Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Intrepid Ladies (with Swords): Hortense Mancini & Anne Lennard

Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Susan reports:

Loretta's recent post about dueling ladies of 1811 reminded me of another pair from 1675. In this case, the identities of the two ladies made for just as much gossip as their activity.

Hortense Mancini, duchesse Mazarin (1646-1699) was a high-born adventuress in every sense of the word. The favorite niece of Cardinal Mazarin, Hortense was married off at fifteen in 1661 to the richest gentleman in Europe. Unfortunately, he was one of the most mentally unbalanced as well, and in 1668 Hortense fled the marriage.

Roaming across Europe, she cut a flamboyant figure wherever she went: tall and beautiful in either men's clothing or women's, she rode and drank hard, gambled, shot pistols, swam in rivers, took lovers of both genders, played the guitar and danced like a gypsy. When she finally landed in London in 1675, King Charles II was duly impressed, and soon Hortense was sharing his bed.

But the Roman duchesse also captivated another: Anne Lennard, Countess of Sussex (1661-1721). The fifteen-year-old countess was the first child (of many) of Charles and Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland. Legitimized and ennobled, the countess had been unhappily married for two years when Hortense arrived, and the pair soon became not only great friends, but almost certainly lovers.

Thus our combatants: one lady who is mistress to the king, but also involved in a lesbian affair with the other lady, half her age, who is a daughter of that same king. As can be imagined, this was scandalous even in Restoration England, and the gossip was fierce. Here is a report in a letter by the clearly titillated Lady Chaworth to her brother Lord Roos in December, 1676:

"Lady Sussex and Madame Mazarin have privately learnt to fence, and went downe into St. James Parke the other day with drawne swords under theire night gownes, which they drew out and made severall fine passes with, to the admiration of severall men that was lookers on in the Parke."

Predictably, Lord Sussex was not amused:

"They say [Lady Sussex's] husband and she will part unless she leave the Court and be content to live to him in the country, he disliking her much converse with Madame Mazarin and the addresses she gets amongst that company."*

Lord Sussex kept his word, and hauled his wife off to the country with him, where it was reported Anne took to her bed and wept bitterly, kissing a miniature portrait of Hortense. Back in London, Hortense merely shrugged, and moved on to her next extracurricular lover (in addition to Charles): Louis I de Grimaldi, Prince de Monaco.

But Anne wasn't done enhancing her notoriety, either. Taken next to a nunnery in Paris in 1678, she soon found ways to slip free, and at seventeen, began a heated affair with the forty-year-old English ambassador, Ralph Montagu (1638-1709) - who had once been one of her mother's lovers as well.

Above: Portrait of Hortense Mancini by Jacob Voet, 1671, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

15 comments:

Eliza Martin said...

That's an awesome little biography. I would love to see it as a movie.

Le Loup said...

Ah, an earlier period at last! And women in men's clothing! I knew there were more out there somewhere.
Regards.

Rowenna said...

Ladies with swords in their nighties? This sounds like a gentleman's wish come true...

Really interesting women!

LaDonna said...

Oh, wow, I just love reading about fierce women like this!

nightsmusic said...

Even the best soap writers of today can't come up with stories this good!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hortense Mancini has always fascinated me. I wish someone would write a novel about her (hint, hint!).

Pauline said...

Thank you Susan. What a treat to meet Hortense!

She reminds me very much of Manuela Saenz, the long time lover of Simon Bolivar. The big difference was Manuela's birth; she was the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Creolo and a mixed blood peasant woman. Beautiful, strong willed, hard drinking and fond of men's clothing, dueling, dancing and cigars, Manuela would probably have gotten on famously with Hortense. Either that or there would have been a throw down.

Emma J said...

I remember Hortense from FRENCH MISTRESS! You had her sword-fighting then, too, with all the men drooling over her wearing pants, and the other ladies feeling overwhelmed and inferior. But I don't remember this story about her with the Countess of Sussex. Thanks for sharing it now. I agree with the earlier post that you should write a book about Hortense!

Jenny Girl said...

Well Hortense was quite the rule breaker in her day! this would make a great movie indeed.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Hortense Mancini has always been one of my favorite 17th century ladies. These few paragraphs describe only the barest bones of her very colorful life - a life she describes in considerable detail in her own autobiography.

She did in fact appear in several scenes in "The French Mistress", and I had to continually rein her in or she would have taken over the entire book from poor Louise de Keroualle (and any author who claims their characters never do this is lying.) Someday, if we're both lucky, Hortense will get a book of her own. And wouldn't her life make a fabulous movie!

gentlewomanthief said...

Ooh, what a fascinating woman! Thanks for an inspiring mini-bio!

DreadPirateRachel said...

This is fascinating. I would love to hear more about her; she sounds like the sort of woman who would make a splash no matter when she was born!

Margravine Louisa said...

oh what a great post ----- have you written a book about her? why not go into the movie business ---- you would have to cast some really "strong" and "mature" actresses to play those parts. what an incredible story!

Irritable Vowel Syndrome said...

You write, "Hortense was married off at fifteen in 1661 to the richest gentleman in Europe." That is not correct -- Hortense was the richest (man or) woman in Europe with her uncle's future fortune - the Cardinal forced her into this marriage with one of France's oldest, but impoverished, families. And yes, her husband was nuts and she fled him, her children and her own fortune for freedom.

Anonymous said...

I simply cannot believe that there are not more biographical works on this amazing woman! I came across a mini bio of HM in a larger book, was immediately captivated, and looked her up on Wikipedia for more info. I still wanted MORE, and when I hit up Amazon for books on her, I was very disappointed. She has not been a very popular bio subject, at least not in the English language. What a crime!! Perhaps I should write one...or MUCH better yet, ask someone else to!!

 
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