One of Charles II’s earliest great passions, Lucy Walter, sometimes Lucy Barlow, a Royalist exile of Welsh ancestry who became his bedfellow (possibly his wife) and then the mother of his son, James, the future doomed Duke of Monmouth. Lucy, born around 1630, was considered to be a stunningly beautiful, but quite vapid, woman. The image that has comes down to us over the centuries is that of a silly woman who was passed from man to man, bearing children as she went along, losing everything and ultimately dying in poverty.
This rather fanciful depiction is said to be of Lucy, and was made in the 18th century:
John Evelyn wrote about her twice in his Diary:
On the 18 I went to St. Germains to kisse his Majesties hands; In this coach (which was my Lord Wilmotts), went Mrs. Barlow, the King’s Mistris & mother to the Duke of Monemoth, a brown, beautiful, bold, but insipid creature.
The biggest mystery surrounding Lucy’s life was whether of not she was Charles’s wife or his mistress. There was a pervasive rumour that stated that the marriage certificate was kept hidden away in a black box in some secret place known only to Charles II. The Black Box intrigue was brought up frequently by Exclusionists who wished to see the Duke of Monmouth (a Protestant) become heir instead of James, Duke of York (A Catholic who would ultimately become King James II) and others, but the King himself denied it on numerous occasions, notably in this statement:
For the voiding of any dispute which may happen in time to come concerning the succession of the Crown, I do hereby declare in the presence of Almighty God, that I never gave nor made any contract of marriage, nor was married to any woman whatsoever, but to my present wife, Queen Caterine now living. Whitehall the 3rd day of March, 1678/9.
July, 1685, Evelyn wrote his second reference to Lucy following the grisly execution of her son, James, Duke of Monmouth:
His mother (whose name was Barlow, daughter of some very mean creatures) was a beautifull strumpet, whom I had often seene at Paris, & died miserably, without anything to bury her: Yet this Perkin (Monmouth) ben made believe, the King had married her; which was a monstrous forgerie, & ridiculous: & to satisfie the world the iniquitie of the report, the King he father (if his Father he realy were, for he most resembled one Sidny familiar with his mother) publiquely & most solemnly renounced it, and caused it to be so entred in the Council booke some yeares since, with all the Privy Couselors attestation.
Evelyn obviously was of the contingent who believed Monmouth was the son of Sidney and not Charles II. Why? Well, Lucy had been sleeping around with the brothers Sidney, too (Robert and Algernon). The Duke of York was said to believe this as well, but recently a DNA test was carried out which some have taken as evidence to prove that Lucy gave birth to Charles’s son.
I think it’s ridiculous to believe otherwise because you can see the Stuart features in the Duke of Monmouth’s face! There are some portraits where he has a look of his father, and we all know he inherited the same energy and sexual prowess.
As you can see, quite similar.
Things went wrong in the years following Monmouth’s birth, and there was an attempted kidnapping of the baby, and later, Charles had the boy taken away from his mother. Apparently, Lucy was deemed an unfit mother – Monmouth had a very poor education, and he was taken to live with the Crofts, where he took his surname from. Lucy became another man’s mistress, and then was abandoned.
Poor Lucy, she has been much-maligned – during her time and up to now. She may not have been particularly bright, but I do not think she was as sexually promiscuous as we’ve been told to believe. That sort of thing was a common device to sully a woman’s reputation and I don’t buy it. She died in poverty in 1658, from what was said to be “disease incident to her profession.” I guess that’s the old “she’s a whore” line again.
Thank goodness she wasn’t alive to see her son’s brutal death.