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Royalty Restored or London under Charles II
Chapter XV
by Molloy, J. Fitzgerald


Louise de Querouaille.--The Triple Alliance.--Louise is created Duchess of Portsmouth.--Her grace and the impudent comedian.-- Madam Ellen moves in society.--The young Duke of St. Albans.-- Strange story of the Duchess of Mazarine.--Entertaining the wits at Chelsea.--Luxurious suppers.--Profligacy and wit.

The Duchess of Cleveland having shared the fate common to court favourites, her place in the royal affections was speedily filled by a mistress whose influence was even more baneful to the king, and more pernicious to the nation. This woman was Louise de Querouaille, the descendant of a noble family in Lower Brittany. At an early age she had been appointed maid of honour to Henrietta, youngest sister of Charles II., soon after the marriage of that princess, in 1661, with the Duke of Orleans, brother to Louis XIV. Fate decreed that Mademoiselle de Querouaille should be brought into England by means of a political movement; love ordained she should reign mistress of the king's affections.

It happened in January, 1668, that a Triple Alliance had been signed at the Hague, which engaged England, Sweden, and the United Provinces to join in defending Spain against the power of France. A secret treaty in this agreement furthermore bound the allies to check the ambition of Louis XIV., and, if possible, reduce his encroaching sway. That Charles II. should enter into such an alliance was galling to the French monarch, who resolved to detach his kinsman from the compact, and bind him to the interests of France. To effect this desired purpose, which he knew would prove objectionable to the British nation, Louis employed Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans, to visit England on pretext of pleasure and affection, and secretly persuade and bribe her brother to the measures required.

The young duchess, though an English princess, had at heart the interests of the country in which she had been reared, and which on her marriage she had adopted as her own. She therefore gladly undertook this mission, confident of her success from the fact that of all his family she had ever been the most tenderly beloved by Charles. Therefore she set out from France, and in the month of May, 1670, arrived at Dover, to which port the king, Queen, and court hastened, that they might greet and entertain her. For full ten days in this merry month, high revelry was held at Dover, during which time Henrietta skilfully and secretly effected the object of her visit. And her delight was now the greater, inasmuch as one item which this agreement entrusted her to make, engaged that Charles would, as soon as he could with safety, follow the example of his brother the Duke of York, and become a Catholic. In carrying out this purpose Louis promised him substantial aid and sure protection. Likewise, it may be mentioned, did the French king engrage to grant him a subsidy equal to a million a year, if Charles joined him in an attack on Holland.

The prospect of his sister's return filled the king with sorrow, which increased as the term of her visit drew to an end. "He wept when he parted with her," wrote Monsieur Colbert, the French ambassador, who significantly adds, "whatever favour she asked of him was granted."

Now Louis knowing the weakness of the English monarch's character, and aware of his susceptibility to female loveliness, had despatched Mademoiselle de Querouaille in the train of Henrietta. Satisfied that Charles could not resist her charms, the French monarch had instructed this accomplished woman, who was trusted in his councils, to accept the royal love, which it was surmised would be proffered her; so that by the influence which she would consequently obtain, she might hold him to the promises he might make the Duchess of Orleans.

As had been anticipated, the king became enamoured of this charming woman, who, before departing with the princess, faithfully promised to return and become his mistress. In his desire to possess her the merry monarch was upheld by his grace of Buckingham, who, continuing in enmity with the Duchess of Cleveland, resolved to prevent her regaining influence over the king by adding the beautiful Frenchwoman to the number of his mistresses. He therefore told Charles, in the sarcastic manner it was occasionally his wont to use, "it was a decent piece of tenderness for his sister to take care of some of her servants;" whilst on being sent into France, he assured Louis "he could never reckon himself sure of the king, but by giving him a mistress that should be true to his interests." But neither king required urging to a resolution on which both had separately determined; and soon Mademoiselle Querouaille was ready for her journey to England. A yacht was therefore sent to Dieppe to convey her, and presently she was received at Whitehall by the lord treasurer, and her arrival celebrated in verse by Dryden. Moreover, that she might have apartments in the palace, the king at once appointed her a maid of honour to her majesty, this being the first of a series of favours she was subsequently to receive. Evelyn, writing in the following October, says it was universally reported a ceremonious espousal, devoid of the religious rite, had taken place between his majesty and Mademoiselle Querouaille at Lord Arlington's house at Euston. "I acknowledge," says this trustworthy chronicler "she was for the most part in her undresse all day, and that there was fondnesse and toying with that young wanton; nay, 'twas said I was at the former ceremony, but 'tis utterly false; I neither saw nor heard of any such thing whilst I was there, tho' I had ben in her chamber, and all over that apartment late enough, and was myself observing all passages with much curiosity."

