King Charles II of England was a serial womanizer with a bevy of mistresses. Yet something about his favorite, Louise de Kerouaille, set her apart…and that “something” was usually how much people hated her. Put on your best push-up corset and read these sultry facts about Louise de Kerouaille, the double agent duchess.
Louise De Kerouaille Facts
1. Her Family Were Shameless Schemers
Louise was born in 1649 in France to Guillaume and Marie de Penancoet. When it came to the noble pecking order, Louise’s parents were pretty low on the totem pole, and they took on the name “de Kerouaille” from an heiress ancestor to make themselves seem more important. However, they did have a stunning daughter—and ambitious plans.
2. She Hid a Dark Side
Louise was legendary in the 17th century for her particularly naive beauty, and her many admirers just couldn’t get enough of her good-girl looks and “baby face.” But viewer beware: She may have had large, innocent eyes, but underneath her serene facade Louise was wickedly clever. This was a girl who knew exactly how to get what she wanted. Oh, and she did.
3. Her First “Job” Was Scandalous
Her parents’ plot was simple: They reportedly “threw” Louise into the employ of Henrietta Stuart, the sister-in-law of King Louis XIV of France. Why? Because they wanted her to catch the king’s eye and become a royal mistress. Clearly, they had no qualms about how their daughter came about her riches, as long as she got them. But a plot twist was on the horizon.
4. She Received a Brutal Rejection
If Louise thought she was going to enter the French court for a “royal education” between the sheets, she was sorely mistaken. See, King Louis definitely wasn’t looking for a new sidepiece. He was too deep into negotiations with King Charles II of England to consider hanky panky, and spurned her advances. But trust: When one bedroom door closes, Louise yanks another open.
5. She Sweet-Talked Her Way Into England
As it turned out, the king hoped that Louise’s new boss Henrietta could help him out with his English problem. After all, King Charles just so happened to be Henrietta’s biological brother. When Louis shipped Henrietta back to England to broker a treaty, guess who made sure she was also on the boat? Two hints: Her girls look good in a corset.
6. The King Found Her Irresistible
Obviously, Louise convinced her Madame to take her over to Dear Old Blighty—and once she stepped foot on English soil, she made darn sure to get their monarch. Reportedly, from almost the moment King Charles II laid eyes on pretty, witty Louise, he couldn’t get her out of his head…or his bed. But this came with disturbing consequences.
7. She Was Part of a Bedroom “Foursome”
King Charles was quite a ladies’ man, and in jumping into his bed, Louise was also jumping into a snake pit. Two of his other mistresses were the ballsy and busty Barbara Palmer and Nell Gwynn. Palmer in particular was known as “The Uncrowned Queen” for her influence, and she didn’t look kindly on an upstart elbowing her way in. Only Louise had a secret weapon.
8. The King Liked Her for a Disturbing Reason
In truth, Charles was getting tired of Barbara’s tantrums and Nell’s frivolity and coarseness. Plus, as lame as it is to say, the aging king was also very into the fact that baby-faced Louise was, well, a baby. Charles was almost two decades older than his shiny new mistress, and Louise made sure she underlined her “naivety” when she was around him. And that wasn’t all.
9. She Made a Cunning Power Move
When Louise burst onto the scene, Barbara Palmer was in deep trouble with King Charles’ true queen, Catherine of Braganza. Catherine absolutely despised Barbara, who had done next to nothing to ingratiate herself. Louise, however, knew just what to do. She cozied up to Catherine with flattery, quickly making herself the queen’s favorite. And that, ladies, is how the game is played.
10. She Suffered a Great Tragedy
It’s possible King Charles would have forgotten about Louise once she went back to France—if it weren’t for one tragic event. On June 30, 1670, Henrietta passed less than a month after she had come back from England. Suddenly, Louise was almost entirely alone in the world and without a penny to her name. So she came up with an ingenious plan.
11. She Made a Triumphant Return
One way another, Louise found her way back into her (rich) man’s arms. Within months of Henrietta’s passing, King Louis packed her off to England again, and Charles was very happy to see her. He even had Louise installed in his wife’s Catherine of Braganza’s bedchamber, working as her lady-in-waiting. Turns out he was pretty good at sourcing bedchambers.
12. She Had a Royal Rival
Palmer wasn’t going to give up her hold on Charles II so easily, though. Jealous of the “French charmer” and determined to show her who was boss, Palmer demanded royal favors and titles from the king. With her sheet smarts, Palmer became the Countess of Castlemaine…which is probably when Louise knew she had to oust her royal bedmate by any means necessary.
