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The Kings' Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin
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The Kings' Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  384 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
The Mancini Sisters, Marie and Hortense, were born in Rome, brought to the court of Louis XIV of France, and strategically married off by their uncle, Cardinal Mazarin, to secure his political power base. Such was the life of many young women of the age: they had no independent status under the law and were entirely a part of their husband’s property once married.  

Marie a
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 3rd 2012 by PublicAffairs (first published April 1st 2012)
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Initially I was reluctant to read this non-fiction book as I found the title The Kings’ Mistresses a bit off putting. However, I had it already downloaded, and as I am currently reading 17th century English and French history it seemed appropriate. What has happened though is that I have spent two days glued to the pages of this book. There is nothing fluffy here; it is an absolutely fascinating account of these women’s lives.

The title is a bit misleading as the mistresses to kings bit is a very
BAM The Bibliomaniac
3.5 stars
Hortense and Maria Mancini were women ahead of their time. They were courageous trailblazers who stood up for their independence from forced marriage and seemed to never age throughout their stories. Carefree in the worst of times, they never let circumstances get the best of them and refused to let men make all of the decisions. I think I may admire them after reading this book.
Christy B
The Kings' Mistresses is a fabulous account of Marie and Hortense Mancini, two of the most scandalous and free-thinking women of their time.

Marie and Hortense were the nieces of Cardinal Mazarin. The two, along with their siblings were born in Rome and brought to Paris: Marie was 13 and Hortense, 9. Their uncle arranged marriages for both of them – Marie first, because she was a little too cozy with King Louis XIV.

However, both Marie and Hortense's marriages didn't go well. After producing seve
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about the Mancini sisters aside from Hortense having been a perspective wife to Charles II and later being his mistress. This is because of my love for Nell Gwynne and therefore, Hortense was “competition”. What better way to infuse my knowledge about this “forward” lady and her sister Marie than with Elizabeth C. Goldsmith’s, “The Kings’ Mistresses”?

Although dual biographies can pose problems (bias towards one of the figures, not enough information, or a lack of
Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
This was a very well done and unembellished biography of two fascinating sisters in Louis XIV's court and milieu. Their story is a stark reminder of how far the civil rights of women have come (at least in Western civilization) since those days when they were nothing more than property belonging to fathers and husbands. The extent to which their husbands forced their estranged wives into penury and confinement with the approval of the courts and society at large is utterly chilling. The price, l ...more
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I knew nothing of the Mancini sisters going into this book, but right from the start I knew their story was unique. The Kings Mistresses is well written and engaging, which is not always something that can be said for non-fiction. The two sisters caused sensations throughout Europe after fleeing from their husbands and while reading you really get a sense of just how much media coverage there was even in the 17th century. It seemed the sisters could hardly travel anywhere without being known. Af ...more
Tom Williams
Apr 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
I got a pre-publication review copy of the UK edition. It was an interesting read. Elizabeth Goldsmith has done good service in drawing attention to these women. She argues that their influence on the arts (they were great patrons of the theatre), on social mores and even on the legal position of women, makes them important, as well as fascinating, figures. Not being an expert on the late 17th century, I am not qualified to say if she is right, but she makes a convincing case. The 17th century m ...more
"... but one cannot always choose the life one would like to lead" (p. 125) This quote is from the memoirs of Hortense Mancini, Duchess of Mazarin. At the time it was written, even the King of France, Louis XIV, could not choose his marriage partner. A life determined by others fell most heavily on women. This book tells the story Hortense and her sister Marie who had the course of their lives determined by their influential uncle. By advising the young King Louis XIV and his mother, Cardinal M ...more
Mar 15, 2012 rated it liked it
I won the book, so looking forward to it.
I received the book for free through Goodreads First Read.

I love really history books. And this one is not a romance type novel, but more of a well written history. It is fascinating to learn about real people and their unusual lives. Hortense and Marie aristocrat by birth, were raised by all mean in in rich house and were Cardinal Mazarin's nieces. It is not only shows the life style on 16 th century, but how out of ordinary the characters in the book w
Jan 18, 2012 rated it liked it
I won this book through goodreads.

