Penny Lane may not be real, but she is the modern-day incarnation of those fierce mistresses from history who saw fame, fortune, and love but only knew how to get two of the three. Whether its Anne Boleyn's sister Mary Boleyn or the legendary Marion Davies, history is erasing the stories of these women who found their power and their weakness in equal turn through their relationships with men who were not theirs to take. Puritanical American values dictate that schools hide their stories from their curriculums, while American rebellion shows that there's still a thirst for these stories to be told. If your favorite part of history class was the day they let you watch Kirsten Dunst's Marie Antoinette, this list of 20 Fierce Mistresses Erased From History is for you.
Everyone's heard of Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn's less pretty but more ambitious sister. Mary, however, is also a famous mistress. She is said to have embarked on an affair with King Francis of France, who called her "una grandissima ribalda, infame sopra tutte" aka "a very great whore, the most infamous of all." Um, thanks? She left French court for English court to become a maid-of-honor (not the wedding type, the lady-in-waiting junior position type) for Catherine of Aragon. She repaid this favor by letting King Henry VIII father two of her children before leaving her for her sister. Classy. Mary married for love and was disowned for it, which actually ended up being a good thing because her sister and brother both ended up being jailed in the Tower of London and executed for treason.
Diane de Poitiers only wore black or white because she was awesome. Diane was the favorite to Henry II of France before he was King, remaining his closest confidante for over twenty-five years. Diane didn't become Henry's mistress until he was sixteen (and she was thirty-five, which is pretty creepy). She was a noted beauty who has a statue modeled after her in the Louvre, kept her good looks into her fifties despite moisturizer not having been invented yet, and was so influential that many of Henry's official letters were signed with the joint name HenriDiane. After Henry's death, his wife Catherine de Medici placed Diane in virtual exile but allowed her to keep one of her chateaux and gave her the chateau Catherine had formerly used for her sorcery. Oh, also, Diane was bi and had affairs with multiple women. An LGBTQ icon.
Lola Montez was an Irish dancer and actress whose affair with Franz List lead her into the circles of George Sand and Alexandre Dumas in Paris. After literally ripping off her clothes in public when King Ludwig I of Bavaria asked her if her breasts were real, she began an affair with the king and was made a Countess. No one liked her because she was prone to tantrums and clearly a tacky social climber (as opposed to the other, untacky ones on this list), but she used her huge political power to advocate in favor of liberalism. Lola had to leave Munich, where the court was stationed after Ludwig abdicated his throne during the Revolutions of 1848.
Known as "The Uncrowned Queen," Barbara Palmer was the most notorious of King Charles II of England's mistresses. Some people called her the curse of the nation because of her extravagance and bad temper. She had five children by King Charles. After Charles left his exile at The Hague where he met Barbara and returned to court, Barbara had more influence at court than Charles's, wife, Catherine of Bragzana, with whom Barbara was in a huge feud. Her favor with the king was off-and-on but she was made Duchess of Cleveland with an added stipulation that the title could be passed to her eldest son even though he was illegitimate.
Aspasia may or may not have run a brothel in ancient Athens, and started an affair with Pericles while he was still married to his first wife. After that marriage ended, Aspasia moved in with Pericles and was known as a conversationalist and advisor. Despite the scandal of her infidelity, friends of Socrates brought their wives to hear Aspasia speak. She was later accused of corrupting the women of Athens in order to justify her common-law husband's perversions. The Peloponnesian War also low-key might have been her fault. Before he died of the plague, Pericles changed the law so his son with Aspasia could become his legitimate heir.
Marion Davies was a film actress whose career took off due to her relationship as the mistress of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Some people actually dispute that and say his patronage did more harm than good because her true talent was in comedy rather than the historical dramas he preferred, but regardless, he became her manager and she remained his mistress until his death. There's a probably-untrue rumor that the untalented second wife in Citizen Kane is based on Marion that irreparably harmed her reputation after her death despite her being the top female box office star of 1922-23.
