Barbara Villiers Palmer was a nineteen-year old newlywed when her husband, Roger Palmier and his group of fellow-conspirators sent her to Brussels with a message to the king-in-waiting, Charles Stuart, and a fortune of gold coin sewn into the hem of her dress. Witty and reckless and a renowned beauty, she immediately caught the eye of the much older king, and it was mutual attraction immediately. She became his mistress and held that position for a turbulent decade.
The Puritan regime of Cromwell was fading fast, and most of Britain was ready for something different, the bawdy Restoration Court. And then there was the question of religion. There were Cromwell’s Puritans, most of the court connected with the official Anglican church, and the hidden adherents to the Catholic church, including Barbara and Charles himself. And there was plague to contend with, the Great Fire that destroyed much of London, and a slip-shod war with the Dutch, thought to be an easy way to maintain trading routes and turning out to be anything but.
Of nearly equal concern to the British court, there was no successor to the throne, despite the marriage of Charles to the Spanish princess. Charles and Barbara, of course, had four children together, but none of them could be considered. At least Charles had one brother left, James.
The plot of Royal Harlot is complicated indeed, but the sense of the period is very well done, and one never loses sight of the multiple players. This was a period of British history that was previously not that well known to me, but Scott has put paid to that. And Barbara is a fearless and commanding heroine.