Elizabeth Goldsmith, author of The Kings' Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin and a contributor to the Folger exhibition Shakespeare's Sisters: Voices of European Women, 1500-1700, shares her thoughts on the remarkable lives of Marie and Hortense Mancini.
Marie and Hortense Mancini seem like such incredible women, very ahead of their time. Why don’t more people know about them today?
That’s an interesting question. In the United States, most people don’t know about them. Bits and pieces of their lives are very well known in France and in England. In Marie’s case, this is the story of her romance with Louis XIV. In French history, their teenage romance has become a legend confirming the process of growing up that Louis had to do, because he had to sacrifice her in order to make a royal marriage. But the rest of their lives are less known.
There were actually more Mancinis than just Marie and Hortense. What happened to the other girls?
There were three other sisters, each of them had interesting lives as well and was successfully married off. The oldest was Laure Mancini. She married a French nobleman but died young, in her 20s, in childbirth.
Olympia married Eugene Maurice, Count of Soissons, and took advantage of it right away. She was more of an intriguer. In the end, she was implicated in some scandalous criminal affairs at the French court and exiled for a period. She was not a timid soul by any means!
The youngest was Marie-Anne. She married a duke, Godefroy Maurice de La Tour d'Auvergne, and ran a sophisticated salon in Paris for writers and artists.
What do we know about the marriages of Marie and Hortense Mancini, and their experiences as royal mistresses?
After Marie’s experience as the mistress of Louis XIV she was exiled to a remote fortress on the Atlantic coast. She was released after she agreed to an arranged marriage to Lorenzo Colonna.
It seems the first years of the marriage weren’t that unhappy. She enjoyed a lot of prestige and he enjoyed having a highly-placed French wife. After they had three children, Lorenzo started having affairs, which enraged Marie. She decided she wanted what was known as “a separation of beds”, and he wasn’t willing to grant her that, and their relationship became very tense. She started fearing that he would plot to kill her and marry someone else. He was capable of it, he’d orchestrated the deaths of his enemies before.
Hortense had a clearly miserable marriage from the beginning. She was married to a religious fanatic who was also half-mad. She tried legal means to get a separation and wasn’t able to get it. So she decided she needed to just run away. She had had four children in four years and was 22 when she left.
Everyone took a look at Hortense’s husband and knew immediately why she left, but Marie’s husband was more subtle. His was a cat and mouse game.