She now became a central figure in the brilliant court of the merry monarch, being loved by the king, flattered by the wits, and tolerated by the queen, to whom--unlike the Duchess of Cleveland--she generally paid the greatest respect. Her card tables were thronged by courtiers eager to squander large sums for the honour of playing with the reigning sultana; her suppers were attended by wits and gallants as merry and amorous as those who had once crowded round my Lady Castlemaine in the zenith of her power. No expense was too great for his majesty to lavish upon her; no honour too high with which to reward her affection. The authority just mentioned says her apartments at Whitehall were luxuriously furnished "with ten times the richnesse and glory beyond the Queene's; such massy pieces of plate, whole tables and stands of incredible value." After a residence of little more than three years at court she was raised by King Charles to the peerage as Baroness of Petersfield, Countess of Farnham, and Duchess of Portsmouth; whilst the French king, as a mark of appreciation for the services she rendered France, conferred upon her the Duchy of Aubigny, in the province of Berri in France, to which he added the title and dignity of Duchess and Peeress of France, with the revenues of the territory of Aubigny. And two years later King Charles, prodigal of the honours he conferred upon her, ennobled the son she had borne him in 1672. The titles of the Duke of Richmond and Lennox having lately reverted to the crown by the death of Frances Stuart's husband, who was last of his line, the bastard son of the French mistress was created Duke of Richmond and Earl of March in England, and Duke of Lennox and Earl of Darnley in Scotland. To these proud titles the present head of the noble house of Richmond and Lennox--by virtue of the grant made by Louis XIV. to his ancestress likewise adds that of Duc d'Aubigny in the peerage of France.

But though honoured by the king, and flattered by the court, the Duchess of Portsmouth was far from enjoying uninterrupted happiness; inasmuch as her peace was frequently disturbed by jealousy. The principal cause of her uneasiness during the first five years of her reign was the king's continued infatuation for Nell Gwynn; now, by reason of the elevated position she enjoyed, styled Madam Ellen. This "impudent comedian," as Evelyn calls her, was treated by his majesty with, extreme indulgence and royal liberality. In proof of the latter statement, it may be mentioned that in less than four years from the date of her first becoming his mistress, he had wantonly lavished sixty thousand pounds upon her, as Burnet affirms. Moreover, he had purchased as a town mansion for her "the first good house on the left-hand side of St. James's Square, entering Pall Mall," now the site of the Army and Navy Club; had given her likewise a residence situated close by the Castle at Windsor; and a summer villa located in what was then the charming village of Chelsea. To such substantial gifts as these he added the honour of an appointment at court: when the merry player was made one of the ladies of the privy chamber to the queen. Samuel Pegg states this fact, not generally known, and assures us he discovered it "from the book in the lord chamberlain's office."

From her position as the king's mistress, Madam Ellen moved on terms of perfect equality with the Duchess of Portsmouth's friends--supping with my Lady Orrery, visiting my Lord Cavendish, and establishing a friendship with the gay Duchess of Norfolk. This was a source of deep vexation to the haughty Frenchwoman; but Nell Gwynn's familiarity with the king was a cause of even greater mortification. Sir George Etherege records in verse when the monarch was "dumpish" Nell would "chuck the royal chin;" and it is stated that, mindful of her former conquests over Charles Hart and Charles Lord Buckley, it was her habit to playfully style his majesty "Charles the Third." Her wilfulness, wit, and beauty enabled her to maintain such a strong hold upon the king's heart, that he shared his time equally between her and the Duchess of Portsmouth. Indignant that a woman from the playhouse should receive such evidences of the royal affection, her grace lost no opportunity of insulting Nell, who responded by mimicry and grimaces, which threw those who witnessed the comedy into fits of laughter, and covered the wrathful duchess with confusion.

But though the light-hearted actress frequently treated disdain with ridicule, she could occasionally analyze the respective positions held by herself and the duchess with seriousness, Madame de Sevigne tells us, Nell would reason in this manner: "This duchess pretends to be a person of quality: she affirms she is related to the best families in France, and when any person of distinction dies she puts herself in mourning. If she be a lady of such quality, why does she demean herself to be a courtesan? She ought to die with shame. As for me, it is my profession. I do not pretend to anything better. The king entertains me, and I am constant to him at present. He has a son by me; I contend that he ought to acknowledge him--and I am well assured that he will, for he loves me as well as the duchess."

