Lita-Rose Betcherman


Buckingham’s Man

A Cosmopolitan in 17th Century England

Buckingham’s Man is the story of Balthazar Gerbier who arrived in England in 1616 from Europe. An artist and architect, connoisseur and curator, secret agent and diplomat, his life offers a dazzling panorama of this feverish and fertile era.

The famous art collection he assembled for the first Duke of Buckingham at York House in London was instrumental in moving English taste from stiff ancestral portraits to the art of the Italian cinquecento.

His special friend in the world of art and diplomacy was the great Flemish painter, Sir Peter Paul Rubens. Their secret negotiations laid the groundwork for the treaty that ended the Anglo-Spanish War in 1631.

After the assassination of Buckingham, one of the great charismatic figures of the century, Gerbier found a new patron in King Charles. During eleven years in Brussels as the English Resident, Gerbier, an unabashed scoundrel, lied, dissembled, and conducted intrigue in the best Machiavellian style.

When the English Civil War began, Gerbier showed no allegiance to King Charles and departed hastily for France where he so impressed the Regent, Queen Anne, with a scheme for a state-run bank of loan that she named him governor of the enterprise. But the animosity of exiled English royalists in Paris turned the Queen against him, and he returned to England. His career culminated in a bizarre expedition to South America in search of El Dorado, sponsored by the Dutch.

Gerbier was important in introducing continental ideas into an insular England in areas from art and architecture to banking.


Lita-Rose Betcherman is author of the acclaimed biography Court Lady and Country Wife: Two Noble Sisters in 17th Century England. Balthazar Gerbier has fascinated her since she encountered his story as a young graduate student.

Manuscript available



Royal Privilege and Civil War: Two Noble Sisters In Seventeenth-Century England

“Betcherman skillfully manages to keep the reader enthralled with the thriller-like pace.”

The Globe & Mail

“ intimate view of Stuart England”

The New York Times

“This is popular history at it’s best.”

Jane Dunn

“The action really heats up during the English civil war, when both sisters made political and personal decisions that profoundly affected the course of their individual and collective futures.”


“Having reached adulthood on the eve of Charles I’s succession, the sisters lived through one of the most turbulent periods of British history…a fascinating introduction to two closely united lives—housewife and public figure—all the more interesting because of the contrast between them.”

Times Literary Supplement

The lives of these amazing aristocratic sisters, Lucy and Dorothy Percy, are a window into the world of political unrest, social intrigue, and women’s lives in 17th Century Britain.

The Percy sisters were born during the reign of Elizabeth I but came to prominence in the Court of Charles I in the 1630s. Lucy, the Countess of Carlisle, the court lady, dominates her circle through the position at the center of power.

Her beauty, captured in magnificent van Dyke portraits, and her political skill attracted well-placed lovers for whom she traded favors. Her charm and talents as a gossip kept her in the Queen’s inner circle.

Her sister Dorothy, the country wife, produced 13 children and managed the family estates while her husband, a diplomat, was immersed in scholarship.

Famously shrewish, she drove her quiescent husband to violently rebel against her strictures, causing a scandal (Dorothy is an early ancestor of Princess Diana.)

Lucy switched her allegiance from the Court to support the reformers. After the execution of King Charles she was imprisoned in the Tower of London for two years.

Lucy and Dorothy embrace a pivotal moment in the development of democracy. This was the beginning of the movement for parliamentary reform.

HarperCollins Canada 2005
Morrow US 2005
Wiley UK 2005


Lita-Rose Betcherman earned her Ph.D. in Tudor and Stuart history from the University of Toronto. She is completing Buckingham’s Man, about Balthazar Gerbier, art collector, spy and scoundrel.