The Most Powerful Mistresses Of The Past Will Destroy Your Notion Of History

Throughout most of history, women were stuck in whatever position they were born into. Having no legal rights, and little social status other than being a pretty face at court, they had little effect on events. Or at least that’s what you were taught to believe.

In fact, throughout history there have been many women who were not only involved in worldly affairs, but ran them.

1.) Lillie Langtry

The inspiration for Sherlock Holmes’ love interest, Irene Adler, for three years, Londoner Lillie Langtry was the official mistress of Crown Prince Albert of Great Britain. Later introduced to the Queen, she went on to have an illustrious and notorious career as a salon leader, actress, agent provocateur, and mistress of several other princes and lords, all with the support of her one time flame, Albert.

2.) Gabrielle d’Estrées


Though there was an “official Queen,” everyone knew this lucky lady was the real woman in the French King Henry IV of Navarre’s life. She was known for accompanying him to battle, handling his correspondence, and writing many of the speeches and edicts on tolerance Henry was later famous for. She would later get Henry to attempt to have his real marriage annulled in order to marry Gabrielle, although she died before it was finalized.

3.) Odette de Champdivers

Growing up on the outskirts of the court, she pined for the dashing young King Charles VI and his brother Louis I. When Louis died however, Charles turned to Odette in his grief, to which his actual Queen was totally supportive of (he was an abusive schizophrenic). The triad would go on to rule France happily for the next 15 years. Her name was the last word on his lips before death.

4.) Virginia Oldoini

Known as the grandmother of modern photography, her obsession with staged photography and experimental imaging propelled the new technology into aristocratic circles and advanced the careers and techniques of an entire generation of photographers. She did all of this while being the mistress of Emperor Napoleon III of France and being one the major influences in ending conflict between the kingdoms of 19th century Western Europe.

5.) Lola Montez

The mistress of Franz List, Alexander Dumas, and King Ludwig I of Bavaria, she championed liberal policies and education reform Ludwig put in place before the pair was exiled. While away, she performed in the theater in the U.S. and Australia. Today, she is considered to be one of the greatest influences on building the modern democratic German nation.

6.) Diane de Poitiers

Although 35 when she began an affair with the 16 year old French King Henry II, she managed to rule France as his right hand for the next ten years until he was formally married to Catherina de Medici. To his new wife’s dismay however, Diane managed to hold the lands of her dead husband without a male guardian and have considerable control of the French court even after their marriage thanks to the King.

7.) Nell Gwyn

A rags to riches story, Nell was born to the streets, but “discovered” and put in theater. The young starlet quickly caught the eye of serial philanderer Charles II and became one of his longtime coterie of mistresses. She would go on to draw tremendous crowds all her life by using her notoriety, and ensure her children were recognized at court (thus having a rich life).

8.) Barbara Palmer

Funny enough though, Charles II would have ANOTHER mistress at the same time, and this one far more powerful. Given an appointment as the official “Mistress of the Royal Bedchamber,” her title put her and her oldest children in control of the King’s household and the retinue of the unpopular actual Queen. She would serve at court for decades after, and although hated by Charles’ male advisers, was beloved by the public for being an “every woman.”

9.) Maria Walewska

This Polish Countess was the apple of Napoleon’s (adulterous) eye, although at first she was against it. Later, thinking that she could help the fortunes of Poland, she gave in, and even married advisers to Napoleon to remain close to him. Later, when Napoleon was exiled, she even offered to go with him.

10.) Jeanne Antoinette Poisson

Trained from birth to be a mistress at court, Jeanne Antoinette Poisson was King Louis XV’s mistress and his Queen’s friend. She would hold tremendous on their rulings, influencing politics and pop culture, and would later be regarded by historians as one of the most pivotal and beneficial figures in the history of France.

11.) Aspasia of Miletus

The right hand of Pericles, Aspasia was a force to be reckoned with. Believed to be the true author of many of Pericles most famous recorded speeches, this 5th century BCE woman was at the forefront of philosophy although as an immigrant to Athens, was never allowed to marry Pericles officially.

12.) Bianca Cappello

After catching the eye of Francesco, the heir to the Medici family, they both had her first husband murdered in the streets (he was poor, go figure). Then, Francesco’s own wife died under “mysterious circumstances,” paving the way for these two to get hitched. Funny enough though, both would be poisoned to death a short time later at dinner.

13.) Alice Perrers

One time BFF of Queen Philippa of Hainault, she eventually cozied up to the elderly King Edward III of England. Bestowed with crown jewels and money, she would invest wisely and become a tremendously rich woman.

14.) Agnès Sorel

The favorite mistress of King Charles VII of France, she helped the depressed King get out of his funk after being tricked into executing his ally, Joan of Arc. Later, the King’s son felt so threatened by her power that he had her murdered.

15.) Cleopatra

Part Pharaoh, part mistress, she first gave up the goods to conqueror Julius Caesar to ensure her kingdom remained intact. After he was assassinated though, she found respite in the bed of his best friend and advisor, Mark Antony, where she hoped he could help her keep the Eastern Mediterranean bloc of her power together. He failed. Regardless, she’ll likely goes down as the most powerful mistress in history.

(via All Day)

From Cleopatra to Barbara Palmer, these women did far more than history ever gives them credit for. Although they were resigned to their posts in life, they certainly made do with what they had, no matter the costs. And although not necessarily the best role model for our young daughters, for a history with a bane of strong female actors, they just may have to serve as a suitable substitute.

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