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Mistress of the Vatican
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Mistress of the Vatican

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  649 ratings  ·  113 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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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
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
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.
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. ...more
H. Anne Stoj
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.
I couldn't get into this. Too much speculation, not enough source material, and written like a breathless romance novel.
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
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
Jess Boynton
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
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
Ana Carvalheira
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
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
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 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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

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,
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
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 5 of 5 stars  ·  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 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
I wanted to like this book. I wanted to read this book. But there is just not enough time for half-assed books. For starters ... the author needs to decide whether to just tell the story, or tell you that they are telling you a story that could be this way, another way, or maybe even something else. The author flips back and forth, almost letting you pretend it's a decent read and getting into the story, but no wait, just at that moment the author pops in telling you that that's how it could hav ...more
With the upcoming conclave of Cardinals, (not sure if that is the collective noun such as ostentation of peacocks, flamboyance of flamingos, murder of crows, scold of jays though those collective nouns might also be descriptive.) I thought it would be interesting to read about this 17th century woman. One has to be amazed at the ability of this woman to rise through a male dominated society and become, in effect, the controller of one of its most misogynistic institution. While the book is a bio ...more
I'll write a longer review later, but this piece wandered into my RSS list and I had to share.

This book deals an awful lot with the corruption and theft that was an integral part of the Vatican in the mid 17th century. When I was reading this book, I thought, there is no way that there is anything on this scale happening in the modern Vatican. Well, after reading this article, I'm not so sure:
This was a really interesting read. It's well written and creates a vivid picture of Olimpia's character and world. Olimpia is portrayed sometimes sympathetically and sometimes as admirable but also very realistically, warts and all.

It seems to be very well researched. But I did notice one error on a date. I'm pretty sure it was just a typo. The problem was, the author didn't mention specific names so it was a little difficult to figure out when/what she was talking about. Fortunately, it was no
I am not sure how to rate this book actually because the title is misleading. Maybe the title should have been: "The True Story of Pope Innocent X and the Vatican". The "true story" was the running of the Vatican than Olimpia Maidalchini which was disappointing. After reading the book, I knew more about Pope Innocent X than Maidalchini and she felt more like Pope's sidekick. Maidalchini's voice is lost in this book.

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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
More about Eleanor Herman...
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