Sunday, March 28, 2010

Men Behaving Badly: King Charles II, the Duke of Richmond, & Frances Stewart

Sunday, March 28, 2010
Susan reports:

King Charles II (1630-1685), left, of England loved women, and women in turn loved him. From high-born peeresses to humble orange-girls, literally hundreds of women enjoyed the royal person during his lifetime. Only one lady of his court is known to have refused him: a beautiful nineteen-year-old Maid of Honor named Frances Stewart (1647-1702), lower right. Although Charles pursued her for months, Frances clearly had other interests. This is an excerpt from the Memoirs of Philibert, Comte de Gramont, one of the greatest gossips of the 17th century.

It was near midnight: the king met [Frances's] chambermaids [at her bedchamber door], who respectfully opposed his entrance, and, in a very low voice, whispered to His Majesty that Miss Stewart had been very ill; but that, having gone to bed, she was God be thanked, in a very fine sleep.

"That I must see," said the king, pushing her back...He found Miss Stewart in bed, indeed, but far from being asleep: the Duke of Richmond was seated at her pillow, and in all probability was less inclined to sleep than herself. The perplexity of the one party, and the rage of the other, were such as may easily be imagined upon such a surprise. The king, who, of all men was one of the most mild and gentle, testified his resentment to the Duke of Richmond in such terms as he had never before used. The duke was speechless, and almost petrified...Miss Stewart's window was very convenient for a sudden revenge, the Thames flowing close beneath it..and seeing the king more incensed...than he thought his nature capable of, [the duke] made a profound bow, and retired, without a single word to the vast torrent of threats and menaces that were poured upon him.

Miss Stewart, having a little recovered from her first surprise, instead of justifying herself...said everything that was most capable to inflame the king's...resentment; that, if she were not allowed to receive visits from a man of the Duke of Richmond's rank, who came with honourable intentions, she was a slave in a free country;...if this was not permitted her...she did not believe that there was any power on earth that could hinder her from going over to France, and throwing herself into a convent, to enjoy there that tranquillity which was denied her in this court. The king, sometimes furious with anger, sometimes relenting at her tears...nearly was induced to throw himself upon his knees, and entreat pardon for the injury he had done her...when instead she desired him to retire, and leave her in repose, at least for the remainder of that night....This impertinent request provoked and irritated the king to the highest degree: he went out abruptly, vowing never to see her more.

Ladies who refuse kings, let alone berate them in their bedchambers, seldom fare well in history. But Frances won. Soon after this night in 1667, she eloped with her duke, and the pair were married – much to the displeasure and disappointment of the King.

Above: Charles II, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, by James Michael Wright
Below: Frances Teresa Stewart, by Sir Peter Lely


nightsmusic said...

WOW! Good for her! That took courage which she obviously had in spades.

Interesting that it's said she was disfigured by smallpox and still retained the king's affections. Wonder if it all stemmed from her refusing him or if he truly felt something for her.

Alas, we'll never know...

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Well, Theo, that's the Wikipedia version. I've read other interpretations that make Charles not quite as forgiving. I don't think she was permitted to return to court until after her face was ravaged by smallpox, and that there was a certain amount of pity mingled with curiosity when she returned. Also by then Charles's perpetually roving eye had moved on to Nell Gwyn, so I suppose he'd gotten over the worst of his rage.

But some bitterness must have lingered. Frances's duke died young, drowning in 1672. Since they had no children, his titles reverted to the Crown, for the king to reappoint as he saw fit. When Charles's last (and most lasting) "official" mistress, Louise de Keroualle bore him a son, he made the child Duke of Richmond.

Like Frances, Louise was another virgin who had made the king wait a good long time before she finally succumbed to his seduction. But because in the end she did, she and her child were rewarded. The childless Frances, who didn't give in, must have been painfully aware of the irony.

More Shameless Self-Promotion: Louise is the heroine of "The French Mistress." *g*

Carrie Callaghan said...

And so what happened to Frances?

The story reminds me of another virgin (or possible virgin) who made the King wait and won - for a while. (Anne Boleyn, of course!)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Carrie C -- You're right, Anne Boleyn did follow the same path. Though Louise might never have been made queen, she did manage to keep her head!

As for Frances -- I've just gone delving about through my books looking for more info. As is often the case with original sources of the time, there are a lot of differing opinions about Frances. I did find reference to a letter from Charles to his sister, admitting that he'd permitted Frances to return to court because he pitied her after the smallpox, but that he was much relieved to see that her scars were slight, though her eyesight was weakened. So much for the "ravaged face" I mentioned above! *g*

One way or another, Frances did return to Court, serving the Queen as a Lady of the Bedchamber. Her husband was often out of the country on diplomatic missions, and she oversaw his estates in his absence, even having power of attorney, rare for 17th c. wives. At her husband's death, the king permitted her the use of his estates for life, and she continued to run them prudently.

Though only 27 when her husband died, Frances was content to be a respectable widow and favorite aunt to her nieces and nephews. She never remarried, or was romantically linked to any other man. She remained at Court until the 1688, finally retreating to her country estates. She did, however, take part in the coronation of Queen Anne in 1702, before she died later that year.

Margaret Porter said...

You can see the "real" (sort of!) Frances Stewart in the Westminster Abbey Undercroft. Her wax funeral effigy--complete with her pet parrot--is on display in the glass cases with the royal effigies, including that of the spurned King Charles II!
She wears the same robes and gown she wore at Queen Anne's coronation.

These effigies are fascinating, among my favourite sites in London.