To have her son ennobled, and by this means raise him to an equality with the offspring of her grace, became the desire of Nell Gwynn's life. To her request that this favour might be granted, the king had promised compliance from time to time, but had as frequently postponed the fulfilment of his word. At last, weary of beseeching him, she devised a speech which she trusted might have the desired effect. Accordingly, when the monarch came to see her one day, he found her in a pensive mood, playing with her pretty boy; and the lad, being presently set upon his feet, he promptly tottered down the room, whereon she cried out to him, "Come here, you little bastard!" Hearing this word of evil import applied to his son, the monarch begged she would not use the expression, "I am sorry," said she regretfully, "but, alas, I have no other name to give him! "His majesty took the hint, and soon after bestowed on him that of Charles Beauclerk, and created him Baron of Heddington, in Oxon, and Earl of Burford in the same county; and finally, when he had reached the age of ten years, raised him to the dignity of Duke of St. Albans.

After a reign of five years in the court of the merry monarch, her Grace of Portsmouth was destined to encounter a far more formidable rival than Nell Gwynn, in the person of the Duchess of Mazarine. This lady, on her arrival in England in 1675, possessed most of the charms which had rendered her notable in youth. To the attraction they lent was added an interest arising from her personal history, in which King Charles had once figured, and to which fate had subsequently added many pages of romance.

Hortensia Mancini, afterwards Duchess of Mazarine, was descendant of a noble Roman family, and niece of the great Julius Mazarine, cardinal of the church, and prime minister of France. Her parents dying whilst she, her sister and brother were young, they had been reared under the care of his eminence. According to the memoirs of the duchess, the cardinal's peace must have frequently been put to flight by his charges, whose conduct, he declared, exhibited neither piety nor honour. Mindful of this, he placed his nieces under the immediate supervision of Madame de Venelle, who was directed to have the closest guard over them. A story related by the duchess shows in what manner this lady's duty was carried out, and what unexpected results attended it on one occasion.

When the court visited Lyons, in the year 1658, the cardinal's nieces and their governess lodged in a commodious mansion in one of the public squares. "Our chamber windows, which opened towards the market-place," writes Hortensia, "were low enough for one to get in with ease. Madame de Venelle was so used to her trade of watching us, that she rose even in her sleep to see what we were doing. One night, as my sister lay asleep with her mouth open, Madame de Venelle, after her accustomed manner, coming, asleep as she was, to grope in the dark, happened to thrust her finger into her mouth so far that my sister, starting out of her sleep, made her teeth almost meet in her finger. Judge you the amazement they both were in to find themselves in this posture when they were thoroughly awake. My sister was in a grievous fret. The story was told the king the next day, and the court had the divertisement of laughing at it."

Whilst the great minister's nieces were yet extremely young, Louis XIV. fell passionately in love with the elder, Maria, and his marriage with her was frustrated only by the united endeavours of the queen mother and the cardinal. A proposal to raise Hortensia to the nominal dignity of queen was soon after made on behalf of Charles II., who sought her as his bride. But he being at the time an exile, banished from his kingdom, and with little hope of regaining his throne, the offer was rejected by Cardinal Mazarine as unworthy of his favourite niece.

His eminence was, however, anxious to see her married, and accordingly sought amongst the nobility of France a husband suitable to her merits and equal to her condition, she being not only a beautiful woman but, through his bounty, the richest heiress in Christendom. It happened the cardinal's choice settled upon one who had fallen in love with Hortensia, and who had declared, with amorous enthusiasm, that if he had but the happiness of being married to her, it would not grieve him to die three months afterwards.

The young noble was Armand Charles de la Porte, Duke de Meilleraye, who had the sole recommendation of being one of the richest peers of France. On condition that he and his heirs should assume the name of Mazarine and arms of that house, the cardinal consented to his becoming the husband of his niece. And the great minister's days rapidly approaching their end, the ceremony was performed which made Hortensia, then at the age of thirteen, Duchess of Mazarine. A few months later the great cardinal expired, leaving her the sum of one million six hundred and twenty-five thousand pounds sterling. Alas that she should have died in poverty, and that her body should have been seized for debt!

