Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Royal Harlot

This book follows Barbara Villiers Palmer in London during the time of English Interregnum.  Their monarch Charles had been executed in 1649 as a tyrant and this time of Cromwell government would last for 11 years.  The family of Stuart remained in exile in mainland Europe and this is where Charles the younger was until he could claim the throne.  Barbara was a Royalist as was her husband Roger Palmer.  They supported the monarchy and wanted Charles to come and claim the throne.  This period of time was governed by military and parliamentary rule by Puritans.  Oliver Cromwell was the parliamentarian hero of the English Civil War and General.  He became the creator of the New Model Army and for which these 11 years would be known as Cromwell government.  Any members that were willing to work with Charles were no longer part of this government.  This became known as the Rump Parliament, and they declared themselves as leaders of the nation.  Monarchy was abolished and religious reforms took place.  Cromwell's defeat of Ireland as well as Catholic threats made him popular.  But the Rump Parliament was not doing so well, and it was disbanded.  Shortly after another attempt, he declared himself the Lord Protector.

In 1658, after dissolving Parliament once more, Cromwell passed away.  His son Richard took his place, but did not do well.  Parliament and the Army did not support him.  With some tussles back and forth, within two years the Prince of Wales had landed on shore.  Barbara was a key person during this time, having been sent by her husband Roger and their other Royalist friends with gold coins sewn into her petticoats to support him.  They began an affair that would change her life forever.  Charles took his throne in 1660 on his 30th birthday as King of England, Scotland and Ireland.  The people were ecstatic at this change.  He practiced religious tolerance and tried to pass acts such as that between Catholics and Protestants.  Charles kept Barbara a secret until he married Catherine of Braganza, so his happy return would not be sullied with scandal.  The court was bawdy and Barbara was at the center.  She gave him 5 children and he gave her the titles of Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland.  She was beautiful, witty and controversial.  The people called her the royal harlot and spread gossip and malice constantly about her.

The couple were not loyal to each other and each took other lovers.  Barbara was his closest friend and mistress for ten years.  She finally left court for overseas when he seemed to have tired of her and had taken up with the actress Nell Gwynn.  As is usual at court, religion was a big issue and Parliament always fighting against the King.  When it was found out his brother and heir was Catholic, because his wife had given him no children, the people rebelled.  Charles dissolved Parliament in 1681 and ruled alone until his death in 1685.  He converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, whether his choice or not no one knows.  Barbara reconciled with her husband Roger in Paris until his death.  She had enough wealth to support herself and her children.  She died at age 68 of dropsy.  She was well known for being a harlot and is one of the most reviled woman in history.  Charles II is known as the "merry monarch" for having a happy and immoral court.  He ruled during the great Plague and Fire.  He was succeeded by his brother James II who only ruled for three disastrous years.

The book was interesting because I hadn't read much of Charles and nothing of the Countess of Castlemaine.  She was indeed greedy, ambitious and beautiful.  I did not like her because of her wantonness and for making the Queen's life miserable as her rival.  Whether or not I like her matters little, because only she knows who she truly was like and not everyone who made a name for themselves was nice.  That is why I have a quote that says "Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History." (lol).  At least she did care for her children and provided well for them.  If is interesting to me how someone like Anne Boleyn was beheaded for supposedly committing adultery, whereas Charles and Barbara did constantly with no repercussions.  It is likely because Barbara was not Queen but just a mistress.  Barbara did not have loving parents and was often let to do whatever she wished at a young age.  Her mother did not rule her strictly and she was passionate at a young age.  Which likely led her to a discontented marriage and then to being the King's mistress.

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