Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History

Sarah January - December 17, 2019

The title of the royal mistress dates back thousands of years but is not something that you often read about in your history books. Drama and scandal surrounded these women and even the occasional man. Society also often looked down upon them and their actions. Yet these opinions often remained secret and hidden because, for a time, the position of a royal mistress or lover was one of the highest in the land. It was also the most precarious in that one wrong move can remove you from the ruler’s good graces, and may even result in death. Despite the unstable nature of this position, many women and men fought tooth and nail to get it. Few managed to possess it, but these people who did it managed to leave an everlasting mark on the pages of history.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Barbara Palmer ( Villiers) – Wikipedia

23. Barbara Palmer (Villiers)

Also known as Barbara Villiers, the 1st Duchess of Cleveland is best known for being the most well-known mistress of Charles II of England. Born into rather meager beginnings, Barbara managed to climb the social ladder rather quickly due to her curvy body and good looks. Though Barbara was undeniably a bombshell, her marriage prospects were rather slim due to her family’s lack of money. She did manage to snag a man named Robert Palmer, who married her despite his family’s protests. The marriage was short-lived after Barabara gave birth to their son and they legally separated until Palmer died in 1662.

Despite still being legally married, King Charles took Barbara on as a mistress in 1960. As a favorite of the king, Barbara’s presence overshadowed that of his wife, Catherine of Braganza. None of that mattered to Charles and he went as far as to make his mistress Lady of the Bedchamber to the queen. She used her position to gain property and titles as well as bear 5 children for the king. Too bad nothing lasts forever and the two drifted apart and each began taking their lovers other than each other. Barbara reconciled with the king but did eventually remarry. Too bad it was to a man who was already hitched to another woman. Any other suitors she had later in life lied, tried to kill her children or impregnate them. She died a rather ugly death for a woman that was the epitome of beauty in her youth. In the last years of her life, she suffered from significant edema, meaning her body swelled to the point of pain. She ultimately passed away at the age of 68 from congestive heart failure.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Gabrielle de Estrees- Wikipedia

22. Gabrielle de Estrees

For Gabrielle de Estrees becoming a mistress to the king was an undeniable fate. Her family expected her to join the family business and become a courtesan. As she grew up, it became clear that she was not necessarily the smartest girl in school so she decided to hone her feminine wiles instead. All of her hard work came in handy when she caught the eye of King Henry IV in 1590. Her blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale complexion caused the king to fall in love. Nevermind that he already married to Margaret of Valois and had multiple mistresses to keep him company. Gabrielle managed to develop an extremely close relationship with the King, much to the dismay of his wife and other mistresses. They were together much of the time and she even went as far as to accompany him to the battlefield while heavily pregnant.

Henry actually partially owes his reign as King to Gabrielle, as she convinced him to renounce his Protestant beliefs in favor of Catholicism. Until that point, there had been push back from the Catholic League about having a king that did not practice the Catholic faith. Once declared king, Henry and Gabrielle had a total of 4 children together, the majority of which ended up being legitimized. The king petitioned the Catholic church for an annulment of his marriage to Margaret so that he could marry Gabrielle instead. Unfortunately, fate did not end up being kind to the couple any longer as Gabrielle passed away suddenly due to eclampsia. Some theorize that she may have been poisoned in order to cause the condition, but no one has been able to prove that.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Portrait of Sally Hemings-Pinterest

21. Sarah ” Sally” Hemings

Sarah Hemings, commonly known as Sally, is most famous for being the suspected mistress of scholar, diplomat and founding father Thomas Jefferson. Born sometime in 1773 she arrived on the plantation at Monticello as an infant with her mother and other siblings as slaves to Jefferson’s wife, Martha. Sally is also suspected to be the half-sister of the woman who owned her. Sally and her siblings were slaves despite being of European lineage. They trained in the arts and for domestic servitude instead of working in the fields. Though the Jefferson’s essentially raised her, her relationship with Thomas changed following the death of his wife, Martha in 1782.

During this time period, it was common for white slave owners to have sexual relations with their slaves. Therefore it is not totally outlandish to believe that Jefferson took advantage of this custom. While she lived at Monticello she gave birth to a total of 6 children, 3 of which who survived to adulthood. From the time the children were born, there have been rumors that Jefferson fathered all of the children. DNA testing confirmed a match between Jefferson and Heming’s son Easton in 1998. Jefferson also set Sally and her children free eventually. He did not grant this reprieve to any of his other slaves. There is still debate surrounding this issue. However, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation supports these findings and accepts the theory that Thomas Jefferson did, in fact, have children with Sally.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Lilly Langtry- 1885 -Wikipedia

20. Lillie Langtry

The Jersey Lillie came into the world in 1853. Her vivacious and energetic personality was evident from a young age. Because of this, she received a somewhat unconventional education. Her beauty brought her a lot of attention, even if her actions were not totally perfect. Lillie caught the eye of Edward Langtry and the two married in 1874. Edward moved the couple to London where they began to rub elbows with the British elite. One of those was the crown Prince of Wales.

