Charles II of England - the so-called "Merry Monarch" - had a legendary love life. His mistresses were visible, integral members of his court. Stories of their affairs with the king, and their rivalries with each other, have echoed through the centuries.
Born in 1630, Charles spent much of his young adulthood in exile. His father, Charles I, was ousted from the throne and executed in 1649. While a Puritanical regime ruled over England, Charles bided his time on the continent. In 1661, England's Parliament invited Charles to come home and become king - this "Restoration" of the monarchy ushered in a new phase in English history. Charles had some accomplishments during his 25 years on the throne. He was a patron of the arts and sciences, opening theaters in London and sponsoring the Royal Society for scientific study.
But Charles is best remembered for a love life that was even crazier than Henry VIII's. While, like Charles, Henry had several mistresses, it was his multiple marriages that brought him infamy. Henry ended his marriages as quickly as he rushed into them; he was as likely to divorce a wife as execute one. Much of Henry's bedroom politics increasingly focused on his desire to produce a male heir, though his poor health slowed him down in his later years.
If Henry VIII's love life was deadly, Charles II's was bawdy. He never let marriage get in the way of a good affair. A prolific adulterer, Charles freely engaged in colorful, public liaisons with a string of women. These mistresses came from all kinds of backgrounds and were well-known by courtiers and commoners alike. They were often at the center of court politics and managed intrigues of their own.
Though Charles was married to Catherine of Braganza, the marriage never produced any children. Much to her dismay, Catherine had several pregnancies that ended in miscarriage.
Charles's lack of legitimate heirs meant that his younger brother James succeeded him to the throne in 1685.
Born into the French nobility, Louise de Kéroualle first came to England in 1670 as part of Charles II's sister's entourage. Charles soon became infatuated with her and installed her as his mistress.
Like many of Charles's other mistresses, Louise understood that her relationship with the king was ultimately political. In fact, she was a French spy. She was part of a direct line of information, via the French ambassador, to King Louis XIV of France.
By all accounts, Charles was genuinely attached to Louise and admitted, "'tis impossible to expresse the true passion and kindnesse I have for my dearest dearest fubs." ('Fubs' was his term of endearment for her.) Louise stayed by Charles's side until his passing.
As the King of England and Scotland, Charles II had a servant for everything - even for procuring female company.
William Chiffinch was officially in charge of Charles's bedroom. Informally, however, he was known as the king's "pimpmaster general." Chiffinch recruited potential mistresses for Charles. He didn't just recruit well-connected noblewomen; he also recruited women from all walks of life in London.
One of Charles's most controversial mistresses was Barbara Palmer, the Duchess of Cleveland and the Countess of Castlemaine, who adored all the trappings, wealth, and privileges that came with her position.
Nicknamed "the uncrowned queen," Palmer wasn't above throwing her weight around court. When Charles married Catherine of Braganza in 1662, Palmer displayed her undergarments at Whitehall Palace. According to Historic Royal Palaces, this move demonstrated how Palmer "was not only objecting to the marriage but making a claim of ownership" over Charles and the court.
Palmer went out of her way to assert her authority. When Palmer gave birth to one of Charles's illegitimate children, she insisted on doing so at Hampton Court Palace, one of the royal estates.
Many resented Barbara Palmer's influence over Charles. According to court diarist Samuel Pepys, Palmer "rules him, who, he says, hath all the tricks of Aretin that are to be practiced to give pleasure."