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Authors: Eleanor Herman

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By all accounts Lillie Langtry and the future Edward VII of Great Britain had a lusty sex life. Edward was stunned in 1877 when he first saw the long-legged, voluptuous redhead who walked “like a beautiful hound set upon its feet.”
37
He quickly made her his first official mistress, and for three years they were almost inseparable. Lillie related that one day the prince said to her, “I've spent enough on you to buy a battleship.” To which she tartly replied, “And you've spent enough in me to float one.”
38

Fidelity in an Adulterous Relationship

Like biblical patriarchs, Turkish sultans, and Chinese emperors, European kings were usually involved in sexual relationships with several women at a time. While usually only one woman held the title of official mistress—
maîtresse-en-titre
—there were invariably lesser lights, some that were quickly extinguished, others that occupied a lower orbit but gleamed faintly for many years.

In accordance with the time-honored tradition of the sexual double standard, while the kings and princes were rolling around in bed with other women, their mistresses were supposed to wait quietly in their apartments, embroidering perhaps, or planning a gala dinner to entertain the unfaithful lover. Such was the case of Mademoiselle de Choin, the mistress of Louis, dauphin of France (1661–1711), heir to the throne of his father, Louis XIV. Louis's devotion to his mistress—he would secretly marry her after his wife's death—did not preclude his copulating with actresses he saw on the Paris stage or anyone else who came his way.

On one occasion the dauphin invited a pretty young actress to visit him in his rooms at Versailles. She arrived with an older, unattractive female companion. Informed that the actress had arrived, the dauphin opened the door to the antechamber, grabbed the woman closest to him—which happened to be the ugly older woman—and pulled her into his room. When his friend and procurer Monsieur Du Mont found the sexy actress waiting in the antechamber, highly amused at the mistake, he banged on the dauphin'
s
door, crying, “That's not the one you want! You've taken the wrong one!” The door opened, and the dauphin shoved the ugly one out. “Wait, here she is!” said Du Mont, pushing the pretty one toward him. “No, the business is done,” the dauphin said. “She will have to await another occasion.”
39

In contrast, most royal mistresses would not have dared risk love affairs with other men. A few who did were generously forgiven by their womanizing monarchs. But many would have expected a punishment similar to that of Madame d'Esterle, who became mistress of Augustus, king of Poland and elector of Saxony,
in 1704. When the playboy king discovered that Madame d'Esterle had been having affairs with several gentlemen at court, he gave her twenty-four hours to pack her bags and leave the country. Worse was the vengeance of Peter the Great (1672–1725), who in 1703 discovered that his mistress of thirteen years, Anna Mons, had been sleeping with the Swedish ambassador. Peter, who throughout his relationship with Anna had routinely enjoyed drunken orgies, was so enraged at her infidelity that he threw her in prison along with thirty of her friends.

For a woman who publicly declared that whoredom was her profession, plucky Nell Gwynn proved remarkably faithful to Charles II, even after his death. Bereft of her royal lover, pretty Nell was courted by numerous suitors. She sadly informed one ardent admirer that she “would not lay a dog where the deer laid.”
40

Ironically, Charles's nobly born mistresses, the imperious duchesses, were not nearly as faithful as his spunky whore. Auburn-haired Barbara Palmer, whom Charles created the countess of Castlemaine and duchess of Cleveland, was the most notorious. Perhaps Charles tolerated her blatant infidelity because she was his dream sex partner. One childhood acquaintance of Barbara's described her as “a lecherous little girl…[who] used to rub her thing with her fingers.”
41

In 1667 Lady Castlemaine was enjoying an affair with the renowned court rake Harry Jermyn. One day when the king made an unexpected visit to his mistress, Harry had to dive under her bed. When she was pregnant the sixth time, the king knew very well the child was not his. He had not been certain about some of her prior five but had decided to claim paternity, since there was a good chance. This sixth child, however, he would not own.

Lady Castlemaine was furious that the king was making her look like a whore. “God damn me, but you shall own it!” she cried. “I will have it christened in the Chapel at Whitehall and owned as yours…or I will bring it into Whitehall Gallery and dash its brains out before your face.” Charles maintained, “I did
not get this child.” “Whoever did get it, you shall own it,” cried the shrew.
42
It was reported that in a few days the king begged forgiveness of his mistress, on his knees.

