If you haven’t already had a chance to check out my review of His Last Mistress by Andrea Zuvich, then be sure to do so, it’s a quick read full of love and history!
Zuvich graciously agreed to talk about some of the things that make the Duke of Monmouth such an endlessly fascinating historic figure in this weeks guest post! So without further ado please welcome Andrea Zuvich to The Lit Bitch!
The Duke of Monmouth’s Enduring Appeal
The court of King Charles II was known for its hedonistic excesses. The King himself was known as The Merry Monarch, and his closest friends, over-sexed libertines – were referred to as The Merry Gang. They were major party-boys, experts in the art of seduction, debauchery, and often behaved more like naughty adolescents than grown men. In the modern parlance, they were a bunch of players.
Before Charles had officially become king in 1660 (at what’s called the Restoration, since the monarchy had been abolished under Oliver Cromwell), he had lived in exile in Europe. There he had taken, as his first major mistress, a gorgeous Royalist exile of Welsh ancestry by the name of Lucy Walter. The young lovers soon had a beautiful son, whom they named James. Affectionately known as Jemmy, this boy would become the (in)famous Duke of Monmouth and, later, the Duke of Buccleuch.
In Charles II’s inner circle, one in particular excelled them all in terms of licentious behaviour. John Wilmot, the notorious 2nd Earl of Rochester was known both for his very short life (he died aged 32) but for his incredibly debauched lifestyle (he had numerous sexually transmitted diseases which contributed to his early death). He was also a talented poet, but he also wrote some of the most graphically sexual poems, including Signior Dildo (Yes! He meant that!). The court of Charles II was such an over-sexed environment that it is not hard to see how this would have impacted the mind of the young, adolescent Monmouth.
Jemmy, a great-great-grandson of Mary, Queen of Scots, was married off to a rich heiress when he had just turned fourteen; but in his later teens and early twenties he was, despite being a married man, extremely sought-after by the court ladies. And he went after them with equal desire. From all accounts, he was extraordinarily handsome. He seems to have been very passionate, highly emotional, prone to violence, and absolutely irresistible. He was the ultimate bad boy. Well-schooled in the art of seduction, he knew exactly what to say, how to say it, and what to do in order to get his pleasure. He was as sexually voracious and energetic as his father, who famously had many mistresses such as Barbara Villiers, Nell Gwynn, Moll Davis, among others.
Samuel Pepys, a major diarist of the 17th-century said of Monmouth in his Diary from the 26th July 1665:
“The Duke of Monmouth is the most skittish, leaping gallant that ever I saw, always in action, vaulting or leaping or clambering.”
Monmouth was not just a party boy; he had a reputation for being a very good soldier, the best soldier in England, some said. He was very responsible for the wellbeing of the soldiers under his command, and bravely fought beside them on the battlefield. As the Duke, he was responsible for overseeing the investigation into the murder of Edmund Berry Godfrey during the fiasco known as the Popish Plot, and he successfully defeated rebellious Covenanters at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge.
His days of being a lothario were short-lived once he met Henrietta Wentworth. After a few set-backs in which he reverted to his old ways, he eventually became more mature, and settled down for a monogamous existence. Unfortunately, his ambitious nature and impressionable mind took him down the wrong road – the road to rebellion. And he lost his life for it. Thousands of his followers also lost their lives, or suffered enslavement.
When Monmouth was killed on that July day in 1685, the other famous 17th-century diarist, John Evelyn, perfectly summed him up:
“Thus ended the quondam Duke, darling of his Father, and the Ladies, being extraordinarily handsome, and adroit: an excellent soldier & dancer, a favourite of the people, of an easy nature, debauched by lust, seduced by crafty knaves…He was a lovely person.”
What resulted from his thirty-six years of life is an unshakeable romantic allure. Yep, I love the Duke of Monmouth now, and that’s a weird thing for me to say because I originally didn’t like him. I thought he was just another one of those dirty-minded, pampered fops, and for most of his life, he certainly behaved like one. But people are rarely totalled up by what first impressions would suggest, are they?
I had never been attracted to “bad boys” until Monmouth. I was surprised to discover that I was not at all alone in being attracted to him – for I constantly, almost daily, get emails, tweets and messages from women, and men, all over the world who say how much they like him! Even 328 years after his grisly death, he is still capable of attracting people to him, as he did when he was alive – like moths to his flame.
This was the reason I wrote Henrietta’s line, “I know not by what power I am drawn to you, but it as a moth is drawn to the flame, and I cannot fight it, I must be consumed!” Being in Monmouth’s orbit was dangerous, and she paid the price in the end.
She was consumed.
I am so pleased that more people know about the Duke of Monmouth now. He should never have been forgotten, and now, I hope he never will be again.