Thursday, October 20, 2005

A New Mistress and two Royal Deaths

On 30 June, shortly after her return to France, Madame died of peritonitis. But she had left one of her ladies-in-waiting behind in England, the Breton Louise de Kéroualle (1649-1734). In July Barbara Villiers, now duchess of Cleveland, was more or less pensioned off - for years she and Charles had been tiring of each other, and she had taken up with John Churchill. By September 1671 Colbert de Croissy reported that her influence had completely gone. It seemed for a while as if her position would be usurped by Nell Gwynn (who first met the king in 1668), or by Mary Davis, who also became Charles's mistress, but both mistresses were soon to be eclipsed by Louise. Pressurised by Louis XIV she agreed to become Charles’s mistress, which she did at a houseparty at Arlington’s mansion at Euston, Suffolk in October 1671. ‘Thus two monarchs, an ambassador and a great minister had combined to push an unwilling virgin into the royal bed’ (Ronald Hutton, Charles II, 280-1). (But how unwilling was she?) Exactly nine months later, she produced a son. In 1673 she was created duchess of Portsmouth.

In the spring of 1671, before Louise had become Charles's mistress, the duchess of York died, probably from breast cancer. On the morning of her death, she asked the duke to tell the Anglican bishops of her conversion to Catholicism. The bishop of Oxford, dean of the Chapel Royal, went in to see her and said he hoped she still continued in the truth; she then asked 'What is truth?' Her last words were 'Duke, duke, death is very terrible'. She died in agony without the rites of her new faith and was quickly buried. Neither Charles nor James attended the funeral. See Frances Harris, Transformations of Love (Oxford, 2003, 125-6). She left two surviving children, Mary aged 9 and her sister Anne, aged 6. As he was without a male heir, it was inevitable that the duke would marry again.