In 1671 the king was told that Lady Castlemaine was sleeping with playwright William Wycherley at the house of a female friend. Charles went to investigate for himself and ran into Wycherley on the landing, trying to disguise himself by wrapping his cloak about him. The king said nothing but went upstairs and found Lady Castlemaine in bed. He asked her to explain what she was doing there. “It is the beginning of Lent,” she said, “and I retired hither to perform my devotions.” The king snorted, “Very likely. And that was your confessor I met on the stairs.”
43

As Lady Castlemaine grew older she developed a keen desire for younger, brawny bucks of the lower classes. In the ultimate disrespect of class boundaries, she allowed her footman to make love to her in her bath and had sex with Jacob Hall, a rope dancer, in his booth at the county fair in full view of a fascinated public.

One court wit put her amorous adventures in verse:

Full forty men a day provided for this whore

Yet like a bitch, she wags her tail for more.
44

Lady Castlemaine was always in love, and loved lustily. She was generous with her young lovers, tapping her pensions from the king to support them. John Churchill, the future duke of Marlborough, was in bed with Lady Castlemaine one day when her royal lover dropped by unannounced. Churchill dove out the window. Charles walked over to the window, looked down, and remarked dryly, “I forgive you, for you do it for your bread.”
45

When Churchill demanded five thousand pounds, Lady Castlemaine agreed to prostitute herself to seventy-something Sir Edward Hungerford, who had expressed the desire “to be where Charles had been before.”
46
Lady Castlemaine told him her price was ten thousand pounds—she wanted to keep a little extra for herself—to which the wealthy lecher readily agreed. But
she sent another woman to meet Sir Edward in a dark room and collect the payment. She then let Sir Edward know he had been tricked and offered to
really
prostitute herself to him for another ten thousand. Wisely, Sir Edward declined the offer.

A significant portion of Lady Castlemaine's income as royal mistress—an estimated one hundred thousand pounds—found its way into the greedy hands of John Churchill. Yet one evening when Lady Castlemaine asked to borrow a few guineas over cards, he indignantly refused. The royal mistress was so enraged that she got a nosebleed and burst her corset strings.

Lola Montez's unfaithfulness to her royal lover was on a scale equal to, or perhaps surpassing, that of Lady Castlemaine two centuries before her. Her blatant infidelity contrasted sadly with the steadfast loyalty of King Ludwig. Shortly after she was forced out of Munich, Ludwig wrote her a letter he never sent, begging her to remain faithful to him. As for his fidelity to her, he wrote, “Much beloved, think of the past 16 months, how your Luis has conducted himself in this time we have known each other. You will never find a heart like mine.”
47

But Lola had already enjoyed numerous lovers during her tenure as royal mistress in Munich and would continue her dissipations in exile. In Munich she entertained numerous lovers in her hotel suite and afterward in the house Ludwig had bought and refurbished for her. Lola rarely ventured outside without a group of young men dancing attendance under the guise of bodyguards, and her student fan club from the University of Munich.

Reports constantly streamed in to the king about Lola's affairs. He refused to believe them, concluding that Lola was being slandered. Once Lola was exiled and Ludwig abdicated, he had plenty of time to consider coolly the numerous reports that came filtering in of her blatant philandering as she traversed Europe. Even as Lola begged Ludwig to send her money and promised him eternal loyalty, her lifestyle was so shocking that her two female companions, whose purpose was to lend her an air of respectability, packed up and left.

The retired monarch would have other mistresses to warm his
lonely heart, but he would never completely heal from his relationship with Lola. The loss of his throne did not bother him as much as the realization that his beloved Lolita was a faithless liar. Until his death twenty years later, the toppled king wandered around his estates writing bad poetry about his broken heart.

François I was more fortunate than most kings in wreaking his revenge on the lover of his faithless mistress—although he didn't know it at the time. In 1518 his
maîtresse-en-titre,
the twenty-three-year-old Françoise de Foix, dame de Châteaubriant, was unfaithful. One night her lover, Admiral Bonnivet, hearing the king coming, jumped out of his mistress's bed and hid himself in her large fireplace. Luckily, it was summer and the hearth was filled with scented pine branches behind which Bonnivet concealed himself. Unluckily, the hearth also served as a latrine, and before making love to his mistress the king unknowingly urinated on poor Bonnivet hiding behind the boughs, soaking him to the skin.