Daisy Greville was a socialist whose life's work benefitted the poor in education, housing, pay, and employment. It was expected for women of her high stature in aristocratic social circles to become involved in affairs with powerful men, and Daisy decided to one-up everyone and become the mistress to the Prince of Wales who would later become King Edward II. The Prince of Wales and Lord Charles, another aristocrat with whom Daisy had an affair, even got into a small fight for Daisy's honor after Daisy accidentally outed her affair with Lord Charles to Lady Charles. Her true love was a faithless millionaire bachelor named Joseph Laycock (fittingly), who ended up doing her real dirty and marrying someone else. Her memoir is considered one of the best of Edwardian society.
Marie Anne de Mailly-Nesle, Duchesse de Châteauroux, was one of five famous sisters. Four of those five sisters would go on to have affairs with King Louis XV of France, and Marie had him from 1742-1744. Marie Anne is the most notable of this iconic family line because she was the best at manipulating the king, whereas her older sister Louise Julie was legitimately in love with him and that made her so unhelpful in matters of state that courtesans basically saw her as useless. It took a lot of political intrigue and plotting to convince Marie Anne to leave her lover for the king and to rid the court of Louise Julie. Because Marie Ann was not in love with him, he had to give her an official title, a settled income, a huge home, and legitimized children. She eventually became the de facto ruler of France.
Not much is known about the life of Rosamund Clifford, known as "Rose of the World," whose life has really been whittled down to one story in English folklore. She was the great love of King Henry II of England 's life, and to conceal the affair from Queen Elanor of Aquitaine, their meetings were done in the innermost nooks of a complicated maze he built in his park in Oxfordshire. After Queen Elanor heard the rumors, she made her way through the maze and confronted her rival with a choice between a dagger and a bowl of poison. Rosamund chose the poison and died.
Alice Perrers is an iconic scammer. She scammed her way into being the wealthiest woman in England after becoming the mistress of King Edward II of England. She was originally a lady-in-waiting to Edward's consort Philippa of Hainault and has been accused of using her youth, beauty, and opportunism to take advantage of the elderly king. Described by one historian as "a shameless, impudent harlot," court despised her and she basically ran the country during her early to mid-twenties. A law was placed into practice specifically so the court could banish her for interfering with due process of the law.
King Edward IV of England described Jane Shore as one of "the merriest, the wiliest, and the holiest harlots" in England. King Edward was totally devoted to her, and she used her influence only to help others be pardoned by the king and never for personal gain. After King Edward died, Jane was charged with conspiracy for forming an alliance between Baron William Hastings, another of her lovers, and Edward IV's widow, Elizabeth Woodville. She only got out of prison because she seduced the King's Solicitor General from prison and they married. She lived the rest of her life with him in middle-class respectability.
A royal mistress to Emperor Paul of Russia, Anna Lopukhina met Paul at a ball where his liking to her was noted by a faction of courtesans who saw her as an opportunity to prevent the influence of Empress Maria Feodorovna. Her entire family was brought to court and had titles bestowed upon them, and Anna is said to have had a beneficial influence on the emperor's overall character. She ultimately married a childhood friend, Prince Pavel Gagarin, but this was mostly to protect her from plebian spite by the common folk and the pair were never truly in love.
Caroline Lacroix (not like the water) was a mistress to Leopold II of Belgium who met the 65-year-old king when she was a teenage sex worker _in Paris. She was called La reine du Congo, but like not in a good way. Her wealth, estates, and noble title were given to her by taking from the Congo Free State, Leopold's personal colony. She became a multimillionaire upon the king's death, with much of his wealth going to her instead of his estranged daughters or the government. They tried to marry in the days before his death, but without a civil ceremony (they only had a religious one), it was invalid under Belgian law.
Hedvig Taube is the only official royal mistress in Swedish history, making her an OG. Hedvig was uninterested in King Frederick I's advancements and was only convinced into the matter by her gambling debt-ridden family, who were paid a large sum of money by the king, and the promise of the institution in Sweden of the title Maitresse-en-titre. The occurred only after being kept a secret from the queen as a maid of honor at court for many years. When Hedvig gave birth to a son, her relationship with the king became public knowledge and she was briefly ostracized in favor of the queen before regaining a positive standing in society.
