From the glamour and magnificence of the Stuart court to the macabre side of fame, beauty and indulgence, explore the lives and loves of the courtesans who lived and died during the reigns of Charles II, James II, William III & Mary II and Anne.

Charles II was one of the most immoral, indulgent and raucous of monarchs and this exhibition, which heavily focuses on his mistresses, does little to disprove his reputation. The heart of the exhibition explores the lives, loves and character of the ladies of Charles II’s court; portraits of his principle mistresses Nell Gwyn and Barbara Villiers hang alongside other ‘beautiful women’.

Reeling from the Puritanical solemnity of the mid-17th century, the exhibition presents a dynasty intent on rewriting the moral code of social behavior and indulging in an excess of sex and beauty. The exhibition not only highlights Charles II’s decadent reign (he fathered a dozen illegitimate children, but left no legitimate heirs) but also the beauty that thrived through it - visitors can learn the beauty secrets of the day and marvel at the fashions and elegance of court life. Behind the glamour of the Baroque period there is of course a dark side - miserable tales of those who were once beautiful and influential becoming obscure, riddled with syphilis or die young.

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