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Authors: Eleanor Herman

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After the exile of her lover, James II, Catherine Sedley, duchess of Dorchester, was given a pension by William III. She would afterward say that “both the kings were civil to her, but both the queens used her badly.”
James had granted her a large pension from lands, but after his exile the House of Commons threatened her with the loss of it. Spirited Catherine went before the bar of the house to present her case herself and won it.

When Catherine was forty, a Scottish baronet, Sir David Colyear, made an honest woman of her. Sir David was an officer in William III's army and highly respected, so much so that many wondered at his choice of a bride. Despite her age Catherine provided her husband with two healthy sons. Her earthy humor is best revealed in her advice to her sons with Colyear: “If anybody call either of you the son of a whore you must bear it, for you are so,” she counseled, “but if they call you bastards, fight till you die; for you are an honest man's sons.”

Elizabeth Villiers, the duchess of Orkney, never flaunted her position at court as mistress of William III. But in 1694, when Queen Mary died of smallpox at the age of thirty-two, she left
William a letter containing a stinging rebuke for his affair with Elizabeth. Admonishments from the dead are the most tormenting of all. And so William, after endowing Elizabeth with ninety thousand acres in Ireland and an annual income of five thousand pounds, dismissed her.

When Elizabeth was cast aside, she was nearing forty and had never married. Despite her advanced age and lack of physical attractions—she was described as squinting “like a dragon”—she soon found a respectable husband, George Hamilton, a younger son of the duke of Hamilton.
King William promptly created him earl of Orkney, and his wife automatically became a countess. Never one to mince words, Elizabeth had told her husband soon after meeting him that she had been “on very good terms with a certain person, but that she did not wish to hear any reproaches or insinuations on that score.”

The marriage was not only happy but fruitful. Elizabeth, who had never had any children during her tenure with William, bore her husband three children in her forties. She outlived her royal lover by thirty years. One witness described her at the coronation of George II in 1727: “She exposed behind a mixture of fat and wrinkles, and before a considerable pair of bubbies [breasts] a good deal withered, a great belly that preceded her, add to this the inimitable roll of her eyes and her gray hair which by good fortune stood directly upright, and 'tis impossible to imagine a more delightful spectacle.”

Another of James II's mistresses, Arabella Churchill of the ugly face and lovely limbs, married Colonel Charles Godfrey after her liaison with James ended. Having borne James two girls and two boys, she gave her husband two daughters. They lived happily together for forty years.

Napoleon's discarded mistress Maria Walewska also found happiness in marriage, albeit briefly. After Napoleon's downfall in 1815, she devoted herself to their son Alexander and to regaining the estate left him by the emperor. After the death of her first husband, whom she had divorced, Maria was pursued by the dashing General Philippe Antoine d'Ornano, who had fallen deeply in love with her. She finally relented, marrying him in
1816. Nine months later she gave birth to a boy. But the pregnancy had taken a serious toll on her weak kidneys. She spent her last weeks dictating her memoirs—making herself out to be a Polish patriot rather than a lascivious mistress—and died in December 1817 at the age of thirty-one.

On his desert exile of St. Helena, no one had the heart to tell Napoleon about her death. He thought she had stopped writing because she was happily married. When he died three years later, he was still wearing the ring she had given him, encasing a strand of her blonde hair, with the inscription, “When you cease to love me, remember, I love you still.”

Upon parting from Lady Castlemaine after a liaison of twelve years, Charles II said, “All that I ask of you for your own sake is live so for the future as to make the least noise you can, and I care not who you love.”
She could not help whom she loved, but she did make a great deal of noise. After countless messy love affairs, at the age of sixty-five she was finally unburdened of her long-suffering husband. Within weeks, the merry widow wed handsome Robert Fielding, a fifty-four-year-old who had married two fortunes and had the good luck to have both brides die.

Fielding had been on the lookout for a third fortune when he happened to find two wealthy widows: Anne Deleau, worth about sixty thousand pounds a year, and Lady Castlemaine, whose vast income was well known throughout the kingdom. Fielding decided he need not limit himself to one—he would marry both women and take their fortunes.

