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THE WINDSOR BEAUTIES.*
"The Beauties of Windsor are the Court of Paphos."
THOUGH Charles, with all his accomplishments, made but a sorry king, it is not the less certain that he had a divine taste in beauty— bear witness those radiant forms which the pencil of Lely has rescued from death and fate, and immortalized even in the loveliest looks they wore on earth.
"Redundant are those locks, those lips as fair
As when their breath enrich'd Thessalian air!" What an array of charms, bewildering the fancy and dazzling the eye, even while yet we gaze and worship at a distance! each separate face and form growing upon us in captivation and interest as we approach nearer; and the whole together, thus combined into one brilliant group, forming such a constellation of varied beauty and grace as I suppose is not to be met with elsewhere upon earth. Fair ladies all! I kiss your fair hands, and am of those fair faces the most devoted and most humble servant!
Frown not, very demure reader! and you, my dear Miss Prue, spread not your fan before your face! Do you think, forsooth, that because you are virtuous, beauty shall no longer be beauty? Yes, by Venus' glove! and as long as stars shall crown the blue firmament, or roses bloom upon the lap of spring-as long as the rivers shall seek the ocean, or the moon from her height in heaven govern the flowing tides -so long shall bright eyes and sweet looks, and lovely forms, whether they move among us in warm reality, or glow in mimic life from the almost breathing canvass, rule the senses and the spirits of men. Au reste, our business at present is with personal beauty, or rather with the abstract representation of beauty.
Gli occhi sereni e le stellanti ciglia,
La bella bocca angelica,
Che fanno altrui tremar di maraviglia.
Moreover, when I spake of fair faces, did I insinuate one word of fair reputations? Did I say that Castlemaine was not a virago, or that la belle Stuart was not a coquette? Did I aver that Portsmouth was chaste? or Denham discreet? or Gwyn modest? or Shrewsbury a saint? or Moll Davis a prude? No, truly but with all due respect for female virtue and chastity, I have so much of the chivalrous gallantry of the old school, so much veneration for the influence of sex and the "majesty of loveliness," that in the presence of these bewitching forms now sparkling around us, I would no more utter a discourteous or injurious reflection, than I could have gone up to one of the fair originals being alive, and told her to her face that she was no better than she should be!
* A celebrated series of portraits in the gallery at Windsor, known also as "King Charles the Second's Beauties;" but this title is a misnomer, and certainly gives the gallant monarch more than his due. These pictures, fourteen in number, formerly occupied one entire room, called from this circumstance the "Chamber of Beauties." It has lately been altered and thrown into another, so as to form a gallery known by the name of the Queen's State Bed-chamber, 2 F
May 1826-VOL. XVI. NO. LXV.
Of the fourteen portraits distinguished as the "Beauties of Windsor," ten are by Sir Peter Lely, three by Wissing, and one, the finest of all, is attributed to Huysman.
Sir Peter Lely has been severely criticized as an abandoned mannerist; and it must be confessed, that the languid air, the sleepy elongated eyelids, and loose fluttering draperies of his women, have given a general character to his pictures, which may be detected almost at the first glance. "Lely's nymphs," says Walpole, speaking of this very collection, " are far too wanton and magnificent to be taken for any thing but maids of honour."* In another place he says, "Sir Peter Lely's women trail, fringes and embroidery through meadows and purling streams."* This last observation is an instance of that slip-slop language and criticism into which Horace Walpole was sometimes betrayed; for in the first place there are no fringes and but little embroidery in the pictures before us; secondly, these airy, graceful, and floating draperies, certainly bear no traces of having been trailed through purling streams, or any other streams; furthermore, what true judge or real lover of painting could wish away those charming snatches of woodland landscape, those magical glimpses of sky and masses of foliage with which he has so beautifully, so poetically relieved his female figures; or choose to substitute for these rich effects of scenery, the straight lines of architecture, or the folds of a red curtain? Why may not a lovely woman be represented, without any intolerable violation of taste and probability, in a garden or a bower, as well as in a saloon at Whitehall? or seated beneath a tree, or by a fountain, as well as before a curtain? In other respects there can be no doubt that the manner of the pai ter was in a great measure caught from the manners, the fashions, and the character of the times in which he lived. He painted what he saw; and if he made his nymphs "wanton and magnificent," we have very good authority for believing in the accuracy of his likenesses. The meretricious exposure of the person came in, when modesty went out, and virtue was voted "une impertinence."+ Patches, false ringlets, shoebuckles, and green stockings, came in about the same time. Witness the green stockings of the fair Chesterfield, which made the Duke of York swear so gallantly, that there was " point de salut pour des jambes sans des bas verts." As to the reasons given for their adoption by some of the court ladies, I, for mine own part, have far too much gallantry to believe the scandalous insinuation of an angry husband, § and am ready to break a lance in defence of the fair Chesterfield's slender ancles. But this is a digression.
