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Grant Hayter-Menzies

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Shadow on Earth: Hortense Duchess Mazarin
by Grant Hayter-Menzies   

Last edited: Monday, April 14, 2003
Posted: Monday, April 14, 2003

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The life of Cardinal Mazarin's niece, Hortense Mancini, one of the 17th century's most compelling courtesans

SHADOW ON EARTH: Hortense Duchesse Mazarin [1646-1699]
by Grant Menzies
© 1999
(published in Family History Journal, Canterbury, UK and The European History Journal, No.5, 1998)

To seek i’the valley some cool friendly Spring ...
–John Milton [1608-1674]

Hortense Mancini, the next-to-youngest niece of Jules Cardinal Mazarin, emerges from the rich and gloomy tapestry of Louis XIV’s youth true to her name: all her life was a garden, and her lovers like flowers prettily tended. But she cannot be ranged with other horticulteuses de plaisir of the period, for she cultivated not for profit (like Barbara Castlemaine or Louise de Kéroualle) but for the sheer senseless beauty of her bountiful yield. This can be dangerous: a habit only great fortunes can support. People find a way to live the way they wish to live; and though Hortense Mancini inherited a great fortune, becoming at the age of 14 one of the richest women in Europe, she was not permitted to use it. Thus though her charms indeed went on the market, among the patrons of her bright stall was a King of England; and she came to him a duchess rather than, like many of his other flower-maidens, picking up her rank on the way out the bedchamber door.

Anne of Austria [1601-1666] was as much a politician as she was a great beauty. If we found that this queen born to be painted by the opulent Rubens had married Cardinal Mazarin we should hardly blame her and it should scarcely shock us: she did virtually everything else to make him happy. But we may be more correct in surmising that it was he who enjoyed the leverage to dispense favours. At any rate the Habsburg princess and Queen Dowager of France, having survived her marriage with that strange cold fish Louis XVIII [1601-1643] (the generally accepted father of both her son Louis XIV, product of one stormy winter night’s inconvenience, and his brother, Philippe), knew on what side her brioche was buttered—if she sought pleasure in the midst of her politics, who could cast the first fornication suit? Though Hortense Mancini and her sisters Olympe, Marie, Laure and Anne-Marie were by exalted French standards hardly fit to be tiring-women to the lowest-ranking occupant of the tabouret, and certainly not to a great lady of Queen Anne’s status, the ever-maternal, gemütlich Anne saw to it that these girls were reared at court with her eldest son. This was lucky for him, this brushing against the coloured dust of pretty wings, for Louis emerged only a portion as cold-blooded as his father.

As the Epicurean and eminently sane Charles de Marquetel, seigneur de Saint-Évremond, friend of Ninon de l’Enclos and Hortense’s most loving admirer, wrote of her, “[She was] brought up to be a queen, and [she] deserved to be one.” But having kings ask for one’s hand in marriage was not so simple a task, for Hortense had a peculiar uncle. Mazarin dowered his nieces to the crack of doom, roped and tied even formerly Frondish aristocratic husbands for them; but he could not resist putting himself and his name first: that name that only a few generations before, in Sicily, was not even a name, was not anything at all, which on the island had served little more than to help patrons remember the stall of a certain peddler of buttons and bows.1 Very likely some of his megalomania rubbed off on his royal charge Louis, who in his turn sacrificed his family, his nobility, and his country on the altar of amour propre, come a cropper just three-quarters of a century after his death in 1715.

One of the greatest tragedies in royal affaires de cœur is the still-born dalliance between Louis XIV and Marie Mancini, nipped in the bud by the Cardinal who desired above all else that young king’s marriage with the time-bomb princess Maria Teresa of Spain—Time has shown how well that bit of Mazarinesque statecraft worked. What was wrong with a Mancini queen of France? Louis did not seem to object; but then, as with Mme de Maintenon in later years, he proved himself ever willing to override his own rules where his own self-satisfaction was concerned. Marie Mancini, however, had by loving the king put herself squarely in the path of the avuncular plot to unite Spain and France in happy union, and the statesman-Cardinal who stopped at nothing was not about to let a niece get in his way. The Queen Mother finished off the affaire by attempting to instruct her son in the dos and don’ts of royal marriage (she who may have become Mme Jules Mazarin), as if the proposed mixture of medium-grade but healthy Italian blood with purple but sickly French would result in anything like the political explosion guaranteed by this sanctioned alchemy of royal Hatfields and McCoys. As if, indeed, nothing more than a friendly tennis net, rather than the Pyrenees, stretched between the two opponents.

