History Trivia #7: King Charles II Seeks a Queen

I’m reading The King’s Bed: Sex, Power and the Court of Charles II by Don Johnson and Michael Walsh. King Charles II took the English throne in 1660 after a decade of Puritan dictatorship. He was nicknamed the Merry Monarch, and while I suspect anyone would be seen as a merry monarch when the last guy was a Puritan, the king lived up to the name. Every source agrees Charles’ first priority in life was women. His next two priorities were also women. Then some combination of power, money, having a laugh with the boys, the theater, and yet more women. Responsible governance might crack his top five interests on a good day.

Here is a passage from the book, describing Charles’ search for a wife.

In the world outside, the transformation in Charles’ status from despised exile to king of a feared power was endorsed as the ruling houses of Europe scrapped with each other to provide him with a consort. In a race that lasted through the rest of 1660 and all of 1661, Brandenburg, Portugal, Saxony, Denmark, Parma, France, Spain, and Austria all pitched in at various times with candidates to share Charles’ throne. It was made brutally clear to them that the only determinants would be money – the size of the dowry – and attractiveness. If there were any doubts about the primacy of sex in Charles’ life, they would be banished by a glance through the reasons he rejected princess after princess in those eighteen months.

He said no to Eleanor of Mantua, widow of the Emperor Ferdinand, on grounds of age – she was “poor in money but rich in years”, it was said. In fact, she was the same age as Charles. He turned down at least three German princesses on grounds of weight: “I could not marry one of them,” he remarked, “they are all foggy” (i.e., flabby, physically or mentally). He then sent his friend the Earl of Bristol hundreds of miles to check out two Italian princesses, whose names came up very late in the day. Maria Magdalena and Caterina were the sisters of the Duke of Parma. One at least was accounted to be “most beautiful”. However, she turned out to be fat, and her sister ugly. Both were to die unmarried. (Jordan and Walsh 80-81).


Jordan, Don, and Michael Walsh. The King’s Bed: Sex, Power and the Court of Charles II. Hachette UK, 2015.

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