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The Kings' Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess… (2012)

by Elizabeth C. Goldsmith

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12122170,745 (3.66)10
The little-known story of two spirited sisters who flaunted every social convention of 17th century Europe in their determination to live independently.



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An interesting look at two 17th-century women who lived extraordinary lives for their era. The sisters Marie and Hortense Mancini shared many experiences, including being loved by monarchs and leaving unhappy marriages to pursue independent lives. Goldsmith does an excellent job of looking at these women as ones before their time who employed unpredictability as a strategy to live separately from their husbands. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | May 28, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
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 somewhat disingenuous. I can't imagine that the Venn diagram of "those interested in the Kardashians" and "those interested in biographies of seventeenth century French women" intersects a great deal, so as a marketing tool it's a mystery (and something of a turn-off). Moreover, to talk about their "liberated lives" is the sure sign of a marketing wonk who didn't actually read the text.

Marie and Hortense admittedly both spent much of their lives separated from their controlling and abusive husbands, but they spent them on the run, in a perilous legal situation, subject to the constant fear of imprisonment or physical retribution, often impoverished and separated from family and friends. Their status as members of the Italian aristocracy and nieces of a cardinal who achieved great political power in France didn't prevent them from experiencing the brunt of the gendered expectations of the day, and "liberated" seems an uneasy word to apply to the sisters.

Goldsmith writes fluidly, and this short biography (just over 200 pages) is a quick and easy read. It does, however, betray her roots as a lit scholar and not a historian—we don't get much context here, little explanation of why the sisters' lives are important or what they tell us about the bigger picture concerning the lives of aristocratic women of the time. Marie and Hortense seem to have left behind a treasure trove of documentation, but Goldsmith doesn't seem to exploit it as much as she could. I would very much have liked to know more about the women's relationship with their children, for example, but it was largely glossed over in the text. There were one or two minor errors that I noted as well (Louis XIV reigned for 72 years, not 55, for example). Still, at the very least an interesting read about two women who are largely, if undeservedly, forgotten, and an indication that much more work could profitably be done on their lives. ( )
  siriaeve | Aug 17, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I had never heard of the Mancini sisters and did not know what to expect from this book. I found this biography interesting and well written and the lives of these two sisters to be fascinating. Throughout the book, I was routing for them, hoping that they would finally be able to enjoy a life of freedom. These two women were famous (or maybe infamous is a better term) in their day. Marie and Louis XIV of France had been lovers when they were young and became acquainted with one another in the French court. Hortense would one day become the mistress of King Charles of England.

Marie and Hortense were born in Italy and were the nieces of Cardinal Jules Mazarin who was very wealthy and had attained much influence in the French court. He also had one of the largest art collections in all of Europe. He brought his nieces to France and before dying he arranged marriages for them. Neither Marie, nor Hortense were happy with their marriages and decided to escape their husbands. The bravery of these two women was amazing. They had to fight the societal norms which did not allow women many rights. Their story saddened me, as I read how they suffered. Their husbands took away their dowrys, they were not allowed to see their children, they were hounded across Europe by their husbands, and they were not allowed to obtain divorces from their husbands. Even still, what they achieved in their life times was amazing.

The story that Elizabeth Goldsmith wove about these two women kept me turning page after page. She alternated between the lives of the two and I don't know which sister I was routing for more. I'm so glad that Goldsmith decided to tell us about these two courageous women who defied the patriarchal societies in which they were born. This is a must read for anyone interested in women's history. ( )
  gcamp | Aug 15, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I found this dual biography to two of the nieces of Cardinal Mazarin to be highly enjoyable. There seems to be a trend in recent biography of the comparison of one person to another in a dual or even a group biography. I think in this case the end result was excellent. Although I believe both these women are deserving of serious biographies in their own right.

I really enjoyed the fact that the women were portrayed as individuals as well as being depicted within the confines of their family and the era in which they lived. These women were fascinating! They dealt with innumerable problems and experiences incredible triumphs. I wish more emphasis would have been placed on their earlier lives. To me it seemed they just magically appeared at the French Court. Just a little more exposition on the history of the family and the time after their immediate births would have been interesting. ( )
  annesion | Jun 26, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
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 Duchesse of Mazarin on Hortense. But the title comes with a price, a boring husband. The unhappy couple take possession of Palais Mazarin, home to sumptuous quarters and one of the largest art collections. Hortense begins to cause a scandal in France, stemming from her desire to be rid of her husband and his fanatical behavior. Escaping France, she returns to Italy and her sister. The two quickly become the scandal of Rome. When the tension in Rome becomes unbearable, the two sisters begin their lifelong journeys around Europe, dodging jilted husbands, jealous women and the law.

These educated females became the envy of women everywhere. They fought the main stream conviction that women were subservient to men, deciding their own destiny and escaping for freedom. Marie seems more docile at first, but puts up a harrowing fight to preserve her life. Hortense, the wild child sister, never gives up or compromises. Even when she is out of options, she still fights. I have to say, while both sisters were relate able, I loved Hortense. Both lived fascinating lives, accomplishing many deeds. Both published memoirs in their own names, and fought for the right to live free of their husbands' will.This nonfiction book reads like fiction, as the sisters' antics keep the reader engaged. ( )
  allisonmacias | Jun 19, 2012 |
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