It seemed far more sensible to deny Marie Mancini’s raison d’être, but then she and her sisters lived in an age when women were moved about the ballroom floor like pieces on a chessboard (ironically without the queen’s notorious freedom of movement), sometimes while still in the cradle, and the men who played with their fates usually gained from the men who won the game. To refuse to play was also a male prerogative but not so for the female, who if she tried to control her life’s trajectory more often than not got a quick taste of the nunnery, if not worse. Marie and Hortense Mancini were both to sample this gall to the dregs.

The Cardinal had his chance to meddle again when Charles of England, son of King Charles I and destined to become Britain’s “Merriest Monarch”, asked for the hand in marriage of Hortense Mancini.2 True, the young prince was in exile at the time; he had an unbearably Jesuitical mother; and it might have looked to ordinary bystanders as if he would never regain his father’s throne. And did it matter that he was actually quite fond of the girl (not to mention her potentially useful future fortune)? Mazarin, with his finger always on the pulse of world affairs, very likely knew better, if better was to be known. Yet if he did see more in his crystal ball he ignored it. What king asks twice for the same wife? Charles Stuart did. But Charles II of England as future dependent of Louis XIV of France was far more to the Cardinal’s taste than Charles as the enriched and independent husband of Hortense Mancini.

Hortense, for reasons so illogical as that she was the prettiest bird in the avuncular aviary, was made heir to the bulk of Cardinal Mazarin’s considerable riches and, most important of all, of his name. So instead of Charles II of England or Charles-Emmanuel of Savoy or even Louis XIV himself, Mazarin saw fit to engage his niece to a man who, at age 24, had fallen madly, weirdly in love with the 10-year-old child: the Marquis de la Porte de la Meilleraye, a cousin of the late Cardinal Richelieu’s. (Indeed, the Marquis’ frenzied public behaviour toward the little girl would, by today’s suspicious Freudian standards, likely land him rapidly in police custody.)

Mazarin, admittedly, had offered the Marquis his niece Olympe (she who became Comtesse de Soissons and mother [by Louis XIV?] of Prince Eugène of Savoy)—plain, somewhat harsh in manner, madly devoted to astrology, but intelligent and closer to the young man’s age. But the infatuated Marquis turned him down cold. No, he would have Hortense Mancini, still playing with her dolls, or he would perish—a predilection for little girls which ran in the family, along with no small dose of madness.

But, reminded the Cardinal, Hortense was his shadow on earth. Was the Marquis prepared to give up ancient name and title in return for the newer but far better gilded one of Mazarin? The Marquis agreed. Thus he and the by now post-pubescent Hortense were married and assumed like the regalia of some pompous religious order the titles of Duc and Duchesse Mazarin.

And now the Marquis’ tender excitement was over. What followed marriage was child after child—four in all—born in the most dismal surroundings the increasingly saintly and insane Duc could procure; the most ramshackle, heatless, servantless of his estates would do very well for the edification of the soul of his flighty, court-bred Duchesse. Upon the death of her uncle in 1661, Hortense had become rich beyond most people’s understanding of the term, but as wife of the Duc she also became one of the most hounded and unhappy wives of the hard-hearted 17th century.

