At the National Portrait Gallery earlier today, I was delighted to run into Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland (1640-1709), one of the inspirations for a Sisters & Courtesans poem. Married to Roger Palmer, she bore the king at least five children. but then the king did have fourteen children by several different women, although no legitimate heir. Above is her Peter Lely portrait. (Also on display were portraits of Nell Gwynne, perhaps the Merry Monarch’s most famous mistress and supposedly the only one who loved him for himself and not his position, and Louise de Keroualle.)
My Life as One of King Charles II’s Mistresses
There is a portrait of me—I look pretty,
perhaps a little too much skin on show,
but Peter Lely captured me, a glow
I had when twenty, mischievous and witty.
I could have had my pick of the whole city,
but then, the king was quite the man, you know.
And for the seven months he was my beau
I was content. Indeed, it was a pity
my husband found us out, and sent me down
to his estate a hundred miles from town.
But, silver linings! When the black plague struck
I wasn’t there. Nor was I, with more luck,
when our fine mansion burned down to the ground.
My husband’s corpse, alas, was never found.
Read more about writing Historical Persona & Character Poems.
Read more about the Merry Monarch and his mistresses!