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Mistress of the Vatican

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  807 Ratings  ·  125 Reviews
Born without a dowry, nearly forced into a convent, and later married off to a man she didn't love, Olimpia Maidalchini vowed never to be poor, powerless, or beholden to any man again. Instead, using her wits, Olimpia became the unofficial ruler of the most powerful institution in the world: the Roman Catholic Church.

The Church firmly states that women must be excluded fro
ebook, 496 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2008)
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Oct 28, 2008 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The subject of the book was fascinating, but the author never really brought her to life for me. What I enjoyed the most was the portrayal of the papal court in the 17th century. The way corruption and nepotism were institutionalized in the Vatican of the time was enlightening. I'm glad I read it because it's helped me to understand the Protestant Reformation in a way I never did before.
"Well behaved women seldom make history".

I have always been fascinated by strong women who carve places in history for themselves. Olympia Maldachini is a woman I've never heard of, and with good reason. Why on earth would The Catholic Church ever want it bandied about that a woman ruled the papacy for ten years, made herself wealthy and self-sufficient in an era where women's roles were so heavily proscribed? Pope Joan (whom I believe did exist) was problematic enough, but the sister-in-law of
by Eleanor Herman

When I'm at the bookstore or library I tend to pick up anything that has "Vatican" in the title, so I couldn't pass up something as titillating as "Mistress of the Vatican" when publisher William Morrow offered a review copy.

The jacket cover suggested hanky-panky with the bare-shouldered portrait of a beautiful woman with a painting of St. Peter's Basilica and Square covering her, uh, feminine charms, and a subtitle, "The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchi
Elaine Dowling
Jan 02, 2010 Elaine Dowling rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A friend of mine described this as a "jaw-dropping read". I couldn't agree more, and not for any of the reasons I expected. The author is clearly enamored of his subject for her intelligence, audacity and strength of will. Unfortunately, he seems less effected by her complete lack of moral or ethical fiber.

I do not believe that I am either ignorant of church history or naive about the perils of organized religion. Nevertheless, this book's very modern perspective on 17th Century religious condu
H. Anne Stoj
Jan 17, 2011 H. Anne Stoj rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I think the title is a little misleading. And, the jacket illustration, though it's rather lovely. I'd imagine, though, the bust of Olimpia on the cover wouldn't gain as much attention. As the photo of it in the book was, well, she was fierce looking, but not in that idea of sex appeal. Just, you know, regular fierce.

I did find the book to be very interesting overall. Not just because it was a look inside the Vatican during the 1600s, but because it was a look at social class and gender as well.
Apr 05, 2013 Melissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
I went from never knowing who this woman was, to becoming completely fascinated by her. Seriously considering naming my first born after her. I don't want to give away her story for those that need to read this book. Gripped this book til the very end. Cannot believe how much research Eleanor Herman went through to make it, but so thankful she did not only did she tell Olimpia's story but she explain what Rome was like during her time. I can truly say that Olimpia will remain forever on my mind.
Jul 15, 2014 Neeuqdrazil rated it did not like it
Shelves: not-finished
I couldn't get into this. Too much speculation, not enough source material, and written like a breathless romance novel.
Almost impossible to put down. I’m so happy I found this, I’ve wanted to read about Olimpia Maidalchini since I first heard about her. A woman in the centre of the Church, and not because of sex! And my favorite Baroque era!

Those times were crazy – not much crazier than any other times, but immensely fun to read about. Cardinals for whom a conclave was a deadly affair, the Romans always on the ready to sack a palace or two, with the permission of the owners, popes who died naked on the floor, be
Sep 13, 2011 Lindi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Book reveals one of many sordid chapters in the history of the Catholic Church. Set in 17th century Italy, the story weaves real historically-documented characters, places, events, and times when the church was nothing but a vehicle to fulfill family ambitions and enrich family coffers. I loved and hated all the characters who robbed, deceived, bribed, and manipulated each other (the powerful) and abused their authority over the masses. It wasn't the holiest who got to be Pope, but the wealthies ...more
Donna Jo Atwood
I enjoy off beat historical moments and this one was outside my normal boundaries. In 1600's Italy, Olimpia Maidalchini was a woman to reckon with. She refused to obey her father when he ordered her and her two younger sisters to join a convent. She had a head for figures and an interest in legal matters, which are hardly womanly attributes. She had a very long memory for slights and disagreements--and a way of subtly and not so subtly redressing any wrongs done to her and her family. For years ...more
Leah Macvie
Apr 02, 2011 Leah Macvie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In all my years of Catholic school, I have never been exposed to the secret life of the Vatican in such detail. This book is truly stunning. To think Olympia Maidalchini could rise and fall to power so many times over the course of her life is just crazy. She was a celebrity of her time.