13. She Controlled the King in an Ingenious Way
Kerouaille decided that the best way to win Charles was through playing good ol hard-to-get. Just when Charles thought he had her in his grasp, Louise would slip away, retreating back into her “oh, little old me?” persona. It drove Charles half mad, but he invited her back every chance she gave him. As we’ll see, this wasn’t the last time she played him like a fiddle.
14. Her Mood Swings Were Legendary
The English court could be a little stuffy, but the intimate, emotional Louise de Kerouaille was a breath of fresh French air—even when those winds blew hot and cold. She quickly became infamous for her mood swings, which ranged from divinely happy to dark and stormy. Yet as we’ll see, these tantrums had ulterior motives.
15. She Faked a Wedding
During one glamorous royal soiree, someone came up with the ingenious idea of staging a fake wedding. Conveniently, this person also decided that King Charles and Louise would play the roles of groom and bride. The drama ended with Charles going up to Louise’s room, because that’s what a groom would normally do, right?
16. She Had an Illicit Love Child
First comes love, then comes “marriage,” then comes…an illicit love child in a baby carriage. In 1672, nature ran its course and Louise found herself pregnant, giving birth to a bouncing baby boy soon after. Louise named the child “Charles,” after his father—but this wasn’t just for sentimental reasons, oh no. That way, daddy dearest would never forget his son.
17. She One-Upped the Queen in an Embarrassing Way
Once Louise christened her relationship with the king by christening an illegitimate child, she set about reaping the benefits. A year after baby Charles’ birth, Louise snagged the title of Duchess of Portsmouth, plus a luxe pension and a furnished suite of 24 rooms in Whitehall Palace—many times richer and grander than even the Queen’s chambers. The lady obviously knew how to win her man.
18. The King Talked Dirty to Her
Charles had a bizarre nickname for Louise: Fubbs. Okay, yeah, so it’s not the most romantic. Referring to her famous baby face, the word meant “chubby.” Still, don’t get it twisted. Back then, well-fed, curvy women signalled wealth, beauty, and prosperity, and the plump look was the height of fashion. Our Louise was just fine with it, thank you very much.
19. One Woman Couldn’t Stand Her
Palmer wasn’t the only woman ousted from the king’s favor when Louise flounced into court. Nell Gwynn, one of the most famed and notorious actresses of her day, also lost Charles’ attention because of his new favorite. Even the easy-going Nell was rankled at the thought of the French minx…and she soon retaliated with spite.
20. She Earned a Cruel Nickname
Gwynn found an inventive way to express her feelings about her rival. As a treader of the boards, Nell knew a thing or two about good dialogue, and she came up with some choice names for Louise. She scornfully called her “Squintabella” and “Weeping Willow,” both in reference to her crying jags and sporadic emotional episodes.
21. The Common People Hated Her
Because of the general mistrust between England and France in the 17th century, the common people never took to Louise. They despised her Catholic faith, and other dark rumors (more on that later) certainly didn’t help matters. In contrast, most of the public adored the bawdy, down-home Nell—a fact Gwynn once used to deal Louise a crushing blow.
22. She Had Stiff Competition
One day, Nell was out for a ride in her carriage when she heard a crowd shouting at her about her supposed Catholic faith. It didn’t take Gwynn long to realize that they’d mixed her up with the king’s other mistress, Louise. Her response was pitch perfect. She opened the window and said coolly, “Good people, you are mistaken. I am the Protestant whore.”
23. She Became a Part of English History
Did you think we were done with the whole “Fubbs” nickname? Well, think again—this fact is genuinely bizarre. Apparently, Charles liked his little pet name so much, he just couldn’t keep it to the bedroom. In 1682, he built a royal yacht for Louise and christened it with the glorious name HMY Fubbs. Move the heck over, Boaty McBoatface.
24. She Tried to Be Queen at Any Cost
Louise’s respect for Queen Catherine of Braganza only went so far, and she almost committed a heartbreaking betrayal. In 1675, the already sickly queen fell gravely ill, and doctors believed she wouldn’t live long. This was enough for the young mistress to get her hopes up, and Louise soon started imagining her own coronation…over her friend’s dead body.
Unfortunately for Louise, Catherine outlived Charles and remained his queen until he passed.
25. She Played Cruel Tricks on the King
Whereas Barbara Palmer tended to exert her hold over the king through her sharp tongue and bad temper, Kerouaille’s go-to method of getting the Charles’ attention was through her infamous tantrums. Sure, she was an emotional woman—but this was also a crafty ploy. Any time she wanted something, you could rely on good old Lou to break into sobs.
26. Her Power Was Threatened
By the mid 1670s, Louise must have thought she’d won it all. The king had largely discarded Barbara Palmer and Nell Gwynn as his mistresses, so she got to rule the royal roost with very little jealousy from Queen Catherine. But she was in for a nasty surprise. The Other Woman’s cardinal rule is “Don’t get comfy”—and soon it all unraveled.