Two
Beyond the Bed—
The Art of
Pleasing a King

'Tis not a lip or eye we beauty call, but the joint force and full result of all.

—
ALEXANDER POPE

S
EXUAL TALENTS ALONE WOULD NOT RAISE A WOMAN TO THE
position of
maîtresse-en-titre.
The king could lift the skirts of almost anyone in his realm as few or as many times as he wanted without giving her the official title and its corresponding emoluments. The king's servants, knowing their master's taste, often scrubbed up cheerful prostitutes and dumped them in the royal bed. These women gratefully accepted a piece of gold on their way out the door. Chambermaids cleaning the king's rooms were sometimes subjected to the sudden and irrepressible lust of their monarch. Smoothing down their rumpled petticoats, they took their brooms and buckets and discreetly went on to clean the next chamber.

With court ladies the king had dalliances—which included
private suppers followed by lovemaking and gifts of expensive jewelry. These noblewomen, unlike the prostitutes and chambermaids, were eligible to become the official mistress if the monarch chose to bestow the honor upon her. But in most cases, he did not. What qualities made a woman a serious candidate for royal mistress?

We are tempted to choose beauty as the most important quality. We see the king's mistress as a Baroque Aphrodite gleaming in silks, dripping with lace, glittering in jewels. Sweeping into a ball, she demolishes the king with a single glance, prompting him, weak-kneed, to utter those fateful words, “Who is she?”

She has translucent skin, shining ringlets, a face and figure of astonishing beauty. Beneath her elegant veneer lurks an animal passion that men can sense across the room. Her voice is low and throaty, her smile devastating. She pins thunderstruck men to the spot with a glance from her luminous eyes. Laughing, she leaves us, her train rustling behind her, and we detect the heady notes of her perfume clinging to the air. Well do we understand why the king has selected her.

But if we chose beauty as the single most important quality of the royal mistress, we would be flat-out wrong. The woman who wore all her assets on her skin, and offered none from within, simply did not last. Good looks without intelligence and kindness resulted in a few frenzied interludes of dropped breeches and rumpled petticoats, rarely in an offer of the position of
maîtresse-en-titre.
Many monarchs sampled the charms of the most beautiful women in their courts and found them absolutely
boring
.

Many a plain woman, on the other hand, captivated her king, but not with a grand entrance at a ball. She would require frequent contact with the monarch to reveal her inner beauty, her good nature, keen intellect, and clever wit. He would begin to look forward to their conversations, the comfort he felt in her presence, the laughter she provoked in him. And soon the court would snicker that the king had taken an ugly mistress.

With or without beauty, with or without sexual talents, the successful royal mistress made herself irreplaceable, catering to
each of the king's five senses. She was ready to converse gaily with him when she was tired, make love until all hours when she was ill, cater to his every whim, serve his favorite foods, sympathize when he was cranky, massage his feet, decorate his homes, and raise his illegitimate children—sometimes sired with women other than herself. And all of this must be done
cheerfully
.

Only a few monarchs enjoyed passionate foot-stomping battles with their mistresses. Typically, the royal mistress did not scold, browbeat, or throw jealous tantrums. Sitting on her perch of dignified serenity, she selected her battles carefully, only rarely flapping down with talons bared.

In the king's presence his mistress was never to be tired, ill, complaining, or grief-stricken. She wore a mask of beaming delight over any and all discomforts. When Louis XIV bestowed upon his mistresses and their friends the honor of traveling in his carriage from one palace to the other, it was in actuality a great torment. The duc de Saint-Simon reported, “The expedition would not have covered a quarter of a league before the King would be asking the ladies in his carriage whether they did not care to eat something…. Then they were all obliged to say how hungry they were, put on an air of jollity, and set to with good appetite and willingness, otherwise the King became displeased and would show his resentment openly…. The King liked fresh air and insisted on having all the windows lowered; he would have been extremely displeased had any lady had the temerity to draw one of the curtains to keep out the sun, the wind or the cold. There was no alternative but to pretend not to notice that, nor any other kind of discomfort…. To feel sick was an unforgivable crime.”
1

Perhaps worst of all, the ladies were not permitted to mention the needs of nature. During one six-hour ride from Versailles to Fontainebleau, the duchesse de Chevreuse was in such dire need of a chamber pot that she almost collapsed. Fixing a smile upon her face, she never mentioned her agony to the king. Upon reaching Fontainebleau, she raced into the nearest room—which happened to be the chapel—and relieved herself there in the first vessel she found—which happened to be a holy chalice.

