Monarchs throughout time have taken mistresses to satisfy their desires. Especially French kings had special places at court for their mistresses. There was in fact a particular title in the French royal court for a king’s mistress. The king’s official mistress is known best by the original French term, maitresse-en-titre.
One of the most influential mistresses in the court of France was Diane de Poitiers. She was mistress to Henri II of France, whose wife was the infamous Catherine de Medici. Diane and Catherine had an understandably contentious relationship. Yet Diane was the one that encouraged Henri to pursue sexual congress with Catherine. This was done out of knowledge of the need for an heir to the throne!
The love of Diane and Henri was preserved in many buildings in France. Henri had their entwined initials carved into stonework and tiles around his residences. While Catherine would give him children, he would never love her. The heart of this king would always belong to his beloved mistress Diane! Interestingly Diane was nineteen years older than Henri, but she was always said to be agelessly beautiful! There were even people who believed she used witchcraft to keep herself so youthful looking. There is a lot of tradition of royal mistresses being accused of witchcraft.
Louis XIV was famous for his mistresses. I want to focus on Athenais de Montespan as a mistress of Louis XIV. Athenais was the second official mistress of Louis XIV. She was beautiful, intelligent, cultured, and ambitious. She would give Louis several children, and influence the life at his court. Athenais was a trendsetter in style and a great dancer, and flirted well with the court. Towards the end of her time as official mistress she went to a witch to get a love potion to reclaim the king’s interest. This event has gone down in infamy!
Louis XV had two iconic mistresses, but today I will talk about Madame de Pompadour! She was his first official mistress, and would use her position to influence the governing of the country. Pompadour had always known that she would be a kings mistress thanks to a psychic predicting this when she was just a little girl! Her influence would continue long after her death, as she was mourned deeply by Louis XV. The Petit Trianon was actually originally constructed for her, but she would never see it completed, as she died during construction. It was then given to his next mistress the Duchess du Barry, and finally to Marie Antionette!
In England many royals had important mistresses, and I want to first mention the royal prince John of Gaunt. His official mistress of many years, and mother of many of his children, was Katherine Swynford. They were lovers all throughout his second marriage, and upon the death of his second wife, they would marry. When they married their children were legitimized, as was common among many royals of the era.
Edward IV famously married Elizabeth Woodville for love. This did not mean the voraciously sexual Edward did not stray, especially during her pregnancies. The only mistress of his of note, was Jane Shore. Interestingly her name was not Jane at all, but also Elizabeth. She was called Jane likely to limit confusion, and the name Jane has stuck. In the modern day she is most often just referred to as Jane Shore! She was also the sometime mistress of Edward’s step-son, Sir Thomas Grey! After his death she was accused of carrying messages for Edward’s widow Elizabeth, and she was imprisioned for this.
The most famous English king to have mistresses was, of course, Henry VIII. Henry VIII was much like his grandfather Edward IV, and certainly inherited his love of women! Due to Henry’s iconic love life I will talk a little bit about a few of his lovers. The first important lover in the life of Henry VIII was Bessie Blount. Bessie was his lover that bore him his son, Henry Fitzroy. Henry recognized this child, his only illegitimate child to be recognized, and gave him the surname Fitzroy which literally meant son of the king! After Bessie, Henry took Mary Boleyn as his mistress. Mary was a mistress that likely bore children to Henry. As she was married these children were claimed by her husband as his.
After Mary, Henry famously moved on to her sister Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn was more than just a mistress. She of course would become his queen after years of fighting together to gain the divorce Henry desperately desired. Anne would also become the mother of Elizabeth I, making her all the more important! Her end would be incredibly sad, as she was executed for treason.
I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on royal mistresses. Let me know some of your favorite royal lovers in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is Diane de Poitiers en Diane chasseresse – Diane de Poitiers (1499-1566), mistress of Henri II, King of France, as Goddess Diana. Canvas. Author: School: Fontainebleau. Location: Musee de la Venerie, Senlis, France. I found the image on fineartamerica.com.
- Serpent and Moon by Princess Michael of Kent
- Athenais: The Real Queen of France by Lisa Hilton
- Madame de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford
- Katherine Swynford: Mistress of the Monarchy by Alison Weir
- Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance by Amy Licence
- Bessie Blount by Elizabeth Norton
- Mary Boleyn: Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir
- Anne Boleyn by Amy Licence