All this excitement about Monty’s cabal this week got me thinking about… Charles II’s mistresses.
I know, I know. It sounds like a bit of a stretch, what my Upper School French teacher would call “tirer par les cheveux” because of the tenuous connection. (Have you noticed that the French have a facility for coining these sorts of phrases? Of which one of my favorites is: j’ai des autres chats a fuetter, which translates idiomatically to “I have my own fish to fry”, but literally to “I have other cats to flay”. I mean, was cat flaying really that common? And who was frying the fish? But I digress.)
In any event, the cabal got me thinking about the CABAL, a group of Charles II’s ministers whose initials conveniently corresponded to the letters of the word: Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale. There’s a story that the word was derived from their names, but, as far as I can tell, that’s apocryphal. They also weren’t terribly good at the whole cabal thing, given that, rather than scheming together, they spent most of their time scheming against one another. But that’s the court of Charles II for you.
Do you know what else was the court of Charles II? Mistresses. (See? I told you it all made sense.) No one collected mistresses quite like Charles II. There was the scheming Duchess of Cleveland; the sleepy-eyed Frenchwoman Louise de Kerouaille; the sinister Hortense Mancini; and the spunky Nell Gwyn, just to name a few of the more major ones. You have to say this for Charles: he didn’t go for meek women. International diplomacy was nothing compared to what it took to coordinate the intrigues of juggling multiple mistresses. Compared to him, his cousin Louis XIV’s amorous intrigues are positively bland. (Sun King, bah.)
Admittedly, George I had some amusing royal mistresses, but more in a slapstick sort of way– as one was very tall and the other very fat, they were quickly nicknamed “The Maypole” and “The Elephant”. The Hanoverians just didn’t have the same dash as the Stuarts when it came to the whole mistress thing. (They also– if one believes the rumors about George III and his Quakeress and George IV and Maria Fitzherbert– tended to get in trouble by getting carried away and secretly marrying them.)
Who are your favorite royal mistresses?