Lillie met the prince at a dinner party in 1877 and that is where he became completely smitten with her. He married his wife Alexandra years earlier, but that did not matter to him. The fact he had 6 children was of no consequence either. The two started an affair that lasted for 3 years until Lillie became pregnant by another man. After she gave birth to her daughter, she began her acting career. Though her reputation was not the greatest, the aristocracy of London loved her. She went on to get divorced and remarry after numerous affairs and lived out the rest of her life in relative luxury.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Catherine I of Russia-Wikipedia

19. Marta Samuilovna Skavronskaya

Also known as Martha, this young woman’s story is a rags to riches tale. From a poor family, Martha’s parents died of plague in 1689 leaving her and her 5 siblings alone in the world. A Lutheran minister and his wife adopted Martha into their family and raised her. As she grew, her growing beauty began to alarm the minister’s wife. She then marries Martha off to a Swedish officer in order to keep her away from her son. The marriage was short-lived and Martha ended up in the household of Prince Alexander Menshikov.

While serving in the home of the prince, she meets Peter the Great, Emperor of Russia. Upon meeting, the two became inseparable and she became his mistress. He and his first wife divorced years before, so Peter was a free man. During the years prior to their marriage, Martha gave birth to 5 of Peter’s children. After a secret marriage, followed by an official one, the couple then had 6 more children together. Peter then crowned his wife Empress Consort of Russia, Unfortunately, 13 years into their official union Peter fell ill and died. Martha took the name Catherine and became the first official Empress of Russia. She ruled as Catherine I until her death 2 years later.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Bessie Blount – Pinterest

18. Bessie Blount

Elizabeth Blount became a mistress to one of the world’s most well-known adulterers, Henry VIII. The early part of her life is a mystery. All that we know is that she was known for her great beauty, which clearly caught the eye of the king. While in service to Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, Bessie began her affair with the king. Her relationship with Henry lasted longer than most of the other dalliances he engaged in.

She became pregnant and bore the king a son in 1519, also named Henry. Because she was not his official mistress or the queen, her child’s legitimacy was a matter of debate. King Henry claimed his son as his own, though there was much controversy surrounding him. Henry cared for her but his attentions were diverted by Mary Boleyn soon after the birth of his son. Bessie went on to marry twice, bearing a total of 6 more children. She served as a lady in waiting for Anne of Cleves, but ended up leaving due to illness. Some say it was her proven ability to bear sons that contributed to the downfall of Henry’s first wife Catherine.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Depiction of Katherine Swynford- Pinterest

17. Katherine Swynford

Duchess Katherine is one woman who left her mark on the history books in a significant way. Her date of birth is believed to be in the year 1350. A beautiful woman, she first married Hugh Ottes Swynford at the age of 16. This union was advantageous as Swynford was a knight and of high standing. Katherine gave birth to three children before her husband supposedly died of dysentery. Some postulate that he was poisoned instead.

Prior to the death of her husband, Katherine began working as a governess in the household of John Gaunt. John happens to be the 3rd son of the king of England which turns out to be very important later. Following the death of John’s second wife, he takes up with Katherine. The two produced 4 children before they were able to officially wed. After both their spouses died, the couple married finally in 1396. Sadly, their union lasted just 3 years before John dies. Their children turned out to be super important to the historical record. They were all legitimized and were the start of the Beaufort bloodline, which gave rise to the House of Stuart and the Tudor Dynasty that ruled England for centuries.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Aspasia of Athens- Wikipedia

16. Aspasia of Athens

You know you have made your mark on history when your name is tied to those of Plato, Aristophanes, and Pericles. Aspasia of Athens did just that. The early parts of her life is shrouded in mystery. We know one thing for sure and that is her ties to Athens did not come until later in life. Aspasia immigrated to Athens as an adult, though the reason why is unclear. According to ancient authors, upon her arrival to the city, she trained to become a hetaera, a specific type of courtesan. The hetaera was high-class “entertainers” for the elite of ancient society. They learned information that helped them keep up intellectually with their clientele. Aspasia is alleged to be so skilled that she worked her way up to owning and running her own brothel.

