The Kings' Mistresses is a fabulous account of Marie and Hortense Mancini, two of the most scandalous and free-thinking women of their time.
Marie and Hortense were the nieces of Cardinal Mazarin. The two, along with their siblings were born in Rome and brought to Paris: Marie was 13 and Hortense, 9. Their uncle arranged marriages for both of them – Marie first, because she was a little too cozy with King Louis XIV.
However, both Marie and Hortense's marriages didn't go well. After producing several children, both of them ditched their husbands. Hortense left her mad and scheming husband in 1668, and Marie left her husband four years later, with fear that he would kill her otherwise.
Both sought refuge in different places, but not the same. Marie went from convent to convent, finally ending up in Madrid, and didn't have the freedom that Hortense ended up having in London after she became the mistress of Charles II.
However, both accomplished what they set out to do: never to return to their husbands. Whatever roadblocks were hurled their way, whatever lawsuits were produced, and whoever tried to intervene, the sisters somehow managed their goal. The sisters ended up having major influence on the women of their time. Their escapades were reported all through Europe and it got people talking. Whether people were on the sides of the sisters or their 'poor, deserted' husbands, people talked. And when people start talking about an issue, things start happening.
The result, eventually, of the sisters flights ended up having was the discussion of just how much power a husband should have over his wife. Unhappy wives soon started following the Mancini sisters' examples by standing up and saying that they shouldn't have to stay in a disastrous marriage and should have the right to live separately from their husbands.
The two sisters ended up writing memoirs, which were quoted in the book. I so happen to have said memoirs, and can not wait to get to them now.
The Kings' Mistresses was a great biography on two women who stood up for their rights during a time when women didn't have any. At times, reading the book, I was infuriated by just how little power the women had, how much Marie's husband toyed with her: locking her up in convents (and at one point, a prison!). Through the decades, both husbands would demand their wives return to them, not because they cared for them, but because of their own wounded prides. Neither husband won, and to that, I say: Hooray!