Love, Madness, and Scandal: The Life of Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck

In Love, Madness, and Scandal: The Life of Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck, historian Johanna Luthman crafts a compelling biography of a noblewoman born to feuding parents, a woman whose disastrous marriage to John Villiers is the result of strategic politicking in the court of King James I. In a setting in which everyone is desperate for political advantage and a patrician image of propriety, Frances falls into the arms of another man and bears a child out of wedlock, a transgression that costs her dearly, engrosses the royal court in scandal and turns family members into foes.

Luthman (Love, Lust and License in Early Modern England) is a professor at the University of North Georgia who focuses on love, sex and marital issues in the Tudor and Stuart eras. In Love, Madness, and Scandal she writes with an air of canny bemusement, producing several cringe-worthy moments as she explores how family law operated in 17th-century England. Sex was of the utmost importance to the validity of a marriage and the legitimacy of children, and the act of consummating a marriage could be adjudicated in court. For example, male impotence often brought accusations of witchcraft. Luthman reveals a deeply patriarchal legal system in which women, even those of nobility, were treated abhorrently. When Frances is convicted of adultery and sentenced to public penance--that is, a public display of self-abasement and humiliation--she flees the country and later fights for the rights of her illegitimate child.

Love, Madness, and Scandal is full of drama and political intrigue, but more importantly, it paints a portrait of a smart, stubborn woman who fought for her dignity. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

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