Lucy Moore

Contempt of Court

Love, Madness, & Scandal: The Life of Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck

By Johanna Luthman

Oxford University Press 216pp £20 order from our bookshop

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.

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