Scott gives Charles II's famous mistress, Barbara Villiers Palmer, Countess Castlemaine, free rein to tell her story.
In her own words she brands herself
as a woman who epitomizes a bawdy, lusty era. Scott's vibrant, detailed portrait takes the dust off history and makes the 1660s accessible.
At 15, Barbara Villiers arrives in London, ready to use her beauty and wit to enjoy life. She moves from her protector, the Earl of Chesterfield, to the more powerful Roger Palmer, whom she marries. Through Roger's connection Barbara is brought to Charles, and in the blink of an eye she's his favorite.
They are a well-matched pair. She's as boisterous and sex-starved as he is, and when Charles takes the throne, Barbara is part of the court. During her reign as unofficial queen Barbara gives Charles children (something his wife cannot), but even as the mother of the Fitzroys she doesn't have the power to stop Charles' wandering eye or the political machinations that pull them apart. She might be one of the most envied women of the Restoration era, but she's still a woman who loves a man she cannot have -- and whose power can be lost on a moment's whim. (NAL, Jul., 384 pp., $14.00)