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Authors: Eleanor Herman

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The lovely Harriet Howard, mistress of Napoleon III, aged shockingly after her relationship with the emperor ended in 1853. Harriet had fulfilled her part of their separation agreement by going to England and marrying, but she returned unexpectedly eleven years later. She had changed greatly in the intervening years. At forty-one, her once exquisite figure had become so obese she had to have the door of her carriage widened to climb through. She rode in her fashionable carriage with the extra-wide doors up and down the Bois de Boulogne and the Champs-Elysées as if she were once again the emperor's mistress. One evening she attended the opera and fixed upon Napoleon with her opera glass, much to the discomfiture of both the emperor and the empress.

Harriet's sudden appearance caused a great deal of eager gossip. Many thought her reemergence in very poor taste, an effort to humiliate the emperor. Others wondered why the former beauty would show herself fat and ugly, rather than allowing people to remember her as she had been. But the fact was that Harriet knew she was dying of cancer and wanted just a few moments to relive those glory days before she sank into the darkness forever. She died soon after her Paris visit. In her will Harriet left a large bequest to found in England a home for girls who had been seduced away from their families.

Another mistress of Napoleon III did not withstand the ravages of time and illness as stoically as Harriet Howard. Virginie di Castiglione lost her sanity when she lost her looks—mainly because she had never cultivated anything besides her beauty. She had pursued no hobbies, disdained friendship, and sneered at religion. When Virginie was twenty, her youth and beauty insolent in their intensity, her spurned husband had predicted that her kindest friend, the mirror, would one day become her most bitter foe.

With the sizable fortune she had earned from love affairs with rich and powerful men after she had been dismissed by the emperor, Virginie took an apartment in Paris on the venerable Place Vendome. She continued her political machinations, meeting diplomats, writing urgent letters to statesmen, and giving
herself far more credit for international influence than she in fact possessed.

But her husband's prediction came true with deadly accuracy. Virginie's most relentless enemy was not Austrian emperor Franz Josef, as she thought, but all-conquering time itself. When the son she had borne at sixteen became a gangly teenager, Virginie was afraid he would be living proof of her advancing years; she forced him to dress as a groom and ride with her servants on the back of her coach.

After the fall of the French Empire in 1870, Virginie tried in vain to influence the new government, which remained willfully ignorant of Virginie and her supposed political wisdom. Shortly after this, Virginie broke a tooth. She dropped a heavy rolling pin on her toe, part of which had to be amputated. Her once perfect beauty was now clearly flawed. She began to hate the world and everybody in it.

Virginie had slowly been growing more eccentric over the years. When she turned forty she painted her walls and ceilings black, closed the shutters, and turned all the mirrors toward the wall. Without a host of admirers she stopped taking care of herself. She received very few old friends—all of them men, as she detested her own sex—who were forced to drink tea in the dark with her. Sometimes she would bring out tattered silk and musty velvet ball gowns from her heyday and reminisce about the vital role she had played in European politics. “I created Italy!” she would cry. “I saved the Pope!”

As her eccentricities grew, her beauty continued to deteriorate. Her rich chestnut hair turned white. Unsupported by a corset, her magnificent bosom dropped. She lived mostly in the company of her dogs, spending hours each day writing rambling letters to her few friends. “The more I see of men,” she grumbled in one, “the more I love dogs.”
Only after midnight, when no one was about who would recognize her, did she walk her dogs. A nocturnal phantom swaying in long black robes and thick black veils, this former royal mistress must have petrified late-night visitors to the Place Vendome.

As her madness seized control, Virginie refused to allow the
servants in to clean and sat alone in her black rooms, filled with rats and trash, contemplating her lost beauty and the vanished days of splendor. Virginie was sixty-two when her servants, after seven days of trying to gain access to her room, forced their way in and found her decomposing body being gnawed by rats.

Her will stipulated that two of her dead dogs, which had been stuffed, should be adorned with jeweled collars and keep a vigil at her coffin during her wake. Before the coffin was closed, the two dogs were to be put inside and serve as cushions for her feet. She wanted to enter eternity in the gown that she had worn when she first slept with the emperor, the gray batiste edged with fine lace, adorned with her famous nine-string black and white pearl necklace and two bracelets.

But Virginie's wishes were not carried out. Her jewels were sold to pay her debts at a well-attended auction, fetching some two million francs. No one knows what happened to the stuffed dogs. Only one curious visitor attended her funeral.