There were many people who told Olympia that women could not be included in church leadership positions. But she remained at the very top for many years as Pope Innocent X's key consultant and possibly lover. Sh
This is a good book, well researched and very informative, looks at a partial history of the Catholic Church. It's funny because every time I think 'now I know EVERY hidden detail about the Catholic church" something like this book happens...

All in all, I liked reading about this lady. The problem I had with this book is the heavy speculations, means this biography relies too heavily on phrases such as "we can imagine" and "we can picture", rather than intellectual analysis. Plus, the author "g
Jess Boynton
Jun 11, 2009 Jess Boynton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book overall. My only criticism is that are certain points in the book it almost felt like I was reading historical fiction rather than non-fiction. This isn't bad by itself but it makes you wonder which part is fact and which part is author speculation based on the evidence. Other than that I really liked the book. It gave an interesting insight into the 17th century Catholic Church and all the politics and intrigue that occured. Olimpia Maidalchini may not have been the nicest w ...more
For those who are interested in the early years of the Catholic Church, especially the workings of the Vatican. The story of Olimpia Maidalchini who schemed, plotted and bribed the way for her brother-in-law to become Pope is a great look a the times and politics of Rome and the inner workings of Church.

When Olimpia was born there were only two things she could do as a woman. Marry into a good family to raise the esteem of the family. Lacking a dowry to catch a suitable match, she was doomed to
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
This is interesting, but I don't think I have time to read it now. Plus, it does the irritating thing where it gives a bunch of background info but fails to cite the source. I hate that. (It does have some evidence for 8-pointed stars as existing before 1600 ... which is of interest to very few people. But anyway.)
Very interesting book on Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphili who controlled the Vatican via her brother-in-law Pope Innocent X. After reading other critique's of Herman's work, I'm taking some of the more salacious stories with a grain of salt, but she does have a point in that what would be considered normal bribery and personal enrichment for a man in her position was considered unseemly merely because she was a woman. I'm confused regarding her claims about Pope Joan and the infamous testicle chairs ...more
Sherri Stephens
Dec 26, 2014 Sherri Stephens rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A truly fascinating story. Olimpia was truly a woman before her time she didn't allow society or her father dictate her life for her. In a time when women were considered of any consequence she manipulated events to her satisfaction. The church condemned women and saw us as the downfall of men and she managed to marry for money, then for a prestige and a title and worked her infallible charm to get her brother in law elected Pope. While her morals aren't necessarily good and pure you have to app ...more
Ana Carvalheira
Sep 16, 2014 Ana Carvalheira rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Para quem gosta de romance histórico, este é um livro absolutamente fascinante, daqueles que aproveitamos todo o tempo extra, todos os segundos e minutos disponíveis para o ler e quando chegamos ao fim, queremos mais e mais ...

Basicamente, narra a história da ascenção de Inocêncio X, ao posto mais alto da hierarquia papal, em meados do século XVII.

Ao mesmo tempo, vamos conhecendo a enorme ambição e voracidade pelo poder por parte de Olímpia Maldalchini, cunhada do papa, numa Roma e numa Europa
Jose Esquibel
May 13, 2013 Jose Esquibel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here is an intriguing bit of history unveiled and presented in an engaging narrative by Eleanor Herman regarding the remarkable life of Olimpia Maidalchini (b. 1591 – d. 1657). Herman does a splendid job of taking scattered references from numerous sources to weave a comprehensive tapestry of woman who dared to be more than what society expected of women in the seventeenth century.

Threatened by the design of her father to have her placed in a convent (because of the high price of a dowry), Olimp
Merry Bones
Jun 28, 2013 Merry Bones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating; utterly, utterly fascinating. Eleanor Herman takes her readers deep into the life of a woman few outside certain cities in Italy have heard of (apparently to the great relief of the Catholic Church): the incorrigible, the stubborn, the rebellious, the determined, the street-smart Olimpia Maidalchini. Ms. Herman has a fine sense of irony and there is much irony to be found in Olimpia's life and times. Born today, she might be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or a Prime Minister. As ...more
Dec 11, 2008 Katrina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Adults who are interested in women in history
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
This book was interesting. It focuses on the life of Olimpia Maidalchini who many considered to be the first female pope. Olimpia is a headstrong woman who goes against her family's wishes to create her own destiny and subsequent rise to wealth and power. However, she is also greedy, vengeful, and at times, even shameless in regard to her ambitions.

