Holloway Scott tackles the infamous Louise de Keroualle of the Restoration court of Charles II of England in The French Mistress. After spending critical years in the court of Louis XIV, Louise has intimate knowledge of the behind-the-scenes machinations of political intrigue and the secret plans of monarchs.
Schooled by her time attending Henriette-Anne, Charles’s sister, who is married to the powerful and dangerous Duc d’ Orleans, Louise has cut her teeth on the realities of politics and power, a confidante of her poor, doomed mistress and the perfect spy to place in the English court after Minette’s suspicious death, under the watchful, roving eye of a libidinous Charles.
For all her personal disappointments, Henriette-Anne, or Minette, yearns for a treaty between England and France; even more, she hopes her Protestant brother will return to the True Faith. Louise is a critical pawn in such a plan, the perfect link between the monarchs and an integral part of the English court: “I would love one king so that I might please another.”
Louise’s story begins with the virginal and unsophisticated girl’s arrival in Paris in 1868 and ends with Charles’s death. Carrying her family’s aspiration on her back, Louise quickly learns a powerful lesson: trust no one but yourself. As Louise discovers the immoral and treacherous ways of French debauchery, she hones her wit and instincts, a changed figure who meets Charles II and is invited to join his queen’s entourage.
As one of the critical amours of the English monarch’s mistress lore, de Keroualle has a reputation among her fellow competitors for the king’s affection - and his ear - but Holloway Scott focuses on the woman’s political acuity in a treacherous environment, beyond the bedroom and into the chambers of power.
The reader is provided with an intimate perspective of the carnal obsessions of the ruling class, the pomposity of wealthy trappings and the malicious cruelty of the Duc d’ Orleans, the rampant hedonism of the powerful, the elaborate dress and feasts, and the dangerous intrigues that swirl around Charles II and Louis XIV: “Now I will grant that innocence is relative and mine was worn and tattered indeed.”
What is new in this novel is the author’s emphasis on the political machinations between England and France and Louise’s part as liaison: she is the secret clause in the secret treaty. Her transformation from a reviled courtesan to integral part of Charles’s life is less compelling, a clever woman who is adept at turning circumstances to her best advantage.
Outliving her beloved Charles by fifty years, Louise de Keroualle is credited with insuring Charles’s return to the Church on his deathbed, fulfilling a long ago prophecy: “prized by two kings, a duchess in my own right and married to a duke.”