Charles II, King of Great Britain and Ireland, as he liked to style himself, succeeded in restoring the monarchy in the year 1660 after the country had experienced a brief but ultimately unpopular experiment with republicanism. Although popularly known as the 'Merry Monarch' Charles was also known to his opponents as "that great enemy of chastity and marriage" as despite being married on the 20th May 1662 to the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza he indulged himself with a variety of mistresses over the years.
Indeed Charles seems to have been one of the most sexually active kings ever to have ruled in the island of Britain, surpassed only by Henry I in the number of his conquests. Charles supposedly lost his virginity at the age of fourteen when he was seduced by his former wet-nurse, Cristabella Wyndham, and continued in the same vein thereafter. His marriage to Catherine of Braganza tragically proved childless, but not so his many other relationships which produced a total of fourteen illegitimate children. The Duke of Buckingham once referred to Charles "as the father of his people", adding no doubt sotto voce, "of a good many of them".
The daughters generally made 'good' marriages into the nobility and the sons were granted their own peerage titles, granted estates and usually married off to whatever wealthy heiress was available at the time. Charles II awarded dukedoms to no less than six of his illegitimate sons, of which four still survive to this day, contributing a significant percentage of the roll call of 21st century dukes.
Margaret de Carteret
Although Lucy Walter (see below) is often cited as the mother of the first of Charles' children, many accounts (following Alison Weir) name a Marguerite or Margaret de Carteret and state that she bore Charles a son named James in 1646.
The Caterets were a family of some distinction in the Channel Islands;
Margaret Carteret was the daughter of George de Carteret, baronet, the Governor and Bailiff of Jersey, a cavalier stronghold and therefore a safe haven for royalists such as the young prince Charles.
James de Carteret is believed to have died sometime around the year 1667 and is likely an entirely different person from the impostor named James de la Cloche.
Charles first met Lucy Walter in the Hague when he was sixteen and she most likely eighteen. Born in Haverfordwest and of a Welsh Royalist family, Lucy was described by John Evelyn as "brown, beautiful, bold, but inspid" and she and Charles spent the summer of 1648 together. On the 9th March 1649 Lucy duly gave gave birth to a son named James. She later died in Paris probably from syphilis in 1658 and her son was brought up in Paris by John, Lord Crofts and was thus known as James Crofts.
As James Crofts the young boy came to England after the Restoration, when his good looks and charm made him a big hit with both society and his father. Created Duke of Monmouth on the 14th February 1663 he was married off in the same year to the heiress Anne Scott, Countess of Buccleuch when James Crofts became James Scott and Duke of Buccleuch. James however later became the figurehead for an attempt to dethrone James II and after defeat at the battle of Sedgemoor was executed on the 15th July 1685. But despite dying a traitor's death on the scaffold, his wife was permitted to retain the estates and had been separately created Duchess of Buccleuch and so the Buccleuch title survived and prospered and continues to this day.
Lucy Walter also gave birth to a daughter sometime before 1658 known as 'Mary Stuart', but it is questionable whether her father really was Charles. Mary married a William Sarsfield and bore one daughter before her death in 1693 and can count Diana, Princess of Wales as one of her descendants.
Elizabeth Killigrew was the sister of Thomas Killigrew the dramatist who joined Charles during his period of exile and later became Master of the Revels. Elizabeth's marriage to Francis Boyle, 1st Viscount Shannon, but having come to the king's attention through her position as maid-of-honour to Henrietta Maria of France (Charles II's mother) her marriage was regarded as no bar to her also becoming the king's mistress.
Elizabeth bore Charles one daughter named Charlotte Jemima Henrietta Maria FitzRoy in 1650 who was married off to William Paston, 2nd Earl of Yarmouth in 1672.
Catherine Pegge was the daughter of a Thomas Pegge of Yeldersley in Derbyshire, who bore Charles a son known as Charles FitzCharles in 1657. Popularly known as 'Don Carlo', Charles was created the Earl of Plymouth on the 28th July 1675 and married Bridget Osborne, a daughter of the Duke of Leeds but died without issue on the 17th October 1680 at Tangier.
There was also a daughter named Catherine FitzCharles born 1658. She later became a nun at Dunkirk in France. Known there as Sister Cecilia, she died in 1759, obviously without issue.
Described by John Reresby in his Memoirs as "the finest women of her age" and by John Evelyn as the "the curse of our nation", Barbara Villiers was the daughter of William Villiers, 2nd Viscount Grandison and therefore a cousin of the Villiers Dukes of Buckingham who featured so strongly in the history of the House of Stuart. Barbara was married to a Roger Palmer in 1659, but became Charles’s mistress shortly after he returned to England in 1660, and used the relationship to extract as much money as she could. (Most of which she blew gambling.)
She bore six children, three boys and three girls, and although it is generally assumed that Charles was the father of at least five of them, this is by no means certain. Mrs Palmer did not confine her adulterous dalliances merely to the king and Charles is known to have denied paternity of her second son who was born in 1663, but Barbara, who was famous for her temper, stamped her foot (literally in all probability) shouting "God damn me, but you shall own it!" and generally creating a scene until the king relented.
