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Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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DUCHESS OF (1641-1709), mistress of the English king Charles II., was the daughter of William Villiers, 2nd Viscount Grandison (d. 1643), by his wife Mary (d. 1684), daughter of Paul, 1st Viscount Bayning. In April 16J9 Barbara married Roger Palmer, who was created earl of Castlemaine two years later, and soon after this marriage her intimacy with Charles II. began. The king was probably the father of her first child, Anne, born in February 1661, although the paternity was also attributed to one of her earliest lovers, Philip Stanhope, 2nd earl of Chesterfield (1633-1713). Mistress Palmer, as Barbara was called before her husband was made an earl, was naturally much disliked by Charles's queen, Catherine of Braganza, but owing to the insistence of the king she was made a lady of the bedchamber to Catherine, and began to mix in the political intrigues of the time, showing an especial hatred towards Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon, who reciprocated this feeling and forbad his wife to visit her. Her house became a rendezvous for the enemies of the minister, and according to Pepys she exhibited a wild paroxysm of delight when she heard of Clarendon's fall from power in 1667. Whilst enjoying the royal favour Lady Castlemaine formed liaisons with various gentlemen, which were satirized in public prints, and a sharp quarrel which occurred between her and the king in 1667 was partly due to this cause. But peace was soon made, and her influence, which had been gradually rising, became supreme at court in 1667 owing to the marriage of Frances Stuart (la belle Stuart) (1648-1702) with Charles Stuart, 3rd duke of Richmond (1640-1672). Accordingly Louis XIV. instructed his ambassador to pay special attention to Lady Castlemaine, who had become a Roman Catholic in 1663.

In August 1670 she was created countess of Southampton and duchess of Cleveland, with remainder to her first and third sons, Charles and George Palmer, the king at this time not admitting the paternity of her second son Henry; and she also received many valuable gifts from Charles. An annual income of £4700 from the post office was settled upon her, and also other sums chargeable upon the revenue from the customs and the excise, whilst she obtained a large amount of money from seekers after office, and in other ways. Nevertheless her extravagance and her losses at gaming were so enormous that she was unable to keep up her London residence, Cleveland House, St James's, and was obliged to sell the contents of her residence at Cheam. About 1670 her influence over Charles began to decline. She consoled herself meanwhile with lovers of a less exalted station in life, among them John Churchill, afterwards duke of Marlborough, and William Wycherley; by 1674 she had been entirely supplanted at court by Louise de Keroualle, duchess of Portsmouth. Soon afterwards the duchess of Cleveland went to reside in Paris, where she formed an intrigue with the English ambassador, Ralph Montagu, afterwards duke of Montagu (d. 1709), who lost his position through some revelations which she made to the king. She returned to England just before Charles's death in 1685. In July 1705 her husband, the earl of Castlemaine, whom she had left in 1662, died; and in the same year the duchess was married to Robert (Beau) Feilding (d. 1712), a union which was declared void in 1707, as Feilding had a wife living. She died at Chiswick on the 9th of October 1709.

Bishop Burnet describes her as "a woman of great beauty, but most enormously vicious and ravenous, foolish but imperious, ever uneasy to the king, and always carrying on intrigues with other men, while yet she' pretended she was jealous of him." Dryden addressed Lady Castlemaine in his fourth poetical Epistle in terms of great adulation, and Wycherley dedicated to her his first play, Love in a Wood. Her portrait was frequently painted by Sir Peter Lely and others, and many of these portraits are now found in various public and private collections. By Charles II. she had three sons and either one or two daughters.

She had also in 1686 a son by the actor Cardonnell Goodman (d. 1699), and one or two other daughters.

Her eldest son, Charles Fitzroy (1662-1730), was created in 1675 earl of Chichester and duke of Southampton, and became duke of Cleveland and earl of Southampton on his mother's death. Her second son, Henry (1663-1690), was created earl of Euston in 1672 and duke of Grafton in 1675; by his wife Isabella, daughter of Henry Bennet, earl of Arlington, he was the direct ancestor of the later dukes of Grafton; he was the most popular and the most able of the sons of Charles II., saw a considerable amount of military service, and met his death through a wound received at the storming of Cork. Her third son, George (1665-1716), was created duke of Northumberland in 1683, and died without issue, after having served in the army. Her daughters were Anne (1661-1722), married in 1674 to Thomas Lennard, Lord Dacre (d. 1715), who was created earl of Sussex in 1684; Charlotte (1664-1718), married in 1677 to Edward Henry Lee, earl of Lichfield (d. 1716); and Barbara (1672-1737), the reputed daughter of John Churchill, who entered a nunnery in France, and became by James Douglas, afterwards 4th duke of Hamilton (1658-1712), the mother of an illegitimate son, Charles Hamilton (16.91-1754).

The first husband of the duchess, Roger Palmer, earl of Castlemaine (1634-1705), diplomatist and author, was an ardent Roman Catholic, who defended his co-religionists in several publications. Having served in the war against Holland in 1665-67, he wrote in French an account of this struggle, which was translated into English and published by T. Price in London in 1671. Having been denounced by Titus Oates as a Jesuit, he was tried and acquitted, afterwards serving James II. as ambassador to Pope Innocent XI., a mission which led to a brief imprisonment after the king's flight from England. Subsequently his Jacobite sympathies caused him to be suspected by the government, and his time was mainly spent either in prison or in exile. The earl died at Oswestry on the 21st of July 1705.

The title of duke of Cleveland, which had descended in 1709 to Charles Fitzroy, together with that of duke of Southampton, became extinct when Charles's son William, the 2nd duke, died without issue in 1774. One of the first duke's daughters, Grace, was married in 1725 to Henry Vane, 3rd Baron Barnard, afterwards earl of Darlington (d. 1758), and their grandson William Henry Vane (1766-1842) was created duke of Cleveland in 1833. The duke was succeeded in the title in turn by three of his sons, who all died without male issue; and consequently when Harry George, the 4th duke, died in 1891 the title again became extinct.

Previous to the creation of the dukedom of Cleveland there was an earldom of Cleveland which was created in 1626 in favour of Thomas, 4th Baron Wentworth (1591-1667), and which became extinct on his death.

See the article Charles Ii. and the bibliography thereto; G. S. Steinmann, Memoir of Barbara, duchess of Cleveland (London, 1871), and Addenda (London, 1874); and the articles ("Villiers, Barbara" and "Palmer, Roger") in the Dictionary of National Biography, vols. xliii. and lviii. (London, 1895-1899).

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​b/barbara-villiers-duchess-of-cleveland.html. 1910.
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