But instead of marrying Mistress Deleau, Fielding married an imposter named Mary Wadsworth, a friend of the heiress's hairdresser, who pretended to be the wealthy relict, whom Fielding had never seen. At the third meeting, the couple was married by a priest and consummated the marriage. The “heiress,” however, said she needed to return home until she had broken the news to her father. She visited Fielding several times, each time having sex and collecting generous gifts from him.

In the meantime, Fielding also married Lady Castlemaine—though unknown to her, this marriage was bigamous and illegal. Fielding soon discovered that his legal wife was not Mistress Deleau
at all, but a penniless adventurer. He beat both her and the hairdresser accomplice black and blue. Meanwhile, he immediately began pocketing Lady Castlemaine's pensions from Charles II. He began to sell off her valuable furniture and when she protested, he locked her in a room and refused to feed her until she agreed. When Lady Castlemaine told her sons, Fielding broke open her cabinet and took four hundred pounds, then beat her severely until she broke free to the open window and cried, “Murder!” Fielding then shot a blunderbuss into the street. Lady Castlemaine's sons got a warrant for Fielding, who was taken to Newgate Prison and convicted of bigamy. But Fielding must have worked his magic on Queen Anne as well, for she pardoned him. After two years, Lady Castlemaine's marriage was declared null.

The experience with Fielding had finally ended Lady Castlemaine's lifelong cacophony. Shortly thereafter she left London to live with her grandson. In 1709, at the age of sixty-nine, she developed dropsy, which swelled her once incomparable body into a revolting mass of flesh. Three months later she was dead.

The Comforts of Religion

“When women cease to be handsome, they study to be good,” said Benjamin Franklin, and he could have been talking about most royal mistresses. Many experienced religious epiphanies—rarely while still holding the title of
more often after their disgrace and rustication. Most women sinned at leisure, as long as they were buoyed by youth and vitality, and repented in haste, when the hand of age or illness fell heavy upon them. Many a woman hoped to win points in heaven after a sinful life, as Sir Horace Walpole put it, by “bestowing the dregs of her beauty upon Jesus Christ.”

In 1678, when Charles II's mistress Louise de Kéroualle felt herself dying, she “preached to the King, crucifix in hand, to detach him from women.”
But her piety lasted just as long as her illness. Just a few days after her deathbed supplication to the king, hearing that Charles was attending the theater with her rival
Hortense Mancini, Louise painted her face and dragged herself to the king's box, where, fangs bared, she hastily reclaimed her position. She did not find God again for another forty years.

We must not assume that royal mistresses neglected church duties while in office, or that religion did not call to them during their adulterous lives. Most attended daily religious services, and many were involved in charitable projects for the poor. In the 1670s Primi Visconti described two of Louis XIV's mistresses in church, “rosary or prayer book in hand, eyes raised heaven-ward, as ecstatical as a pair of saints!”

One of these ecstatical saints, Louise de La Vallière, fled the sparkling court of Versailles for the sanctity of a convent at the age of twenty-nine. Louise, who for years had played lady's maid dressing her replacement Madame de Montespan, told Louis that “after devoting her youth to him, all the rest of her life was not too long to devote to her salvation.”

Before Louise left court, Madame de Maintenon, herself extremely devout, asked Louise if she had considered the bodily discomforts that awaited her among the Carmelites, the strictest convent of the day: clothing that itched and rubbed, long fasts, backbreaking work, extreme heat and cold. Nuns were forbidden to speak and were forced to sleep in hard beds shaped like coffins. “When I shall be suffering at the convent,” she replied, “I shall only have to remember what they made me suffer here, and all the pain will seem light to me.”
She gestured across the room to Madame de Montespan, giggling and whispering in the king's ear.

