Men in power often have wives and mistresses (disclaimer – not all of them). King Charles II was definitely no exception to this generalisation and Mistresses by Linda Porter tells the lives of most of the major mistresses of the king. It’s a story that emphasis the king’s personal life rather than his political achievements but it does help to have some knowledge of the major events of his reign even if only in outline.
The author tells the stories of these women in this easy to read book. What were their backgrounds ? Why did they end up as mistresses to the king ? What happened to them after he no longer slept with them ? The variety in background of these women is fascinating and so too is the effect on their lives and futures of sleeping with the king.
The author also looks at the children of these liaisons, most of whom the king openly acknowledged, and the fight that their mothers often had to ensure a financially secure future for them. I was also pleased that the author spent some time detailing the king’s relationship with other women including his wife and his sister.
Life wasn’t always easy as a mistress of the king. Your life was dependent on the whim of an autocratic ruler whose interest was easily swayed by a new love. It was necessary to build relationships with other men of power to secure your own future in the event that you were no longer required in the role but it was also important not to be seen to be trying to influence the king’s decisions.
This is a book about power – that held by the king and that which his mistresses could wield whilst they were in favour. It really isn’t about love although Charles II seems to have more faithful and more generous than many other rulers in similar circumstances. Each woman came by their position via a different route and their stories are fascinating. I very much enjoyed this history of a man’s relationship with the women in his life. Two years’ ago I reviewed a novel based on the life of Charles’ most famous mistress which you can see here – it is also worth a read.