marrying well – mazarinette style

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

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56 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. headed for freedom up the chimney.

    Don’t we all….!


    • I haven’t got a chimney in this house 😦

  2. Oh, she sounds wonderful. What a pity about her marrying that particular man. I imagine if she were of our time she would be regaled for more than her beauty and wit.

  3. And don’t worry about the guys with the white stuff on their faces, they’re just playing! 😉

    I hope the woman with the white stuff on her breasts is just playing, too. I guess she is. 🙂 x

    • Ava Seymour is an interesting artist. She’s represented by the same NZ gallery that Stephen was.

      • I’ve been wondering if there is a website / online gallery where I can look at some of his work, N.M.?
        (the only reason I haven’t asked yet is I was afraid that question might upset you… I sincerely hope it doesn’t…)

      • Here’s one:

      • Thank you so much, N.M…

  4. Get thee to a nunnery! Always a cure for lesbianism. HA!

    • Yes, it works a treat.

  5. That painting of Louise is a bit saucy. Raunch culture clearly started in France.

    • Did you click to enlarge? It’s really quite lovely.

  6. undoubtedly, she and the family had a reality show,
    but i neglected to tivo it.

    • Shame. Me too.


  8. They sure had fun back in those days!! What a life she had!!

    • She had fun, but there was a fair amount of bad stuff happening as well

  9. convinces me that i need to challenge someone to a duel. in a public park. in our undercrackers…

    • That would be you and Dolce. I’d referee.

  10. “having all of his female servants’ front teeth knocked out to prevent them from attracting male attention”

    for some men that could attract more attention.

    • Are there men with a knocked-out-front-teeth fetish?

      • I’m sure there are. Maybe it improves oral sex. Hope I never get to find out.

  11. Wow. What a life! She had plenty of time on her hands it sounds like.

    • Yeah, no twenty hour days in the factory for the Mazarinettes.

  12. Another wild life! The duel brought to mind the whip fight between Faye Dunaway and Marina Sirtis in the remake of the Wicked Lady!

    • I haven’t seen it. Is it good?

  13. Lordy, all that inbreeding made for some pretty wacko members of the nobility – I’m referring to Armand-Charles, not Hortense. She may have been dissolute but sounds like she had some fun once she ditched the hubby.

  14. impatient of matrimonial restraint – Brits can be so tactfully delicate – makes political correctness seem trivial

  15. Good grief. Didn’t the king have anything better to do than carry on illicit affairs? I was struck by Louis XV having affairs with all four sisters…

    • I think it was pretty well traditional for kings to have mistresses. Maybe because their marriages were so politically relevant and arranged accordingly… but then again most rich and powerful men get whatever they want anyway. You know, like media monopolies…

      • And trophy wives?

  16. I despair of the way some men treat women.

  17. Just when you think you’ve heard pretty much everything …

    Ditto normadesmond’s comment. I think the Kardashians must be reading from French royalty playbooks.

    Moral lesson: Idle hands do devil’s work. And maybe diddle nuns.

    Oops did I say that out loud?

  18. Sleeping with your current husband’s daughter is kind of icky, but I can forgive her almost anything after that horrific first marriage.

    • It’s very icky

      • I’m not sure if, in this case it’s icky or not. His illegitimate daughter, so it’s not like she was like her step mother. Not enough info here for me to make up my mind. Woody Allen’s doings? They strike me as very icky.

  19. Someone sure has a lot of talent with flowers to make that palace.

    • i know! Isn’t it amazing?

  20. Ransoming a corpse. That’s an interesting way to make money. I’m surprised it’s not more popular today.

    That’s creepy, four of her granddaughters becoming mistresses of Louis the 15th. He must have been very tired.

  21. Sounds like a soap opera everyone has slept with everyone.

  22. Four sisters??? Serially, I hope!

  23. The old conundrum: how to make a Hortense.

  24. I was feeling pretty sad for her up until the end and then it became kind of disgusted.

    Could you imagine the smell? Ugh…

  25. i cant imagine being 15 and being married to a miserly and extremely jealous, not to mention mentally unstable man.
    but i also find it funny that her husband sent her and her lesbian lover to a convent for correction.

  26. Not speaking to Scarlet anymore…I wanted to say that. All things considered, I’m very grateful that all yhese people you write about have dedicated themselves to my lunchtime pleasure

  27. Talk about lactose intolerance.

  28. Hortense and Olympia sound like true party animals.

  29. Armand-Charles was really an exceptional p*** of s***. Not satisfied with mutilating servants he also had the nerve to destroy art because it did not conform to his poor ideas. The macabre act of carrying the cadaver around for another year only highlights his strange relation to corporeality. Next would be to slice her off and produce some nice relics for veneration.

  30. A very sensible chap, that Armand-Charles. I’ve followed his suggestion and knocked out all Jenny’s front teeth. That’ll stop her from straying, the licentious little minx.

  31. Trying to cure lesbianism in a convent? Ha ha. I went to an all girls school, and there were lots of girls who were interested in other girls for those few years.

  32. Despite the convent, I adore the photo of the happy nuns.

  33. Not surprised she resorted to ‘intemperate drinking’

  34. Do you have a followers button on this blog?

  35. I think if you click the “notify me of new posts via email” you can join my not-so-exclusive club 😉

    But other than that I don’t have a ‘followers’ button as such

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