"The sleepy eye that spoke the melting soul," seems to have been natural to one or two distinguished beauties of the time, who led the fashion, and affected and carried to an extreme by others who wished
* See Anecdotes of Painting.
†That this fashion was carried to a shameless excess particularly, at court, is evident from the satires and sermons of that day. See also "Pepys's Diary" for a description of the court ladies. I may just refer to a discourse published soon after the Restoration, entitled " A Just and Seasonable Reprehension of the Enormity of Naked Breasts and Shoulders."
See De Grammont.
§"Elle l'a (la jambe) grosse et courte, poursuivit il; et pour diminuer ses defauts autant que cela se peut, elle en porte presque jamais que des bas verts." Fide Memoires de Grammont.
to be in the mode. We are told that the beautiful Mrs. Hyde* had, by long practice, subdued her glances to such a languishing tenderness that her eyes never opened more than those of a Chinese; so that when she intended to look particularly soft, one would have sworn that it was something worse-in plain English, that she squinted. We may imagine the fair and indolent Middleton, the languishing Miss Boynton, or the insipid Lady Rochester, with these drooping lids and half-shut glances; but it must have cost the imperious Castlemaine, the brilliant Jennings, and the sprightly Hamilton, no small effort to veil their sparkling orbs in compliance with the fashion, and affect an insidious leer or a drowsy languor. With them it must have been an exquisite refinement of coquetry, a kind of demi-jour, giving to the raised lid and full soulbeaming eye, an effect like that of unexpected light, dazzling, surprising, overpowering.
Besides the fourteen "Beauties," properly so called, there are two portraits, which by courtesy, if not by right, have some claim to be noticed. Most of the ladies hereafter to be mentioned, being attached either to the court of the queen, or to that of the Duchess of York; we will take one glance at their portraits before we proceed to the
Queen Catherine of Braganza, Infanta of Portugal, half length, by Sir Peter Lely, seated in a chair of state, and in white satin.
This is far from being a pleasing picture. The attitude is probably characteristic, but it is ungraceful and unmeaning. The face is round; the nose turned up; the eyes small and black as jet; the mouth, though ugly, has an expression of melancholy and discontent, and the whole air is unqueenly and undignified. This picture of the ill-fated Catherine appears to have been taken soon after her arrival in England, while yet she loved her husband and deeply resented those infidelities and negligences which she afterwards bore with such exemplary patience. Lord Clarendon says, that on her first arrival, and for some time after, Charles had " very good satisfaction in her," and that she had wit and beauty sufficient to have pleased the King, if bigotry and an ill education had not spoiled her. Burnet calls her 66 a mean-looking little lady," and Mr. Pepys says, "For the queen, though she be not very charming, yet hath she a good modest and innocent look, which is pleasing." Catherine arrived in England with a bevy of Portuguese attendants, of whom Grammont gives such a witty description. "Six monstres," alias Maids of Honour, surrounded her person, governed by an old duenna more hideous than the rest; besides these, she had six almoners, a confessor, a Jewish perfumer, and a certain officer whose function seems to have puzzled the whole court, called the Queen's barber; these foreigners by their ignorance, bigotry and officiousness, caused so much confusion, that the king very soon shipped the whole cargo back to Portugal, and surrounded the queen with creatures of his own. Catherine had naturally strong passions and a high spirit. When Charles desired she would receive Lady Castlemaine as one of her new attendants, she drew her pen across the name; and when the king insisted, she replied haughtily, that "she would go back whence she came, rather than be forced to submit to such an indignity;" but after a short struggle she seems to have resigned herself to her
fate, and thenceforward not only endured her husband's licentious conduct with a good grace, but even took pains to reconcile him on some notable occasions with his capricious and imperious mistresses. She endeavoured to please the king by encouraging every species of dissipation and gaiety, and even entered into the extravagant masquerading frolics which were then so fashionable, with more spirit than success. Once," says Burnet, "the queen's chairmen not knowing who she was, went from her. So she was alone and was much disturbed, and came to Whitehall in a hackney-coach, some say in a cart."
We are told in "Ives' Select Papers" of another pleasant frolic of Her Majesty's; there being a fair at Audley-end, where the court then was, the Queen, the Duchess of Richmond (Miss Stuart), and the Duchess of Buckingham, disguised themselves as country lasses in red petticoats, &c., and so went to see the fair: Sir Bernard Gascoigne riding before the queen on a sorry cart-horse. But they had so caricatured their disguises, that they "looked more like antiques than country folk," and the people began to gather round them. The queen going into a booth to buy a pair of garters for her sweet-heart; and Sir Bernard asking for a pair of gloves stitched with blue for his sweet-heart; they were betrayed by their "gebrish" and their exaggerated rusticity; and the queen being recognized, the whole fair flocked about them. They at length got to their horses, "But as many of the faire as had horses, got up with their wives, children, neighbours, and sweet-hearts behind them, to get as much gape as they could, till they brought them to the court gate. Thus by ill conduct was a merry frolic turned into a penance.
