Hortense Mancini, Duchesse de Mazarin, was quite an interesting lady who did everything. She had a husband who knocked out female servants’ front teeth, she ran away from him, and became the mistress of King Charles II.

The Mazarinettes

Hortense was born in Rome in 1646 and was the daughter of Lorenzo Mancini and Girolama Mazzarini. The Mancini family was a quite powerful Italian family, and they had been for centuries. But, as we’ve seen with Bianca Maria Sforza, it’s not always the best thing for you if you come from a powerful Italian noble family. And, just like with Bianca, Hortense’s father was assassinated when Hortense was only four years old (the same age Bianca was, anybody else notice that?).

Hortense’s mother sent her and her four sisters off to France to be raised by her brother, Cardinal Mazarin. The Cardinal was a powerful man who was very close to Anne of Austria, the mother of King Louis XIV.  With that influence, he could easily find good husbands for Hortense and her four sisters, and Hortense’s cousins also wanted good husbands, so they moved there too. Hortense also had a few brothers who weren’t really important.

Hortense’s sisters were Laure, Olympe (briefly an unofficial mistress of King Louis XIV), Anna Maria (whom Louis XIV was in love with, but she never became his mistress), and Marie Anne. Her cousins were named Anne Marie and Laure. Anna Maria, the one Louis XIV was in love with, was to be banished to a convent. And why, exactly? Because their mother believed Anna Maria was going to ruin their family because of some horoscope or something, she told Cardinal Mazarin, “shut Marie up in a convent and keep her there.” She got out of that, thankfully, and married an Italian prince.

The seven of them became known at the French court as the Mazarinettes. Anne of Austria liked the girls and took them under her wing. She treated them well, and, altogether, the Mazarinettes really enjoyed their time in France. The Cardinal, meanwhile, was busy finding them husbands, and he succeeded. Only with Hortense, he definitely could’ve done better.

King Charles I of England had been executed, and there was a ton of civil war stuff going on over in England. His son, now known as Charles II, his wife, Henrietta Maria, and most of his children were in exile in France, trying to regain their throne. Hortense was also in France, and she was really pretty and powerful. She could be an amazing alliance, and also a good wife, so great for him.

Hortense and her sister, Anna Maria

Charles II proposed to Hortense, but Cardinal Mazarin was like, “my sister asked me to find a good husband for her, not an exiled ugly guy with bad hair,” and said no. He really regretted that once Charles regained his throne and the Cardinal realized he could’ve made his niece a queen. He tried to get Charles to marry Hortense after Charles became king, but Charles was like, “you’re ugly, I’m king, what are you gonna do about it?” And Cardinal Mazarin walked away sadly.

So, now that he’d screwed everything up and made Hortense, not a queen, he did it again. I’m not even kidding. Hortense received a proposal from Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy, but it didn’t end up happening, since Charles Emmanuel wanted a castle as part of Hortense’s dowry that Cardinal Mazarin didn’t want to give up.

The other Mazarinettes were having much better luck, though. Her cousin, Anne Marie married the Prince of Conti, while her other cousin, Laure, married Alfonso IV d’Este, becoming the mother of Mary of Modena, a future king of England. (Mary of Modena married King James II, the younger brother of Hortense’s almost-husband, King Charles II.) There was another proposal from Charles V, Duke of Lorraine, but Cardinal Mazarin rejected him, too.

The Weird Old Man

And, at the very end of Cardinal Mazarin’s life, he found a husband for our Mazarinette. Hortense was married off to Armand-Charles, the Duc de Meilleraye. Hortense was only fifteen, while Armand was like thirty. Armand got a bunch of cool new titles after marrying Hortense, including Duc de Mazarin, making Hortense the Duchesse de Mazarin. Amazing, right? Well, Hortense found herself married to a weird old man. A really weird old man.

Armand was, well, a bit loony. He was actually a bit mentally unstable, which is quite obvious from what he does. Hortense couldn’t even speak to a man without Armand getting all jealous and crazy. He would search Hortense’s rooms every night to check for lovers and would lock her in her room once he was sure she wasn’t being unfaithful.

And oh, Armand’s poor female servants. He would have his female servants’ front teeth knocked out so that they’d look less attractive, and didn’t want them to milk cows. That is just completely weird thank you very much. Armand would also get rid of any nudity in the art he owned, which is weird because he’s technically destroying works of art and stuff. After giving birth to a son, Hortense tried to just hang out at court, but Armand literally barricaded all the exits to the house and made her stay inside.

Arman might have been the richest dude in Europe, but he was totally crazy. And poor Hortense was quite miserable having to live with Armand. Hortense began an affair with a woman named Sidonie de Courcelles, but Armand was horrible and couldn’t tolerate his wife being happy, so he had both of the poor ladies to a convent. Hortense and Sidonie just enjoyed their lives and their time locked up in the convent, and it was totally fine with them.