The Duchesse, after all, had always loved a good laugh, loved bright clothes, loved broad gardens where she could stroll strumming a guitar. She was silly in a rather Roman way, tossing coins from windowsills and giggling to see the servants scrambling for them in the courtyard below. Those persons of her acquaintance who had wondered at the Cardinal’s sanity in appointing to his niece so disturbed a husband now wondered how long that niece’s “Roman fortitude” would hold up. Her bravery cannot be discounted for the Duc rapidly metamorphosed into the frothing religious fanatic of his day, good (or bad) enough to be used by Molière as the model for the hypocritical Orgon in Tartuffe. He only topped this performance by becoming the most zealous litigant of the age, only happy when he had a hundred lawsuits twirling about him like plates on sticks at a circus. The flower of a woman he had married had not a chance planted in this arid soil.

One must keep in mind that the actor-producer-director of this one-man morality play walked on and ate off of Mazarin gold—Mazarin, with whom he merely shared a taste for egoism. Sadly, the Cardinal’s preference for undraped statuary and pictures evoked from the Duc on one memorable occasion a response to beauty in which a cudgel was brought into play. Onlookers might pick their way through a room littered with fragments of marble to which a chisel had last been applied in Greek or Roman times and the torn silks and silver threads of Flemish hangings; view the black-splotched canvases across which Coreggio’s or Titian’s gilt brush had trained a play of sunset light; might think, indeed, know: “The Duc’s mad.” Life was little different for Hortense. She who did nothing not to deserve love and appreciation, who could spin hope out of a hopeless situation, also ran the risk of having that loveliness chipped away, torn to pieces, splashed black, by the hand of her husband’s fanaticism.

In those days convents resembled halfway houses (Eleanor of Aquitaine’s own convent at Fontevrault had expressly taken in the battered wives of ungentlemanly noblemen); and due to the Duc’s impatience with her evil light-hearted ways, Hortense Mazarin came to know them well. However, she made much the same impression as a frantic bird-of-paradise which a storm has blown off course into a flock of contented pigeons. These last were the convent nuns, and they were not amused, particularly when during one convent stay Hortense and her friend Sidonie de Courcelles, similarly incarcerated by her spouse, coursed their dogs up and down a corridor, faster and faster, eliciting from the animals much barking and panting and from the nuns who were trying to get some shut-eye more than just a few sighs of irritation. Of course the good sisters were even less disposed toward these women, by modern standards still young girls, when they filled a tub with water up in the top floors, hoping to have a bath, and the conventual cots were found sopping from a leak in the ceiling.

Hortense’s most famous scene occurred when the Duc reversed his normal course of action and tried to have his wife removed by force from a convent, this time the Benedictine splendour of Chelles outside Paris, upon which Hortense’s sister Marie-Anne (patroness of the poet La Fontaine) and her brothers-in-law rode colourfully to her rescue, topped off with a rebuke from the Duc’s own aunt, the abbess of Chelles. Hortense fanned the Duc’s rage ever higher by sneering at him through the gates.

Further development of this melodrama, however, was canceled mid-act by Louis XIV’s busy-body meddling and his decree that the troublesome Duc and Duchesse Mazarin must resume conjugal life in the Mazarin palace. The success of this assay at marriage counseling can best be comprehended in the still delightful laugh, echoing down through the centuries, of the Duchesse when the Duc suggested that living in the same house also meant sharing the same bed. There is even something delightful, if tragically ominous, about the Duchesse’s flight from Paris shortly thereafter—she forgot her jewel-case (her ready cash), had to turn back to fetch it, miraculously without being caught; and then leaving her husband, children and disastrous marriage behind she sped into the warm darkness of a June night, dressed as a man and her maid with her, destination: Italy. One man’s unbearable harassment could only be escaped by appealing not to the authorities, for Louis had already declared which side, and which sex, on which smiled his favour, but by leaving France entirely. It was the first of her many journeys, so we may read her inexperience of fugitive life in her credulous belief that the lucky cradle of her forebears, the homeland of her sister Marie, now Princess Colonna, would receive the homeless Hortense with open arms.

