The Wild, the Beautiful and the Damned, a new exhibit at Hampton Court Palace, dives lustily into the sensual decadence of the Restoration court under King Charles II. After 11 years of Puritan rule under Cromwell (and briefly his son), the return of the monarch ushered in an era of newly permissive social mores. Theaters reopened and for the first time in England, they were licensed to allow women to tread the boards instead of the young men in drag who used to play all the female roles.
Two of these new English actresses would become famous mistresses of Charles II. Their portraits are on display at the Hampton Court Palace show along with the portraits of Charles’ other major mistresses, together in one exhibit for the first time. In contrast to the formality of earlier court portraiture, these paintings are considerably more revealing. Nell Gwynne, one of the actresses Charles plucked from the theater and installed in mansions, posed nude as Venus in a less than modest pose. With her is her and King Charles’ illegitimate son Charles Beauclerk, who is portrayed as Cupid.
Themes explored in the exhibit are the association of beauty with virtue and how indulgence of the senses in pursuit of beauty could be justified as a spiritual pursuit; also featured are some of the shameless libertines who cut a swath through the ladies of the court.
On a lighter note of ribaldry, Hampton Court Palace has created a companion website called Ask Chiffinch on which William Chiffinch, Page of his Majesty’s Bed-Chamber and Keeper of the King’s Private Closet, aka the King’s “Pimpmaster General,” answers questions from the lovelorn in 17th century style. You have to be 16 or older to enter because there are photonovela-style pictures of sideboob and I suppose discussion of sexual topics, but it’s miles from explicit. You can submit your own dilemma using this form.
The Wild, the Beautiful and the Damned runs until September 30th of this year. Here’s a brief introductory video:
This isn’t officially part of the exhibit, I don’t think, but it’s certainly in keeping with it. Hampton Court Palace offers evening Salacious Gossip Tours y’all. For £25, you get a glass of champagne and a ninety-minute guided tour of the nooks and crannies, metaphoric and literal, of the palace. Only people 18 and older are allowed in, which bodes very well.
From Charles II to George II, explore the tales of mistresses and gossip we dare not tell you during the day.
Our guides tell the risqué stories that are just too naughty for younger and more delicate ears, dealing with darker and more delicious themes.
This is a chance to experience the palace out of hours and those areas of history that have been overlooked by more traditional historians.
Somebody has to take that tour and tell us all about it.