Armand and Hortense had four children together: Marie Charlotte, Marie Anne, Marie Olympe, and Paul Jules, then she did something really cool that not many women tried to do in the 17th century: she ran away. She left her children behind, and her brother helped her flee to Rome. Louis XIV and one guy she almost married, Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy, actually helped her and financially supported her.

Hortense became Charles Emmanuel’s mistress until his death. Once he died, things started getting bad for Hortense, but only very briefly. Charles Emmanuel’s wife kicked Hortense, his mistress, out, and Armand froze her income, meaning that the pension that Louis XIV was giving her was no longer ending up in her pocket.

The English ambassador to France, Ralph Montagu, was like, “Hortense, I see you’re broke. How about you come to England and help me out with something there?” Montagu needed help with getting rid of King Charles II’s mistress, Louise de Kerouaille, and he was totally fine with Hortense taking over the role. It would be easy for the still young and beautiful Hortense, and she would definitely be in a better position than she was in now.

Royal Mistress

Hortense went to England, dressed as a man, and quite quickly achieved her goal of becoming Charles’s mistress, leaving Louise de Kerouaille sobbing in a corner over her lost lover (Louise actually was quite distressed that Charles was hanging out with Hortense instead of her now).

Hortense just continued being amazing. She was the king’s mistress, and sure it was a step down from Queen, which she might’ve been if Cardinal Mazarin hadn’t messed things up for her all those years ago, but it was still better to be a royal mistress than to be anywhere near Armand. It was even better because, even though the English called her The Italian Whore for it, she finally had a little freedom. She may have also had an affair with Aphra Behn, the lady who wrote The History of the Nun, around this time.


Then there was the Affair of the Poisons, which is basically when the French government was frightened very much of poisoners. After the arrest of Catherine Monvoisin, known as La Voisin, she implicated Hortense’s sister, Olympe. Remember how Olympe was briefly Louis XIV’s mistress? Well, she was apparently trying to poison his new mistress, Louise de La Valliere.

Hortense’s sister poisoning the French royal mistress and the English calling Hortense “The Italian Whore was not quite good for King Charles. Hortense also started an affair with Charles’s daughter, Anne Lennard. Anne and Hortense had a fencing duel in only their nightgowns, after which Anne’s husband banished her to a convent. Hortense then had an affair with the Prince of Monaco, and by then Charles had just had it with Hortense.

Charles continued paying her pension, but his old mistress got her position back. I’m sure that was completely fine with Hortense: she had her money, she could do whatever she wanted. Hortense continued holding her salons, where people, including women, drank, gambled, and had a lot of fun. Hortense and her sister even wrote their memoirs, which wasn’t something noblewomen normally did then.

Once Charles died, his successor, James II (whose wife, Mary of Modena, was Hortense’s niece), continued paying Hortense a pension, and after his daughter and son-in-law chased him off the throne, James’s successors Mary II and William III still paid her. Hortense lived in England for the rest of her life, and died in 1699, at the age of 53. The writer John Evelyn wrote this of Hortense’s death:

Now died the famous Duchess of Mazarin. She had been the richest lady in Europe; she was niece to Cardinal Mazarin, and was married to the richest subject in Europe, as was said; she was born at Rome, educated in France, and was an extraordinary beauty and wit, but dissolute, and impatient of matrimonial restraint, so as to be abandoned by her husband, and banished: when she came to England for shelter, lived on a pension given her here, and is reported to have hastened her death by intemperate drinking strong spirits. She has written her own story and adventures, and so has her other extravagant sister, wife to the noble Colonna family.

John Evelyn

Apparently, Hortense may have drunk herself to death, but we don’t know if that’s actually true. But Armand. He couldn’t leave her alone, even after she died. He got ahold of Hortense’s corpse and took it with him everywhere he went with the hope of humiliating Hortense. Eventually, he let her be buried with her uncle, Cardinal Mazarin. And that was the life of our second-youngest Mazarinette.

The De Nesle Sisters

Hortense’s son, Paul Jules, had a daughter. His daughter had five famous daughters, the famous De Mailly-Nesle sisters. Four of them became mistresses of King Louis XV, the great-grandson of Louis XIV. They were Louise Julie, Pauline Felicite, Diane Adelaide, and Marie Anne. The only one out of the five sisters who never became a royal mistress was Hortense Felicite de Mailly, the one named after Hortense Mancini, Duchesse de Mazarin.

Click here to see more portraits of Hortense that weren’t included here.

5 thoughts on “Hortense Mancini: The Duchess Who Ran Away

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