The Italian sojourn was delayed somewhat: the gallant Duc de Lorraine received Hortense with a typical sneer at the House of Bourbon, protecting the Duchesse from threats of arrest now raining down on her head. More Hortense-like, however, the lost time was mostly due to the Duchesse injuring her knee while chasing her maid Nanon, the girl having pulled the brush too forcefully through her mistress’ curly black locks—a bruise more the result of the Duchesse’s laughter than displeasure. A quarantine-enforced stay in Altorf, Switzerland, along with the pain from her swollen knee, was ameliorated for Hortense by the presence of a young squire named Courbeville who had accompanied her coach in flight and was now “nursing” her back to health atop the Alps. The news of this development, reaching the fuming Duc, allowed him to give way to a moralistic feu d’artifice. But it did not stop the flower’s progress down the stream fate had chosen.

Hortense knocked at various doors in Rome: the palace of former Queen Christina of Sweden; the house of her uncle Cardinal Mancini. Queen Christina was willing but for political reasons unable to oblige, while the Cardinal changed the rules of Christian charity to suit himself and forbade her his halls. Hortense (and Courbeville) was finally taken in by her unhappy sister Marie, only to become embroiled in the princess’s own domestic drama.

Marie believed, whether credibly or not, that her husband had tried to poison her, this same Prince Colonna who had had the open gall to give one of his bastard daughters the same name as his wife. Hortense’s flight from Paris, and probably her indefatigable high spirits in relating the beneficial effects of same, soon got the better of the Princess Colonna’s once well-known sense of judgment, culminating in the Mancini sisters’ flight from Italy back to France with only some jewels and the clothes on their backs. After dodging the Duc’s deputies there and parting company with Marie (who was now to have her own spousal deputies to dodge), Hortense made her way on horseback to Savoy, whose reigning Duc, Charles-Emmanuel, was one of her would-have-been-husbands.

Of course, Charles-Emmanuel was now married to Jeanne-Baptiste of Savoy-Nemours but this did not signify; and shortly Hortense was set up in a château all her own. Whether this gilded retirement was the best thing for Hortense one cannot say for like many other tasks she set herself, she here began her mémoirs with the help of the besotted (but probably unrequited) César Vichaud, Abbé de Saint-Réal,3 only to leave it unfinished beyond her 25th year. The scenery of this chapter of her life’s novel was entirely too enchanting to allow ruminations on the future to intrude. The snowy Savoyard mountains were there; high towers waved bright pennons above cool billows of trees; emerald lawns lay ornamented with the flowers that were her delight, where picnics became holy rites of pleasure. Was the renegade Duchesse to sit before her writing-table when all this life was still happening before the face of heaven?

What this setting up entailed is somewhat difficult to assess for we have no decisive proof, one way or the other, that Hortense became the mistress of her benefactor. However we do have some telling hints. We know that Charles-Emmanuel wrote to Hortense every day and spent as much time with her as he could; and we also know that when he died suddenly in 1675 the Duchesse Jeanne-Baptiste, now regent and glorying in her dowager freedom in the Madama Palace, ejected Hortense from her brief paradise—a rather rash reaction on the Dowager Duchesse’s part which tends to clarify a detail or two of the late Duc’s arrangements.

Now again without a château to call her own, Europe’s great heiress and most victimized wife rode her horse through Geneva with an escort, talking, as Sidonie de Courcelles heard it, of nothing but music and hunting-parties; traversed battle-ravaged Germany; came within, it was said, some twenty miles of Paris and her husband before entering London that December, again on horseback and dressed in the ubiquitous men’s clothing. The Duc Mazarin, who so frequently hurled his francisca at her from afar, if not able to claim this property as his own was at least able to keep his Duchesse poor. But Hortense had the delicious revenge on both him and her deceased uncle by becoming mistress to King Charles II, true at least to the Cardinal’s apparent policy whereby he preferred his nieces be whores, rather than wives, of kings.4

Hortense was 31-years-old by this time, five years Nell Gwynn’s senior and, as an anonymous satirist put it, “as old as the Queen”. However she was still strikingly lovely, she was the only one of Charles’ mistresses who owned and read books (the Duchess of Portsmouth could neither read nor write), and was plainly irresistible—old Edmund Waller likened “fair Mazarine” to a new Roman invasion of the British Isles, Albion yielding to her arms as she had done to Caesar.

