The Restoration of Charles II to the English throne marked a dramatic change in government during the late seventeenth century. With the monarchy back in place, the new king’s court was a place of experimentation, and within this environment emerged ambitious, clever, and beautiful women who benefitted from being the mistresses of Charles II. Although Queen Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese Princess, was married to Charles in 1662, the mistresses capitalized on her misfortunes. Catherine was unable to provide England with an heir, Barbara Villiers, Louise de Kéroualle, and Nell Gwyn filled a power void at the court. By considering portraits of these three women, it is apparent that the various pictoral strategies utilized by the artists asserted the authority of the mistress as a liaison between Charles II and the rest of the court. Barbara, Louise, and Nell were no longer just mistresses, but indicators of social and political changes. Furthermore, the arrival of the low-born Nell Gwyn emphasizes the changing nature of social hierarchies while magnifying the vulnerability and exploitation of lower class woman, specifically actresses. The various pictoral strategies employed by court artists allowed these women to negotiate a space for themselves within the court, and present themselves as alternatives to Queen Catherine.


Presciutti, Diana

Second Advisor

Schilling, Hayden


Art and Art History; History


Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture | European History | Social History | Women's History


Charles II, The Restoration, mistresses, portraiture

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2014 Margaret S. Frick