Unlike Virginie, Edward VII's mistress Daisy Warwick didn't mind the loss of her beauty, but she was shocked to find her predecessor in the royal bed, Lillie Langtry, still waging the fruitless fight. During World War I, there was a curious meeting of these two aging mistresses of a dead king—Lillie in her sixties, Daisy in her mid-fifties. “Whatever happens, I do not intend to grow old!” Lillie protested. “Why shouldn't beauty vanquish time?”

“I forgot what I answered,” Daisy reported, “for I was busy analyzing what she had said. I stole a glance at her, and certainly Time's ravages, although perceptible to the discerning eye of one who had known her at the zenith of her beauty, were disguised with consummate artistry, while her figure was still lovely. But it came to me then that there was tragedy in the life of this woman whose beauty had once been world-famous, for she had found no time in the intervals of pursuing pleasure to secure contentment for the evening of her day. Now that she saw the evening approach, Lillie Langtry could only protest that it was not evening at all, but just the prolongation of a day that was, in truth, already dead.”

Lillie was lonely in her last years, puttering around her garden,
playing with her little dogs. The young nobleman she had married ignored her but pocketed her money, and all the lusty kings and regal queens of her youth were sleeping a marbled sleep. After Lillie's death in 1929 at age seventy-five, a publisher who had known her wrote, “She always appeared to be a lingering leaf on an autumn tree which hangs on and will not die nor perish beneath the blast of Winter, because it has once belonged to a never-to-be-forgotten Summer. She could not let go. She fought in order not to let go.”

Daisy Warwick, on the other hand, laid down her boxing gloves. Gone was the slender hourglass figure which had so entranced the Prince of Wales in the 1880s. By the 1930s she was too fat to get out of a chair by herself. She collected a large menagerie of birds, donkeys, monkeys, cats, and dogs, and would stagger about her gardens trailing a feather boa, feeding them. One visitor was shocked to see the famous royal mistress in such a condition. But Lady Warwick stated, truthfully, “I am a very happy woman.”

Monarchs, Mistresses,
and Marriage

I would not be a Queen for all the world.


monarch marrying his mistress is that of King David and Bathsheba, the ensuing tragedy of sackcloth and ashes set the tone for millennia to come. The marriages of kings and their mistresses were almost always tinged with grief or bludgeoned with catastrophe.

The world of past centuries was not round but pyramid-shaped, and the higher up one found oneself, the more tightly one was bound by religion and etiquette. Sitting at the apex, the king was so tightly constrained that he had little room to maneuver. Any monarch attempting to break through the conventions was soon engulfed in an international roar of derision.

Worse than raising taxes, worse than waging a senseless war,
far worse than these was the marriage of a monarch to his mistress. The bride and groom were not the only ones kneeling in front of the altar. The nation's prestige was on its knees, utterly vanquished. Subjects found themselves gripped by foreboding, if not outright panic. As the monarch was the personification of a people and a nation, his disdain for ancient rules and traditions would taint them all.

Many a mistress turned royal wife soon found that the unceasing vigilance required to retain her former position could not be tossed aside at the altar. The mistress-wife was constantly challenged to validate her position, even as she had been while mistress. She was usually more detested than she had been as mistress, because she had clearly overstepped prescribed social bounds. Sniffing a wounded animal, vicious courtiers circled her with the hopes of a bloody kill.

In 1354 Prince Pedro of Portugal married his mistress of fourteen years, Inez de Castro, after his wife Princess Constanza died. Pedro's father, King Alfonso IV, was furious and feared that Pedro's four illegitimate children with Inez could take away the crown from those born with Constanza. The king sent assassins to stab Inez to death while her royal lover was away on a hunting trip. They fell upon her as she sat by a fountain in her garden and ripped her to shreds.

Royal mistresses who married their monarchs
were crowned invariably met with thinly veiled disgust. So many people protested Henry VIII's 1533 marriage to Anne Boleyn and her coronation that the king passed a law making it treasonable to write or act against the marriage, and forced all adult males to swear to uphold it. Those who refused to swear were executed. Anne, who was pregnant at the wedding, produced not the longed-for male heir, but a mere girl. After two more miscarriages, in 1536 she was tried on trumped-up charges of adultery and lost her head on the chopping block. English courtiers and subjects were not sad to see her go.

In 1568 the unstable Eric XIV of Sweden married his mistress Karin Mansdotter, whom he crowned queen. Eric's half brother Johan claimed this act was proof of the king's insanity. He locked
Eric up and in 1577 poisoned him, grabbing the crown for himself. Queen Karin was exiled to an estate in the country.

