Could have been a queen,
Wound up with a maniac.
Thanks a lot, uncle.
Theoretically, this should be a ‘screw it’ day, but I can’t possibly let Royal Mistress Week end without one of Charles II’s many ladies. Thus, representing the Stuart era, we have Hortense Mancini!
Hortense was born in Rome in 1646, with her uncle being none other than Cardinal Mazarin. (The successor to the infamous Cardinal Richelieu, mustache-twirling villain of ‘The Three Musketeers’, in case you don’t know.) Her father died when she was only four years old, so her mother packed up and took Hortense and her four sisters to France, in hopes that her own super powerful brother might give her brood a leg up.
Her hopes were well-founded. Cardinal Richelieu was kindly inclined towards his nieces, particularly Hortense. Also, the ‘Mazarinettes’ (the five Mancini girls, plus two of their cousins) were known for both wit and beauty, which can’t have hurt. Young Hortense even received a proposal from the future King Charles II of England… only to be shot down by her uncle, because the freeloading beggar probably wasn’t going to amount to anything.
Scant months later, in 1660, the monarchy makes a comeback in England and Charles is crowned. Mazarin tried to fix his now-obvious error, to no avail.
Instead, he fixes her up with Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye, richest dude in France, which is a good consolation prize, right? Wrong.
Armand had sexual issues up the wazoo, being exactly the type to paint a modest one-piece bathing suit into the ‘Birth of Venus’. A harmless trait, had he not possessed a kickass art collection which he felt free to ‘improve’. Oh, and milking cows? Far too sexual. Best keep the milkmaids from doing THAT. Oh, and he didn’t want any whores among his female staff, so best to knock their front teeth out so no male will want them. And Hortense? She’d better not so much as LOOK at another man, and spend her free hours in prayer, like a godly woman should.
By 1668, Hortense had enough and skipped town. (Unfortunately leaving her four very young children behind. Taking the kids was usually not a viable option for women for a very, very long time, as guess whose property they were?) Her brother Philippe and sister Marie helped her out, before she came under the protection of the Duke of Savoy (a former suitor) and the Sun King himself, Louis XIV. Hortense got seven years to take it easy, supporting the arts in the meantime, before the duke died and his widow kicked her out.
Also, she had no money, as her husband seized all her assets, including her royal pension. So, England…?
Egged on by the French ambassador, she seduced Charles II while she was ostensibly visiting her niece, Mary of Modena, who’d recently married the future James II. And she got a fat pension from Chuck for her efforts! But the romance died when she had a little too much fun, carrying on with her own lovers, which included the Prince of Monaco and the king’s illegitimate daughter, the Countess of Sussex. He decided they should just be friends after that.
And so her life in England continued, as she presided over a very intellectual salon and wrote her memoirs. Then when she died in 1699, her estranged husband carted her corpse all the fucking way around France as he traveled for Reasons.