A Brief History
On July 26, 1767, Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, and one-time mistress of King George II of England, died. Henrietta has the distinction of probably being the only mistress in history to be unwanted; George II much preferring the company of his wife to her.
What also sets Henrietta Howard apart is that she was a different nationality from her royal lover. This article will list 10 women who slept with emperors, czars, kings and princes but were not their subjects. Mistresses such as Cleopatra or Wallis Simpson who eventually married their lovers will not be considered. In Cleopatra’s case, for example, she married Julius Caesar in an Egyptian ceremony despite the fact that he still had a wife, Calpurnia, in Rome.
1. Mary Boleyn (c. 1499/1500-1543)
While serving as an English lady-in-waiting to the Queen of France, Mary Boleyn, older sister of Anne Boleyn, caught the eye of King Francis I. His memories of her were none too flattering, and he called her “the English mare”, “my hackney”, and “the greatest slut of all”. This reputation, however, did not dissuade Henry VIII of England from also sleeping with her. In fact, he liked the Boleyn family so much, he even later made Anne his second wife when she refused to become his mistress. Apparently Anne had learned from her sister’s example.
2. Jane Fleming (1502-1562)
Born Jane Stewart, she was an illegitimate daughter of King James IV of Scotland. Following the death of her husband, she was appointed governess to her niece, Mary, Queen of Scots, and moved to France with her upon the young queen’s betrothal to the French Dauphin. In France, just shy of her 50th birthday, Jane became pregnant by the much-younger French king, Henri II, who had a thing for older women; his primary mistress, Diane de Poitiers, also being more than 15 years older than him.
3. Hortense Mancini (1646-1699)
Hortense was a foreign mistress to not one but two kings! Born into great wealth in Italy, she was the niece of Cardinal Mazzarin who served as chief minister of France for twenty years. This familial connection brought her to the French court where she became a mistress of Louis XIV, the Sun King. She was later sent to England to gain influence over King Charles II. Not only did she sleep with him too, but she also slept with his illegitimate daughter by another of his mistresses! This woman epitomized royal scandal.
4. Louise de Kérouille (1649-1734)
Originally from France, Louise de Kérouille is ancestress to both Diana, Princess of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, herself once royal mistress. Sent by Louis XIV of France to England to entice King Charles II, she represented both French and Catholic interests at the English court. Disliked by the English people, she was often the subject of attack. Once when the carriage of her English rival Nell Gywn was mistaken for hers, a mob surrounded it and shouted expletives until Nell stuck her head out of the window and said, “Pray good people, be civil. I am the Protestant whore!” Despite what the English people thought of Louise, Charles II was devoted to her and made her a duchess shortly after she gave birth to his son.
5. Anna Mons (1672-1714)
During one of his visits to the German Quarter, a neighborhood in Moscow where German and Dutch immigrants lived, Peter the Great of Russia met Anna Mons, daughter of a wine merchant from Westphalia. Peter was entranced by her beauty and would have married her had he not already had a wife. Instead, Anna became his official mistress and was given property and a mansion. She retained her position for 12 years. At the end of this time and despite the drunken orgies they had participated in together, Peter’s interest in her began to wane, so she began flirting with the Prussian ambassador to make him jealous. Rather than rekindling his affections, her actions angered him, and he threw her into prison. She was eventually released, however. As not to remind him of her, Peter’s next mistress and eventual wife, Catherine I of Russia, herself of Polish extraction, dyed her hair black, so that she would not resemble Anna Mons.
6. Henrietta Howard (1689-1767)
“A necessary nuisance” is the best way to describe poor Henrietta Howard. This was the sentiment her royal lover, the future King George II of Great Britain, felt for her. As Queen Anne of Great Britain lay dying, Henrietta and her husband moved to the German state of Hanover to ingratiate themselves with Anne’s successor; years before Parliament had passed the Act of Succession naming the House of Hanover as the heir to the House of Stuart. This was done to prevent the kingdom from falling into Catholic hands. In other words, the rightful heirs were surpassed. In Hanover, Henrietta became the mistress of the son and heir of the new British king. He only begrudgingly took her on because he felt a man in his position was required to have a mistress. He much preferred the company of his beautiful and accomplished wife whom he loved dearly. Every night like clockwork though, he would drag himself to his mistress’ bedroom to spend a few hours with her. This was basically only show, and it was generally assumed they spent their time playing cards and practicing his English together. Listening to his thick, German accent must have, however, grated on her ears, and Henrietta went prematurely deaf before ending her 20-year tenure as the mistress for appearances’ sake.
7. Maria Walewska (1786-1817)
It was at a ball in Warsaw that Napoleon Bonaparte became infatuated with the Polish countess Maria Walewska, her husband having strategically placed her to capture the French emperor’s attention. Maria only went along with all this because she hoped to gain influence over Napoleon to help further Polish interests such as freeing Poland of foreign occupation. She ended up following him around Europe on campaign and eventually bore him a son, but despite his affection for her, Napoleon did not let her sway him politically and betrayed her by not restoring the kingdom of Poland as he had promised. Nevertheless, she remained loyal to the end and even visited him while he was exiled on the island of Elba. When Napoleon died four years after her, he was still wearing a ring she had given him.
8. Lola Montez (1821-1861)
Lola Montez was the Spanish-sounding stage name of an Irish stage actress and dancer. While performing in Munich, she caught the attention of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Ludwig became besotted with her, and she made him create her a countess and provide her with a large annual annuity. Even though she used her influence over him to push liberal reforms, some students at the University of Munich did not like her. These students ended up clashing with fraternities who supported Lola, and to put an end to the disruptions, Ludwig had the university closed for a semester. Protests and demonstrations ensued, and following the outbreak of the German revolutions of 1848, the university was reopened, Ludwig was forced to abdicate his throne, and Lola, as hated as she was, felt compelled to flee. Lola moved to the United States and returned to the stage, where she was hailed by the American public who adored anyone and anything to do with European nobility.
9. Jennie Jerome (1854-1921)
Aside from her short run as a royal favorite, American-born socialite Jennie Jerome’s main claim to fame is being the mother of British politician Winston Churchill. Following her marriage to Lord Randolph Churchill, son of the Duke of Marlborough and cousin to the Spencer family, Jennie moved from New York to England, where she vied to climb the social ladder. And climb it she did, all the way into the highest bed! In the 1890s, after a string of well-situated and politically powerful lovers, she became the mistress of no less than the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII of England. When the prince tired of her, she married a man her son’s age! She did this not once but twice! Despite all the scandal she caused, Winston worshipped her and credited her and her “contacts” with advancing his early career.
10. Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein (1965- )
In 2012 King Juan-Carlos of Spain received much criticism for taking part in an elephant-hunting trip in Botswana. This activity was especially shocking since Juan-Carlos was honorary president of the Spanish branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The Spaniards were infuriated, and the king was asked to resign. This safari trip only came to light because Juan-Carlos had broken his hip on the trip, and a special plane had to be sent to pick him up. What also came to light was the fact that Juan-Carlos had a female companion on this trip who was not his wife. The media dug deeper and discovered that she had already accompanied him on many vacations and to many events. Though her name is Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, she herself is not of the German nobility; she was born Danish, but her second husband had been a prince. It has never been stated as fact that she is Juan-Carlos’ girlfriend, and she herself, calls herself simply a close friend, but the evidence obtained by journalists is compelling enough to put her on this list of foreign mistresses.
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For more information, please read…
De Vries, Susanna. Royal Mistresses of the House of Hanover-Windsor. Pirgos Press, 2012.