In 1578 Archduke Francesco of Tuscany married his mistress of twelve years, Bianca Cappello, and had the nerve to crown her in the cathedral. Upon hearing the news, the duke of Mantua, who had only a short time previously asked for the hand of Francesco's daughter Eleonora in marriage, rescinded his offer. He wrote angrily, “Now hath the character of the new Grand Duchess under whose care the Princesses live in Florence so increased by objection that it cannot be overcome.”

Despised by the Tuscan people and her husband's family, Bianca knew that life without the protection of Francesco would be worthless. When both lay ill of a fever in 1587, the archduke expired first. “And now must I die with my lord,” she moaned, and, as if willing herself to, breathed her last.
Francesco's brother Ferdinando, the new archduke, had detested Bianca. Unable to revenge himself on Bianca while she was alive, within the bounds of propriety he dishonored her in death. As Pharaoh had done with the disgraced Moses, Ferdinando had her name effaced from every portrait and monument. He had her coat of arms removed from all public buildings and replaced with Johanna of Austria's. When asked if Bianca should wear the ducal coronet in her coffin, Ferdinando replied that she had already worn it far too long. While Francesco was given an elaborate state funeral, Bianca was placed in a plain coffin and dumped at night in an unmarked grave.

It was slightly more palatable to the nation at large when mistresses were content to remain morganatic—uncrowned—wives. At least the king's subjects would not have to bow down on bended knee to one they considered little more than a prostitute.

In 1612 the widowed Christian IV of Denmark was so besotted with his seventeen-year-old mistress, Kirsten Munk, that he married her. In his wisdom he did not crown her, bestowing upon her instead the title of countess. In sixteen years spoiled, nasty Kirsten brought into the world twelve children, whom she brutally beat, starved, and forced to wear rags. She never loved the monarch who idolized her, and began an affair with a handsome
young German count who served in the cavalry. During the funeral of her one-year-old daughter with the king, Kirsten excused herself and had sex with the count in a garden.

The king always seemed to find himself out of clean shirts because his wife had given them to her lover. Kirsten danced when her husband was ill and even tried to poison him, instructing him to eat what turned out to be her acne medicine. One evening, when the king found two maids sleeping in front of her locked door, he had a workman inscribe the date on a stone in the courtyard and never touched Kirsten again. He refused to acknowledge the daughter she bore ten months later. Their turbulent marriage ended in 1628 when she was exiled to her estates, where she nevertheless continued to foment trouble.

In 1880, as his wife's body lay cooling in the grave, Czar Alexander II of Russia married his mistress of fifteen years, Katia Dolguruky, despite urgent pleas from friends and family to wait the required year of mourning. Having survived six assassination attempts, the czar wanted to make an honest woman of his mistress, a pretty but stupid brunette, and legitimize their three children before he was murdered. Horribly embarrassed, the imperial family pretended that the morganatic marriage had not taken place, even as rumors grew that the czar intended to crown Katia empress.

When the czar was indeed killed by a bomb eight months after the wedding, one courtier remarked that the czar's martyrdom may have saved him from committing further foolishness with Katia—crowning her at the expense of his country. Not knowing what to do with the inconvenient widow, Russian society heaved a collective sigh of relief when she went into self-imposed exile in France.

In 1900 King Alexander II of Serbia (1876–1903) announced that he would marry his mistress of several years, the nervous, dumpy Draga Mashin, and crown her queen in the Belgrade cathedral. The entire nation was horrified at Alexander's choice of bride, a poor commoner with a dubious moral background and considered too old to bear children. Additionally, poverty-stricken Serbia was emerging from a century of
bloody violence and in dire need of the enhanced status that an alliance with a European royal family would bring. Upon hearing the news of the king's marriage, his cabinet resigned.

For three years the hated royal couple evaded assassination attempts, rarely going out of the palace, for they knew that Death lurked just outside the gates. In 1903 Death grew tired of waiting and invaded the palace. A band of revolutionaries broke in and tore the king and queen limb from limb, then held a Mass celebrating their liberation from a tyrant and the whore he had made queen.

We find an almost biblical morality lesson in cases where the monarch made an unseemly marriage. Divine wrath was swift and sure. It was as if the Almighty did not approve of the king transforming fornication into the sanctified sex of marriage. For a worse sin than fornication was ignorance of one's proper place in the scheme of things. When a mere pawn became queen in the chessboard of life, the game was forfeit.

The twentieth-century world was no longer pyramid-shaped but completely flattened by the rolling pin of equality, except for princes, who still found themselves tightly constrained when it came to marriage. Indeed, the biggest royal scandal of the 1900s occurred when a king insisted on marrying his mistress.

