The libertine wits in the court of Charles II failed to achieve political influence in large part because of their critics’ success in associating them with social disorder at a time when such disorder was a threat to the stability of the monarchy. As we have seen, their exclusion from politics did not happen over night; rather, it took the better part of a decade to transform men such as Buckingham, Sedley, and Rochester from political insiders with immediate access to the king into political pariahs banished from court and the king’s presence throughout the late 1670s. By the time Charles had weathered the exclusion crisis in 1681, the libertines’ circle no longer existed. Even so, their exploits immediately became the stuff of legends. The combination of their dramatic legacies with accounts of the libertines’ historical performances of sexual excess made their presence in the 1670s a spectacular moment in English cultural history. As John Harold Wilson reminds us,

There were other rakes in the eighteenth century and after; there were even some who combined poetry with the life of pleasure. But the unusual combination of circumstances which produced the Court Wits of the Restoration—a closely knit, aristocratic society, a violent reaction against enforced morality, a cynical carpe diem philosophy, and a monarch who, himself a Wit, valued and protected his witty companions—has never been duplicated.1


Premature Ejaculation Unusual Combination Progressive Ideology Libertine Performance Exclusion Debate 
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© Jeremy W. Webster 2005

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  • Jeremy W. Webster

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