because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Barbara Villiers

Barbara Villiers -- also known as Barbara Palmer  or Lady Castlemaine -- had so much influence as the mistress of King Charles II of England that she was often called "the uncrowned queen." Poor but drop dead gorgeous, Villiers married young and then more or less ignored her husband for the rest of his life, taking up with Charles and bearing him five children, which he unashamedly acknowledged as his.

Villiers was so powerful, she was appointed to the Queen's personal staff (against the Queen's wishes), despite the fact that she had chosen to settle in at one of the palaces and give birth to a second child by the King while he and his wife were on their honeymoon. And he routinely lavished gifts, including titles and estates, on Villiers, and provided for their children in public and permanent ways. Still, she was only one of thirteen of his mistresses, even if she was often the favorite.

Far from submissive, not only did Villiers dabble in politics, playing both ends against the middle if she thought it would benefit her to do so, but she dabbled in other lovers, as well, giving them extravagant gifts out of the largesse she herself received from Charles. When he finally tossed her aside, she retired to France for several years but found her way back to "say good-bye" the week before the King died.

One might have thought that Villiers' influence would have been left in the 1600's, but thanks to Charles' embrace of their children, some of this in-your-face woman's descendants have drawn their own share of attention.  They include, for example, Lady Diana Spencer (better recognized as Princess Di) and Sarah of York (better recognized as "Fergie"), both do-it-on-their-own-terms women in their own right. Villiers would probably be pleased.

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