I enjoyed this non-fiction book. However, I feel it could have been done better. The research that went into the book appears to be excellent, the author seems to have a complete understanding of the times and events. But, I would have liked to see it put together a little more like a novel. Sometimes the time-line jumps forwad and backwards a few years. Some events or back story is just thrown in for justification. I feel that the sisters liberal efforts could
Jo Walton
This was fascinating, the material well handled and the parallel lives well drawn. If you're at all interested in the way it was and was not possible for women to manage their own lives in Italy, France and England in the period, you should read this.

At its best, biography gives you a window into time and place that formal histories can't give, because they tend to focus on period (and on period as divided up in the nineteenth century, reigns and eras) and even more so on place -- on one country
Jan 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
I won this book through GoodReads!

I'm halfway through. Since this is a history book rather than a historical novel, it can stray to being a recitation of events rather than a narrative at times. The exerts of the sister's letters and journals keep it from getting too dry though. I have only one minor complaint about the writing. The author could have called out their ages a little more often as the story progresses. The sisters had such tumultuous lives it was hard to keep track of how old they
Nov 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
Dry, Dry, Dry
I always like reading about women from history I've never heard of, but who managed to make an incredible impact upon their contemporaries through their behaviour or ideas. The Mancini sisters are no exception, and their lives certainly were unconventional and exciting for the seventeenth century.

I only had a few problems with Goldsmith's work, which is why it didn't quite make a 5 star rating. Despite the fact that it was easy to read, I felt that it could have perhaps been a bit longer or more
Julie Barrett
Apr 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Faith Justice
Apr 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc-early-reader
This is an excerpt from a more comprehensive review available on my blog:

I love a good story about women pushing the boundaries in times past, especially when they are based on real people. The Kings' Mistresses is the true tale of two sisters: Marie Mancini and her younger sister Hortense, the nieces of one of the most powerful men in seventeenth century France, Cardinal Mazarin (a protégé of Richelieu.) In 1653 Marie, "a dark-haired and intelligent-looking adolescent of thirteen" and Hortense,
Both the title and some of the cover blurbs do a disservice to this serviceable biography: The Kings' Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin, the front cover states, while the back cover tells us that this is the "story of the 17th-century version of the Kardashian sisters." While Hortense Mancini was briefly a mistress of Charles II of England, Marie never had more than a teenage romance with Louis XIV, making the title somew ...more
This is a very competently written biography about two seventeenth century noblewomen who flee unhappy marriages, defying societal conventions to establish lives independent of their husbands. Their very public marital problems and their husbands' largely failed efforts to control them contributed to public debate about the rights of women, or at least of noble women. The book focused on the comparatively small, highly cultured and very well educated ruling class, leading lives of leisure. I lea ...more
Allison  Macias
Jan 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Marie and Hortense Mancini, two of five nieces of Cardinal Mazarin are gorgeous and affluent. Fresh from Rome, the girls amaze the French Court of the Sun King. Marie, the elder sister, catches the eye of the King. Their love is forbidden by her uncle and the Queen Mother. To help Louis forget Marie, she is sent to Rome to marry the Prince Colonna. Though the marriage is a happy one at first, it decays into a relationship fraught with distrust and tension. The dying Cardinal bestows the title of ...more
May 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
In the 17th-century, sisters Marie and Hortense Mancini married into wealth and nobility, but they soon discovered themselves desperately unhappy with their abusive husbands. Divorce at the time, was available, but extremely difficult, if not impossible, to acquire and fraught with scandal. Left with little choice, the two women fled, at times in each other 19s company, and other times alone. From Italy, France, and England, the women travelled and lived the high life, visiting and finding refug ...more
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Finally started this one over and finished it. Because its history/ non-fiction, I tend to read much slower than fiction. Plus work & school & life have all been super busy, so my reading is on the back burner in general right now.

