Library Journal gives THE KINGS’ MISTRESSES by Elizabeth Goldsmith a starred review:
This dual biography relates the interesting but little-known saga of the Mancini sisters, nieces of Cardinal Mazarin, giant of French statecraft. Born in Italy but summoned to the French court as children, Marie and Hortense defied the strictures that bound women’s lives then. Goldsmith (French, Boston Univ.) uses letters, memoirs, family papers, and other archival sources to share the story of two women who were “feminists” long before the word existed. Trapped in loveless marriages arranged for political purposes, they became celebrities but also targets of scorn and ridicule because of their public legal battles with their husbands as well as their travels and love affairs. In her youth, Marie had a fairy-tale romance with the young Louis XIV, while Hortense became mistress to England’s Charles II (hence the book’s title). Goldsmith presents the sisters as pioneers who embraced notoriety by publishing accounts of their unconventional lives. Their prominence during the emergence of print journalism prompted debates on women’s rights, marriage, and property laws. Goldsmith interweaves their stories with those of other women of the period. VERDICT General readers of historical biography and scholars of women’s history will enjoy this spirited account that humanizes the experiences of 17th-century women.
They were articulate women who lived life with unquestionable panache on terms that, as far as they could, they determined. Elizabeth Goldsmith has written a vibrant biography of two pioneering free spirits, feminists long before the term existed, independent women long before such status was legally or practically recognized, women whose obligation was not to country or King and who refused at every turn to be constrained by the hypocrises, morals or mores of their era. They had a lot of fun.