Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Keroualle, Louise Renée de
KEROUALLE, LOUISE RENÉE de, Duchess of Portsmouth and Aubigny (1649–1734), was the elder of the two daughters of Guillaume de Penancoët, sieur de Kéroualle, a Breton gentleman of very ancient lineage, whose wife was through her mother connected with the De Rieux. Evelyn, who made the acquaintance of her parents on their visit to England in 1675, gives a pleasant account of them (Diary, ii. 310). Her only brother, Sebastian, took part in the campaign in Candia under the Duke of Beaufort in 1669 (Forneron). Before this date Louise de Kéroualle had become maid of honour to Henrietta, duchess of Orleans, the sister of Charles II. In 1670 she accompanied to England the Duchess of Orleans, who was negotiating the first treaty of Dover. There is no proof of the existence at the time of any design to establish her as the mistress of Charles II. But he was growing weary of Lady Castlemaine. The effect produced on him by his sister's attendant was at once obvious, and probably contributed to a prolongation of the negotiations. A coldness on the part of Charles towards Louis XIV resulted from the sudden death of the Duchess of Orleans after her return to France (June), and Louise de Keroualle was thereupon sent back to England, Charles ordering a royal yacht to meet her at Calais. On arriving in London she was named maid of honour to Queen Catherine.
Mile, de Keroualle at first played her game so cautiously as to dispirit the French ambassador, Colbert de Croissy. In November Evelyn first saw the new 'famous beauty, but in my opinion of a childish, simple, and baby face' (Diary, ii. 263). Gradually, however, her charms and her coyness prevailed, and the ministers began to pay court to her. During a sojourn of the king at Newmarket she was, in October 1671, invited to Lady Arlington's country seat of Euston, where, with the co-operation of the French ambassador and others, she was established as mistress en titre (ib. ii. 266-267). Louis XIV sent her congratulations; and though, notwithstanding her entreaties, Charles delayed his profession of catholicism, the declaration of war against the Dutch, in accordance with the treaty of Dover, was not long in coming (March 1672; cf. Mme. de Sévigné, ed. Monmerqué, 1862, ii. 546).
On 29 July 1672 Louise bore the king a son, Charles Lennox, first duke of Richmond [q. v.] But for a time her position was uncertain (cf. ib. iv. 128-9). Although universally unpopular in England as a Frenchwoman and catholic, she nevertheless contrived to hold her own, and having been, at the request of Louis XIV, naturalised as an English subject, she was on 19 Aug. 1673 created Baroness Petersfield, Countess of Fareham, and Duchess of Portsmouth (Doyle). The ducal title at first granted to her, but immediately altered, is said to have been that of Pendennis. In the same year she was sworn lady of the bedchamber to the queen (ib.)
In 1674 Charles induced Louis XIV to grant the duchess, who was obliged to seclude herself at the time, the fief of Aubigny in Berry, with remainder to such of her natural children by Charles as should be designated by him. The fief had reverted to the French crown in December 1672 by the death of Charles Stuart, duke of Richmond, on whose family it had been first bestowed by Charles VII of France in 1422 (Collins, i. 182; Doyle, iii. 127; Linqard, 6th edit. 1855, ix. 256-257). The title of Duchess of Aubigny, carrying with it the coveted right of a tabouret at the French court, was for the present withheld. The disgrace of Buckingham at the time was widely attributed to her influence (Rebesby, pp. 192-3). In December 1674 an annuity of 10,000l. was settled upon her out of the wine licenses. In the same month the king endowed the Duchess of Portsmouth's younger sister, Henrietta, on her marriage to Philip Herbert, seventh earl of Pembroke [see under Herbert, Philip, fourth earl]. In August 1675 the duchess's son, Charles, was created Duke of Richmond.
During the administration of Danby the Duchess of Portsmouth consistently exerted herself to keep Charles in dependence on France, notwithstanding his outward pretences to the contrary; but she was anxious to keep on good terms with Danby (ib. p. 165), to whom it is said that she at one time granted a share of her favours. Her ascendency over the king, which seemed assured by the retirement from court of the Duchess of Cleveland, was imperilled by the arrival in England, about the end of 1675, of Hortensia Mancini, duchess of Mazarin. The rising influence of Monmouth was also used against her. Yet in the contest which ensued (see Waller's poem, The Triple Combat, 1675; Rochcster's Farewell, 1680), although she found little support either at court or in the public at large, the duchess was in the end altogether successful (see Forneron, p. 143). At the close of 1677 she fell seriously ill, but maintained herself in power, with the help of Barillon, the new French ambassador.
