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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.