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Mistresses

Sex and Scandal at the Court of Charles II
Narrated by: Julie Teal
Length: 8 hrs and 43 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (30 ratings)

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Summary

According to the great diarist John Evelyn, Charles II was ‘addicted to women’, and throughout his long reign a great many succumbed to his charms. Clever, urbane and handsome, Charles presided over a hedonistic court, in which licence and licentiousness prevailed.

Mistresses is the story of the women who shared Charles’ bed, each of whom wielded influence on both the politics and cultural life of the country. From the young king-in-exile’s first mistress and mother to his first child, Lucy Walter, to the promiscuous and ill-tempered courtier Barbara Villiers. From Frances Teresa Stuart, ‘the prettiest girl in the world’, to history’s most famous orange seller, ‘pretty, witty’ Nell Gwynn, and to her fellow actress, Moll Davis, who bore the last of the king’s 15 illegitimate children. From Louise de Kéroualle, the French aristocrat - and spy for Louis XIV - to the sexually ambiguous Hortense Mancini. Here, too, is the forlorn and humiliated Queen Catherine, the Portuguese princess who was Charles’ childless queen.

Drawing on a wide variety of original sources, including material in private archives, Linda Porter paints a vivid picture of these women and of Restoration England, an era that was both glamorous and sordid.

©2020 Linda Porter (P)2020 Macmillan Publishers International Ltd 2020

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"Restless he rolls from whore to whore"

Lord Rochester invented the "Merry Monarch" title for Charles II as well as this headline. With his insatiable appetite for women and fine food, it seems fitting, but it doesn't seem very merry to self-dose and finally self-poison with mercury in the vain hope that it will protect you from venereal disease. or to suffer agonies of gout and obesity from vast over-eating which is what the ebullient and genial Charles II did.

Linda Porter's quite brief clearly researched account of the seven most important women in Charles' life rips along at a good pace and is crammed with detail, from the incredibly vast sums of money lavished on these women to the galley slaves who manned the ships carrying dignitaries to England. She also lays out succinctly the political backdrop to these liaisons and the minutiae of the excessively hedonistic court life.

Poor Catherine of Braganzia brought to Charles' court from Portugal to marry the King! Suffering from ghastly sea-sickness, she arrived in England ill and exhausted with no great celebrations to welcome her to the alien land where Charles' long-term mistress Barbara Villiers later made Duchess of Portsmouth, was reigning high. Despite writing effusively to his new mother-in-law about his delight with his new wife, Charles found her completely unappealing whilst Catherine fell in love with him and stayed devoted, despite the pain and suffering his antics with his endless mistresses gave her. She never managed to produce an heir, suffering only miscarriages as Charles' many bastard children prospered. It was only on his death bed in 1685, 25 years after the Restoration, that Charles revealed his sorrow at the way he had treated her.

Charles' mistresses detailed here from the most famous, the raised-in-a-brothel Nell Gwyn to the aristocratic Louise de Keroualle (who held the record at 15 years for her role as maitresse-en-titre) are majestic in their ambition, rivalries and eccentricities. Barbara Villiers had herself painted by Peter Lely with herself as the Madonna and her bastard child as a thumping great baby Jesus.

It's a serious work which carries its authority lightly - a very enjoyable, lively recreation of that extraordinary Court. Julie Teal reads it very well, but I think it's a pity that when she has obviously taken the trouble to pronounce the many French names correctly, she makes errors with English words: mores; forte and scurrilous, the latter many times as it's an obvious adjectives for much of went on!

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No wonder he was merry

Excellent .not just the mistresses but the whole debauched court brought vividly to life and very well narrated by Julie Teal

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interesting book

I really enjoyed this well narrated listen. it gives lots of detail about the Mistresses lives before and after their affairs with the king