History Hoydens

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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

07 November 2007

HORTENSE MANCINI, CARDINAL SINNER

First a huuuuuuuuuge sigh of relief. Now I want to open the champagne!


I just turned in the manuscript for ROYAL AFFAIRS. It’s been about five months from soup to nuts—from being offered the opportunity to pen this delicious peek between the royal bedsheets to how to structure it, to all the research and writing—and then the cutting! My editor gave me page count parameters, and my first draft was about 150pp over the high end of that scale. My ruthless slashing to meet the page count left a couple of fascinating royal mistresses on the cutting room floor. Having a page count forced me to create a gold standard in order for a liaison to remain: since the subtitle of the book is A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy, I had to ask myself if the affair itself was really as scandalous as all that, when compared to others in the book.

Being a published writer sometimes means that you have to kill some of your darlings (for various reasons, space often being one of them) But one of many wonderful things about being a history hoyden is that I have a place to share some of the stuff that didn’t make the cut with a group of like-minded cyber friends. During my work on ROYAL AFFAIRS I fell in love with one absolutely compelling woman who I ended up having to excise, unless I have a few pages of wiggle room to sneak her back into the book. She was one of my favorite royal mistresses, but while she behaved rather scandalously, her love affair with Charles II didn’t raise too many eyebrows. The Brits had seen worse. A lot worse.

Hortense Mancini (1646-1699) was the favorite niece—and heiress—of the extremely powerful Cardinal Mazarin. Mazarin, who succeeded Richelieu as Cardinal, had been the lover of Anne of Austria, mother of the young Louis XIV; and on the death of Louis XIII, the Cardinal and Anne ruled France as co-regents until her son attained his majority.

Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661)
The teenage Hortense had enjoyed a passionate affair with the future Charles II when he was an exile in France, but at the time the Cardinal didn’t think the youth’s prospects were adequate enough, so he quashed Charles’s hopes of marriage to his vibrant niece. After the Restoration, however, Mazarin was quite willing to change his mind, offering to dower Hortense with twenty-eight million livres; but Charles’s advisors cautioned him against choosing a French queen, and the Cardinal’s offer was rejected.


Hortense was quite the catch. Her black hair tumbled to her waist; her sparkling eyes changed color with the light. She was tall and slender, an accomplished sportswoman, musician, and linguist. And of course her pedigree was impeccable. In short, other than being French, she would have made the perfect queen.

But her uncle had cruelly dashed her hopes. Instead, Hortense was married off at the age of fifteen to the clinically mad Armand de la Porte, Marquis de Meilleraye, whom the Cardinal made Duc de Mazarin so that his name would live on.


A religious fanatic and maniacal prude, Armand abused Hortense both mentally and psychologically. Any mention of something even remotely sexual drove him further off the deep end. It was the most dreadful match imaginable for the hedonistic Hortense, who realized that she had no alternative but to flee, which in 1666 she did—disguised as a man.

The cross-dressing, pistol and saber-wielding Hortense became an exotic adventuress, traveling to Savoy, where she became mistress to Charles Emmanuel II, the married Duke. She penned her memoirs—an exceptionally rare thing for a woman to do at the time—which justified her flight from her wacko spouse and expiated herself for her infidelities. When the Duke of Savoy died, his widow told Hortense in no uncertain terms that she was no longer a welcome houseguest. So the exotic adventuress hit the road once more, eventually arriving in London in 1675 at the age of thirty, with a train of twenty liveried nobles, a parrot, and little Moorish page boy named Mustapha. The French ambassador de Courtin had once described England as a haven for all women who had quarreled with their husbands, and Hortense was no exception.
Charles’s younger brother James and his new Duchess of York, Hortense’s relation, Mary of Modena, welcomed the colorful traveler into their social circle. Hortense briefly stayed at one of the Yorks’ houses in St. James’s, and was soon a fixture at court.

Mary of Modena, Duchess of York, later queen of England


According to the French ambassador, who was quite impressed with Hortense’s beauty and vivacity, he had never seen “anyone who so well defies the power of time and vice to disfigure.” In other words, Hortense’s debaucheries had not aged her nor dimmed her luster.


Charles’s old passion for her soon burned anew. “Mme. Mazarin is well satisfied with the conversation she had with the king of England,” reported the French envoy. One result of this “conversation” was a town house in Chelsea where the sovereign set her up in style. Gossips soon spread the word that Charles would spend hours beneath Hortense’s window, gazing up like a lovestruck spaniel, in the hopes of glimpsing the brunette beauty.


Though they referred to Hortense as “the Roman whore” because she was related to Mary of Modena, the monarch’s subjects blackened her reputation with the Gallic-tinted brush as well, disgusted that “the king should send of another French whore when one already [Louise de Kéroualle] had made him poor.”