Soon the Duchesse had a “Little Palace” on the grounds of St James and the well-upholstered (and expensive) Louise de Kéroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth—“Fubbs” to her royal patron—began to wonder where all her own efforts would end in the face of this Mazarin onslaught. She overestimated the Duchesse’s politics but not her power to charm. In fact when “Fubbs” displayed herself during this trying period with a bruised and swollen face, the result of an injury to her eye, she came to know Hortense’s constituency when the court wits accused the pale Louise of trying to transform herself into a glamourous brunette like the Duchesse Mazarin. In typical style “pretty witty Nelly” went a step further and appeared at court in mourning: for the Duchess of Portsmouth’s “dead hopes”.

For all her lack of ambition, Hortense did out-diplomat the diplomatic Bretonne by shrewdly making friends (such as was possible for anyone to do) with Catherine Sedley, another of the royal concubines and from much the same sort of background as herself, who had turned to whoredom as much from boredom as for any other reason, except that Hortense was obliged to do so to keep a roof over her head while Catherine thereby kept truffles on the table. Catherine Sedley was gaunt, bold, brash and proud, disliking being compared to “those other whores”, while Hortense was rich with that amplitude that gleams in the portraits by Sir Peter Lely like the bright lining of a sea-shell. Both especially found common ground of agreement on the subject of convents. Catherine’s mother, having “gone mad”, had been confined to one and nothing Hortense had to relate about her own experiences increased either woman’s respect for those hallowed institutions. With Nell Gwynn a distant dream and Louise de Kéroualle a fading fancy, Hortense, beauty and bluestocking in one, soon became famous for the pleasures, intellectual and otherwise, of her “Little Palace” salon, all while the armada of the Duc’s outrage hovered powerless on the other side of the Channel.

Alas, Hortense’s love of l’acte gratuite was as strong as, if not stronger than, her affection for her former suitor the king, and she offended the royal double-standard while enjoying the role of Charles’ maitresse due to a little affaire with the lady-killer Prince of Monaco, thereby losing, if not her stipend, at least her place in the king’s bedding-order. She was still to be found in his company, however—Charles was no fool—for the diarist John Evelyn saw the king on the last Sunday of his life, at the end of January 1685, “toying with his concubines Portsmouth, Cleveland [Barbara Villiers], and Mazarin, &c, and a French boy singing love-songs, in that glorious gallery....”

Indeed, it is possible that Hortense Mazarin was the one woman in Charles II’s harem (or experience) for whom the royal counterpane proved something of a disappointment. Certainly Charles took it badly, used to whimperers like Portsmouth or merchants like Cleveland, who clung with all their might to the jeweled galley oars. It was also to the Duchesse’s credit that, unlike the actress Moll Davis, she was never to hide from Charles’ long-suffering wife, shivering behind a tapestry nor to hear Queen Catherine’s double-edged remark that she had best withdraw, lest “the pretty little fool” catch her death of cold. Likely as not, Hortense herself would never have used this Shakespearean expedient in the first place but stood before the genial Catherine as composed in her naked perfection as Praxitiles would have her. Self-possessed, titled, well-educated (and, according to Charles’ biographer Hester Chapman, as receptive to female companionship as male5), accustomed to as grand an atmosphere as Charles was and indeed once properly sought after as his wife; and with all the calm assurance of a great beauty who needs no letters of introduction: Hortense Mazarin was dangerous stuff. Had she married Charles, can we not guess at her happy treatment of all the Nells and Louises and Molls that bloomed and faded in the king’s ever fertile fields? Can we not see her gladly giving the handsome Stuart the key to her treasury, obviating Charles’ years on Louis XIV’s dole and the negative French politics brought with them? From them could one not expect, looking at these two dark beauties of their age, these minds merry yet not unacquainted with the sweat of pursuit, the terror of poverty, the regret of lost fortune, darkly beautiful, happily intelligent children, labouring under no taint of bastardy or secretly nursed Catholicism, charms to break the ill-luck of the fate-dogged Stuarts?

