Frances Villiers, Lady Purbeck, was exactly the kind of woman who worried Charles I. Despite her credentials – aristocratic birth, inherited wealth, an excellent marriage to one of his favoured courtiers as well as intelligence, charm and beauty – she was cast out of the Stuart inner circle. Her initial sin was adultery. That might have been forgiven had she repented, but she compounded it, first by stubbornly persisting with the forbidden affair and then by proudly refusing to engage with the courts and authorities that would have punished her for it. The king, increasingly concerned with his dignity as his troubled reign wore on, could not countenance her defiance. Lady Purbeck’s choices make her life story, told by Johanna Luthman in Love, Madness & Scandal, one of the most fascinating of the 17th century, as well as one of the most salutary.
Like most women of her background, Frances was married at a young age, fifteen in her case, to a man chosen by her father, Sir Edward Coke. Coke was a brilliant lawyer who had risen from provincial obscurity to become Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench. He suggested for