A Little Herstory
Maîtresse-en-titre. A Goddess. An Enchantress. A Courtesan. A Feminist. An all around Boss Lady.
The semi-official position of “Chief Mistress” found her lane in the French royal court in the 14th Century under the reign of Henry IV and in the English royal court decades later. As some of the true O.G.s of “herstory”, they challenged the conventional view of womanhood. They were lovers, entrepreneurs, businesswomen, writers, war strategists, advisors, confidantes… and they did it, almost always, publicly. But interestingly enough, they usually did it with the semi blessing of the Queen.
An intriguing fact about the Chief Mistresses, primarily of the French court, was that they had to be officially presented before the Queen. *Gasp* Yeah – clutch those pearls, hunty! Can you imagine? Then again, it’s only proper etiquette that the sovereign know what’s up. Some queens were not down with the sister-wife realness; others were totally here for it.
Most endearing is that sometimes these women would form the fondest of friendships, working together for the betterment of their country (i.e. convincing a King to do the right thing) and/or their individual situations (i.e. convincing a King to do the right thing). A noble wife was there to ensure the bloodline not only survived but thrived & the marriage wasn’t usually a happy one (Diana for $500, Alex). If it was happy, the couple realized that while the love was deep, some things just weren’t vibin’. Welcome to your basic “hall pass”. The first that comes to mind, though they were not royals, is Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (now that’s an provider name if there ever was one) and Lady Elizabeth “Bess” Foster. Though their friendship strained when G learned of the dalliance between her husband and Bess, in time the two women became quite close. Of course not every love triangle worked out. Henry VIII offered Anne Boleyn the position of Chief Mistress in his court but we all know how that turned out. Side note: Anne’s probably chillin’ in some luxurious palace in another plane looking at England like, “I know you y’all didn’t like me but you’re welcome.” Well, she would”t have said “y’all” but you get my point.
So you’re asking yourself, “LJ… what’s the point of this?” Well, for starters, it’s an intriguing part of herstory and it’s lit AF. The way these two stations, filled by two very distinct women, interacted; sometimes both consumed with empathy for one another & at other times envious of what one another had. And two, maybe it’s my noble French ancestry peeking out (we are hella French on my mom’s side) but I wish this custom had never died; the formal introductions of “Wives & Mistresses”. However, comma, (it’s funny to actually say/read it), with the rise of religion, die it did, and the mistresses slunk back into the shadows.
Suffice to say, in a parallel, open-minded world, I imagine myself sitting across from my lover’s wife basking in our “we’ve figured this thing out” glow-up, enjoying a well-deserved Sunday brunch with bottomless mimosas. All the while discussing our respective weeks in review, our plans with our man, the latest gossip, politics, travels, and enjoying one another’s company. On occasion, enjoying one another’s company intimately and with our man. Secure and comfortable in our mutual understanding that we both play very different but equally significant roles in our lover’s life. And if he should part, in Francois Mitterrand funeral realness, we would pour our bodies into black Chanel. Fascinator black veils would cover our saddened faces (think ‘Angel of Death’ from American Horror Story: Asylum). Except in this version, we comfort one another and move forward as friends.
Till the next time we shoot the bull…
N.B. The researcher in me is irked that I had to keep this so short because I could write a thesis on this. Instead, I’ve included some works below that inspired this post & for you feast your mind on.
Sex With Kings: 500 Years Adultery, Power, Rivalry, & Revenge
By Eleanor Herman
Queens & Mistresses of Renaissance France
By Kathleen Wellman