The loss of Charles’ influence did not wreak the havoc upon Hortense Mazarin that it did upon the terrified and spendthrift Duchess of Portsmouth. As a cousin of the new queen, haunted-eyed Mary of Modena, wife of Charles’ brother and successor King James II, Hortense was free to remain in England; and when James fled and William and Protestantism reigned anew in 1689 Hortense is still there though with a reduced pension. Her yearly gain of £ 4,000 under Charles II was as much a thing of the past as the late king, but her popularity had suffered no setback. The continued delightfulness of her person is attested by the fact that she was more than decently received at court by the difficult Queen Mary, William’s consort, while dark, sardonic Catherine Sedley, one of James II’s former “ladies”, she who had caused Mary of Modena’s tears to fall like unto a Niobe, earned from the queen more than her share of “icy looks”. (Unlike Hortense, however, Catherine Sedley was physically made of tougher fibre: she ended her long life an opinionated old lady, “covered in diamonds”.)

From a smaller house near Kensington Palace the Duchesse Mazarin took a cosy place in what was then the countryside at Chelsea, in Paradise Row, to which she would often return from parties heedless of thieves or miasmas. This was a time in her life when the great beauty, the famed adventuress, the pursued wife, seemed to prefer calmer shores, quieter groves. Yet none of this was proof against her powerful need for love—indeed, the perfect motto for Hortense Mazarin could be said to be a variation of Descartes’ famous maxim: amo ergo sum. I love, therefore I am. Whether she was ever able to give much of herself in return is rather less certain. “Her eyes [are] neither blue nor gray nor altogether black....” wrote the Abbé de Saint-Réal. “Eyes that were made to be loved, but not to love.” The Abbé knew too well of what he spoke. All the hunger that might have led Hortense to spend her millions, had she access to them, as her uncle had spent them, purchasing the drapery Happiness left behind when she presented herself naked to the more worthy, was instead turned to more human uses; and when there was not love in the Duchesse Mazarin’s life, she who could not generate it for herself felt truly bankrupt.

Her current inamorato was the Earl of Albemarle, Arnold Joost van Keppel, rumoured love interest of none other than King William III of England. Van Keppel, however, was adept at this apparent balancing act (as, it appears, was the Duchesse herself) and certainly went on to leap to the heterosexual side of the fence with a vengeance. Hortense was more than twenty years older than the Earl so that the entrance upon the stage of a younger woman creates for us a familiar scenario. Adding stridency to the plot is the fact that this young woman was Hortense’s own daughter, Marie-Charlotte, Marquise de Richelieu, who had carried on the family tradition by vaulting a convent wall, having been put behind it by her husband and father, to seek her fortune in freedom.6 But here we have no kindly resigned Marschallin, no gallant Octavian, no unworldly Sophie, and the music no lush Straussian paradise but a bleak and perhaps surprising desert of dissonance.

Hortense reacted in the worst possible way, with jealousy and anger and a wail of sheer anguish. Having turned to the poor solace of brandy that fuddled her wits and food that augmented her already matronly figure, Hortense pulled strings with the king to have her daughter sent out of the country; and then she had the further grievous experience of watching Albermarle go after her: no proper comic opera should end in this fashion. So, the Duchesse turned to tragedy. Her life, like several such operas combined, she chose to wind up Dido-like at age 53, smacking of the best of ancient Rome. In mid-July of 1699, the Duchesse locked herself in her little house and over the next week drank a concoction which ultimately poisoned and killed her.

There she was found surrounded by her parrots, monkeys, blackamoor and scads of unpaid bills. Incarceration in convents, the robbery of her fortune, the machinations of her deranged husband, the many bleak dawns which doubtless were her lot awakening beside a snoring “patron”—none of this seems to have struck her so mortal a blow as the aging of her flesh and the built-in fate of her May-December romance.