But Hortense was never a serious candidate for maîtresse en titre. For one thing, her nature was too peripatetic to enjoy a gilded cage at Whitehall. For another, she reveled in her bohemian lifestyle. For a third, she was emphatically bisexual.


“Each sex provides its lovers for Hortense,” an English courtier observed. Her affairs included the visiting Prince of Monaco and the Countess of Sussex, Anne Palmer—Charles’s then-pregnant teenage daughter by former royal mistress Barbara Castlemaine. Anne occupied her mother’s old apartments directly above the king’s bedchamber, and it was said that each morning Charles would ascend the secret backstairs connecting the two apartments in the hopes of catching his daughter in bed with Hortense. Neither of Anne’s parents were terribly amused by her passion for Hortense; Barbara briefly shoved the rebellious teen into a Parisian covent, where Anne spent much of her time smothering Hortense’s portrait with kisses and the rest of it bribing the abbess to release her whenever she felt the urge to depart.


When one of Hortense’s lovers was killed in a duel, she briefly considered retiring to a convent—given Hortense’s predilections, not so dire a penance as one might assume. Charles was greatly amused by the notion.

Considering her incapability for fidelity, perhaps it was for old time’s sake that Hortense was permitted to remain in the sovereign’s seraglio. Flouting royal protocol, she never addressed him as “Your Majesty”—possibly because she’d slept with him before he was crowned—and she and Charles provided variety for each other. Hortense was not nearly as demanding as his other mistresses, content to maintain her Chelsea salon peopled with artists and intellectuals while collecting her £4,000 pension from the king.


Charles II


It was Louise who felt most threatened by Hortense’s existence. Hortense boasted birthright, breeding, and beauty. Her slender figure, thanks to horseback riding, swimming, and swordplay, looked great in anything she chose to wear, including the menswear ensembles that so excited king and court and scandalized the envious ladies. She was accomplished in many disciplines and well versed in languages and literature. In short, except for her rampant promiscuity, as far as Louise was concerned, Hortense had the whole package.

But Hortense herself didn’t consider herself a rival. She simply didn’t want the top dog honors as much as Nell Gwyn (Charles's feisty actress-mistress) or Louise craved them. Supremely self-aware, Hortense was too wild and craved variety too much to be domesticated as the perfect royal paramour. She couldn’t have cared less about affairs of state. Hortense was a sensualist, not a politician.

After Charles’s death in 1685, Hortense deteroriated rapidly. Alcoholism destroyed her looks and her health, and her penchant for high-stakes gambling had bankrupted her. She retired to a country home, but died there in 1699 at the age of fifty-three. The wealthiest heiress in Europe during her youth, she died so hopelessly in debt that the bailiffs wanted to enumerate her lifeless body among her goods and chattels.

It was Hortense’s insane estranged husband Armand who redeemed her, so to speak. She had successfully avoided him for thirty-three years, but now that she had expired, the Duc de Mazarin had come to claim her. Armand purchased her body from her creditors, carting it all over France so that he could keep an eye on her. He finally buried her in the family crypt.

ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy (written under the name of Leslie Carroll) will be released by NAL on June 3, 2008.


Writers--have you ever had to sacrifice a scene, element, or character you adored before publication? What was it, and how did it feel to kill your darlings? Or--have you ever insisted on including something your editor might have deemed tangential to the story, because you thought it was too delicious to delete?

22 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hortense Mancini is one of my favorites as well. A woman almost more libertine than Barbara Palmer herself. And I have many computer files with scenes that I've had to cut that didn't work anymore in the novel when I've done rewrites. And some of them were awesome scenes. No matter how much in love with our prose we are, sometimes they have to die, die my darling.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Fascinating woman, Amanda. I would like to have known her!

Yes, I do end up cutting some scenes I love....I keep them, thinking some day I'll put them in a different book.

Probably not...but I can't bring myself to completely kill them off.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Wow, that woman calls for a novel.

I have no experience with cutting scenes yet since I've only published academic non fiction and short stories.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I more or less proposed a historical novel on Hortense to my editor today when I sent her the ROYAL AFFAIRS manuscript. I find her story so wonderfully wild!

I had an erotic seduction scene in BY A LADY that I had to tone down for publication because my editor thought it belonged too much to historical romance (where the manuscript started, and this was one of the scenes from the very very first draft) and not to historical fiction (where the novel ended up after multiple revisions and an editor who saw it as historical fiction with strong romantic elements, rather than as historical romance). It's still a sexy scene, but I had to take out a literally juicy bit! ;)

9:31 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

What a great story! I had heard of Hortense but didn't know much of her history. Hope your editor goes for the historical novel--it sounds fabulous!

