Thursday, June 10, 2010

Intrepid Ladies: More about Hortense Mancini

Thursday, June 10, 2010
Susan reporting:

Since Hortense Mancini, duchesse Mazarin (1646-1699) was so popular in Tuesday's blog, I've decided to revisit her today. She's such a flamboyantly Intrepid Lady that she deserves a little extra time.

"I know that a woman's glory lies in not giving rise to gossip," Hortense (perhaps disingenuously) wrote in her memoirs, "and those who know me know well enough that I do not care for making a public sensation, but one cannot always choose the kind of life one wishes to lead."

For a lady who didn't desire "public sensation," Hortense sure did know how to put on a show. Once she escaped from her fanatically mad husband in 1668, her journeys took her from Rome to Venice, to France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and England; an astonishing itinerary in a time when most women never ventured more than a few miles from where they'd been born. But Hortense made an art of surviving on the road in high style, pawning jewels and sponging off relatives and lovers, and often riding only just ahead of the soldiers that her irate husband sent after her.

In addition to servants, her extensive entourage included her menagerie of pet dogs, cats, monkeys, and a talking parrot named Pretty. Perhaps most important was Hortense's African page, Mustapha, who repeatedly rescued Hortense when her impulsive plunges into rivers and oceans exceeded her swimming skills. She became a celebrity for shooting pistols and riding like a man "on horseback, wearing a plumed hat and peruke," and crowds gathered wherever she appeared. Gushed the Comtesse de Grignan with unabashed admiration, Hortense and Marie "were traveling like true heroines of romance, with a great many jewels and no linen."

When Hortense finally appeared in London in 1675, "en habit de cavalier," she did indeed cause a sensation. "It is believed that a lady so extolled cannot fail to be the cause of adventures," wrote the French ambassador. "People talk of her everywhere, the men with admiration, the women with jealousy and uneasiness."

What everyone was soon remarking was how quickly she'd become Charles II's newest mistress. At least for now, the days of pawning jewels were done, and not only were her new quarters in Whitehall Palace being lavishly redecorated, but so were her servants, now dressed in laced livery to the extravagant tune of 2600 gold livres. Charles didn't care: he was as dazzled as the others. She could ride hard and hunt all day with the gentlemen, then afterwards, draped in jewels, she'd give the best suppers as a model hostess, serving the best wines, food, and conversation to be found in London.

"With the appetites which God has given her," wrote the French ambassador, "she would certainly devour double the income that she has...I do not know how she does it, but these extraordinary expenses appear to me a little suspicious."

But to those who REALLY knew Hortense, I'm sure it just seemed like Hortense being Hortense: an extravagant zest for life while letting someone else worry about the expense. Besides, how can you question a lady who'd dare have herself painted like this, above right?

Above: Portrait of Hortense Mancini by Jacob Voet
Below: Portrait of Hortense Mancini, Duchess of Mazarin, by Benedetto Gennari the Younger

7 comments:

Victoria said...

How wonderfully juicy! They really should make a movie about her!

nightsmusic said...

Gotta hand it to the woman. She definitely knew how to live! Do we know much about her later years? Where she ended them? What happened?

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Even though Hortense irritated Charles by dallying elsewhere (like he didn't do it, too *g*), he still maintained a soft spot for her, and continued supporting her throughout his life.

Her lavish life-style also continued, and her house was the center of intellectual life in London - as close to a true salon as 17th c. London seemed to possess. The night that Charles was stricken with what would prove his fatal illness, Hortense was part of the company, as were the Duchess of Cleveland, the Duchess of Portsmouth, and Nell Gwyn. He did possess that difficult gift for shifting old lovers into friends!

After Charles's death, she continued to receive her pension, unlike Nell Gwyn. Hortense was an Italian relation of the new queen, and the new king, James II, looked after her for that reason, and because she was, like him, a Roman Catholic. (He wasn't nearly so kind to proudly Protestant Nell Gwyn.)

When very Protestant William and Mary took over the English throne in 1688, Hortense pledged her loyalty to them as well, and managed to keep at least part of her income. In 1699, she died; some said she died of alcoholism and general excess, while there were also plenty of rumors of her taking her own life, a drama queen to the last.

Her long-parted husband did continue the adventure, retrieving her body from London and having it carted about with him on one final journey about France, before she was finally interred in the family tomb.

Finegan Antiques said...

Trully a woman to be admired. Live your life on your own terms and enjoy it to the fullest. No mundane, middle of the road for this woman.

Donna

Marilyn said...

Wow...this is an amazing Woman! What an amazing life...adventure to the fullest.

Leslie Carroll said...

I ADORE Hortense Mancini. She was one of my favorite mistresses in ROYAL AFFAIRS because she was such a fantastic, feisty, fascinating woman. I also wrote a history hoydens post on her a while back.

And what about the special relationship/crush/call it what you will that Catherine Fitzroy had on her?

My reading of Hortense was that she and Charles each knew that neither would be faithful to each other and that Hortense prized her freedom over any material accoutrements the king might lavish upon her. She was in it for the fun and not the money, and no interest in the restraints attendant on being his maitresse en titre, which set her apart from the other royal mistresses.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

I totally agree, Leslie. Hortense wasn't at all like the other women who saw being a mistress a career-move. She was definitely in it for the fun-factor. She was supremely confident in herself and her own family, and wasn't impressed by Charles as a king; the husband she'd left behind was probably richer than Charles, and certainly his family was more ancient than the Stuarts. She liked Charles because they amused one another, and compared to all the desperate scuffling among his other mistresses, Charles must have found her nonchalance fascinating, as well as something of a relief!

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