The day Louise bade farewell to her friends at court, she threw herself at the feet of Queen Marie-Thérèse to beg forgiveness. “My crimes were public,” the penitent explained; “my repentance must be public, too.”
The queen, who had detested her for many years, must have wished the respectful Louise could regain her former place and oust the nasty Montespan. But Louise, leaving her two surviving children to be raised at Versailles, set off in her ducal carriage to the convent, leaving the world behind her.

“She has drunk the cup of humiliation to the dregs,” reported Madame de Sévigné.
During the ceremony to become a novice, Louise had her lovely ash-blonde hair sheared off, though Madame de Sévigné noted gleefully that “she spared the two fine curls on her forehead!”
Perhaps more embarrassing to Louise's slender vanity was the loss of her specially made heels, one slightly higher than the other to make up for a short leg. Wearing the flat sandals prescribed in the convent would force Louise to walk with a pronounced limp.

A year later the convent was packed with courtiers gathered to watch the unique spectacle of a royal mistress taking her final vows to become a nun, accepting her black veil from none other than the queen, who kissed and blessed her afterward. Invitations to the ceremony were hard to come by, and there was a great deal of jostling, pushing, and shoving to watch the show. One witness wrote, “She never looked more beautiful or more content. She should be happy if only because she no longer has to lace up Madame de Montespan's stays.”

The king, who felt flattered by Louise's years of reproachful glances and silent suffering as he flaunted her successor, had wanted to keep her at court, a reminder of how irresistible he was. He was peeved that she preferred God to her king. For years courtiers, eager to see the novelty of royal mistress turned nun, visited Louise in the convent. After saying a prayer to ward off temptation, she who had given up the world was forced to meet members of it in the convent parlor. But not the king. He never saw her again.

Perhaps the devout queen wished at times to follow Louise into the quiet sanctity of a convent, to leave the vicious Montespan and backbiting courtiers. But queens, unlike mistresses, left court only in coffins. For years, Marie-Thérèse had enjoyed spending brief sojourns at the Carmelite convent for spiritual consolation and repose. One day after Louise had taken her vows, the queen looked out her convent window and saw a little nun in a coarse habit limping across the courtyard, bearing an enormous bundle of laundry. This, then, was her husband's mistress whom she had treated so cruelly in her jealousy. Shorn
of her pearls and silks and the king's love, the sweet, hopeful girl had come to this. The queen wept.

The world revolved quickly at Versailles. Actors and actresses boasting the most glorious parts were forgotten almost the moment they left the stage; there were throngs of new characters pushing to take their places on the crowded boards. Louise de La Vallière had never quite fit the resplendent part assigned her. She had far more character and conscience than the script required. The scenery about her was too lavish, the costumes too ornate, the music shrill, the plots hollow. Her retirement into a convent was the court's hottest topic, and then bored courtiers looked elsewhere for fresh gossip. “After all,” yawned Anne-Marie de Montpensier, the king's cousin, “she is not the first converted sinner.”

Madame de Montespan, while happy to incarcerate her former rival in a convent, was not without her own kind of piety. She was known to fast during Lent, even to weighing her bread. When one visitor expressed surprise at this, Louis XIV's mistress replied, “Because I am guilty of one sin, must I commit them all?”

The duc de Saint-Simon wrote, “Even in her sinful life she had never lost her faith; she would often leave the King suddenly to go and pray in her own room, and nothing would induce her to break a day of abstinence, nor did she ever neglect the demands of Lent. She gave freely to charity, respected good church-goers, and never said anything approaching scepticism or impiety. But,” he added acidly, “she was imperious, haughty, and most sarcastic, and she had the defects of a woman who had climbed to her position through her own beauty.”

In 1691 fifty-one-year-old Madame de Montespan was instructed by the king to leave court, but she did not go meekly into a quiet retirement. Shrieking, raging, storming, she had one last audience with Louis. Madame de Noyer wrote, “She let herself go in a fury, reproaching him for his ingratitude in the face of the sacrifices she had made for him. The King endured this tantrum because she was a woman, and because it was the last he would have to put up with from her.”

BOOK: Sex with Kings
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