The book is set in the early to mid-1600s. It amazed me how politics and money ran the papacy from the pope's election, to who was made a cardinal,
I like reading about women we rarely hear about in textbooks. To learn that a woman was able to command that much authority in the Vatican shortly after the Reformation, it was utterly enlightening. I learned a great deal about the Vatican, the Papal States, women's roles, and even day to day living in Rome -- the prostitutes' union, the feast days, what every day Romans went through. So it should be a 4 star book.

I didn't like the tone of the book. There were times where it almost seemed like H
Mandy Moody
Dec 21, 2008 Mandy Moody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Mistress of the Vatican was my first foray into the world of non-fiction for pleasures sake. It was a wonderful book to start with. Eleanor Herman did an amazing job of bringing historical characters to life. Her straightforward description of each personality (based on numerous legitimate sources) made every character seem like someone I might know today.
I found the story of Olimpia Maidalchini to be fascinating. What an amazing woman she was! She was intelligent, headstrong, and ambitious in
Apr 01, 2009 Daisy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Olimpia was born into a family who despised her. Her father wanted to send her, along with her sisters, to a convent so he didn't have to pay for their dowries when they had to marry. Olimpia could made her life easier by obeying her father like almost all the women in that century. But she chose to disobey her father and be strong to her self, so instead, she made her life harder and accepted all kinds of beating and punishment from her father so she could be independent and follow her self and ...more
Feb 05, 2010 Pamela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was difficult reading because it was so crammed with names and relationships and intrigues--as complicated as the political power structure surrounding Olimpia Maidalchini and Pope Innocent X. Apparently, Maidalchini was the sister-in-law and mistress of Gianbattista Pamphilli, and she spent thirty years conniving and playing politics to make him Pope Innocent X. Later, in reaction to her greed and machinations, he became her Frankenstein as he turned on her. Most amazing about the time per ...more
May 05, 2012 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: italy, non-fiction

I enjoyed this book for both its accounting of both the history of Rome and of the fascinating, though excessively greedy, Olipia Maidalchini. The author used the term kleptocracy to describe the form of government/life in which you stole whatever you could get your hands on and expected others to do the same. The story of Pope Innocent X Having everything stripped from his room including sheets, utensils, and clothes was sobering especially as Eleanor Herman presents him as a reasonably nice,
Apr 15, 2010 Pbwritr rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
My, oh my, the intrigues and politics that were (maybe still are?) involved in the Catholic Church of the 17th century! Olimpia Maidalchini marries into a family much better off and socially situated than her own. Immediately, she and her brother-in-law take an instant liking to each other (it's usually the opposite, isn't it?) and become soulmates. For most of the rest of their lives, the two live in adjoining apartments, both while Olimpia is married and then when she is a widow. Olimpia not o ...more
Apr 16, 2013 Louise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This author has a great storytelling ability. To her understanding of the history of this time, she adds a good eye for detail, pacing and depth to her characters. Highlights include the descriptions of the conclaves, Innocent X's death, the rivalry between Olimpia and Olimpia, the role of relics (and Olimpia's relic) and the short lived but pungent rebellion of a favorite granddaughter.

Eleanor Herman compares the fruits of Olimpia's intrigues with peers in her own time, she explains the motives
Dec 01, 2008 Sera rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sera by: European Royalty Club
This book was very interesting. It focuses on the life of Olimpia Maidalchini who many considered to be the first female pope. Olimpia is a headstrong woman who goes against her family's wishes to create her own destiny and subsequent rise to wealth and power. However, she is also greedy, vengeful, and at times, even shameless in regard to her ambitions.

The book is set in the early to mid-1600s. It amazed me how politics and money ran the papacy from the pope's election, to who was made a cardi
Nell Grey
Mar 24, 2012 Nell Grey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Nell by: GR
Shelves: biography
Open the book and 17th century Rome, with all its poverty and deprivation, greed, nepotism, corruption, criminality and excess falls out into your lap. Written in a modern style that can seem by turns shocking and funny, the author has left no turn unstoned to lay what amounts to a textual feast before the reader. I loved the snippets of historical gossip and little-known facts that popped up to make me gasp - better not risk spoiling a single one by telling. If history had been like this at sch ...more
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New York Times best-seller Eleanor Herman offers a rare combination of skills for a historian – her research is intensely scholarly, yet she writes the story in a colorful, witty manner.

“History is so fascinating that it never has to be presented in a boring way,” she explains. “These were flesh and blood people, just like you and me, facing war and plague, falling in love, living among splendid a
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