A 'confidante' of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, Katharina Schratt was an actress who met Franz at one of her performances. His wife, Empress Elisabeth, encouraged the relationship until her assassination. Katharina was also a close platonic friend of Emperor Ferdinand I of Bulgaria and was one of Austria's most popular actresses until her retirement in 1900. Franz and she remained together (exempting one break-up from 1900-1901 reportedly due to "a difference in opinions," whatever that means). After Franz's death, Katharina donated large sums to animal shelters and became deeply religious. She also inherited her separated husband's three-story palace across from the state opera upon his death in 1909.
Magda Lupescu was King Carol II of Romania's mistress. A lot of her life is unknown because she lied about it, as did her friends and enemies. Magda and Carol likely met through the intervention of mutual friends at a car race, and two years after their first encounter, they began a serious relationship that endured until Carol died in 1953. Carol had courted controversy during his reign before, thus flaunting his affair with Magda in public. Carol abdicated to be with Magda until he mounted a constitutional coup and brought Magda back to court with him as his wife in everything but title. He eventually declared himself dictator before having to abdicate and flee again, at which point he officially married Magda.
Maria Countess Walewska was Napoleon I's mistress. She was unfazed by their first meeting, but he found her so beautiful that he returned to Warsaw with the intent of making her his mistress. She obliged for patriotic reasons, to convince the emperor to support Polish independence. She had two children with Napoleon and returned with him to France, but their affair ended when Napoleon decided to divorce his wife, Josephine, to marry the daughter of the Austrian Emperor. Maria was well provided for and was eventually able to divorce her husband to marry her true love, Count Philippe Antoine d'Ornano.
Baroness Marie Alexandrine von Vetsera was new money and a mistress of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria. Her family was not happy with the affair because Marie was a teenager and could have compromised her family's precarious social standing. Here's where it takes a dark turn. Rudolf first suggested a suicide pact to his other serious mistress, actress Mizzi Kaspar, a month before Marie and Rudolf were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide at his hunting lodge. The exact facts of their violent end are unknown, but a common retelling is that the Prince shot the Baroness (with her permission) before shooting herself in the head, or vice-versa.
Bianca Cappello met Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany after fleeing to Florence with her first husband, whom she'd fallen in love with only to be made to do menial work for her husband's very poor family. Her husband was given a position at court by Francesco and Bianca was the Duke's favorite mistress. Rumor has it that Bianca and Francesco arranged the murder of her husband in the streets of Florence with the cover story of an amorous intrigue. Her hopes of being anything more than an affair were destroyed when Francesco and his wife gave birth to a son. Then, his wife died and Francesco married Bianca and her son was put on the path to legitimacy. Bianca and Francesco either died of malaria or by poisoning.
Sophie Amalie Moth became the first Countess of Samsøe because of her relationship as the official mistress of King Christian V of Denmark, which was essentially set up by her mother. She was the first officially acknowledged royal mistress in Denmark and gave birth to five illegitimate (but claimed) children by the King. She rarely used her position to court political favors and lived a quiet life on her estate after the King's death. She took over the mansion Thott Palace which eventually became the French Embassy in Copenhagen, and her son was allowed to inherit the mansion from her upon her death.
Kiki de Montparnasse was the stage name of Alice Ernestine Prin, who was also known as the Queen of Montparnasse. She was a model and muse with many famous artists as lovers. Among other things, she's known as the mistress of the photographer Man Ray and is featured in many of his photographs. She became a model to escape an impoverished childhood as an illegitimate child. Through Man Ray, she was introduced to the Dadaists and surrealists, became a close friend of Ernest Hemingway, and was an artist and, later, a cabaret performer. Her affair with Man Ray did not define her, she defined herself, and for that reason, she is a fierce, fierce mistress. Her memoirs were banned in the US for their illustrations of her life as a sexually uninhibited, socially active woman.