After the death of their father, a Roman aristocrat, Marie and Hortense Mancini were brought to the French court by their maternal uncle Cardinal Mazarin, Louis XIV’s ruthless prime minister, to marry advantageously. Spirited and independent-minded, their escapades eventually became fodder for news gazettes, and they were among the first women to openly publish their memoirs. A besotted young Sun King wanted to marry Marie, but Mazarin planned a Spanish alliance for Louis, so Marie was married to an Italian prince. Despite a glittering public life, Marie fled a husband she feared was going to kill her, leaving three young sons and her marital disputes became an international scandal. Cardinal Mazarin rejected exiled Charles II’s marriage proposal to Hortense. She too, married to a fanatically devout and possessive French nobleman, ran away from her spouse, leaving four young children behind. Hortense eventually went to England, becoming Charles’s mistress, establishing a salon, and becoming a famous gambler. Despite a misleading title—Boston University French professor Goldsmith doesn’t offer evidence to disprove other historians’ contention that Marie never became Louis XIV’s mistress—this is an atmospheric, absorbing tale of 17th-century female media stars taking charge of their own lives. Map. Agent, Erika Storella, Gernert Company. (Apr.)
“The Mancini sisters demanded a freedom that law and custom denied their sex. Goldsmith shows the high price both women paid for this freedom, while celebrating the liberated spirit with which they pursued it. The book is a page-turner; it is also good history.”
"[A]n atmospheric, absorbing tale of 17th-century female media stars taking charge of their own lives."
"This ribald tale works all the better because it is true
. Culling their correspondence and memoirs, Goldsmith is able to paint a vivid portrait of two remarkably daring free spirits who paved the way for centuries of women stifled and exploited by both men and societal constraints
. Revolutionary, cutting-edge, and inspiring, their lives are worthy of revisiting."
Library Journal"Goldsmith presents the sisters as pioneers who embraced notoriety by publishing accounts of their unconventional lives. Their prominence during the emergence of print journalism prompted debates on women's rights, marriage, and property laws
.[A] spirited account that humanizes the experiences of 17th-century women.”
Women's Review of Books
"The story of the 17th-century version of the Kardashian sisters, but with the added touch of brains, literacy and class
. [T]he story moves along at a swift pace
Dr. Amanda Foreman, FRSA, author of Georgiana and A World on Fire“A fascinating account of two genuine rebelsseventeenth century sisters who fought for the sisterhood, and throughout their extraordinary adventures always gave as good as they got. The Kings' Mistresses succeeds in being both entertaining and highly instructive." Susan Holloway Scott, author of The Countess & the King"At last two of history's most fascinating sisters have the book they deserve. Rich with period detail and thoughtful research, this is biography at its very 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." Leslie Carroll, author of Royal Affairs
“The bigger scandal in this fascinating double biography is not the bold behavior of its aristocratic heroines, whose colorful lives a novelist would envybut the shocking treatment they endured at the hands of the powerful men who sought to punish them for seeking their independence. The lengths they went to bring the Mancini sisters to heel will leave readers shocked, wishing they could turn back the hands of time to champion these courageous survivors themselves.” Barbara Diefendorf, Professor of History, Boston University, author of Beneath The Cross
This dual biography relates the interesting but little-known saga of the Mancini sisters, nieces of Cardinal Mazarin, giant of French statecraft. Born in Italy but summoned to the French court as children, Marie and Hortense defied the strictures that bound women's lives then. Goldsmith (French, Boston Univ.) uses letters, memoirs, family papers, and other archival sources to share the story of two women who were "feminists" long before the word existed. Trapped in loveless marriages arranged for political purposes, they became celebrities but also targets of scorn and ridicule because of their public legal battles with their husbands as well as their travels and love affairs. In her youth, Marie had a fairy-tale romance with the young Louis XIV, while Hortense became mistress to England's Charles II (hence the book's title). Goldsmith presents the sisters as pioneers who embraced notoriety by publishing accounts of their unconventional lives. Their prominence during the emergence of print journalism prompted debates on women's rights, marriage, and property laws. Goldsmith interweaves their stories with those of other women of the period. VERDICT General readers of historical biography and scholars of women's history will enjoy this spirited account that humanizes the experiences of 17th-century women.—Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ
The story of the 17th-century version of the Kardashian sisters, but with the added touch of brains, literacy and class. Marie and Hortense Mancini were rebellious sisters who married well, fled their abusive husbands and spent the rest of their lives on the run, together or separately, soaking up the good life and turning their lives into international gossip. For Goldsmith (French/Boston Univ.; Going Public: Women and Publishing in Early Modern France, 1995, etc.) they were "arguably the first media celebrities," and they received a suitably mixed reception: "admired by libertines, feminists and free-thinkers but viewed by others as frivolous at best and threats to civil society at worst." Born to the Roman aristocracy, they were taken to France by their uncle, Cardinal Mazarin, a savvy political operator with an eye to his own future, who hoped to marry them off. The elder Marie caught the fancy of Louis XIV, but his mother Queen Anne wouldn't have it; Marie had to settle instead for the Italian price Lorenzo Colonna, who wasn't about to let marriage keep him from other women. The younger Hortense drew the attention of England's Charles II, then in exile. However, she ended up with Armand-Charles de la Porte de la Meilleraye, a bullying religious fanatic twice her age; the arrangement made her "the richest heiress and the unhappiest woman in Christendom." After their escapes from their unhappy marriages, the sisters played an elaborate cat-and-mouse game across Europe as their incensed husbands appealed to the authorities, dispatched spies, made threats and attempted kidnappings. The sisters dodged their husbands, indulged their whims and wrote celebrity tell-alls, possibly another first. Though the narrative could have used a lighter authorial touch, the story moves along at a swift pace. Goldsmith's reserved, professional prose works against the rollicking nature of the tale, but the fascinating subjects make up for it.