Described as tall, voluptuous and possessed of a gleaming mass of auburn hair, her eyes were violet and she had skin the colour of alabaster. Her mouth was as sensuous as she was amoral, and her temperament mercurial. The daughter of William Villiers (2nd Viscount Grandison), Barbara was born in 1641 and married Roger Palmer in 1659, two years before the King bestowed on him the title of lst Earl Castlemaine.
|1st earl Castlemaine|
Theirs proved to be a faithless union as, soon after her marriage, her Royal affair with King Charles II began. In his famous diary, Samuel Pepys records in an entry made in 1660, that it is the King's intention "“to make her husband a cuckold”. The naughty diarist also recounts how he "saw the finest smocks and linnen petticoats of my Lady Castlemaine’s, laced with rich lace at the bottom, that ever I saw; and did me good to look upon them”.
However, by the time of her separation from her husband, Pepys noted, “I know well enough she is a whore”.
|King Charles II|
In 1662, while the King and his new Queen (Catherine of Braganza) were honeymooning, Barbara went into labour and gave birth to her second child at Hampton Court Palace. At court, she was awarded the position of the Queen's Lady of the Bedchamber although Catherine was only too well aware of Barbara's role in her husband's life and protested to the King about her appointment. He ignored her concerns. It didn't take the Queen long to realise who really wielded the power behind the throne.
|Catherine of Braganza|
From around 1670, her influence over the King began to wane, so she consoled herself with less exalted lovers, including her second cousin (and likely father of her sixth child), John Churchill. He later became 1st Duke of Marlborough and was a direct ancestor of Sir Winston Churchill.
|Louise de Kerouaille|
|Barbara, when Duchess of Cleveland|
Shortly before King Charles died though, she returned to England and was reconciled with him. The two enjoyed one final evening together, a week before his death in February 1685.
Soon after this, at the age of forty-five, she took up with the actor, Cardonnell Goodman, who may even have tried to poison two of her children. He later became known as a Jacobite conspirator, involved in a plot to kill King William III.
On 9th October, 1709, she died at Chiswick at the age of sixty-eight, after suffering an oedema (known then as dropsy).
Barbara's descendents include: the late Princess Diana, Sarah, Duchess of York, Sir Anthony Eden and Serena, Viscountess Linley, daughter in law of the late Princess Margaret (the present Queen's sister). Lord and Lady Linley have two children - their daughter, Margarita having been a bridesmaid at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Their son, Charles, is the Queen's Page of Honour.
She can now be proud of her lasting legacy, but, with such a scandalous life, does Barbara rest in peace?
Maybe not. Her spirit is said to haunt her final home, Walpole House on Chiswick Mall, where she walks, with a heavy tread, to this very day...