The Windsor Beauties: Ladies of the Court of Charles II
From the Preface to The Windsor Beauties: "The Duchess of York wished to have the portraits of the most beautiful women at Court," Anthony Hamilton wrote in the Memoirs of Count Grammont. "Lely painted them, and employed all his art in the execution. He could not have had more alluring sitters. Every portrait is a masterpiece."
The original set of 'Beauties' painted by Lely were, as we find from James II's catalogue, eleven in number, their names being Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland (nee Villiers); Frances, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox (nee Stuart); Mrs. Jane Myddleton (nee Needham); Elizabeth, Countess of Northumberland (nee Wriothesley); Elizabeth, Countess of Falmouth (nee Bagot); Elizabeth, Lady Denham (nee Brooke); Frances, Lady Whitmore (nee Brooke); Henrietta, Countess of Rochester (nee Boyle); Elizabeth, Countess de Grammont (nee Hamilton); and Madame d'Orleans. It will be seen that in this list of 'Beauties' Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, does not figure; but since she was responsible for the collection, it would be peculiarly ungracious to omit her from a volume that treats of it. Also, she deserves inclusion for her supreme courage in selecting the sitters--for what must the ladies who were not chosen have said and thought of her?
Nor in the series are Nell Gwyn, Louise de Keroualle, and the Duchess Mazarin; but no account of the social life of the Court of Charles II can possibly omit mention of them, and therefore something has been said about each of these ladies.
The new Revised Edition restores Melville's masterpiece of the intricate relationships and day-by-day account of court life in the reign of Charles II of England. This edition also adds a new glossary, bibliography, and extended footnotes for the lay history reader. Also included are first-ever translations of French language poems, letters, and epitaphs completed by Coby Fletcher
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Grace, elegance, sophistication, refinement and beauty is what we imagine when we think of women of royalty. Anne, Duchess of York, Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland, Elizabeth, Countess de Grammont, and ... Read full review
The Windsor Beauties: Ladies of the Court of Charles II is a recent reprint of Lewis Melville’s classic history of the court of the last Stuart king, first published in 1928. The book takes as its basis a series of portraits painted by Peter Levy in the late seventeenth century. Known collectively as “The Windsor Beauties,” the ladies portrayed in these portraits were all ladies of the court, from Anne, Duchess of York to several of the Queen’s maids of honor. Followers of the English monarchy will recognize many of the women’s maiden names; the series includes, among others, a Villiers, a Hamilton, and a Wriothesley. The book also includes a well-defined black and white reproduction of each portrait.
Melville, however, goes beyond merely reproducing each painting and reciting the details of its creation. He also details the world in which these women lived, the reputations under which they thrived (or suffered), and the contemporary views of them held by their peers and others. For instance, Melville’s two chapters devoted to Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland (whose portrait graces the cover of the book) contain several excerpts from the diary of Samuel Pepys regarding her life and doings. While it’s nearly impossible to disentangle fact from gossip, especially four hundred years after the fact, these vignettes provide a look into the lives of the ladies Levy so brilliantly portrayed in the paintings commissioned by the Duchess of York. The Windsor Beauties is a valuable source for anyone interested in post-Civil War painting, portraiture, or the court of Charles II.
The Windsor Beauties: Ladies of the Court of Charles II, by Lewis Melville. Revised Edition 2005, 1-932690-13-1. 222 pages hardbound.