But she was as honest as ever. Hortense never mooned after her lost millions; all she wanted was to be able to live comfortably away from her husband (now the laughing-stock of French society) and the cruel distortion of Christian religion, of marital affection, with which he tormented her. It was the loss of love that proved her undoing. Even more pitiful is this grief over a love she must have known would end some time. “Heut’ oder morgen,” as the Marschallin sighs. But the Marschallin smiles through her tears. Hortense, perhaps, had a more demanding honour code.

The Duc Mazarin greedily had his wife’s body shipped from England, and after dragging the coffin about with him from one dreary provincial estate to another, for reasons known only to his mysterious brain, he finally placed it with due reverence at the foot of the tomb of her uncle Cardinal Mazarin: he would have her to heel at last.

Of all the wealth that was hers, of all the love her person inspired, what remains of Hortense Mazarin today are a few portraits by Mignard and Lely, and an important one in particular: her childhood face carved in marble, overlooking from the height of the church of SS Vincenzo and Anastasio the Piazza di Trevi and in the basin of its famous fountain a scattering of bright copper wishes. That and a sweet distant echo of laughter, a laughter as people no longer express it; perhaps, a joy they no longer feel. The names for conquest and everlasting life could not be more appropriate for this Duchesse of never-fading bloom; and as Saint-Évremond wrote in his last letter to the equally aged Ninon de l’Enclos: “Nobody can make more of youth than I, and as I am holding to it by memory, I am following your example, and fit in with the present as well as I know. Would to Heaven, Madame Mazarin had been of your opinion! She would still be living, but she desired to die the beauty of the world.... Live, Ninon; life is joyous when it is without sorrow.”

1Mazarin’s mother Hortense Bufalini, however, was the daughter of a nobleman and godchild of the Grand Constable Prince Colonna for whom Mazarin’s father Pietro served as steward. Marie Mancini’s husband was to tactlessly show her in later years in the home to which her marriage brought her, the quarters where her grandfather had lived “when he was our servant.”

2Charles II married his distant cousin, the plain but sensible Catherine of Braganza, who proved to be as barren in heirs male as she was fertile in tolerance of her husband’s countless extramarital transgressions. Indeed some of her behaviour when first at the court of the “King of Love” brings to mind the youthful disapproval registered by Marie Antoinette of Austria-Lorraine when confronted with her grandfather-in-law’s fille de joie, Mme du Barry. Queen Catherine, however, overcame her misgivings, rising superbly and sincerely to the occasion. But Hortense Mancini had proved more than once that she could produce healthy male heirs; and might not the fate of the Stuarts have taken a different turn had a legitimate lineage of Charles II via a Queen Hortense of England taken the throne instead of the radical King James II? Perhaps the fate of Britain itself? (the loss of local colour being the least of the traumas of 1714)

3John Harold Wilson, in Nell Gwynn: Royal Mistress, says that in Savoy Hortense “created so much scandal by an open affair with [the] Abbé de Saint-Réal that she was politely asked to leave’; the evidence, however, such as it is, seems to point more strongly toward a dalliance with the Duke of Savoy himself. Hortense did take Saint-Réal to England with her, but then she also brought along her blackamoor and coffee-service.

4The mistress destiny died hard: Hortense’s only son Paul-Jules Mazarin had a son Guy, who died without male issue, but his daughter Armande-Felicité became the wife of Louis de Mailly, marquis de Nesle. Four of their daughters became, each in her turn, mistresses of that etouffeur du déluge, King Louis XV of France.

5“[Hortense] remained in England till [Charles II.’s] death, having formed her own Court of fashionable Lesbians and impoverished intellectuals,” says Hester Chapman,in The Tragedy of Charles II. To what extent her fondness for male attire contributed to the rumour or betokened the orientation is unknown. Actress Nell Gwynn was known to delight the male segment of her audiences by wearing masculine attire in various roles, showing off her legs to their best advantage—reasoning to which the sensual Hortense was hardly immune.

