Author Interview with Susan Holloway Scott of The French Mistress

I am so happy to present an interview with Susan Holloway Scott - the author of Royal Harlot, The King's Favorite and her newest novel, The French Mistress.  

Welcome Susan and thank you so much for stopping by Passages to the Past!

You’ve written of the three mistresses of Charles II. During this process, did you develop a preference for any of them? Can you define them in one word?

Oh, my, Amy – asking me to choose one of those ladies is like asking a mother to name her favorite child! They were three very different women, and each had qualities that appealed to different sides of Charles’s personality. But I think of the three, I’d probably like to spend an evening at Whitehall Palace with Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine, Duchess of Cleveland. I liked her for her wicked sense of humor and her unbridled passions, and her absolute lack of guilt. She seemed to have been completely uninhibited, and though I wouldn’t necessarily want or trust her as a friend, I loved writing her. I can completely understand why Charles found her so fascinating.

Barbara in a single word? “Hedonist”, I suppose. Nell Gwyn’s would be “jester”, the merry, impudent scamp who can charm the world. The single word for Louise de Keroualle would be “outsider”: despite being a royal mistress in one of the bawdiest courts in history, she remained a French lady to the core. She had allies in England, but few friends beyond Charles, yet she was always outwardly serene and inwardly shrewd, dressed, coifed, and jeweled to perfection. Apparently she could even weep prettily, much to the disgust of the English ladies.

When did your love affair with Charles II begin? What is it about him that fascinates you?

Long, long ago, probably in middle school, I discovered a dog-eared copy of Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber in my local library, and with that eye-opening read, I was hooked on Restoration England. After Amber came Jean Plaidy’s books about Charles II, followed by Antonia Fraser’s scholarly biography, Royal Charles. But it wasn’t until I wrote Duchess, about Sarah Churchill, first Duchess of Marlborough, that I considered making Charles the center of a book. He was a secondary character in Duchess, but both he and Lady Castlemaine kept trying to elbow their way up to the front until it seemed only fair that they have their own book in Royal Harlot.

Charles’ Queen, Catherine of Braganza, was unusually tolerant of her husband’s mistresses, especially Louise –watching while one after the other grew large with his child, while she remained barren. Considering Catherine’s love for Charles, what was it about her that made her so tolerant or accepting of the situation?

In the beginning of her marriage to Charles, Catherine was neither tolerant nor accepting of Lady Castlemaine. She had been warned ahead by her advisors to be firm about her new husband’s mistresses, but when she tried to demand Barbara be sent away, Charles’s will proved stronger. He began sending away Catherine’s Portuguese attendants and Catholic priests until Catherine relented: not exactly Charles’s finest moment, that’s for sure. Catherine always found Barbara’s blatant disrespect of her painful to bear, but in time she decided that Charles’s affection was worth the suffering Barbara brought her. And, of course, she did manage to outlast Barbara at court.

Catherine found Charles’s two later mistresses much more agreeable. Nell amused her, as she did everyone, and always deferred to the queen. In Louise, Catherine found a kindred friend, another Catholic and a fellow outsider to the English court who also did not always understand the endless barbed witticisms and jests of Charles’s favorites. Catherine kept Louise as part of her personal household throughout Charles’s life, and the two were improbably close.

But then, Charles had that rare gift of being able to shift his former lovers to friends with ease. On the night he was stricken with the illness that would prove fatal, he’d attended a gathering in Louise’s apartments in the palace. With Louise as his hostess, the many guests included his old loves Barbara, Nell, and Hortense Mancini, Duchesse Mazarin, as well as the queen, with all the ladies somehow quite peaceable together!

Charles and his sister, whom he called Minette, had a very close relationship. Royal siblings don’t usually have such a bond given their strict and formal upbringing. Why were they different?

The close relationship between Charles and Henriette-Anne – known in the family as Minette –– is curious even by royal standards. Fourteen years separated them. Henriette was born in the middle of the English Civil War, with her family already scattered into exile. She did not even meet her oldest brother until she was five, after their father King Charles I had been captured, tried, and beheaded by the order of Cromwell’s Parliament, and not again until they met briefly in Paris in 1659. Though the two felt an instant affinity and sympathy at that time, their rediscovered relationship was severely limited by politics. They saw one another only twice again –– once in London, before Henriette’s marriage, and again in 1670 in Dover shortly before her early death. Though brother and sister likely spent less than two years total together, their attachment was fostered by near-constant letters. She idolized him, while he respected her advice and opinions as he did few others. When Henriette died suddenly at twenty-six, Charles was devastated. But Henriette’s death opened the door for her beautiful young maid-of-honor, Louise de Keroualle, who was sent by Louis XIV to Charles to help “console” him after his sister’s death –– and become the heroine of The French Mistress.

Are you working on a new project? Can you tell us a bit about it?

My next heroine has already made her appearance in The King’s Favorite as a ten-year-old girl, dancing jigs in the moonlight with Nell Gwyn. Catherine Sedley was the only daughter and heiress to the libertine poet Sir Charles Sedley, and grew into a scandalous lady. Though her fortune made her much desired as a bride, she refused to marry and let any man take control of her life. Instead she remained independent, becoming mistress to a king, wife to a general, and countess in her own right, remaining at the English court for nearly forty years and through five monarchs. Look for Catherine’s adventurous story next summer in The Countess and the King.

What are you reading at the moment?

Jenny Uglow’s brilliant and entertaining biography of 18th century artist William Hogarth.

Who are your top five authors?

Since I don’t wish to offend or slight any of my writerly friends, I’ll list my top five authors no longer writing. In no particular order: Edith Wharton, Henry Fielding, George Macdonald Fraser, Anthony Trollope, and Patrick O’Brian.

Book that changed your life?

Actually it’s about ten books in one: The Diary of Samuel Pepys.

Favorite line from a book?

It’s the opening line of L.P. Hartley’s 1953 novel, The Go-Between: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

Book that you most want to read again for the first time?

Orlando, by Virginia Woolf. How I’d love to be able to embark on that twisting-turning ride of a novel again, without knowing where in history it would ultimately end!


Thank you so much, Amy, for inviting me here as your guest, and many thanks, too, to everyone who entered the giveaway!


And now, I would like to pass the honor to the ladies man himself, King Charles II to announce the winner of THE FRENCH MISTRESS!  With so many lovers it's no wonder he was known as the "Merry Monarch"!!

Okay, Ms. me your address and I'll pass it on to Susan!  Thanks to all who entered, tweeted, posted and facebooked this giveaway!!  And a BIG Thank you to Susan Holloway Scott for making this giveaway happen!  It's been a pleasure getting to know you!



  1. Great interview.....Forever Amber is a great book...loved it...congrats to the winner.... Once again.. Awesome segment Amy.

  2. Congrats to Laina!! I guess I'll have to go add this to my TBR list since I didn't win ;)

    Great interview Amy! I have absolutely no idea about Charles II yet, he is on my Plaidy shelves waiting to be read. Have you read Plaidy's?

  3. This was a fantastic interview! So many insights and details on a period I love to death- and especially this Court:) I want to read this one badly.

    Thanks- and Congrats to the winner!

  4. What a fabulous interview! I am looking forward to both The French Mistress and The Countess and the King.

  5. Great interview! I'm going to add this one to my HUGE wish list.

  6. Enjoyed the interview and congrats to Laina :-)

  7. Wonderful interview! And I laughed out loud at the way "Charles" announced the giveaway winner.

  8. Loved the interview - your blog is so fun! Nicely done. :)


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