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It is very difficult to grasp the morals of the Restoration Court. Some of the reactions we've been getting from portraying some historical material of the time is that elements are plainly shocking, possibly suggesting that ladies are whoring around.
The contrast towards what we are used to in the 21st century, what we know from the Victorian Age and what we are used to in other historical games dealing with other areas, most notably France, may fill our hearts with concepts that are difficult to equate with historical material of late 17th century England. No where is this more apparent than in the plays of the time.. the so called Restoration Comedy.
Now these comedies are obviously tongue in cheek. They expose a few of the weaknesses of society and portray it in the extreme. Yet they also show what society was comfortable discussing.
Rather than suggesting that everybody should be engaging in debauchery, be aware that English High Society in the late 17th century allows more carefree, frank conversation that is less veiled than at the court of Louis XIV. A lady may be kissed en plein public in good sport without much of a scandal raised if it goes no further than a mere kiss on the lips, all in good fun. The Merry Gang is scorned for explicitness, yet they bask in His Majesty's approval none the less. Ladies that are unmarried would guard their virtue. Ladies that are married or even widowed have nothing to lose. Many of them would use what ever is at their disposal to gain favour, without society scorning them unless they abused such powers.
The Court of Louis XIV vs The Court of Charles II
The Court at Versailles was very much about opulence, style, looks, rigid, favours bestowed by mere glances or generous nods, with a clear hierarchy with the King on top of the pyramid. It had a ruthlessness that betrayed an unforgiving nature. It set the fashion for all of Europe, elegance, refinement. It had a darker side to it too, even to the point that its members experimented with black magic. Louis XIV was an absolute monarch with both riches and absolute power without anybody stopping him.
The Court of London, after the Restoration of Charles II, is almost its mirror image. It was a very open, permissive setting in which the King allowed comments and even criticism up to a point. Everybody, even commoners, had access to the palace. Fashion was not so very high, even though people sought to emulate Paris and hedonistic light pleasures were greatly enjoyed (although the debauchery is to an extent myth, it still went on to some degree). The King confessed to a belief that "anything that didn't hurt anybody else was good in God's eyes and couldn't be a sin."
This is both a response to the Civil War and its Puritans and to the Court of Louis XIV which was not Charles' most favourite memory after all, even if it influenced him greatly. It was also forced upon him by a parliament filled with commoners. The King would dearly have loved to be an absolute monarch, but he was more first among equals, engaging in the same struggle as everybody else and occasionally losing.
Libertine Attitudes and Women
See Also Gender Differences
Unmarried ladies are encouraged by society to keep their virginity and thus their honor. They can be seen attending more libertine parties, but must never give in unless they know themselves supported by family.
Married women were supposed to remain faithful to their husband. However an increasing number wasn't and became mistress to a man in power. Their marriage was a good front to society, observing all forms. Any bastards often were recognized by the real father (the King recognized at least 13 children) and such would not cause them to be forced from court in scandal (but they would have their confinement during late pregnancy). What will her husband think of any adultery? Society made fun of cuckolds, or "men with horns on". They were considered naive and weak. However some husbands turned away their face discreetly because of the rich rewards in which they of course shared, such as titles etc. Or it gave them the freedom to likewise share the bounty without having to face a nagging wife. Other men left their wives however, as did Palmer after years of humiliation due to the rather publically known affairs of his wife Barbara Palmer-Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland.
Widows were already considered to be "merry", or in modern words "easy" with a tendency to promiscuous relationships. They were independent with their own income and so could do as they liked, without society frowning too much.
You are encouraged to read books or watch period movies. Here is a list for your enjoyment:
- Blackadder - a BBC comedy on Tudor England, still very apt for Stuart England
- Samual Pepys' Diary - several versions online
- Charles II-Passion&Power/The Last King - BBC drama series with Rufus Sewell
- King Charles II - book by Antonia Fraser
- Women's Lot in the 17th Century - book by Antonia Fraser
- The Diary of Elizabeth Pepys - the wife of Pepys shows a different perspective
- Stage Beauty - movie about actresses in the Restoration period
- All the King's Women: Love, sex and politics in the life of Charles II - book by Derek Wilson
- Restoration - movie with Hughes Grant, Meg Ryan and Sam Neill
- Libertine - movie with Johnny Depp on the life of the Earl of Rochester
Note that most movies can be researched on YouTube