6The Duc Mazarin was up to his old morality tricks again, ordering the wet-nurse in his daughter’s household not to give suck to his infant grandchildren on Fridays and Saturdays so that they could learn by this saintly starvation all there was to know early on about mortification of the flesh. This, in part, drove the marriage of the marquise de Richelieu to the breaking point and made necessary the conventual antidote. The Duc’s insanity had been just as virulent during Marie-Charlotte’s own childhood: she had barely escaped having to undergo her father’s plan to have her front teeth filed down to make her “less attractive” and, therefore, more virtuous. And her marriage almost never got under way to begin with as the Duc Mazarin, remembering that he and the marquis de Richelieu’s father had practiced upon one another in the palmy days of adolescence the “vice allemande”, feared that the nuptials of the marquis’ son and his daughter might (somehow) bear the unsightly stain of “incest.”

W.H. Overton, trans. & ed., Life, Letters and Epicurean Philosophy of Ninon de l’Enclos, The Lion Publishing Co., Chicago (1903)
Cyril Hughes Hartmann, The Vagabond Duchess: The Life of Hortense Mancini, Duchesse Mazarin, George Routledge & Sons, Ltd. (1926)
Paul Frischauer, Prince Eugene, trans. by Amethe Countess Zeppelin, Morrow & Sons, NY (1943)
Jeanine Delpech, The Life and Times of The Duchess of Portsmouth, trans. by Ann Lindsay, Roy Publishers, NY (1953)
John Harold Wilson, Nell Gwynn: Royal Mistress, Pellegrini & Cudahy, NY (1953)
W.H. Lewis, The Scandalous Regent, Brace & World, NY (1961)
Hester Chapman, The Tragedy of Charles II, Little, Brown & Co, Boston (1964)
François Mallet-Joris, The Uncompromising Heart: A Life of Marie Mancini, Louis XIV’s First Love, trans. by Patrick O’Brian, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, NY (1966)
Gilette Ziegler, At the Court of Versailles: Eyewitness Reports from the Reign of Louis XIV, Dutton (1968)
Toivo David Rosvall, The Mazarin Legacy: The Life of Hortense Mancini, Duchesse Mazarin, Viking Press, NY (1969)
Philippe Erlanger, The King’s Minion: Richelieu, Louis XIII, and the Affair of Cinq-Mars, Prentice-Hall, NY (1971)
Dulcie M. Ashdown, Royal Paramours, Dorset Press (1979)
René de la Croix, Duc de Castries, The Lives of the Kings and Queens of France, trans. by Anne Dobell, Knopf (1979)
Olivier Bernier, Louis the Beloved: The Life of Louis XV, Doubleday (1984)
Lady Antonia Fraser, The Weaker Vessel, Knopf (1984)


ANTOINE COFFIER-RUZÉ, marquis d’Éffiat
d. 1632; m. 1610 MARIE DE FOURCY

d. insane, aged 18, miscarriage; Lover of King Louis XIII
m. 1st aged 9 Gaspard d’Alègre; & executed for conspiring
taken from d’Alègre under Richelieu’s to assassinate Cardinal Richelieu orders and married off to his cousin—

Niece of Jules Cardinal Mazarin and his heir.



1602-1661 1608-1685 1614-1656
? m. Anne of Austria m. G. MARTINOZZI m. LORENZO MANCINI
Dowager Queen of France

1640-1687 1640-1715 1646-1699
m. 1656 m. 1661 m. 1661
Alfonso d’Este Prince Colonna ARMAND-CHARLES

m. JAMES II King of England 1666-1731

m. LOUIS DE MAILLY, marquis de Nesle

Les Mlles de Mailly, four of whom
were mistresses to King Louis XV,
save for #5—Hortense de Mailly

Reader Reviews for "Shadow on Earth: Hortense Duchess Mazarin"

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Reviewed by Nordette Adams 10/2/2004
Ahhhh, as they say in my neck of the woods, "Drama, drama, drama!" ;-) Your piece reminds me of the old Hollywood gossip writes about silver screen megastars, all tongue-in-cheek and name dropping with insights into what's really afoot behind closed doors and who's really calling the shots. Can't help but believe the court and its entourage looks down (or up) from wherever now and gets a kick out of this telling of their lives. :-)

An entertaining historical piece.
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