Scarce had the first weeks of her married life passed away, when the young wife found herself mated to one wholly unsuited to her character. She was beautiful, witty, and frivolous; he jealous, dull, and morose. The incompatibility of their dispositions became as discernible to him, as they had become intolerable to her; and, as if to avenge the fate which had united them, he lost no opportunity of thwarting her desires, by such means striving to bend her lissom quality to the gnarled shape of his unhappy nature.

With such a purpose in view no opportunity was neglected to curb her pleasures or oppose her inclinations. He continually forced her to leave Paris, and even when her condition required rest and care, compelled her to accompany him on long and weary journeys, undertaken by him in consequence of his diplomatic missions. If she received two successive visits from one man, he was instantly forbidden the house. If she called her carriage, the coachman received orders not to obey. If she betrayed a preference for one maid more than another, the favourite was instantly dismissed, moreover, the duchess was surrounded by spies, her movements being rigorously watched, and invariably reported. Nor would the duke vouchsafe an explanation to his young wife regarding the cause of this severe treatment, but continued the even course of such conduct without intermission or abatement.

After displaying these eccentricities for some years, they suddenly associated themselves with religion, when he became a fanatic. Her condition was now less endurable than before; his whims more ludicrous and exasperating. With solemnity he declared no one could in conscience visit the theatre; that it was a sin to play blind man's buff, and a heinous crime to retire to bed late. And presently, his fanaticism increasing, he prohibited the woman who nursed his infant to suckle it on Fridays or Saturdays; that instead of imbibing milk, it might, in its earliest life, become accustomed to fasting and mortification of the flesh.

The young duchess grew hopeless of peace. All day her ears were beset by harangues setting forth her wickedness, by exortations calling her to repentance, and by descriptions of visions vouchsafed him. By night her condition was rendered scarcely less miserable. "No sooner," says St. Evremond, "were her eyes closed, than Monsieur Mazarine (who had the devil always present in his black imagination) wakes his best beloved, to make her partaker--you will never be able to guess of what--to make her partaker of his nocturnal visions. Flambeaux are lighted, and search is made everywhere; but no spectre does Madame Mazarine find, except that which lay by her in the bed."

The distresses to which she was subjected were increased by the knowledge that her husband was squandering her vast fortune. In what manner the money was spent she does not state. "If" she writes, "Monsieur Mazarine had only taken delight in overwhelming me with sadness and grief, and in exposing my health and my life to his most unreasonable caprice, and in making me pass the best of my days in an unparalleled slavery, since heaven had been pleased to make him my master, I should have endeavoured to allay and qualify my misfortunes by my sighs and tears. But when I saw that by his incredible dilapidations and profuseness, my son, who might have been the richest gentleman in France, was in danger of being the poorest, there was no resisting the force of nature; and motherly love carried it over all other considerations of duty, or the moderation I proposed to myself. I saw every day vast sums go away: moveables of inestimable prices, offices, and all the rich remains of my uncle's fortune, the fruits of his labours, and the rewards of his services. I saw as much sold as came to three millions, before I took any public notice of it; and I had hardly anything left me of value but my jewels, when Monsieur Mazarine took occasion to seize upon them."

She therefore sought the king's interference, but as the duke had interest at court, she received but little satisfaction. Then commenced disputes, which, after months of wrangling, ended by the duchess escaping in male attire out of France, in company with a gay young cavalier, Monsieur de Rohan. After various wanderings through Italy and many adventures in Savoy, she determined on journeying to England. That her visit was not without a political motive, we gather from St. Evremond; who, referring to the ascendancy which the Duchess of Portsmouth had gained over his majesty, and the uses she made of her power for the interests of France, tells us, "The advocates for liberty, being excluded from posts and the management of affairs, contrived several ways to free their country from that infamous commerce; but finding them ineffectual, they at last concluded that there was no other course to take than to work the Duchess of Portsmouth out of the king's favour, by setting up against her a rival who should be in their interest. The Duchess of Mazarine was thought very fit for their purpose, for she outshined the other, both in wit and beauty."

Charles de St. Denis, Seigneur de St. Evremond, was a soldier, philosopher, and courtier, who had distinguished himself by his bravery, learning, and politeness. Having fallen under the displeasure of the French court, he had, in the year 1662, sought refuge in England, where he had been welcomed with the courtesy due to his rank, and the esteem which befitted his merits. Settling in the capital, he mixed freely in the companionship of wits, gallants, and courtiers who constituted its society; and delighted with London as a residence, he determined on making England his country by adoption. An old friend and fervent admirer of the Duchess of Mazarine, he had received the news of her visit with joy, and celebrated her arrival in verse.

