Charles II Royal Court Influence on Furniture
King Charles II had a lot of mistresses and here we examine what influence such women may have had on the course of fashionable furnishing in London.
Louise de Querouailles
If it was to the Queen of Charles II that the Carolean period of furniture owed a certain Portuguese strain and the evidence of strange things from the East, it was from a woman of quite another sort that the predominating influence came. French styles were the vogue at court, not because the Queen, poor dull woman, wished it, but because Louise de Querouailles was the strong influence, and with her advent came follies and fashions enough to please the light side of one of the lightest of monarchs.
France, in the person of Louis XIV, felt that England would bear watching while a Stuart strutted and flirted, oppressed and vacillated. And the French ways of those days being directed by such craft as that of the astute Cardinal Mazarin, a woman was sent from France to charm the King and become his mistress and stay closer beside the throne than any man could be. Charles created the light and lovely Louise the Duchess of Portsmouth and the mother of the little Duke of Richmond; and, that so much of extravagant beauty might be royally housed, he spent much time and more money in fitting her apartments at Whitehall. Three times were they demolished at her whim, the extravagant fittings failing to satisfy her insatiable caprice.
The French Disease
Such procedure was hotly stimulating to artists and artisans who generally go where the money is. In the first attempt they sought to produce their best, but seeing it displease, they were lashed on to more and yet more subtle effort until at last the pretty lady of too much power had forced the production of elegant new styles which smacked of her native France. Thus went by the board the efforts of English styles to remain stoically English, which while perhaps a little dull, were at least genuinely informed by the true expression of the hearts and minds of the men that created them. What came to replace the native styles was the beginning of the long habit of keeping an eye on the more stylish and chic French designs.
We think of Charles II as a figure-head of romance, because the rosy mist of poetic fancy clings to the members of the Stuart family from Mary of Scots down to — but not including — that Duke of York who minced about the throne of Charles II with his soul concentrated on securing from his brother his own personal advancement.
The horrors of Charles' reign, the Bloody Assizes, the Monmouth incident, his neglect to recognise the seriousness of his responsibilities, and these things are lost in the elegant frivolity of the life led at his court. Cares, ennuis, tragedies, were flicked aside by delicate white hands thrust from brocades and lace, and a merry measure was the antidote for soul-sickness.
Those who made music or danced to it, those who rhymed, (the naughtier the better) and sang their verses, those who led at toasts and feasting, those who wore the richest dress, were the persons of importance under the patronage of Charles II, in the time of the Restoration.
Nell Gwynn, she of the quick smile and quick tear, and vulnerable heart, was of the King's favour to the extent of honouring him with the little Duke of St. Albans; and on her Charles lavished accessories of elegant living similar to those he bestowed on Louise de Querouailles. The bewitching actress lived her quickly changing moods among the furniture that now graces our modern rooms here on this side of the water.
While considering the fascinating women of the court, Hortensia Mancini, for whom beautiful furnishings were made, must stand as the most alluring of them all because she ever eludes the critic or dissector. Somewhat of her uncle Cardinal Mazarin was in her astute secretiveness, but a baffling quality all her own made her proof against surrendering her soul to any man's probing or any man's charm. Rich, clever, witty, beautiful, yet passionately unhappy.
Though Charles II had no royal factories such as Louis XIV was conducting in France, plenty of rich objects of art were yielded by the workers. That astonishing aberration of taste, silver furniture, had a vogue at this time, the King considering his favourite mistress worthy of such extravagance. It must have been ugly by its inappropriateness, however pretty was the woman it served.
Louise de Querouailles had hers set in a lined all with mirror glass, which at that time an expensive novelty. But it must have pleased the King to wander into the apartment of his favourite satellite and see the lovely image of the Duchess of Portsmouth sitting among her silver movables, reflected so many times in the walls that the world seemed peopled only with adorable, and admiring, women.