The Windsor Beauties are a collection of portraits painted by Sir. Peter Lely during the early to mid-1660s. They were probably commissioned by Anne, Duchess of York. They depict 10 of the most beautiful women at the court of Charles II of England, dressed in either court dress or costumes that allude to antiquity. Many of the women depicted had high profile relationships, and the paintings can help us gauge what was considered to be attractive at the time.

From top left to right, we have:

  • Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox as Diana. She famously refused to become Charles II’s mistress.
  • Elizabeth Hamilton, Countess de Gramont. She was Irish and for a time, lady-in-waiting to the Queen of France.
  • Jane Needham, Mrs. Myddleton. She resisted becoming the mistress of both the King and his brother, the Duke of York but was the mistress of the Duke of Montagu and the Earl of Rochester. She was also a skilled painter herself.
  • Margaret Brooke, Lady Denham. The Duke of York was, for a time, infatuated with her.
  • Frances Brooke, Lady Whitmore. She was the sister of Margaret Brooke.
  • Mary Bagot, Countess of Falmouth and Dorset
  • Henrietta Hyde, Countess of Rochester
  • Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland as Minerva. She was one of the most famous and influential mistresses of Charles II.
  • Anne Digby, Countess of Sunderland
  • Elizabeth Percy, Countess of Northumberland
  • Henriette-Anne, Duchess of Orléans. The youngest sister/sibling of Charles II, she was known as Minette and was married to Philippe, the brother of Louis XIV.
  • Anne Hyde, Duchess of York. The first wife of the Duke of York, she commissioned these portraits and Lely probably flattered her by including her in the collection (she was an extremely attractive woman though)

Geneviève de Gramont, the comtesse d’Ossun, briefly depicted in Les Adieux a la reine (2012).

Geneviève was a lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette and was the superintendent of her wardrobe. It was Geneviève who attempted to reel in the abuses of the queen’s wardrobe, particularly in regard to Rose Bertin’s dubious charges and the practice of women in the queen’s household ordering items that were not needed, in order to sell or appropriate them for their own gain.

Geneviève was the niece of the duc de Choisuel, and a sister-in-law of Aglaé de Polignac, the daughter of the duchesse de Polignac; like the duchesse de Polignac, she enjoyed the favor and friendship of the queen. Although she is depicted as a much older woman in Les Adieux a la reine, she was in fact only 4 years older than Marie Antoinette.

The comtesse d’Ossun decided to stay in France after the fall of the Bastille and remained a loyal friend to the queen.

Before their flight from the Tuileries in 1791, Marie Antoinette wrote the comtesse a quick letter, saying that she only had time to “ensure you of our eternal and inviolable friendship. God grant that we may be reunited quickly! I kiss you.”

This letter may have helped to seal Geneviève’s fate in 1794, when she was arrested for conspiracy against the revolution and specifically charged with actively knowing about the queen’s plans to flee the Tuileries. She was found guilty and sentenced to death.

According to a witness who was imprisoned with the comtesse, when her name was called by the bailiff for her execution, she slowly rose and said: “This can only be me,” and walked ahead with a ‘firm step.’

Portrait of the Duchesse de Gramont (Ida); three-quarter length and sitting in profile to left and looking to left. 1843 Graphite Drawn by: Count Alfred Guillaume Gabriel d'Orsay Date1843

The British Museum