Duchess of Richmond's effigy.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you for adding that, Margaret! I'd forgotten that Frances was tall (this says 5'8"), as was Lady Castlemaine and Louise de Keroualle. Except for tiny Nell Gwyn, Charles at 6'2" must have liked equally tall women. (All of which, too, debunks that common misconception that all people in the past were short.)

I agree that the funeral effigies are in a class by themselves. There's a 19th c. platinum print of Charles II's wax effigy in the Abbey that absolutely gives me chills:

Historical Reminiscing with Marilyn said...

Although Charles II is fascinating, I think Frances Stewart made the right choice. Better to be a Duchess than a Mistress who could be discarded. Wasn't She also devoted to the Duke of Richmond by this least it seems by rumor which led Historians to think She cared for him.

Lauren said...

I remember this scene from your book THE ROYAL HARLOT! I love how you turned this actual history into a story. Did Lady Castlemayne really arrange for the king to find Frances and the Duke in bed, or did you make it up?

LaDonna said...

I say you GO, Frances. Not many women (or men) dare to stand up to a king, even an easy-going one. Must be some distinction in being the only lady who did. Too bad her life didn't turn out better for her afterwards.

Lucy said...

What a feisty lady! I can just picture Charles' anger at all of this...but then again, he was more a lover than a fighter and probably had a good laugh at the end of it all. Good for her, I guess she knew the King would ultimately understand (such a good-natured rake that he was;)
Great post!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I remember reading a romance novel years ago that featured Frances as the heroine and ended with her marriage to the Duke of Richmond. I've always found it quite sad that her husband died young. Although it wasn't until I read this post that I realized that Charles had given his son by Louise the same title. Henry VIII's illegitimate son was also a Duke of Richmond.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Mari, I expect Frances did make the right choice for her. She didn't enjoy court politics or intrigues, and intimidated by the ruthlessness of the king's reigning mistress, the Countess of Castlemaine. In the Duke, she'd found a protector. Despite this description of him being "petrified" before the king, the Duke of Richmond was a distant cousin of the king's, and a powerful, wealthy peer. He was also ten years younger than the king, and closer to Frances's own age, which was probably more appealing, too.

Yet while Frances would benefit by the match, she was also in love with the Duke. Though he was only 27, he had already been widowed twice, and he supposedly fell hard for Frances. He looks a little stolid in his portrait

but after the King, Francess probably welcomed that.They seemed well suited, and it really was a shame that they had so little time together.

Lauren, you're right -- I did use this as the basis for a scene in "Royal Harlot"! For space reasons, I didn't include Lady Castlemaine's part in this "discovery" by the King. But I wrote the scene sticking as closely as I could to court gossip of the time. It was lurid enough without having to invent anything more. And yes, both ladies won: Frances got her Duke, and Lady C. got rid of a rival in Frances.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Ms. Lucy, I imagine that Frances hurt Charles's pride more than his heart. No man likes to be scorned for another, and I can't imagine how that must have infuriated a king!

Elizabeth Kerri, I'm not surprised that there was a historical romance written about Frances -- she really jumped through hoops for true love. Does anyone remember the name or the author of this book? I'd be curious to read it...

I'd forgotten that Henry VIII had called his illegitimate son the Duke of Richmond, too. Probably not a coincidence -- Charles was acutely aware of how both he and Henry had shared the same dilemma of having no legitimate son. Thank you for mentioning it.

Miss Kirsten said...

What an awesome story & a great post! This is why I love this blog! Thanks!

Marg said...

I have been fascinated by Charles II for a number of years now, and have very much enjoyed reading your books about him Susan!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you, Miss Kirsten!

And thank YOU, Marg! With all his flaws and charms, Charles II is one fascinating king. :)

Katya said...

For those of us who 'follow' comes this news today, 3 April 1667:

'Here I hear how the King is not so well pleased of this marriage between the Duke of Richmond and Mrs. Stewart, as is talked; and that he [the Duke] by a wile did fetch her to the Beare, at the Bridge-foot, where a coach was ready, and they are stole away into Kent, without the King’s leave; and that the King hath said he will never see her more; but people do think that it is only a trick.'

Alilrebelchick (Tina) said...

What an amazing lady Frances was indeed. My hat is off to her! Had it been me, I'd have protested as well but would have most probably ended up in the tower, lol.

Alilrebelchick (Tina) said...

Charles suffered the pain of a lovesick heart, his love unrequited which to no end probably amazed him as he could have had just about any woman he fancied.

La Belle Stewart was uncompromising and seemingly immoveable. I agree with Susan. I'm sure it was his pride that stumbled out of the room that night, bruised, battered and not as intact as he'd like to have thought. ;)

Alilrebelchick (Tina) said...

Susan is quite correct about Lady Frances' return to court. Charles took pity on her only after seeing her face scarred and marred from the smallpox. It was not immediate though. Forgiveness found it's way to Charles' heart and eventually her husband was even appointed by Charles as Ambassador to Denmark and Lady Frances appointed to serve the Queen as a Lady in Waiting. Its said said that Charles never truly lost his affection for the once beautiful lady.

Note: Samuel Pepys laments about her beauty being taken by the pox in his diary in 1668 upon seeing a portrait of her before the ravages of the disease changed her face forever. It must have been quite sad for Frances even more so as it would be for any of us.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know about the claim on a Dutch TV program...called Hidden Past ...that Frances actually had a daughter called Rebecca with Charles?

Unknown said...

there's a book called the painted lady by maeve haran that I've read, and it is about the life of Frances Theresa Stewart, which i think you would find a good one to read about the lady and her love and fight.
~ Elizabeth

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