The King’s Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin
The Mancini sisters were the crème de la crème of 17th-century French society. Born and raised in Rome, they found themselves in the legendary court of Louis XIV, where their powerful uncle, Cardinal Mazarin, engineered spectacular marriages for them. But neither woman was content as a society wife, and these rebellious women found themselves embroiled in multiple scandals. These were the tabloid heroines of their era, and Goldsmith uses a variety of primary sources to illuminate their lives beyond the lurid stories. Both women had fleeting affairs with kings (Marie with Louis XIV, Hortense with the future Charles II while he was in exile), but that’s only a tiny fraction of their adventures, which also included fleeing unhappy marriages, rebelling against thieving and cruel husbands, and publishing their memoirs – itself an act of rebellion.
Readers interested in this era are probably familiar with Hortense and Marie – they appear in novels, biographies, and histories, though only as minor characters. Goldsmith gives them the star treatment they deserve, and readers with an interest in 17th-century history or feminist biography will enjoy reading about the exploits of the Mancini women.