How close you have been to a mistress of Charles II

Charles II had at least fourteen mistresses ranging from top class courtesans to street prostitutes. There was the infamous Nell Gwynn, an actress who in her teens sold oranges outside the theatre before being accepted inside to tread the boards. At the other end of the social scale was Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine who got Charles to give her Green Park, St James’s Park and tax revenues that should have been spent on something useful – like maintaining the Royal Navy.

And then there was Frances Stuart (sometimes spelt Stewart). The diarist Samuel Pepys, who recorded life at the court of Charles II, thought she was the greatest beauty he had ever seen. Aside from bedding the king, she modelled for the coinage – dressed as Britannia with helmet and trident.

This is the image that was on all penny coins from the 1670s all the way through to 1971 when the United Kingdom scrapped the pre-decimal currency. She now appears on some 50 pence coins. So, you  have all at some stage had an image of Frances Stuart in your pocket and never known it.


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