Since I’m from Pennsylvania, which in 1674 is an English colony, I figure I’d be welcome enough. But Pennsylvania is still a primitive outpost of farmers and fur-traders and I’m woefully unstylish, so my first stop at the palace will be to visit the rooms of Louise de Keroualle. Louise is Charles’s current mistress (and the heroine of my last book, The French Mistress), a beautiful French lady known for her exquisite Parisian taste. If anyone can loan me suitable dress for court, then it would be Louise, who has a larger wardrobe than the queen herself and more jewels, too. We’re both tall, so I can borrow a gown without any alterations – though those tight-laced stays she favors will take a little getting used to. Oof!
Then it’s off to join the others already assembled in the Banqueting House, used for evening balls, masques, and gatherings. I’m presented to His Majesty, and I hope I make an acceptable curtsey. But Charles is more concerned with putting me at my ease, and he’s every bit as charming as everyone says, and looks exactly like his portraits. He honors me by asking to dance, but politely I must refuse, since I haven’t the faintest idea of the steps to a sarabande. Instead he dances with Nell Gwyn (the heroine of The King’s Favorite), a former actress who is now another of the royal mistresses. Little Nell’s a much better dancer than I’d ever be, her tiny feet kicking high and auburn curls bouncing.
I’m searching the crowd for others I’d like to meet. Across the room I see Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland (heroine of Royal Harlot), and though she’s no longer in favor as Charles’s mistress, she’s still seductive, and flirting outrageously with three much younger gentlemen. There’s the fox-faced Duke of Buckingham in the corner, doubtless plotting more political mischief to try Charles’s patience, and there’s the handsome, witty Earl of Rochester, who has clearly already had far too much to drink. Trying hard to appear as if he belongs is that plump little man from the navy board, Samuel Pepys; perhaps I should tell him that the gossipy diary he’s carefully keeping in code will one day be deciphered and printed for all the world to read.
But at last I find Katherine Sedley, the heroine of The Countess & the King. Even in this crowd, she stands out, for she’s thin and angular and not conventionally beautiful like the other ladies. For a mere maid of honor, she’s expensively dressed – after all, she’s a wealthy heiress in her own right – but what impresses me more is how funny she is, her humor sharp and wry. She’s very outspoken about the other courtiers, and we laugh together at her devastating observations. But her dark eyes keep looking past me, searching for someone else. I glance over my shoulder, and there he is – James, the king’s younger brother, his gaze intent on Katherine. She opens her fan slowly, one blade at a time, and smiles at him in unspoken invitation. He’s not seeing any other lady in the room but her, and she understands exactly what he wants, and more, what he needs.
And yes, I can guess what will happen next….
Here’s a link to an excerpt from The Countess and the King on my website (susanhollowayscott.com).
I hope you’ll also stop by my blog with fellow author Loretta Chase, where we discuss history, writing, and yes, even the occasional pair of great shoes: http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com/
The Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table have been featuring The Countess and the King for the last few days so if you would like to hear more about Katherine Sedley and the court of Charles II, then you may like to visit the following links. There are also chances to win a copy of the book on these blogs as well.
Hist-FicChick: Two Merry Ladies: Katherine Sedley and Nell Gwyn,
Enchanted by Josephine: Dressing a Royal Bridegroom:
The Maiden's Court: The Fine Art of Poetical Slander:
Historically Obsessed: Introducing Katherine Sedley:
All Things Royal: Guest blog, 9/2, Two Brothers, Two Kings: