It’s been a while since I posted about Barbara Villiers, mainly because writing about how her relationship with Charles affected Catherine of Braganza got me a little teared up. I can’t help it, this family just give me way too many feelings ok? As I’ve said previously, I find Barbara utterly fascinating but well, she really wasn’t the nicest of women was she? Anyway, today’s post will concentrate on her downfall, her banishment and her death as a lonely, penniless old woman.
As mentioned in the previous post, Barbara had taken the pretty young Frances Stuart under her wing, manipulating the King’s obsession with her to her own ends. Sadly for Barbara, the King’s obsession with Frances meant that he began to spend less time with Barbara, and Frances had really begun to outshine the King’s main mistress. And so, in a carefully planned display of power, Barbara would take it upon herself to wear more Jewell’s than both Frances and the Queen put together. There was also an incident at the theatre where one evening she left her ow box and walked uninvited into the King’s box, perching herself between the King and the Duke of York. This was Barbara Villiers making sure that people knew she wasn’t going to be left out. Barbara was also incredibly greedy, raiding the Privy Purse on her own whim, and taking the King’s New Year gifts of silver all for herself, and she would end up gambling a lot of money away – some estimates say she squandered over half a million pounds on her gambling habits. She would also then have to find ways of paying off her debts, which lead to her acquiring land from the King and then selling said land off – a good example of this being her being given Nonsuch Palace which she consequently ransacked and demolished to pay her debts.
The next really important event in Barbara’s life that needs talking about is her role in the downfall of Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon. As we have already seen, the two did not get on at all and Clarendon particularly disliked her. The main issue was that Barbara had placed her own puppets at the centre of politics and this left poor Clarendon with very little to do. Barbara had been waiting for a long time to be rid of Clarendon and to get rid of the man that she so despised; that opportunity came with the signing of the Treaty of Breda which was agreed before Parliament could be assembled. Clarendon was blamed for preventing Parliament from doing anything about it, and the outcry was headed by none other than Barbara Villiers.
As such, Charles was persuaded. Clarendon had to go. Clarendon was thus summoned to a private meeting in which he spoke out against Barbara’s influence on the King. Charles, of course, was outraged and stormed out leaving Clarendon standing there at a loss. What on earth had he done? Two days later, Charles sent to Clarendon to collect the seal of Office from Clarendon and dismissed him from service. Poor Clarendon, victim of Barbara’s scheming, left England on 3rd December 1667.
What was it that made Charles want to get rid of Barbara though? It started when Barbara was pregnant again, this time with Jermyn’s child. She attempted to force Charles to admit paternity of the child but Charles resisted, saying he hadn’t slept with her for months. “God damn ye, but you shall own it!” she cried; and she threatened that if he did not acknowledge the child she would dash its brains out before him, and parade all of his bastards before him. The real turning point came when Barbara made a public fool of the King, and made him fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness saying she didn’t care whose child she bore as long as the King recognised it as his own.
From then on, the King wanted rid of her, or so the court talk said. After an episode of insolence (yet again) he banished her from court and after three days she collected her things. But once they came face to face everything would be fine again. But at this stage, they were really beyond repair and began to outdo each other in their infidelity – Charles took a fancy to the actress Moll Davis, and later Nell Gwynne would make her way into the King’s affections. She would end up lasting much longer than Moll ever did. And to keep Barbara out of the way at this time, Charles bestowed more and more gifts upon her. To remove her from the immediate vicinity of Whitehall he gave her Berkshire House, and she lived there with her children until it became necessary to sell due to her debts. During this time she also took countless other lovers including a rope dance by the name of Jacob Hall. Much later she would take John Churchill, Duke if Marlborough to her bed, By this time she was well out of favour and was making the most of Charles’ “gifts” whilst he spent his time with his other mistresses.
Louise De Kerouelle eventually became Charles’ Maitresse-En-Titre, completely eclipsing Barbara. And at the same time Nell Gwynne was the woman that Charles escaped too when he wanted a break from the political machinations of his mistresses – Nell made him laugh, and asked little from him unlike Louise. Yet at the same time Barbara still demanded that her sons be given titles.
In 1676, Charles finally managed to get Barbara out of the picture and she moved to Paris where she took a number of lovers. But by the time of Charles’ death in 1685, they were still friends despite everything and on his deathbed Charles apparently asked his brother to be kind to her (as well ash is famous comment to “Let not poor Nelly starve”). After Charles’ death, Barbara was heavilly involved with a man by the name of Cardonell Goodman, nicknamed “Scum”, and there was an incident in which he was found guilty of trying to poison her children which she ultimately ignored.
Barbara would live to a relatively old age and at the age of 64 would become involved in a massive scandal, which involved a trial for bigamy. At 64, completely based on lust, Barbara threw herself into a relationship with Robert Fielding, a man who was known to be incredibly violent. They married on 25th November 1775, and 6 months later she discovered that he had another wife who he had married just two weeks before their own wedding. Why had he done this? To get his hands on their money of course, Barbara herself was said to be worth over £60,000! She had, of course, lost most of her fortune in this unfortunate marriage.
On 9th October 1709, Barbara Villiers died at the age of 68 having spent her last few years at Chiswick. She was cared for by the Duke of Grafton who showed real devotion to her despite her previous issues with Fielding. Her once famous beauty had been destroyed by dropsy, a condition which swelled her body to a vast bulk. She was buried at Chiswick Parish Church in 1709.
Barbara Villiers may have been a nasty piece of work, a woman who had a brilliant mind and who knew who to twist people around her little finger but she died a sad death, lonely and, it seems to me at least, unloved. She had known great power, both being loved by a King and politically but in the end she allowed her lust to get the better of her. Fielding used her, spent most of her fortune and left her high and dry and let her die a sad, lonely old woman. In this sense I feel incredibly sorry for Barbara, she had had a brilliant life spent in the limelight at court, she didn’t care that many hated her. She had real political influence over the King and managed to keep his attention on her for a good many years. She had known the best, only to die with nothing. She was a remarkable woman and a woman who honestly interests me greatly. And whilst as a person, from reading about her, I may dislike her immensely (if only for how she made poor Queen Catherine feel) but also as a person she interests me greatly, she knew how to get what she wanted and managed to keep the King’s interest for many, many years. Barbara Villiers was a woman of her time, who used her womanhood and sexuality to get what she wanted, yet at the same time immersed herself in the male role of politics – and despite how nasty she could be, those qualities alone make her a woman to look up to!
Fraser, A, 1979, King Charles II, Butler & Tanner: London
Fraser, A, 1984, The Weaker Vessel: Women’s Lot in Seventeenth Century England, Phoenix: London
Masters, B, 1979, The Mistresses of Charles II, Constable: London
Uglow, J, 2009, A Gambling Man, Faber & Faber: London