27. She Had to Deal With an Old Flame
Enter: Hortense Mancini, a beautiful Italian Duchess. When Charles and Hortense were young, the king caught the love bug and even proposed marriage to her. Astonishingly, Hortense’s snooty family didn’t think a king was good enough and turned him down. But now that a—gasp—Frenchwoman was chief mistress of England, Hortense had other ideas…
28. The King Dumped Her
Mancini threw open the palace doors with her new girl energy and took over the court just as Louise had once done. It helped, of course, that the English ambassadors were all rooting for someone to replace Louise in the king’s heart. But Charles’ reaction was the cruellest. He pretty much immediately dumped Louise to devote himself to Hortense. Only Louise got the last laugh…
29. She Made a Brilliant Comeback
Let this be a lesson: Good girls finish first. Though she was a dame to end all dames, Hortense Mancini proved a little too much for Charles to handle. She had a huge penchant for scandal, and after an extra extra-marital affair or two, Charles finally had to cut Hortense off. Once more, Louise’s canny way of keeping out of trouble won the day….but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have scandals of her own.
30. The King Used Her for More Than Her Looks
Kerouaille had excellent taste, and the king was very appreciative of that. She decorated her apartments in the latest French style, and Charles often entertained important guests there for this reason. Louise was fond of the high life, and also spent generously on her always-stylish clothes and jewels. Sadly, these would be her downfall.
31. She Endured Bitter Ridicule
Louise’s enemies at court went far beyond Charles’ bevy of mistresses. Her biggest rival was actually the notorious rake and middling poet John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. In one scathing satirical piece, Rochester took aim at Louise’s scandalous influence. Louise looked sweet-faced, but she never forgot a slight—and soon after, she got a brutal revenge.
32. She Knew How to Get Vengeance
Rochester had never been very well behaved, and Charles put up with his drunken antics for years, including an infamous time when Rochester destroyed one of his sundials—bizarrely, this was a huge insult back in the day. But the fatal blow came from Louise herself. Reportedly, the minute Louise told Charles about her bad opinion, the king sent Rochester packing.
33. She (Sometimes) Knew How to Play Nice
Unlike with Barbara Palmer, things weren’t consistently bad between Nell and Louise. After all, royal gals have to stick together. The two women would even sometimes invite each other over to play Basset and have tea.
34. A Priest Accused Her of a Mortal Sin
The English annals are littered with conspiracies, but in 1678 Louise found herself in the center of one of the most infamous plots in history. That year, the English priest Titus Oates informed King Charles that Catholic forces were planning to assassinate him. Suddenly, suspicion fell on the Catholic Louise…and things started heating up.
35. She Made a Narrow Escape
By the time the smoke cleared on this so-called “Popish Plot,” at least 22 people had lost their lives. Miraculously, though, Louise saved herself—and she did it in a surprising way. Her kindness to Queen Catherine paid off, and the queen was one of her most steadfast allies throughout the accusations. You know what they say, keep your friends close and your queens closer.
36. She Had Impressive Powers of Persuasion
Apart from being Duchess of Portsmouth, Kerouaille also “earned” the titles of Baroness Petersfield and Countess of Fareham. The French Court also gave her several presents and awarded her the title of Duchess of Aubigny on Charles’ request. Um, *checks notes,* and how many titles do you have, Barbara Palmer?
37. One Thing Set Her Apart
There’s a reason people called Charles II “The Merry Monarch.” Actually several reasons: Nell, Barbara, Louise—you get the point. Interestingly, Charles had plenty of mistresses and, accordingly, spates of illegitimate children throughout his decadent reign…but still produced no heirs with his rightful queen, Catherine of Braganza.
38. She Knew Her Worth
Louise de Kerouaille lived the phrase “money talks.” The king paid all his mistresses a certain allowance from his own purse, but Louise’s sums were astronomical. One year, he paid her the whopping amount of £136,668, a pretty penny far beyond any of his other mistresses, including the “Uncrowned Queen” Barbara Palmer.
39. She Had a Mysterious Voice
The French poet Charles Robinet famously remembered Louise de Kerouaille as “as sweet as she (was) beautiful.” She had dark hair and eyes, and apparently had a melancholic yet elegant style of speech.
40. She Lost Her Only Son
Unlike the king’s other mistresses, Louise only gave birth to one child. She also made sure to do right by the boy. In 1675, when he was just three years old, little Charles Lennox became the 1st Duke of Richmond. Sadly, though he was also due to inherit some titles from Louise, he predeceased her, passing in 1723 almost a decade before Louise.