But the royal mistress's discomforts did not end there. She was forced to participate in the king's hobbies whether she liked them or not. Smiling broadly, she rode with him through the cold woods on the hunt and nodded her approval as he cornered and killed screaming animals, then dismembered their bloody carcasses. Laughing gaily, she spent hours in wet fields watching the royal hawks devour little birds. Chuckling merrily, she pretended to relish boring card games until the wee hours of the morning. And then, moaning in feigned ecstasy, she endured unwelcome sex.

We rarely hear of a queen exerting herself to exhaustion to please the king. While the mistress sang, and hunted, and recited poetry, and brought in jugglers, and made love all night, and ate when not hungry, and denied the needs of her bladder and bowels, the queen glided through her marriage with solemn lethargy. Why did the mistress have to work so hard, while the queen did not? Quite simply, because the mistress could be dismissed at any moment, while the queen was a permanent fixture in the palace—like the marble floors or stone columns—until her death. No matter what a queen's behavior—short of blatant adultery—she would retain her marriage and her position. The mistress, on the other hand, could lose all she possessed with a snap of the royal fingers.

The Art of Pleasing

The quintessential royal mistress was Jeanne-Antoinette d'Etioles, marquise de Pompadour, who reigned for nineteen years over Louis XV and France. This twenty-four-year-old from the middle class crashed the forbidding gates of Versailles in 1745, survived countless plots and counterplots by jealous nobles to unseat her, and left court only as a corpse on a stretcher. What silken cords bound the king to her?

Initially she entranced handsome Louis with her beauty and charm. Comte Dufort de Cheverny wrote, “Not a man alive but would have had her for his mistress if he could. Tall, though not too tall; beautiful figure; round face with regular features; wonderful
complexion, hands and arms; eyes not so big, but the brightest, wittiest, and most sparkling I ever saw. Everything about her was rounded, including all her gestures. She absolutely extinguished all the other women at Court, although some were very beautiful.”
2

But Madame de Pompadour's beauty was like that of a hothouse flower that soon began to wither in the poisonous atmosphere of Versailles. In her twenties she boasted a fresh, ethereal beauty, with perfect skin, silken chestnut hair, and dark hazel eyes. She set off the purity of her look by simple costumes of rose, pink, or blue silk and satin, trimmed with the requisite lace. But as the rigors of court life sapped her natural beauty, she increased the magnificence of her gowns and jewels to distract the observer from her face—richer lace, larger gems, heavy brocades and velvets embroidered with gold and silver and pearls. One evening she appeared in a dress trimmed with lace worth 22,500 livres, the cost of an estate.

Frigidity is, of course, a great disadvantage to a mistress. To compensate for her poor performance at night, during the day Madame de Pompadour devoted every moment to amusing a monarch who quickly grew bored. Louis escaped the stiff etiquette of Versailles by fleeing to her apartments and barring the door. There he found an entire world created for his personal comfort. His mistress decorated her rooms in colors and fabrics that he found relaxing. She filled them with sweetly scented flowers from the palace greenhouses, even in winter. She ordered dishes and wines that pleased the royal palate.

Madame de Pompadour became an avid student of the king's moods, his every facial expression, the cadence of his words. She knew when he was hiding boredom, anger, or frustration behind his mask of royal calmness. The twitch of an eyelid, the lilt of a syllable, would tell her the behavior necessary to please him. Did he want a comfortable silence? Should she recount an amusing story, play a somber tune on the harpsichord, stand up and perform a monologue?

Louis must have climbed the secret spiral staircase leading from his apartments to hers with great anticipation. What would
she discuss with him that evening? Building, perhaps. Madame de Pompadour had a mania for building palaces and asked the king's advice on architecture, improvements, and decorations. Perhaps she would have architectural plans laid out for his approval. Or maybe the subject would be botany. His mistress created a botanical garden at the Trianon Palace on the grounds of Versailles where she conducted experiments and grew the first strawberries in France especially for her royal lover. She also had a greenhouse built so that Louis could have fresh oranges and lemons at any time of year.