It should be observed that nothing beyond a frolic was ever imputed to Queen Catherine, even by the scandalous court in which she lived. Buckingham, who offered to carry her off to the Plantations out of the king's way, * to give colour to a divorce, and make room for Miss Stuart, would not have spared her fair fame had it not been unimpeachable. She retired to Lisbon after the king's death, and died there in 1702.
The Duchess of York, (Anne Hyde, daughter of Lord Chancellor Clarendon,) full length, by Sir Peter Lely.
This portrait forms a striking contrast to the last. Catherine of Braganza, the daughter of a line of princes, looks in her picture like an underbred plebeian; while Anne Hyde, born the daughter of a simple esquire, has, without any pretensions to beauty, a presence so noble, and an air at once so gracious and so commanding, that Nature seems to have intended her for the rank she afterwards attained. On her elevation to the second dignity of the kingdom, she "took state upon her" as if accustomed to it from her cradle; and, as Grammont observes, held out her hand to be kissed, "avec autant de grandeur et de majesté que si de sa vie elle n'eût fait autre chose." Anne Hyde was a woman of high spirit and generous feeling; she had strong passions, which sometimes led her astray. She was a warm friend; but, adds Burnet," she was too severe an enemy." She had talents of no ordi
* Charles is said to have rejected this offer with horror. See Burnet. Alluding to her flirtation with Le Beau Sidney, which, if we may trust Pepys's Diary, appears to have gone farther than even Hamilton dares to insinuate.
This does not appear in her magnanimous conduct towards those profligate courtiers, all honourable men," who endeavoured, by traducing her in the most infamous manner, to prevent the acknowledgement of her marriage.
nary kind, wrote well, and had more knowledge than the women of her time usually possessed. By her spirited conduct she obliged the Duke of York to acknowledge his marriage with her, contrary to his own intentions and to the wishes of the king; and in defiance of the queen mother, who vowed in a rage, that, whenever "that woman was brought into Whitehall by one door, she would go out of it at the other." Yet she was afterwards reconciled to the match, and acknowledged the Duchess as her daughter. Had she lived a few years longer, and preserved her influence over her wrong-headed husband, the Revolution would probably have been averted.
The Duchess of York, in forming her suite, took pains to surround herself with all that was most brilliant and fascinating in youth and beauty: Miss Bagot*, Miss Price, Miss Jennings †, Miss Temple, Miss Hamilton, were among the most conspicuous ornaments of her court. She has yet another and a stronger claim to be noticed here, since it was she who began the collection of the Beauties, by commanding Sir Peter Lely to paint for her the handsomest women of the time; with what success he has executed the enchanting task imposed upon him, we shall now examine. We begin with Lady Castlemaine, first in the annals of gallantry, as first in rank; and most conspicuous for beauty, where beauties were so abundant, that, as De Grammont tells us, 66 on ne pouvait se tourner sans en voir."
The Duchess of Cleveland, as Pallas.
As Pallas! so says Granger and the Windsor Guide.
it must have surpassed even the effrontery of a court painter to venture to pourtray the voluptuous vixen Castlemaine under the semblance of the Goddess of Wisdom and Chastity; it must have appeared like a designed satire. I am inclined rather to agree with another authority, which entitles this picture "The Duchess of Cleveland, as Bellona," a character rather more appropriate.
Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland, was the only daughter of that Villiers, Lord Grandison, who lost his life while gallantly fighting at the battle of Edgehill. Charles rewarded his devotion to the royal cause by making his daughter a- -duchess. A short time before the Restoration she married Roger Palmer, afterwards Earl of Castlemaine‡, who seems to have accepted of the coronet and other honours which his beautiful wife showered on his head in a spirit of resignation and philosophy quite edifying.§ Immediately after the Restoration, Lady Castlemaine appeared publicly as the royal mistress, and her eldest son by the king was created Duke of Grafton.
Burnet, in his History, has sketched her character with his coarse but powerful pencil. "She was (he says) a woman of great beauty, but most enormously vicious and ravenous," &c. "The King's pas
* Afterwards Lady Falmouth.
† Afterwards Duchess of Tyrconnel. She was the sister of Sarah Duchess of Marlborough.
The same Lord Castlemaine who was afterwards sent ambassador from James the Second to the Pope, to reconcile England to the See of Rome.
§"But that which pleased me best was, that my Lady Castlemaine stood over against us upon a piece of White Hall. But methought it was strange to see her lord and her upon the satne place, walking up and down without taking notice one of another, only at first entry he put off his hat, and she made him a very civil salute but afterwards took no notice one of another."-Pervs's Diary.