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