Hortense Mancini, duchesse Mazarin (1646 – 1699), was the favourite niece of Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister of France, and a mistress of Charles II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland. She was the fourth of the five famously beautiful Mancini sisters, who along with two of their female Martinozzi cousins, were known at the court of King Louis XIV of France as the Mazarinettes.
Hortense found here
In 1661, fifteen-year-old Hortense was married to one of the richest men in Europe, Armand-Charles de la Porte, duc de La Meilleraye. Upon marriage to Hortense, he was granted the title of duc Mazarin. On the death of Cardinal Mazarin soon after, he gained access to his wife’s huge inheritance, which included the Palais Mazarin in Paris, home to many pieces of fine art.
floral replica of the Palais Mazarin found here
The marriage was not a success. Hortense was young, bright, and popular; Armand-Charles was miserly and extremely jealous, not to mention mentally unstable. His strange behaviour included preventing milkmaids from going about their job (to his mind, the cows’ udders had strong sexual connotations), having all of his female servants’ front teeth knocked out to prevent them from attracting male attention, and chipping off and painting over all the “dirty bits” in his fantastic art collection. He forbade his wife to keep company with other men, made midnight searches for hidden lovers, insisted she spend a quarter of her day at prayer, and forced her to leave Paris and move with him to the country.
“Milkmaid” by Ava Seymour found here
It was at this point that Hortense began a lesbian love affair with the sixteen-year-old Sidonie de Courcelles. In an attempt to remedy his wife’s ‘immorality’, her husband sent both girls to a convent. This tactic failed, as the two plagued the nuns with pranks: they added ink to the holy water, flooded the nuns’ beds, and headed for freedom up the chimney.
image found here
Despite their differences, Hortense and her husband had four children though she had to leave them behind when she escaped from her hellish marriage in 1668. The French King Louis XIV declared himself her protector and granted an annual pension of 24 thousand livres. A former suitor, the Duke of Savoy, also declared himself her protector.
King Louis XIV as a child found here
The English ambassador to France, Ralph Montagu, enlisted her help in increasing his own standing with Charles II by replacing the king’s current mistress, Louise de Kerouaille. Hortense was willing to try. In 1675, she travelled to London dressed as a man; her penchant for cross-dressing is thought to be an outward expression of her bisexuality.
Louise found here
By mid-1676, Hortense had fulfilled her ambition; she had taken the place of Louise de Kerouaille in Charles’s affections. This might have continued had it not been for Hortense’s promiscuity.
Firstly, there was her lesbian relationship with Anne, Countess of Sussex, the king’s illegitimate daughter. This culminated in a very public, friendly fencing match in St. James’s Park, with the women clad in nightgowns, after which Anne’s husband ordered his wife to the country. There she refused to do anything but lie in bed, repeatedly kissing a miniature of Hortense.
image found here
Secondly, she began an affair with Louis I de Grimaldi, Prince de Monaco. Charles remonstrated with her and cut off her pension, although within a couple of days he repented and restarted the payments. However, this signified the end of Hortense’s position as the king’s favourite.
Hortense’s death was recorded in 1699: “She was born in Rome, educated in France, and was an extraordinary beauty and wit, but dissolute, and impatient of matrimonial restraint; when she came to England for shelter, lived on a pension given her here, and is reported to have hastened her death by intemperate drinking strong spirits.”
Hortense may have committed suicide, keeping her life dramatic until the very end. When she died, her creditors seized her corpse and forced her husband to ransom it before they would send it to France. Once her husband had Hortense back under his control, so to speak, he refused to bury her for almost a year, carrying her coffin with him from place to place before finally allowing it to be interred by the tomb of her uncle, Cardinal Mazarin.
tomb of Cardinal Mazarin found here
Her sister, Olympia, Countess of Soissons, was also famous for her infidelities. Fascinated by astrology, she was implicated in the Affair of the Poisons and fled from France. Her son Eugene was a transvestite, and there were rumors that Louis XIV was his real father. Other notable relatives of Hortense included four great granddaughters (all sisters from the same family); each in turn became a mistress of Louis XV.
Madame de Pompadour doll found here