Charles II is known to posterity as the merry monarch and is well known for his many mistresses, These women formed a central part of the Restoration court and their influence in politics, policy and specifically the religious issues of the period have been mostly underestimated by historians.
Derek Wilson casts new light on the women in Charles II’s life and tells their stories from their point of view rather than depicting Charles as the central character. This is in sharp contrast to another book of the period that I have read in the last few years – Antonia Fraser’s Charles II – in which Charles is the sun and the women merely satellites and their orbits of influence dictated by the king alone.
The overall conclusion which I drew from Derek Wilson’s book is that Charles II has complex personal and social needs which were underpinned by submissive tendencies towards the strong women which surrounded him from birth. His mother Henrietta Maria, his nurse Christabella Wyndam, his sisters Mary of Orange and the Duchess of Orleans and of course his famous mistresses Barbara Villiers, Lucy Walters, Nell Gwyn, Moll Davis, Louise de Kerouaille and Hortense Mancini. All strong women, who, had Charles dancing to their various tunes rather than the other way around. Some, unfortunately, took their influence and power too far but it is clear that, at no other time until perhaps the 20th and 21st centuries, have women had such an influence at the heart of power.