CATHERINE SEDLEY, 1657-1717. ROYAL MISTRESS OF KING JAMES II; POTTYMOUTH.
Even she admitted that she was unattractive - or what we would call today, a belle-laide, which loosely translated (it is, like so many of them, a French term that defies exact translation) means “ugly-pretty.” Catherine Sedley was notoriously ugly by 17th century standards, and yet she became the beloved royal mistress of King James II, to the chagrin of many. “It cannot be my beauty, for he must see that I have none… and it cannot be my wit, for he has not enough to know that I have any,” she once wrote about one of the most powerful men in the world at the time.
And yet, she was renowned for her unladylike, raunchy, lewd sense of humor, which beguiled scores of men. She even managed to sweet-talk her way out of prison after James II abdicated, and married a wealthy baronet despite her lack of wealth and gloriously bad reputation. “If anybody calls either of you the son of a whore you must bear it for you are so: but if they call you bastards, fight till you die; for you are an honest man’s sons,” she wrote to her children in what must be one of the most hardcore back-to-school letters history has ever seen.
So, in 2017, just remember: you don’t need to look like a Hadid sister to enchant even the most powerful of men… but you do need to have a Sedley’s wit.