Saturday, March 16, 2013

The French Mistress

The French Mistress is a 2009 book written by Susan Holloway Scott on Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland's french mistress, Louise de Kerouaille.

Louise Renee de Penancoet de Kerouaille is the daughter of an improverished nobleman from the french province of Brittany whose parents send her to Court to serves as a maid of honor to Henrietta Anne of England, known as Madame in the French court. The Duchess of Orleans forms a close friendship with the innocent maiden and gives Louise privy into the terrible state of the Orlean marriage. Henrietta Anne is abused by her husband, Phillip, Duke of Orleans, likewised called Monsieur, who repeatedly rapes her and flaunts his lover the Chevalier de Lorraine before her, motivated by his suspicions of her close friendship with his brother, Louis XIV of France. There is nothing Henrietta desires more than seeing England and her beloved older brother, Charles II of England and even the pregnancy and birth of Anne Marie d'Orlean, forced on her by Monsieur, will stop her.

In 1670, Louise accompanies Madame to Dover to be reunited with her brother. The true reason for the visit was to secure an alliance with England and on June 1,1670, Charles signs the Secret Treaty of Dover, promising to convert to the Catholic faith in order to gain support from Louis XIV. But it's not all serious business for Charles because during the trip, he becomes besotted with the baby faced Louise despite his mistress, Barbara Palmer, presence at Dover. Oh but the month passes by so quickly and the two go their separate ways.

Henrietta Anne's health has never been good but her sudden death on June 30, 1670 came as a shock to everyone. Because she died shortly after drinking rumor has it she was poisoned by her husband. With the death of the Duchess of Orleans, Louise de Kerouaille is left without a protector. With the task of being Louis XIV's spy, Louise departs for England under the guise of being a maid of honor for Charles's Queen, Catherine of Braganza, but in actuality to seduce the king himself.  She cleverly yielded the King's advances until she had a firm grip over his affections and was indispensable to him. Louise gave birth to Charles Lennox on July 29, 1792.

Despite his great affection for his "Fubbs" as he called Louise, Charles II of England was not a faithful man and Louise had much competition. The greatest of which came from a woman the complete opposite Mademoiselle de Kerouaille. Nell Gwyn "Pretty Witty Nell" born to the lower order of society, rose to fame as an actress before catching the eye of the King. Portraying herself as the very picture of what it was to be English, Nell often made the French Louise the butt of her many jokes, referring to her rival as "Squintabella". Hortense Mancini temporarily supplanted Louise in Charles' favor but her promiscuity to Louise's comparative innocence drives Charles right back to his favorite French woman. Her greatest sadness of all was catching a venereal disease from her beloved. But for all her lows, Louise de Kerouaille also had her highs. In 1673, she is made Duchess of Portsmuth and in 1675, her son is made Duke of Richmond.

As a Catholic, Louise was subject to much suspicion during a period in British history where the religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants was at the very heart of the government. The people cannot tolerate a Catholic King and are incensed when Charles's younger brother and heir, James, marries the Catholic, Mary of Modena. Likewise, Louis XIV of France was greatly angered upon hearing the news that James' daughter, Mary, was to marry the Protestant William of Orange to settle the feud between the English and the Dutch. Louise comes under fire during the Popish Plot instigated by Titus Oates but her position with the king is strong enough to withstand all. Charles II died on February 6, 1685 and it is due to Louise that he converts to Catholicism and receives the last rites.

I give this book a 2.5/5. As far as the many mistresses of Charles II goes, Louise de Kerouaille is near the bottom of my list of favorites. A classical Nell Gwyn girl myself, I find Louise de Kerouaille to be greedy and scheming, but The French Mistress does make me see Louise de Kerouaille in a new light and I'll give the book that. However, when one is writing a book on a highly controversial figure and tries to make them seem sympathetic to the reader, there is a right way to do it and then there is a wrong way to do it. Scott was on the fence throughout the book on Louise de Kerouaille, one moment she's the innocent victim whose name is wrongly blackened in history and the next she's the ambitious woman that we know and hate. The book is called a "Novel on the Duchess of Portsmuth and Charles II" but the 2 years that Louise spends with Henrietta Anne is nearly half of the entire book. Also I felt that the story was lacking the more interesting parts of Louise's story. It could have done more with how Louise strung Charles along or more interactions with Nell Gwyn. Foreshadowing is a good thing, it builds the suspense but Scott gave a little to many wink-wink-knudge-knudges and it became very very annoying. I'll be going for another read of The King's Favorite thank you very much.

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