Nonetheless, I finished this book and really enjoyed it. Goldsmith is a professor at Boston University and I got to hear her lecture about this book and her research last year - she was a very dynamic speaker, and I was instantly intrigued by the story of these
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is a biography of two famous sisters of the mid 17th century and their extradinary lives. They, Marie Mancini who became Princess Colonna and her younger sister Hortense who became the Duchess of Mazarin,were born into privelege as the nieces of Cardinal Mazarin of Italy. Cardinal Mazarin became an exceedingly wealthy and influential leader in European affairs. He was an intimate advisor to Louis XIII and ultimately became the French Prime Minister unedr the reign of Louis XIV. Cardina ...more
I did not read the write-up for this book very carefully and was expected historical fiction. Instead, it is a biography of two women who were "the first media celebrities...the first to print [their] life stor[ies] under [their] own name[s]...the first divorce case to be aired in teh media...the first women to travel for pleasure, adventure, and escape" (ARC page 225). There is certainly a lot of material for a whole series of historical fiction novels here (Philippa Gregory or Hollywood should ...more
May 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
The Kings’ Mistresses is a very entertaining account of sisters Marie and Hortense Mancini who caroused their way across Louis XIV’s Europe at a time when that was just not done. Their uncle, a powerful cardinal in France, tried to insure his legacy by arranging prestigious matches for his nieces before he died, but he made his decisions too hastily because both men soon became controlling and abusive. Defying the standards of the time Marie and Hortense escaped, fleeing their husbands and setti ...more
Mar 20, 2012 rated it liked it
I only read this because once a gazillion of years ago Marie Mancini showed up in Vicomte de Bragelonne and back then wikipedia didn't exist and well I was curious. The most interesting part would be how both Marie and Hortense separated themselves from their husbands and survived, in a way, in a time where divorce was not an option. Yet, it's hard to sympathize with Hortenese when every passage is about "seeking pleasure" I was not surprised at all by the manner of her death. Marie's separati ...more
Julie Ferguson
Sep 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Goldsmith tells the stories of two mistresses of Louis XIV early in his reign. The title is misleading as their time as the Sun King's mistresses was short. This book is about Marie and Hortense's battles to overcome unhappy marriages and to gain some independence in a time when wives were possessions of their husbands.

They were nieces of Cardinal Mazarin who brought them to Louis XIV's court as young girls, then married them off to remove them from the king. History has been unkind to them, por
Jun 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 4-stars
Lively and well-written, with generous use of equally engaging primary sources. It's not a deep or particularly analytical biography, but I enjoyed its positivity and its intense commitment to understanding these two interesting sisters on their own terms.

I came into this book already a fan of Hortense (because "the mistresses of Charles II" is one of my areas of interest in British history, alongside the following: Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Plantagenets, definitely not the Tudors ugh, sometimes
Feb 03, 2012 rated it liked it
This book was recieved free as part of the Goodreads Free Reader Program.

Well this is as much a history lesson as it is about a pair of sisters who seem to be out of their timeline.

As part of the story narrative we peek in on life in England, France, Italy, and Spain during the mid to late 1600's. Which means that while you have the story about the adventures of the two sisters you are also learning, very devious on the part of the author; but welcome.

Hortense and Marie just don't seem to want t
Chantal E. R. H.
Dec 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
I had never heard of these sisters, or if I had, I didn't remember them. They are very interesting women and I wish I had paid more attention if I had indeed heard of them before. The book is short and an extremely easy and quick read. I wish it had gone a bit more in depth, but it did a good job getting the two women's personalities and motives across. It was the perfect book to bring on vacation. Again, it was a bit of a lighter read than I wished it to be since the subjects were so fascinatin ...more
Jul 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Sometimes, I get a book, and I'm sure I will love it. I stalk it and I know that this book and I will walk on beaches, will share bottles of wine, and have cute book babies. This book should have been my one true love.

Instead, it was an awkward blind date where the convo lagged, the food was blah, and the evening was just long.

The information was good. The story was compelling. The writing was fine.

Yet, I never went "oh dear god, I must get back to that book." Instead, I was reading it and think
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Elizabeth C. Goldsmith is a professor of French and director of the study abroad curriculum at Boston University. She has written books on literature in the age of Louis XIV, focusing on letter correspondences and women's writing. She teaches courses on seventeenth-century theater and the novel, travel writing, and historical fiction.
More about Elizabeth C. Goldsmith...