Grace Dent on Television: Harlots, Housewivs and Heroines - a 17th Century History for Girls, BBC4

David Starkey, your time is up. For restoring women to Restoration history, I love Dr Lucy

Once upon a time, history lessons were no place for girls. Thank you gods of telly for BBC4's Dr Lucy Worsley, vehemently shoving the "she" back into tales of yore. How I'd have loved this as a child. My GCSE Second World War lessons consisted of endless Pathé News footage of the British patriarchy, knees apart, testicles simmering with righteous glee, pondering the death of other men, with the odd perfunctory nod towards a Land Army filly moving spuds in a van from Burford to Chipping Norton.

Wasn't she lucky being allowed a go with the van keys? It took me decades to discover the Mitford sisters, Diana and Unity, infiltrating the inner circle of Hitler and chums. No wonder women love HBO's Game of Thrones, set in fictitious feminist yesteryore times when the womenfolk hear of a tribal smite, jump on a horse and stay firmly in the storyline. I panted with joy on hearing of Dr Lucy's new TV venture Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: a 17th Century History for Girls, which began this week with a swing through the reign of King Charles II and his retinue of lovers.

According to CBBC's Horrible Histories, Charles was "the king of bling... who brought back partying". You can see the song on YouTube if you're in the market to see Mathew Baynton's calves filling a pair of Restoration-era tights, which as a serious historian, I can assure you, reader, I am not. In episode one, Dr Lucy examines Charles II's return from France. One of the great things about France that Charles had learned, was that they were intensely relaxed about affairs and mistresses. In fact, one wife was considered indolent and unambitious. One had one's missus back in the house for breeding and strategic respectability purposes, then other fun ones dotted about Paris for their wit, wile, tits and intelligence. How very modern.

Charles II arrived back in London, after the displacement of that glum-faced bore Oliver Cromwell, and duly filled his boots. Of course, the monarchy went on to behave like this for centuries, or at least until the 1990s when Princess Diana began spouting off. They branded Diana, and still do, an hysterical, diva-ish and paranoid woman, but Diana wasn't paranoid about Camilla and the royal unspoken code of marriage, she was absolutely slap, bang on. In this week's episode, Dr Lucy focused on the concept of the 17th-century "Career Mistress": Barbara Villiers, Nell Gwyn, Louise de Kérouaille and other clever, witty, politically minded and wily strumpets who rinsed Charles of houses, titles and carved independent wealth of their own.

Was this, Lucy asks, simply male exploitation by another name? Or was it Britain's first instance of women carving power, financial strength and celebrity on their terms? We saw a map of Whitehall Palace and the various luxury apartments in which all the various women lived, sometimes only a few hundred metres away from each other – all on his payroll, elevated from commoner to countess on account of services rendered. What a crock of delightful crap the aristocracy is built on. I'm sure we'd have more shootings behind the Palace at dawn if the top brass weren't so flipping affable. Whoever is doing House of Windsor Jubilee PR right now has got me brain-addled that Harry is a Titian-haired St Francis of Assisi, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is one of the most stylish women on the planet, and Prince Charles is a comic genius.

My heart went out to any aristos watching the show, the penny slowly dropping that their glorious title stemmed not from being "chosen by God" but from their female ancestor being a red-hot Restoration-era ride. With episode one of the series focusing largely on career-minded "harlots", the show is deliciously smutty at times, but Dr Lucy Worsley can cope with this ably.

I loved it when Dr Lucy stomped into some drably lit historical vaults, sat down with a male historian, delved into the diaries of Samuel Pepys, and made him linger over a confession that one of Charles II's women was so awesomely charismatic that Pepys "made an emission" in his trousers in a crowded room just from perusing her for too long. "You're blushing," Dr Lucy said. "Yes," said the historian, lamenting possibly a gentler time when David Starkey would pitch up whiffing of mothballs and misogyny to whitewash women from time as they "turn history into a soap opera". Oh, damn us wretched fillies with our bold insistence that from the beginning of human existence, we were 50 per cent of the population, too. Of course, Starkey's rantings abut "the feminisation of history" have less teeth now that his most recognisable job is as Question Time's number one go-to comedy blow-hard. While Dr Lucy is making shows I want to watch, Starkey is paid to spout off opinions in public that are usually only typed anonymously with two fingers into internet comment boxes by hairy-shouldered, box-bedroom, net-warriors from Crewe. More power to Dr Lucy, Mary Beard and Bettany Hughes. But then I would say that, as I'm a bloody woman.

Grace's marmalade dropper

Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight snapping at a female guest the very second she opened her mouth that 'fewer' not 'less' was the right usage. How genial. Rarely has he looked fewer of a knob.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links