41. She Sat for a Scandalous Portrait
There are many surviving portraits Louise, but only one is super disturbing. In 1682, Pierre Mignard painted the Duchess sitting, regally dressed, in a chair…while a black child presents her with pearls and corals. This symbolized the wealth and power of her position, and emphasized the fairness of her skin in comparison to the child’s. Politically correct? What?
42. She Was More Than Just a Pretty Face
Baby-faced Louise might have been a nerd at heart. At the time, King Charles was consumed by “the longitude problem,” worrying over how sailors could navigate the seas when no one had yet found a way to measure longitude. Louise took an interest in the puzzle, and even introduced Charles to a French scientist who thought he had solved it…
43. She Helped Make a Scientific Breakthrough
As it turns out, Louise’s scientist buddy hadn’t solved the major problem, but the smooth introduction did still change the state of British science. The turn of events spurred Charles to build the groundbreaking Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Good on you, girl.
44. She Was the Last One Standing
In the end, Louise de Kerouaille managed to hold on to the title of maitress en titre until the end of King Charles II’s life. By now, you probably know that this was no easy feat. From conspiracy theories to cat fights, serene Louise had truly seen it all, and she did it without breaking a sweat on her baby-faced brow.
45. She Never Left the King’s Thoughts
On February 6, 1685, King Charles II passed at the age of 54. The day was tragic for Louise in more ways than one. Not only was she barred entry from his chamber while he expired, she was also worried about her vulnerable position at court. Nonetheless, Charles tried to protect her even with his last breath. On his deathbed, he asked his family to “do well by Portsmouth.” Sadly, that’s not what happened.
46. She Went Into Exile
Although Charles’ family promised to protect Louise, she met a heartbreaking end. It was clear to her she wasn’t welcome in England, so she sailed to France and spent her last days alone and in debt. She had never saved enough to keep her afloat once the money stopped coming in, nor had she learnt how to live within her means. Once a baller, always a baller.
47. She Had a Tragic End
In November 1734, Louise Kerouaille passed at the ripe old age of 85, having outlived most of the important men in her life by several decades. She had seen it all, the height of extravagance and the lows of penury, and she had done it like a true queen—even though she wasn’t.
48. She’s the Ancestor of Another Infamous Mistress
Louise de Kerouaille’s scandal continued long, long after she passed—and apparently, sauciness runs in her genes. Both of Prince Charles’ wives, Princess Diana and his former mistress Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, are descendants of our own Louise. Honestly, she’d probably be tickled pink by the connection. Not bad at all.
49. She Kept the King’s Secret
Near the end of Charles’ life, he and Louise hid a dark secret behind bedroom doors. The aging king was going flaccid, and he often couldn’t properly satisfy his young mistress the way she deserved. This is an embarrassing enough predicament, but it didn’t take long for even darker rumors to start floating through the palace…
50. She Cheated on the King
Around this time, the restless Louise reportedly started getting up close and personal with the handsome Phillipe de Vendome, Grand Prior of France. Now, Charles was never a fan of monogamy, but he never meant for his mistresses to exercise the same freedoms. Half mad with jealousy, the king drove himself to unprecedented actions.
51. She Almost Started an International Incident
Apparently, Charles marched right up to Phillipe and asked-slash-demanded that he get the heck out of England. The Duke’s reply shocked him. Smug and self-satisfied with his prowess and power, Phillipe said “Nope.” Eventually, King Louis XIV himself had to step in and bring his rogue subject back to France to prevent a sticky situation.
52. She May Have Been a Spy
Louise lived the plush life of a courtier while she was in England—but some say there was a darker reason for her visit. According to rumors from the time, the French king had hand-picked Louise as a double agent, knowing her good looks were tailor-made to entrap Charles. Though many historians call this prejudice, there is disturbing evidence to the contrary.
53. She Had a Network of Covert Operations
Whether or not the king chose her, members of the French court did use Louise as a spy for their causes. The French ambassador Colbert de Croissy acted as her de facto “runner” in covert operations, pushing her to keep ensnaring Charles for the good of (other) king and country. Yep, Louise was basically the 17th-century version of a fembot. Oh, but there’s more.
54. She Was Involved in a Secret Plot
Louise’s “runner” Colbert de Croissy was no fool, and he found the perfect way to keep Charles and his glamorous operative in contact with each other. His friend Lord Arlington just so happened to be the English Secretary of State, and Arlington would often invite Louise over for dinner. Totally coincidentally, the king was also invited.
55. She Received a Suspicious Gift
When historians looked into the royal records from Louise’s time as mistress, they found one scandalous entry. One year, King Louis XIV gifted Louise with a pair of earrings worth a whopping £18,000, an insane amount even for a monarch. The juiciest part? The king had never given Charles’ wife anything close to this valuable. If that ain’t incentive, I don’t know what is.