Julie Barrett's Reviews > The Kings' Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin

The Kings' Mistresses by Elizabeth C. Goldsmith
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's review
Apr 07, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: finished-2012, biographies
Read from May 23 to June 19, 2012

I enjoyed this biography of the Mancini sisters. Biographies of historical figures can be iffy, especially a biography that is following more than one person. The author does a good job, though, of telling both sisters stories in a lively and engaging manner. I really wish someone would write a novel based on them - well, on Hortense more than Marie.Marie had an amazing life but personally I was drawn more to Hortense.

Hortense was married to a LUNATIC. Seriously. I could not get over how crazy this guy was. I found it fascinating and quite telling that the father of Hortense's loony husband did not think his son should marry Hortense - that it was a bad idea. Wow. A father not wanting his son to marry the wealthiest heiress in the country! Obviously because he knew what a weirdo his son was. His son had been obsessed with Hortense since she was 9 and he was in his mid-twenties. Mmm-huh, CREEPY. I still don't understand how he finagled the Cardinal into oking the marriage. The author mentions that the Cardinal was taking a lot of opium for the massive amounts of pain he was in while lying on his deathbed, so I guess the Cardinal being high as a kite & not rational was the reason for oking the marriage.

So here was Hortense, married at 14 to a religious creepy guy obsessed with her. He isolated her from the court & her friends & family. He fired any servant she was kind to. He had spies watching her every move. He took her to his remote countryside home where she got pregnant. Repeatedly. Can only imagine he raped her - ick. She had 4 kids in 5 yrs. All before she was 20. He just kept getting weirder & weirder until finally she bolted & ran away to Italy where her sister lived.

The author then talks about Marie & her marriage. Well, nothing can top Hortense's marriage. Marie seemed to have a more standard unhappy marriage. Husband has mistresses, husband ignores wife etc. The story really takes off when the sisters decide to run away together. Apparently Marie thought her husband wanted to poison her? The author didn't really back up that claim. I don't know if I really believe Marie. I think part of her just wanted to run away & chuck it all.

The book then follows all the adventures the sisters have both together and then apart. It was a big, big, big deal for a woman to leave her husband. And then to travel - without a husband or father - gasp! And sometimes the sisters wore men's clothes. And they took lovers. Hortense was more wild than Marie. She gambled, drank like a fish, took both male & female lovers (including King Charles II AND his 15 year old daughter) and wrote her memoirs & published them under her own name. I really could have read a whole book about Hortense and her exploits.

Hortense's husband then spent the next 30 yrs freaking out about Hortense leaving him & trying as hard as he could to kidnap her & lock her up in his spooky remote castle. He pissed away her enormous inheritance on lawyers & various quacks he hung out with. Hortense had also inherited the greatest art collection in all of Europe. We're talking Da Vinci,Titan, Raphael, Correggio etc. After one court ruling that didn't go the way he liked, Ol' creepy had a massive all day temper tantrum. He got a hammer, a knife & a big bucket of black paint & went to the gallery where the art was. He then spent ALL DAY in a total frenzy hacking & smashing & throwing paint all over the art. If he did this in public - destroying a priceless famous art collection - we can only imagine how horrid he was in private. It makes my skin crawl to think what Hortense must have gone through as a teenager married to him. Lordy!

I was relieved to learn that in England Hortense finally found a modicum of peace. She made good friends, took lovers, basically had a good time. To make up for those early years. Talk about deserving to cut loose! I found the parts about Marie to be interesting but overshadowed by her younger sister's life. I kept wanting the book to get back to Hortense.


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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Larry (new)

Larry I don't have the attention span to sit with a book anymore, but your reviews are...well, I really enjoy them.
Also your fb updates often have me laughing out loud.

Julie Barrett Thanks! Yes, I'm happy for FB so I can share all the weird stuff I read for work. You'd think I'd read less because of my job but...I don't, for whatever reason. I think my job has increased my reading speed so I can read regular books faster. Also, it's not like I'm reading Finnegan's Wake or anything.

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