The French Mistress: A Novel of the Duchess of Portsmouth and King Charles II

Written by Susan Holloway Scott
Review by Andrea Connell

Susan Holloway Scott’s latest novel revolves around the life of the controversial and much maligned Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth, lover of King Charles II. Like many other well-born girls, she is sent to the glittering royal court of Louis XIV to make her fortune as maid of honor to the English princess Henriette. During her service to the princess, Louise is initiated into her mistress’s innermost confidence, wherein lie ugly and treacherous secrets. After the princess’s mysterious death, Louise is sent to the English court, where she had previously caught the lustful eye of King Charles II. Her dual roles as spy for the French king and lover to the English king cause Louise many perils, but in the midst of it all, she uses her wit and ambition to create her own destiny in a dangerous dance of intrigue between two kings—and two countries.

This is the first of Susan Holloway Scott’s novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and it won’t be the last. Her grasp of period detail is impressive and colorful. She fleshes out these well-known historical figures’ psyches so they become alive and human, and her words evoke the senses—one can feel silk and wool against skin, experience the discomfort from long hours of standing in an overheated ballroom, and witness the first shocking view of London from a Frenchwoman’s perspective. She expertly weaves the complex political events of the time into the flow of the story, which makes for a thoroughly entertaining, enjoyable, and intellectually stimulating read. Highly recommended.