I tend to write long, intricate books, so I'm often faced with having to cut. When "Secrets of a Lady" was first published (as "Daughter of the Game"), my editor wanted me to expand some scenes, which meant cutting others. She gently pointed out that a chase through Covent Garden Market didn't really move the plot forward. I had worked really hard on that sequence, reading contemporary descriptions of the market, blockng out the action, but I realized she was right. But in "Beneath a Silent Moon" I built a chase through Covent Garden Market into the story (where I was able to make it much more integral) and was able to reuse most of the material.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Bravo, Tracy, for getting the opportunity to give all your hard-won research (and a wonderful scene) a second chance at life. You're in good company. Lerner and Loewe had to cut songs from MY FAIR LADY that made their way (slightly reworked) into GIGI. The lovely ballad "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight" is one of them.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I"d heard that about "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight," Amanda. I think it works beautifully in "Gigi"--somehow it seems more appropriate there than in "My Fair Lady", but perhaps that's because I'm used to it. Though the lines "Come to your Waterloo whispers my heart/Pray I'll be Wellington not Bonaparte" sound a bit more like something an Englishwoman would think (however, they tied it in nicely by having Gigi talking about learnign about Waterloo in school).

11:03 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Tracy, you seem to be as much a Lerner & Loewe geek as I am -- to have memorized the lyrics as well! Good point about the Wellington/Bonaparte phrase ... and I guess L&L had to make the decision to sneak the set-up into the libretto so they could keep the original lyric as a payoff.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Huge congrats, Amanda, on finishing. And WOW, what a fabulous woman. I'd never heard of Hortense -- I super hope you get to write the novel. Sources about her, please?

As for killing my darlings -- for me they're usually just turns of phrase. Things I think are wonderfully witty, but which simply don't fit the mood of the scene or which stand out too much.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I'm a total musicals geek, Amanda, and I love Lerner & Lowe! I can sing most of the songs (not very well -) and worked on "I Could Have Danced All Night" in voice class in high school. I thnk they did a great job making the Wellington/Bonaparte phrase fit. I remember seeing "Gigi" when I was reading "An Infamous Army" and particularly loving that song :-).

11:31 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Pam, there are a couple of bios about her, but much of the information I gleaned came from bios of Charles II and from bios of Charles II's other mistresses, esp. Louise de Keroualle, Nell Gwyn, and Barbara Palmer (Villers/Castlemaine). Eleanor Herman's SEX WITH THE KING has a bit of info as well. (Hortense is often referenced as the Duchesse de Mazarin)

11:47 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hortense's great grandaughters (all four of them) became mistresses of Louis XV. It seems to have run in the family.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Good point, EKM -- kind of like Alice Keppel and Camilla Parker- Bowles.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Funny you should mention Alice Keppel. Hortense's daughter, Marie-Charlotte, the marquise de Richelieu tried to run off with Alice's ancestor, Arnold Joost van Keppel, the first Earl of Albemarle (the current Earl lives in New York), who was also Hortense's lover.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Margaret Evans Porter said...

I would dearly love to fit Hortense into my novel, but I'm just not sure she'll fit. As it takes place during the years following the death of Charles II, the readers wouldn't see her at her best, I'm afraid.

I hope you get a green light on the historical novel featuring Hortense. She definitely deserves one!

1:37 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Joost van Keppel may also have been the love[r] of William III -- the king's fascination with him raised some eyebrows and caused so many comments both in England and internationally that William's most trusted adviser and closest friend Willem Bentinck, told him that tongues were wagging and he should be more circumspect. William hotly denied any homosexual attraction to van Keppel, saying that it was fully possible for a man to proffer so much favor to another man without the relationship being a gay one. But William's brush-off of Bentick's concern was almost verbatim his brush-off of his wife Mary when she confronted him with his affair with Elizabeth Villiers -- essentially that she was blowing his favoritism all out of proportion, and there was nothing wrong with hanging out in the woman's bedroom until 2am!

1:46 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

For clarification -- Arnold Joost van Keppel was the ancestor of Alice Keppel's husband, George. Alice was the last maitresse en titre to Edward VII. Her descent, Camilla (nee Shand) purportedly strode up to Prince Charles back in 1970 and boldly told him "My great-great grandmother shagged your great grandfather ... how about it?"

1:48 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I'd forgotten that it was George who was the Keppel, still it's amazing how incestuous it all is. Camilla's cousin how many times removed Violet Trefusis eloped several times with Vita Sackville-West, so again, it must be in the genes! And if William III wasn't gay or bisexual than neither was James I!

1:55 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Violet Trefusis was Alice Keppel's elder daughter.

There's a bit in ROYAL AFFAIRS about exactly what "gay" or "bi meant then versus now, in terms of cultural views and expectations. James I was a perfect case in point.

2:06 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

Cannot wait to read Royal Affairs, Amanda!! I had not heard of Hortense Mancini. What a fascinating woman. Here's hoping they want the novel with her as a character!

8:02 PM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Hi doglady, did you see my list of German books in the comments to that older post?

9:31 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

Yes, I did, Gabriele! Thank you so much! Or should I say Danke schon genadige Frau!!

9:20 PM  

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