Hortense Mancini, Duchess Mazarin (1646-1699) is one of my favorite historical women. I've written about her here and here for this blog, and she's also cut a bold figure in several of my historical novels, including The French Mistress and The King's Favorite.
Born a niece of the powerful Cardinal Mazarin, Hortense was a beautiful, flamboyant woman unhappily married off to a fanatical madman. Granted, she would have challenged most husbands: she rode, shot, gambled, swam, read and wrote, fought with swords, dressed in men's clothes, kept a menagerie of pets, and took lovers with abandon, including the English King Charles II.
But in 17th c society, women were considered their husband's property, with few rights of their own, and Hortense rebelled. She fled her husband, as did her equally unhappily married sister Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna (1639-1715) - who had herself been an early love of the French King Louis XIV- and together the two women embarked on a wild journey across Europe. Keeping one step ahead of their husbands, they travelled scandalously on their own from one royal court to another. Best of all, Hortense wrote her memoirs, whose frankness and feminist philosophy made them an instant sensation. How can you not like a woman like that?
My only regret regarding Hortense and Marie was that, stunningly, neither lady had a first-rate biography. Now they do: The Kings' Mistressesby noted scholar Elizabeth C. Goldsmith. Bringing together the remarkable lives of Hortense and Marie Mancini against the tumultuous world of Baroque Europe, this dual biography is rich with period detail and thoughtful research. It's historical biography at its best - the intertwined story of two women who refused to be ruled by either husbands or kings, and dared instead to create their own destiny.
Above: Hortense Mancini, by Benedetto Gennari the Younger, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes.
In accordance with the FTC, I received this book from the publisher for review - though I would definitely have bought it on my own, too!
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.