The Kings' Mistresses

The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin


By Elizabeth C. Goldsmith

Formats and Prices




$46.00 CAD



  1. Hardcover $36.00 $46.00 CAD
  2. ebook $13.99 $17.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 3, 2012. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

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 and Hortense, however, had other ambitions in mind altogether. Miserable in their marriages and determined to live independently, they abandoned their husbands in secret and began lives of extraordinary daring on the run and in the public eye. The beguiling sisters quickly won the affections of noblemen and kings alike. Their flight became popular fodder for salon conversation and tabloids, and was closely followed by seventeenth-century European society. The Countess of Grignan remarked that they were traveling “like two heroines out of a novel.” Others gossiped that they “were roaming the countryside in pursuit of wandering lovers. “Their scandalous behavior — disguising themselves as men, gambling, and publicly disputing with their husbands — served as more than just entertainment. It sparked discussions across Europe concerning the legal rights of husbands over their wives. Elizabeth Goldsmith’s vibrant biography of the Mancini sisters — drawn from personal papers of the players involved and the tabloids of the time — illuminates the lives of two pioneering free spirits who were feminists long before the word existed.


  • “The Mancini sisters demanded a freedom that law and custom denied their sex. Goldsmith shows the high price both women paid for this freedom, while celebrating the liberated spirit with which they pursued it. The book is a page-turner; it is also good history.”Publishers Weekly
    "[A]n atmospheric, absorbing tale of 17th-century female media stars taking charge of their own lives."Booklist
    "This ribald tale works all the better because it is true…. Culling their correspondence and memoirs, Goldsmith is able to paint a vivid portrait of two remarkably daring free spirits who paved the way for centuries of women stifled and exploited by both men and societal constraints…. Revolutionary, cutting-edge, and inspiring, their lives are worthy of revisiting."Library Journal"Goldsmith presents the sisters as pioneers who embraced notoriety by publishing accounts of their unconventional lives. Their prominence during the emergence of print journalism prompted debates on women's rights, marriage, and property laws….[A] spirited account that humanizes the experiences of 17th-century women.”
    Women's Review of Books
  • “The bigger scandal in this fascinating double biography is not the bold behavior of its aristocratic heroines, whose colorful lives a novelist would envy—but the shocking treatment they endured at the hands of the powerful men who sought to punish them for seeking their independence. The lengths they went to bring the Mancini sisters to heel will leave readers shocked, wishing they could turn back the hands of time to champion these courageous survivors themselves.” Barbara Diefendorf, Professor of History, Boston University, author of Beneath The Cross
  • Kirkus Reviews
    "The story of the 17th-century version of the Kardashian sisters, but with the added touch of brains, literacy and class…. [T]he story moves along at a swift pace…. [F]ascinating."Dr. Amanda Foreman, FRSA, author of Georgiana and A World on Fire“A fascinating account of two genuine rebels—seventeenth century sisters who fought for the sisterhood, and throughout their extraordinary adventures always gave as good as they got. The Kings' Mistresses succeeds in being both entertaining and highly instructive." Susan Holloway Scott, author of The Countess & the King"At last two of history's most fascinating sisters have the book they deserve. Rich with period detail and thoughtful research, this is biography at its very best: the intertwined story of two women who refused to be ruled by either husbands or kings, and dared instead to create their own destiny." Leslie Carroll, author of Royal Affairs

On Sale
Apr 3, 2012
Page Count
288 pages

Elizabeth C. Goldsmith

About the Author

Elizabeth C. Goldsmith is a professor of French 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.

Learn more about this author