On the outbreak of the 'Popish plot' troubles the duchess was thoroughly frightened, and inclined to fly to France. Ou 25 April 1679 she was reflected on by name in both houses of parliament, but no further step was taken against her (Reresby, p. 168; cf. A. Sidney, Letters to H. Saville (1742), p. 46; but see Forneron, p. 177 note). By way of precaution, she hereupon made advances to Shaftesbury, and sought to ingratiate herself with Monmouth, with the help of her confidential servant, the notorious Mrs. Wall (cf. H. Sidney, Diary, ii. 22, and i. 190-1, and note. Forneron regards the supposed letters of the duchess to Monmouth in the British Museum as forgeries). At the same time she took special pains to secure the confidence and goodwill of the Prince of Orange (H. Sidney, Diary, i. 10, &c), and contrived to remain on good terms with the Duke of York (ib. i. 176, 189). Although she was never more unpopular, her influence over the king remained unbroken despite his periodical infidelities. In December 1679 the removal of herself and Sunderland from court was once more demanded by parliament, and she deemed it prudent to dismiss her catholic servants (ib. p. 217). There seems no doubt that she was brought to favour the Exclusion Bill as unavoidable in itself and likely to advance the interest of the Duke of Richmond (Burnet, ii. 259 seqq.; cf. Clarke, Life of James II, i. 645). Both she and Nell Gwyn were at Oxford during the parliament of 1681 (Luttrell, i. 71).
During the remainder of the reign she was not exposed to any serious rivalry (H. Sidney, ii. 226 seqq.) Her feeling of security is best shown by her visit to France from March to July 1682, which was at first represented by her enemies as her final withdrawal, and was attributed to the Duke of York's resentment. She had already, in November 1681, pressed for his return from Scotland, with a view to his settling on her a rent-charge of 5,000l. on the revenue of the post-office for fifty years, to be made up to him out of the excise, and, though the plan fell through, his recall followed (Macpherson, Original Papers, i. 129 seqq.; Life of James II, i. 722 seqq.) In France she not only benefited by the waters of Bourbon, where she spent part of May and June with Lady Pembroke, but also strengthened her position at Versailles. St. Simon describes her warm reception at the French court. She also paid a visit to her estate of Aubigny. On her return to England she found the king and the Duke of York on cordial terms, and contrived to bring about the reappointment of Sunderland as secretary of state (ib. i. 736). She sided with Rochester in his quarrel with Halifax (Renesby, pp. 272, 276). Nothing could now shake her sway over the enervated king, not even his jealousy of her intrigue with Philip de Vendome, whom Charles proved unable to drive out of the country, till Louis XIV, anxious for the maintenance of the duchess's ascendency, had brought about his return to France (Forneron; see Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, xxxiv. 627). Treated by both king and duke as a member of the royal family, she took part in negotiating the marriage of the Princess Anne with Prince George of Denmark. The erection of the estate of Aubigny into a duchy was granted her by Louis in letters patent of January 1684, and a year later the Duke of Richmond was naturalised in France, in order to be able to succeed to her estates and title there.
Her splendid apartment at the end of the gallery at Whitehall (Evelyn, ii. 314, 419-420; cf. H. Sidney, I. 208) was, according to Evelyn, 'twice or thrice pull'd down and rebuilt to satisfy her prodigal and expensive pleasures;' it was ultimately burnt down, with all the buildings adjoining, 9 April 1691 (Evelyn, iii. 93; cf. Autobiography of Sir J. Bramston, Camden Soc, 1845, p. 365). When the post-office job failed, she had been allowed 10,000l. a quarter out of the privy purse (Macpherson, Original Papers, i. 133); but the sums paid to her varied, and in 1681 amounted to the enormous total of 136,668l. None of the king's other mistresses appear to have approached her in rapacity (see J. Y. Akerman, Secret Services of Charles II and James II, 1679-88, Camden Soc., 1851, and the comments of Forneron).