Edward and Wallis

On December 11, 1936, Edward VIII (1894–1972) told the world, “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”

Like a triumphant cat bringing home the carcass of a vanquished chipmunk to his horrified owner, Edward dumped the sacred gift of his abdication in his mistress's lap. Wallis Warfield Simpson, the ultimate social climber, had been angling for years to become queen of England, a position that would finally even the score for the embarrassing poverty of her childhood in Baltimore. But now with the world staring hard at her, she was trapped into accepting the booby prize. As she listened to the
king's radio address, tears rolled down her face, and we can assume they were not tears of joy.

Wallis was hardly queen material. An American, she had divorced her first husband, a dashing naval aviator, for his alcoholic brutality. When she met Prince Edward in 1931, she was happily married to handsome ship broker Ernest Simpson who had brought her to London. She nevertheless entered into an affair with the prince; five years later Edward's father, George V, died, and Edward was suddenly king. Shortly thereafter, Wallis filed for her second divorce, this time to become queen of England.

Wallis was completely mesmerized by the trappings of royalty. She wrote of Edward, “His slightest wish seemed always to be translated instantly into the most impressive kind of reality. Trains were held; yachts materialized; the best suites in the finest hotels were flung open; airplanes stood waiting…. He was the open sesame to a new and glittering world that excited me as nothing in my life had ever done before.”

While Wallis's fascination with the king was understandable, no one could comprehend his violent passion for a woman whose face resembled the metal part of a garden shovel and her body the wooden handle. Her nose was lumpy, her mouth large and ugly, her hands short and stubby. Some speculated that Wallis had conquered Edward with bizarre Asian sexual techniques she had learned in China after having separated from her first husband, who was stationed there. Others claimed the two were brought together by an avid aversion to sex—that Edward was hopelessly impotent and Wallis icily frigid. The theory of Wallis's frigidity melted in 2003 when the British government released secret files revealing that in 1935 Wallis, while married to Ernest Simpson and dangling the Prince of Wales, was having a torrid affair with Guy Trundle, a handsome car salesman. It is interesting to speculate whether the prince, while offering Wallis a glittering life, delivered a lackluster performance in bed.

Whatever their sexual relationship, certainly Wallis had a strong psychological hold over the prince. Whereas other women had melted into butter at his feet, Wallis completely
dominated Edward, who became gushingly subservient. And, like many a royal mistress before her, Wallis offered scintillating charm and delightful wit.

But why did Edward insist on
the woman? Why didn't he simply keep her as his mistress? Perhaps Edward, stubborn, selfish, and intellectually limited almost to the point of imbecility, could not imagine himself on the throne without her seated on a throne beside him, smoothing things over, telling him what to do. Or maybe he never wanted to be king at all and used Wallis as a convenient and romantic excuse to liberate himself from a monarch's responsibilities.

Nothing in the British Constitution forbade the king from marrying a divorcée, a commoner, or an American. The Settlement Act of 1701—passed when a Catholic pretender was angling for the British throne—stated that the monarch could neither be a Catholic nor marry one. (Oddly, the act is still in effect today.) The Royal Marriages Act of 1772—pushed through by George III, who was furious that his brothers had secretly married for love rather than royal suitability—stated that heirs to the throne must obtain the monarch's consent to a marriage unless the heir was over twenty-five. Neither of these acts would have prevented Edward from marrying Wallis.

He would have found himself in an uncomfortable position with the Church of England, however, which forbade a divorced person from remarrying as long as the former spouse was alive. Wallis had not one but two former spouses very much alive. As king, Edward was also supreme governor of the Church of England and was supposed to uphold its precepts. Perhaps worse, public opinion was against the marriage. Yet, if Edward had had the patience and public relations savvy to calm his clucking bishops and smooth the ruffled feathers of his subjects, he could certainly have married Wallis.

But ignoring sensible advice from friends and advisers, Edward made every disastrous political and public relations blunder possible, insisting on an immediate marriage so the two could be crowned together. It is likely that Wallis, rather than persuading the king to wait for public opposition to die down,
was pushing for an early marriage. Wallis knew how extremely fickle and cowardly Edward had been with his earlier amours, deciding from one day to the next to dump a mistress and letting someone else give her the bad news.

As the crisis over the king's proposed marriage deepened, people picketed the palace with placards: “Down with the Whore!” “Wally—Give us back our King!” “Out with the American Garbage!”
Bricks and stones were hurled at her windows. Children sang, “Hark the herald angels sing, Mrs. Simpson stole our King!”

Agreeing with the age-old adage that the bedded can't be wedded, a patron of a London pub reportedly said, “It just won't do. We can't have two other blokes going around saying they've slept with the Queen of England, can we?”

BOOK: Sex with Kings
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