Most remember Charles II as the randiest Stuart King, flaunting his many, many mistresses and dozen or so bastard children. Charles experienced the sensual delights of the still-famous actress Nell Gwyn, the astonishingly beautiful but hedonistic Barbara Palmer, the French spy Louise de Kérouaille, and many more. But his brother and heir, the unfortunately-Catholic James II, also had strong inclinations towards the extra-marital bed.
I’m sure you can picture the ideal Restoration beauty: heavy-lidded, sensual features, ringlets teased into glossy ‘bed-headed’ waves, sumptuous silk dresses that covered NONE of the ample bosom whatsoever, everything soft, everything voluptuous and extremely feminine. James snubbed the trend, preferring the ‘twiglet’ look…
The tall and skinny Arabella Churchill became a Lady-in-Waiting to James’ wife Anne Hyde, when the pair were still just Duke and Duchess of York. The seventeen year old Arabella was unfortunately rather plain as well as gangly, and didn’t set any hearts racing around the court; she was described by her contemporaries as a “tall creature, pale-faced, and nothing but skin and bone” and – rather bitchily! – “that ugly skeleton”.
One day, the ungraceful teen fell from her horse in full view of the Duke. Her voluminous skirts were thrown into complete disarray and revealed a set of absolutely cracking pins. James became immediately enraptured. One onlooker noted that he “could hardly believe that limbs of such exquisite beauty should belong to [someone with] Miss Churchill’s face.” Those must have been some legs!
Arabella was James’ chief mistress for over a decade, bearing him four illegitimate children. Luckily for James it transpired that her shapely limbs weren’t the only things going for her – she was actually highly intelligent, witty and entertaining. James encouraged Arabella to flaunt her famous assets in coloured stockings. Their affair continued when he became King and even after his second marriage to Mary of Modena. It fizzled out when she hit her thirties – perhaps her legs were losing their tone? The repeated pregnancies making her skinny frame a little thicker? – and she was subsequently married off and spent the rest of her long life happily married to a charming MP.
“The word of the day is legs. Let’s go back to my place and spread the word.”