During Charles's fatal illness she was excluded from the royal chamber; but, according to Barillon (cf. C. J. Fox, History of the Reign of James II, edit. 1808, Appendix, p. xii), it was she who informed him of the king's membership of the church of Rome, and thus obtained for him the last consolations of his faith. She is said to have suspected James of having poisoned his brother (ib. p. 67 and note; cf. Hallam, Constitutional Hist. 10th edit, ii. 468 note). Immediately, however, after the death of Charles II she was visited by James, and received assurances of protection from both him and Louis XIV. A sum exceeding 12,000/., probably due to her on her pension, was at once paid. But, notwithstanding the courtesies of the king and the goodwill of Rochester, she grew uneasy, and was further disquieted by the dismissal of Richmond from the mastership of the horse. She desired that the pension of 3,000l. offered to her might be added to that of 2,000l. proposed for her son; but claimed in vain the fulfilment of a supposed promise by Charles II of a large Irish estate or interest. Fully aware of the general hatred against her, and apprehensive of a direct attack in parliament, she crossed to France, where she had large investments, in August 1685.
In France she met with a cold welcome. Although in a personal interview Louis XIV destroyed a formal sentence of banishment against her, she soon returned to England, and remained at "Whitehall (Ellis Correspondence, i. 178) till the end of July 1688, when her sudden departure to France gave rise to 'great conjectures' (ib. ii. 78, 105). At New Year 1689 the Duke of Richmond gave explanations to Louis on behalf of himself and of his mother, who was charged with scandalous utterances about the birth of the Prince of Wales (Danghau, ii. 280); tbere had been an old grudge between her and Queen Mary of Modena. At the same time she made vain endeavours to recall to William III her former (supposed) services to his interest (cf. Henry Sidney in his Diary, &c, ii. 307-8). Her pension was withdrawn; in April 1691 a fire consumed her apartments and the treasures accumulated in them; in the previous year her father had died, and early in 1692 Richmond left France to reconcile himself to the new regime in England. His allowance was generously continued to his mother by Louis XIV.
The remainder of her life, chiefly spent on her estate at Aubigny, which she managed with much care, was a struggle against pecuniary difficulties, a royal decree year after year staying execution. In 1697 she received permission from Louis to visit London, but William III forbade her landing. In 1704 the estates of Brittany reluctantly paid her a compensation for her father's manor, appropriated by the government for the harbour at Brest. Under the regency her pension was raised to twenty thousand livres, and converted into an annuity. St.-Simon in 1718 speaks of her as old, embarrassed in her affairs, and 'very converted and penitent' (Mémoires, edit. 1863, x. 48). In 1723 she lost her worthless son, the Duke of Richmond. She died on 14 Nov. 1734 at Paris, whither she had journeyed to consult her physicians. She was buried in the church of the Barefooted Carmelites, in the chapel belonging to the De Rieux family. Among those who saw her in her old age were Voltaire, who thought her still very beautiful, her great-granddaughter (the mother of Charles Fox), the first Lord Holland, and George Selwyn. The influence of the duchess was due in part to her courage, to what her biographer terms her esprit froid, and to her business capacity. But the chief source of her power lay of course in her personal beauty (Evelyn, Diary, ii. 253). In contrast to the Duchess of Cleveland, she was said at times of difficulty to rely chiefly on the influence of tears (H. Sidney, Diary, ed. Blencowe, ii. 114 n.) There is no reason to suppose that she had any literary tastes, though Nathaniel Lee dedicated two plays to her. Albeit recklessly extravagant, she does not appear to have carried the vice of gambling to the same extent as the Duchess of Mazarin. The people detested 'Madam Carwell,' or 'Carewell,' as she was familiarly called, more heartily than any other of the king's favourites.
The earliest portrait of the Duchess of Portsmouth is a miniature by Samuel Cooper [q. v.], who died in 1672. Other portraits of her remain by Lely, Kneller, H. Gascar, and Mignard (at the National Portrait Gallery). Engravings of her appear in several series of portraits of ladies of the court of France (Forneron,p. 195, note, and ib. p. 237). Hermotto, 'En la rose je fleuris,' is still borne by her descendants, the Dukes of Richmond and Gordon.