Beauty as a weapon
Beauty was a weapon. In the exotic world of the Restoration Court, beauty could be exploited: women, in particular, used it to command a new personal and political influence at the heart of government. For as well as being something spiritual and virtuous, beauty was also an earthly physical reality, a sexually-charged seductive force.
The rewards for being beautiful were never more plentiful for those who were prepared to compromise a little of their virtue along the way. Court life was glamorous and lucrative. It was the most important source of employment, honours and influence in the country. It gave women similar opportunities to their husbands, if they managed their beauty and gambled with their sexual favours.
The age of decadence
This was an age of artistic titillation, of revealed flesh and erotic invitation, of drunken debauches, illicit trysts, adultery and deceit, of decadence as well as elegance. This was the ambiguity at the heart of the Stuart Court. Women were encouraged to embrace a revolutionary libertarian philosophy which excused promiscuity and championed experimentation. But this was a dangerous game. They risked much, not least their reputation, within a culture of double standards. Men were ‘gallants’ if they seduced their way into a lady’s affections; women were sexual predators and whores.