The one thing that is reasonably certain is that none of her children could count her husband Roger as their father, although he does not appear to have complained to much and quietly accepted the title of Earl of Castlemaine although the letters patent specified that the title should descend to his wife's male heirs rather than his. His wife was however not satisfied with being a mere countess and insisted on being created the Duchess of Cleveland in 1670. The Complete Peerage, not normally given to such outbursts of emotion refers to this creation being "conferred as actual wages of prostitution".
The three sons all received dukedoms. Firstly there was Charles Fitzroy born circa 1662 who became the Duke of Southampton and as the eldest son also inherited his mother's titles. Secondly there was Henry Fitzroy, born 28th September 1663 was married off to the heiress of the Earl of Arlington and created first Earl of Euston and then Duke of Grafton in 1675. Finally there was George Fitzroy, born 28th October 1665, created Earl of Northumberland in 1674 and Duke of Northumberland in 1683.
George Fitzroy died without issue on the 28th June 1716 at the age of fifty, and the Southampton title expired after the second generation but the Dukes of Grafton remain with us to this day.
Of the three daughters, the eldest Anne Fitzroy, born 25th February 1662 married Thomas Lennard, Earl of Sussex, whilst Charlotte Fitzroy born 5th September 1664, married Edward Henry Lee, 1st Earl of Lichfield and bore him a prodigious number of children. The last daughter Barbara Fitzroy born 16th July 1672,(who many think was really fathered by John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough) became a prioress at the Hotel de Dieu at Pontoise in France where she died on the 6th May 1737 at the age of sixty-four.
Mary 'Moll' Davis
Moll was a popular singer-dancer-comedienne, who first attracted Charles' in about 1667. Samuel Pepys recorded his wife's view of her "the most impertinent slut in the world" presumably because she delighted in flaunting the wealth that consequently came her way. She gave Charles a daughter somewhat bizarrely known as Mary Tudor, born 16th October 1673 who married Edward Radclyffe, 2nd Earl of Derwentwater, whilst Ms Davis herself received a pension of £1,000 a year.
Eleanor 'Nell' Gwynn
Certainly the best known of all of the king's mistresses, Nell Gwynn was born in Hereford of a family of Welsh origin. She first met Charles at the Duke’s House Theatre in 1668 where she had advanced to the status of actress from her former profession of orange seller. Ms Gwyn remains the most likeable of all of Charles' many women principally because she was the least grasping and never suffered from any illusions regarding herself. (Once when confronted with an angry crowd who had mistaken her for the unpopular Louise de Kéroualle, Nell stuck her head out of her coach and deflected the crowd's wrath with the words "Pray, good people, be civil, for I am the Protestant whore".)
Nell gave Charles two more sons; Charles Beauclerk born 8th May 1670, who became the Duke of St Albans and was married off to the Diana de Vere, daughter of Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford and James Beauclerk born 25th December 1671 who died around September 1680 at Paris. Unfortunately for Charles Beauclerk his bride had the illustrious de Vere name but no money and thus the Dukes of St Albans have always been relatively poor as British dukes go. Nevertheless they have survived and there remains a Duke of St Albans to this day.
Louise de Kéroualle
Louise de Kéroualle was from a Breton family of ancient and distinguished lineage (at least as far as Louise was concerned) who became the maid of honour to Henrietta Stuart, Duchess of Orleans, who was of course Charles' younger sister. The Duchess visited England in 1670; Louise came with her, caught the king's eye and stayed behind.
As the king's mistress Louise was perhaps even more successful than her predecessor, Barbara Villiers in terms of extracting money and favours from the king. Having obtained for herself the title of Duchess of Portsmouth in 1673 in the following year, she gave birth to a son Charles Lennox, who was made the Duke of Richmond at the age of three on the 9th August and the Duke of Lennox a month later on the 9th September 1675. His descendants prospered and having started with two dukedoms added a third in 1876, that of Duke of Gordon and thereafter adopted the name of Gordon-Lennox, a surname retained by the current and 10th Duke of the line.
In addition to the above names mention should be made of the other women in Charles' life. Before he recovered the throne he included amongst his amours, Eleanor Needham, daughter of Robert Needham, 2nd Viscount Kilmorey and Elisabeth Angelique de Montmorency the daughter of Francois de Montmorency, Comte de Luxe. After his return to England king Charles' name has also been linked to those of a Mrs Margaret Hughes; Mrs Jane Roberts, the daughter of a clergyman; Mrs Mary Knight, the singer; Winifred Wells, one of Catherine of Braganza's maids of honour; Mary Bagot, Countess of Falmouth; Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Countess of Kildare and Hortense Mancini, Duchess of Mazarin. However none of these women are known to have borne any children which were recognised by the king.
The one that got away
A final honourable mention should be made of Frances Stuart, Countess of Lichfield and the original model for Britannia, who consistently refused all advances made by the king.
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
- Brenda Ralph Lewis The Mistresses of Charles II www.britannia.com/history/charmist.html
- Molly Brown, Loves of Charles II's at www.okima.com/cast/amours.html
- Leo van de Pas
Charles II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland 1660-1685