The reputation of her loveliness and the history of her life having preceded her, the court became anxious to behold her; the king, mindful of the relationship he had once sought; with the duchess, grew impatient to welcome her. After a few days' rest, necessary to remedy the fatigue of her journey, she appeared at Whitehall. By reason of her beauty, now ripened rather than impaired by time, and those graces which attracted the more from the fascination they had formerly exercised, she at once gained the susceptible heart of the monarch. St. Evremond tells us her person "contained nothing that was not too lovely." In the "Character of the Duchess of Mazarine," which he drew soon after her arrival in London, he has presented a portrait of her worth examining not only for sake of the object it paints, but for the quaint workmanship it contains. "An ill-natured curiosity," he writes, "makes me scrutinize every feature in her face, with a design either to meet there some shocking irregularity, or some disgusting disagreeableness. But how unluckily do I succeed in my design. Every feature about her has a particular beauty, that does not in the least yield to that of her eyes, which, by the consent of all the world, are the finest in the universe. One thing there is that entirely confounds me: her teeth, her lips, her mouth, and all the graces that attend it, are lost amongst the great variety of beauties in her face and what is but indifferent in her, will not suffer us to consider what is most remarkable in others. The malice of my curiosity does not stop here. I proceed to spy out some defect in her shape; and I find I know not what graces of nature so happily and so liberally scattered in her person, that the genteelness of others only seems to be constraint and affectation."

The king--to whom the presence of a beautiful woman was as sunshine to the earth--at once offered her his affections, the gallants tendered their homage, the ladies of the court volunteered the flattery embodied in imitation. And by way of practically proving his admiration, his majesty graciously allotted her a pension of four thousand pounds a year, with apartments in St. James's Palace.

The sovereignty which the Duchess of Portsmouth had held for five years over the monarch's heart was now in danger of downfall; and probably would have ended, but for Madame Mazarine's indiscretions. It happened a few months after her arrival in London, the Prince of Monaco visited the capital. Young in years, handsome in person, and extravagant in expenditure, he dazzled the fairest women at court; none of whom had so much power to please him in all as the Duchess of Mazarine. Notwithstanding the king's generosity, she accepted the prince's admiration; and resolved to risk the influence she had gained, that she might freely love where she pleased. Her entertainment of a passion, as sudden in development as fervid in intensity, enraged the king; but his fury served only to increase her infatuation, seeing which, his majesty suspended payment of her pension.

The gay Prince of Monaco in due time ending his visit to London, and leaving the Duchess of Mazarine behind him, she, through the interposition of her friends, obtained his majesty's pardon, was received into favour, and again allowed her pension.

She now ruled, not only mistress of the king's heart, but queen of a brilliant circle of wits and men of parts, whose delight it became to heed the epigrams and eccentricities which fell from her lips. Her rooms at St. James's, and her house in Chelsea, became the rendezvous of the most polite and brilliant society in England. In the afternoons, seated amongst her monkeys, dogs, parrots, and pets, she discoursed on philosophy, love, religion, politics, and plays; whilst at night her saloons were thrown open to such as delighted in gambling. Then the duchess, seated at the head of the table, her dark eyes flashing with excitement, her red lips parted in expectation, followed the fortunes of the night with anxiety: all compliments being suspended and all fine speeches withheld the while, nought being heard but the rustle of cards and the chink of gold.

Dainty and luxurious suppers followed, when rare wines flowed, and wit long suppressed found joyous vent. Here sat Charles beside his beautiful mistress, happy in the enjoyment of the present, careless of the needs of his people; and close beside him my Lord of Buckingham, watchful of his majesty's face, hatching dark plots whilst he turned deft compliments. There likewise were my Lord Dorset, the easiest and wittiest man living; Sir Charles Sedley, one learned in intrigue; Baptist May, the monarch's favourite; Tom Killigrew who jested on life's follies whilst he enjoyed them; the Countess of Shrewsbury, beautiful and amorous; and Madam Ellen, who was ready to mimic or sing, dance or act, for his majesty's diversion.

And so, whilst a new day stole upon the world without, tapers burned low within the duchess's apartments; and the king, his mistress, and a brave and gallant company ate, drank, and made merry.

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