Perhaps she would report on the progress of the farmyard she had created for him on the palace grounds, complete with a dairy and milk cows. Or maybe she would discuss the art of gem cutting she had taken up, or her plans for a porcelain factory.

One of Louis's favorite diversions was to listen to Madame de Pompadour read from the private letters of his courtiers. All letters both into and out of court were opened, read for treacherous intent, and carefully resealed. Madame de Pompadour obtained from the palace police copies of the most amusing missives—which contained the most intimate details—to read to the king. After a hard day's work Louis roared with laughter as she read him these excerpts in a lively and entertaining manner.

To divert the royal boredom, Madame de Pompadour created a tiny theater, holding only a handful of guests, where she performed the lead roles, and the king was invariably the guest of honor. She was a talented actress; after her first performance, Louis came up to her and said with throaty sincerity, “You are the most charming woman in France.”
3
Her theater was so successful that she performed comedy on Mondays and sang opera on Wednesdays—in between her other exhausting duties. Courtiers clawed each other out of the way to obtain invitations.

Perhaps her best role was that of royal listener. The king had the unfortunate habit of recounting the same stories innumerable times, of discussing the same themes—hunting, illness, and death. And his mistress, who hated talk of hunting, illness, and death, concealed her yawns behind a smile, nodded her head encouragingly, and hoped that her eyes sparkled with sufficient
interest as she heard the same old stories, the boring, macabre old stories, yet again.

Madame de Pompadour's relentless devotion to amusing the king caused her untold hardship. She rose early for Mass and endured late dinners followed by unwanted lovemaking. Rich food, great quantities of wine, and unending correspondence and court duties exhausted her. Nor could she leave her apartments for exercise or a change of scene lest the king suddenly appear wanting food, conversation, or sex. Despite the daunting challenges of her schedule, she never permitted herself to show fatigue, boredom, or illness, never expressed frustration, anger, or crankiness.

In her early years as royal mistress, Madame de Pompadour was often required to accompany Louis on his frequent hunts, either on horseback or in a carriage, in all kinds of weather. Despite the fact that these excursions often gave her pneumonia, she put on her riding habit and her omnipresent smile and went off to join the king. As she grew older, and sicker, this was the one duty she gave up.

Madame de Pompadour turned to thick white lead powder to hide the dark circles under her eyes and the sallow color of her skin. Blemishes caused by the lead powder were covered by more lead powder or fashionable black patches. And to create the illusion of blooming good health, she rubbed heavy rouge on her cheeks. The layers of rouge, patches, and powder served as a complaisant mask behind which she could hide exhaustion, pain, and anger.

One evening Madame de Pompadour, suffering from one of her horrendous migraines, sent word to the king that she was ill and unable to attend dinner. Louis frowned and asked her messenger if she was feverish. The messenger replied that she was not. “Very well, then, let her come down!”
4
commanded the king. And his violently ill mistress was forced to rise from her sickbed, lace herself into her ball gown, hang diamonds from her ears and throat, powder and rouge her face, and most important, paint a smile on her pained mouth.

In 1754 Madame de Pompadour's only child, ten-year-old
Alexandrine, died suddenly in her convent school. Days later Madame de Pompadour's father, heartbroken over the loss of his only grandchild, also died. Overcome with grief, the royal mistress knew that however much the king liked talking about death and illness, he grew bored in their presence. Having lost a beloved father and darling daughter within a fortnight, she once again dried her tears and put on her diamonds. The prince de Croy, who visited her shortly afterward, reported, “I saw the Marquise for the first time since the loss of her daughter, a dreadful blow that I thought had completely crushed her. But because too much pain might have harmed her appearance and possibly her position, I found her neither changed nor downcast.” Though the prince saw her chatting cheerfully with the king, he thought that she “was in all likelihood just as unhappy inside as she seemed happy on the outside.”
5
Indeed, for many years Madame de Pompadour would confess to friends, “For me happiness has died with my daughter.”
6
She was just not permitted to show her pain.

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