Female seduction through the times
Throughout history, there have always been young men, often teenage boys, who were seduced and initiated into the act of lovemaking by older and more experienced women.
From the French King Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, in the 17th century whose first mistress was the 24 year older Catherine-Henriette Bellier, to the fictitious Graduate seduced by Mrs Robinson, to indeed the current French President, Emmanuel Macron, who engaged in a relationship with his teacher as a young teenager.
What does appear to be unusual in the case of the 14-year-old Prince Charles, later King Charles II, is that he was seduced by his former wet-nurse, Christabella Wyndham.
Background of Christabella Wyndham
Christabella was the young, vivacious and beautiful wife of Edmund Wyndham, a royalist career soldier and Member of Parliament, son of Thomas Wyndham an English Naval officer. Edmund Wyndham later became the commander of the royalist garrison of Bridgwater near Bristol during the English civil war.
She had been an unusual choice as one of the nurses of baby Prince Charles as she was the daughter of Hugh Pyne of Cathanger, the Somerset landowner, barrister and Puritan. Only 2 years earlier, in 1638, he had criticised King Charles I for being as “unwise a King as ever was” and suggesting that his own shepherd would do a better job. Pyne was imprisoned and charged with treason but had to be released as the Treason Act didn’t contain anything about being rude about a king as being a crime. Despite this rather awkward family connection, Christabella seemed to have redeemed herself by marrying a royalist.
A protestant wet-nurse
So baby Charles was born on 29th May 1630 in St. James’s Palace and, as was custom at the time, was immediately handed over to be fed by his wet-nurse Christabella Wyndham who was also Protestant. It had been part of Henrietta Maria’s (the French Catholic wife of Charles I) wedding contract that any royal children should not be nursed by Catholics. This was to make sure that a young Charles wasn’t corrupted by any Catholicism he might receive through breast milk.
The baptism took place on 27th June 1630 in St. Martin’s in the Fields Church and even his wet-nurse received a present, a chain of rubies, from Marie de Medici, Charles’ maternal grandmother and Queen of France.
Unlike English babies at the time, Charles was not swaddled, tightly wrapped up to prevent any movement and skin contact, as French aristocratic mothers did not approve of it. Could this early exposure to unlimited physical restraint be the reason why in later years Charles showed every sign of enjoying physical contact without inhibition? Who knows, but in any case Christabella was his caring nurse until he was five years old.
Charles II teenage years
When Charles was 14, England was in the middle of the Civil Wars. It was during the struggles between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists, mainly over England’s governance and issues of religion which ended with the execution of Charles I in 1649. The following so-called Commonwealth period under the Puritan rule and de facto dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell.
In the spring of 1645, the young Prince Charles, then Prince of Wales, was sent by his father to Bridgwater garrison under the command of Edmund Wyndham to unite royalist forces and to hold Council. With him was his chief advisor, Edward Hyde, Chancellor of the Exchequer who was a bit of a schoolmasterish and a rather pompous man, maybe not the best man to deal with a 14-year-old fun-loving boy.
It was at Bridgwater garrison that Charles re-encountered his former nurse Christabella and apparently sparks flew, she seduced him without any resistance from his side and it came to a scandalous liaison.
What is curious is that according to contemporary morals, it wasn’t the fact that a young boy was seduced by an older woman which was scandalous. This was considered more of a privilege than an offence, not even that the seducer was his former wet-nurse. No, what caused a scandal was that Mrs Wyndham, a celebrated beauty, and Charles were displaying an open show of affection, including spontaneous gestures like diving across the room and covering his face with kisses. Hyde was outraged at their behaviour and he felt that she distracted Charles “with her folly and petulance” from conducting his business.
What Hyde was criticising was Charles’ teenage rebellion and defiance of authority, coupled with a strong interest in sex. Something that Charles would always be remembered for and which was possibly triggered by the woman who had given him his first physical pleasures.
Later life of Charles II and Christabella
Christabella survived the Commonwealth period under Oliver Cromwell and used her early closeness to the Prince and later King to pull strings to get her husband promotions and positions at court, especially after Charles got restored back onto the throne in 1660. Samuel Pepys who had dinner with her husband on occasion, thought she was bossy and wrote in his diary that she ruled everyone like a Minister of State and “the old King putting mighty weight and trust upon her”. Christabella outlived both her husband and Charles, lived through the reign of James II, Charles’s brother, and died at the amazing age of 90 under the reign of William and Mary, Charles’s niece.
Losing his virginity to Christabella had obviously unleashed a constant need for sex in Charles. By the time he was 18 and living in exile on the continent, already having had a string of at least 17 lovers, he met his first true love, the beautiful Lucy Walters who gave birth to his first illegitimate child, a boy called James, later Duke of Monmouth. But that is another story….
Still want more?
This piece was brought to you by our wonderful guide Ulrike. She covers the story of Christabella and Charles II along with many more on her weekly tour of London; the Seven Deadly Sins. Join her for a 2 hour walk to hear more stories of lust and of the other deadly sins. You can also hear a teaser of her tour on this short meet your guide podcast.