By Susan Holloway Scott
A great many important historical events occurred during the reign of Charles II (1660-1685), including the last outbreak of the plague and the Great Fire. But Charles himself is most remembered today for his love life, unique among English kings. Charles loved women, and women loved him. From high-born ladies to lowly milkmaids, women of every rank found him pretty near irresistible. It wasn’t just that he was king. Charles genuinely liked women, particularly clever, amusing women who could entertain them with their wit as well as in his bed, and they clearly returned the favor many times over.
No one knows the exact number of women Charles had sex with in his lifetime. It was not uncommon for him to call upon one mistress in the afternoon, visit his queen’s bed in the evening, frolic with another mistress after that, and then wind up the night at a brothel. The man famously required almost no sleep.
In addition to his wife and queen, Catherine of Braganza, Charles kept three main mistresses over the course of his reign: Barbara Villiers Palmer, Nell Gwyn, and Louise de Keroualle. These were the women rewarded with titles, houses, estates, incomes, and jewels, and political power. There were far more who only received the pleasure of the royal person, and perhaps a coin or two besides.
The greatest irony of Charles’s reign is that while he sired fourteen natural children (!) that he acknowledged with titles, his queen never bore him a legitimate son and heir. At his death in 1685, Charles’s crown passed to his incompetent brother James. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 followed soon after, and England never again had a ruler who was quite as merry as Charles, the “Merrie Monarch.”
Susan Holloway Scott is the author of The French Mistress: A Novel of the Duchess of Portsmouth & King Charles II. For more about her books, please visit her website at www.susanhollowayscott.com.