Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Liberated Lives of Hortense & Marie Mancini

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Susan reporting:

Hortense Mancini, Duchess Mazarin (1646-1699) is one of my favorite historical women. I've written about her here and here for this blog, and she's also cut a bold figure in several of my historical novels, including The French Mistress and The King's Favorite.

Born a niece of the powerful Cardinal Mazarin, Hortense was a beautiful, flamboyant woman unhappily married off to a fanatical madman. Granted, she would have challenged most husbands: she rode, shot, gambled, swam, read and wrote, fought with swords, dressed in men's clothes, kept a menagerie of pets, and took lovers with abandon, including the English King Charles II.

But in 17th c society, women were considered their husband's property, with few rights of their own, and Hortense rebelled. She fled her husband, as did her equally unhappily married sister Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna (1639-1715) - who had herself been an early love of the French King Louis XIV- and together the two women embarked on a wild journey across Europe. Keeping one step ahead of their husbands, they travelled scandalously on their own from one royal court to another. Best of all, Hortense wrote her memoirs, whose frankness and feminist philosophy made them an instant sensation. How can you not like a woman like that?

My only regret regarding Hortense and Marie was that, stunningly, neither lady had a first-rate biography. Now they do: The Kings' Mistresses by noted scholar Elizabeth C. Goldsmith. Bringing together the remarkable lives of Hortense and Marie Mancini against the tumultuous world of Baroque Europe, this dual biography is rich with period detail and thoughtful research. It's historical biography at its best - the intertwined story of two women who refused to be ruled by either husbands or kings, and dared instead to create their own destiny.

Above: Hortense Mancini, by Benedetto Gennari the Younger, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes.

In accordance with the FTC, I received this book from the publisher for review - though I would definitely have bought it on my own, too!


Ella Quinn said...

I love this post. Thanks so much.

Di said...

Wouldn't their story make a fabulous movie!

Jack Durish said...

History is full of unreported personalities who are far more interesting/weird/unbelievable than any fictional character. Congratulations of finding two of the better ones.

gio said...

Sounds like a fascinating read. I'll check it out, thanks.

Jolene Rae Harrington said...

Oh, I've always loved the Mancini sisters, and am thrilled to learn of this new biography. Thanks for sharing! Incidentally, Marie Mancini recently made a deliciously decadent and devious appearance in Karleen Koen's otherwise disappointing "Before Versailles."

Anonymous said...

Oh joy! Does this mean you're going to finally make Hortense a heroine? Love, love, love your novels!

melissa said...

Intriguing. How could you not want to read about these two independent women. Thank you for the information.

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