara Villiers, dutchess of Cleveland, was sole daughter and heir of William viscount Grandison, and wife to Roger Palmer, esq. afterwards created earl of Castlemaine. Her person was to the last degree beautiful; but she was, in the same degree, rapacious, prodigal, and revengeful. She had, for a considerable time, a great, and no less dangerous influence over the king , as no woman of her age was more likely to beggar, or embroil a kingdom. She was the most inveterate enemy of the earl of Clarendon, who thought it an indignity to his character to shew common civilities, much more to pay his court, to the mistress of the greatest monarch upon earth. It was impossible that the king could be an absolute stranger to her intrigues: but he seems to have had as little delicacy with regard to the virtue of his mistresses, as his brother was observed to have in point of beauty. Though her pride was great, she is said to have been sometimes humble in her amours; and, if we may believe the scandalous chronicles of this reign, she could descend to play-wrights, players, and rope-dancers. When the king's affections were alienated from her, he, to pacify her, created her dutchess of Cleveland. Ob. 1700.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.

Bill  •  Link

VILLIERS (afterwards Palmer), BARBARA, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland (1641-1709), daughter of William Villiers, second viscount Grandison (d.1643); a London beauty, 1656; married Roger Palmer (d.1705), 1659; mistress of Charles II, 1660; Countess of Castlemaine by her husband's elevation to the Irish peerage, 1661; forced as lady of the bedchamber on Queen Catherine, 1662; assigned rooms in Whitehall; procured the dismissal of Sir Edward Nicholas, secretary of state, 1662; her miscellaneous amours notorious, 1662; embraced Romanism, 1663; accompanied the court to Oxford, 1665; instrumental in securing Clarendon's dismissal, 1667 ; trafficked in the sale of court places and offices; pensioned, 1669; created Duchess of Cleveland, 1670; supplanted in Charles IIs graces by Louise Renée de Keroualle, 1674; resided in Paris, 1677-84; obtained the dismissal of Ralph Montagu, ambassador at Paris, 1678; married Robert Feilding, 1705 (marriage annulled, 1707); resided latterly at Сhiswick. Of her children Charles II acknowledged the paternity of (1) Anne (afterwards Countess of Sussex), born 1661; 2) Charles (duke of Southampton) born 1662: (3) Henry (duke of Grafton), born 1663; (4) Charlotte (afterwards countess of Lichfield), born 1664; (5) George (duke of Northumberland), born 1665. Barbara, born 1672, was popularly assigned to John Churchill ; and a boy, born 1686, to Cardonnell Goodman, an actor.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

A new biography by Andrea Zuvich will be published in the fall of 2024 -- you can preorder at…

"Barbara Villiers was a woman so beautiful, so magnetic and so sexually attractive that she captured the hearts of many in Stuart-era Britain. Her beauty is legendary: she became the muse of artists such as Peter Lely, the inspiration of writers such as John Dryden and the lover of John Churchill, the future great military leader whom we also know as the 1st Duke of Marlborough. Her greatest amorous conquest was Charles II, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, with whom she had a tempestuous and passionate relationship for the better part of a decade.

"But this loveliest of Stuart-era ladies had a dark side. She hurt and humiliated her husband, Roger Palmer, for decades with her unashamedly adulterous lifestyle, she plotted the ruin of her enemies, constantly gambled away vast sums of money, is remembered for the destruction of the Tudor-era Nonsuch Palace, and was known to unleash terrible rages when crossed. Crassly lampooned by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, and subjected to verbal and written assaults, she was physically abused by a later, violent spouse.

"Barbara lived through some of the most turbulent times in British history: civil war, the Great Plague of London, which saw the deaths of around 100,000 people, the Great Fire of London, which destroyed much of the medieval city, and foreign conflicts such as the Anglo-Dutch Wars, the Williamite wars, and the War of the Spanish Succession.

"An impoverished aristocrat who rose to become a wealthy countess and then a duchess, taking her lovers from all walks of life, Barbara laughed at the morals of her time and used her natural talents and her ruthless determination to the material benefit of herself and her numerous offspring.

"In great stately homes and castles such as Hampton Court Palace, her portraits are widely seen and appreciated today. She had an insatiable appetite for life, love, riches, amusement, and power. She was simply ‘ravenous’ …"

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.