Aspasia met Pericles in 445 BC and became his constant companion. The politician fell so in love with her that he divorced his first wife. The couple had a son together, though they remained unmarried due to Aspasia’s immigration status. As his confidant, Aspasia held influence over his decisions, including those of a political nature. Some in Athenian society did not like the idea of a woman having any sort of control over a man. Both she and Pericles suffered political and legal attacks from many sides, some even blaming her for the outbreak of war. Some scholars theorize that these criticisms, as well as rumors of her running a brothel, may be inaccurate. Whatever the truth is, her influence is something important enough to be documented by the greatest writers of the ancient world.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Artist depiction of Bathsheba- LearnReligions.com

15. Bathsheba

Wife. Mistress. Mother to a king. How does one go from being the wife of a regular soldier in the Israelite army, to the mother of one of the greatest kings in biblical history? Take a bath on your roof, that’s how. Bathsheba is one of the few on this list who did not go looking to become the mistress of the king. It really did sort of happen to her because we all know, what the king wants, the king usually gets. So one day while she innocently bathed outside, she caught the eye of King David. Yes, David and Goliath, David, who now ruled the nation of Israel. Once he saw Bathsheba, he had to have her. The timing was especially convenient since her husband, Uriah was off fighting his war. Soon Bathsheba became pregnant, thus creating a problem that David was determined to solve.

Often described as the ‘man after God’s own heart’, it is surprising that David would commit this sin. The guilt became too much and he tried to cover up Bathsheba’s pregnancy. David brought Uriah home from the battlefront and encouraged him to sleep with his wife. Uriah went back to the front lines instead. Since Uriah failed to sleep with Bathsheba, David did the next logical thing and set him up to be killed in battle. Once Uriah was dead, he took Bathsheba as his own. The couple’s first child died as a consequence of David’s sin, according to some religions. The couple repented and God blessed them with more children. Bathsheba gave birth to Solomon, who would become arguably the greatest king to rule the Israelite people. Since then, her story and likeness have been a subject of art and literature for thousands of years.

Read More: When David Beat Goliath: 10 Small Armies that Defeated Large Ones.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester – Wikipedia

14. Robert Dudley

The first man to make it on this list is an interesting character by the name of Robert Dudley. He is was known as the companion to Elizabeth I, the “Virgin Queen.” The Dudley family had ties to both Elizabeth and the Tudors. His father was Duke of Northumberland until he fell from the family’s good graces after failing to keep Mary I off the throne. Robert attempted to avenge his father and promptly ended up in the Tower of London accused of treason. Dudley bonded with Elizabeth while they were in prison together. The two remained close from that point forward. When Elizabeth ascended the throne, Dudley came with her.

Elizabeth appointed him to prestigious positions, such as Master of Horse, Knight of the Garter, and Protector of the Realm. She didn’t allow Robert away from her side very often, though he was married to someone else. The two were almost always together, with bed chambers side by side. Suspicions arose when Dudley’s wife died under “mysterious” circumstances. Shortly after that, a young man claimed to be the son of Elizabeth and Robert. Dudley tried repeatedly to get the queen to marry him, but for the good of the kingdom, she always declined. The two had a falling out for a few years when he secretly married her cousin which resulted in her banishing them from the court. Their strong bond later reunited the couple once more until his death in 1588. History remembers Robert as the love of Elizabeth’s life, though the two never officially married.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Hariette Wilson- Wikipedia

13. Harriett Wilson

Like many of the women who entered the profession before her, Harriett Wilson started her career young. Very young. She tried conventional education and found it extremely dull, leading her into the family business. When she turned 15 she followed her sisters and became a concubine in Regency-era London. William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven took Harriett as his mistress in 1801. From then on her list of clients grew and she became a highly desired status symbol. In a very short time, she became one of the most sought-after courtesans during this time. Harriett lived the high life for almost 30 years.

At one point she was so popular that she turned down the company of Britain’s Prince George because he did not meet her standards. As she aged, her workload steadily declined. Men she had been companions to in the past promised her pensions for her services. But when the time came, many of her previous suitors refused to pay up. Harriett then came up with a plan to make them keep their word. She wrote her memoirs and included all of their salacious secrets. If they wanted to be left out of it, they could negotiate a price. Many of her past lovers stormed the publisher’s office willing to pay to keep her quiet, so she made a pretty penny. Not all of them paid though and The Memoirs of Harriett Wilson, Written By Herself was published and became one of the best-selling novels of the Victorian era.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Odette de Champdivers and Charles VI- Wikipedia

12. Odette de Champdivers

If you like your men a little on the crazy side, then you have something in common with Odette de Champdivers. Born in the year 1390, her relatives were actually rivals of the current king. All of this changed when 17-year-old Odette caught the eye of King Charles VI of France. Charles married Isabeau of Bavaria in 1385 and had 8 children by the time he met Odette. It also didn’t matter that he was 22 years her senior. He saw her, liked her and then took her as his mistress. Unlike most on this list, Charles’ queen Isabueu had no problem with Odette coming into the picture. In fact, she seemed pretty happy about it. What woman would be happy about their husband picking up a side piece? A woman whose husband beat and abused her, that’s who.

Charles VI often experienced frequent bouts of psychosis. This earned him the moniker of “The Mad King.’ He sometimes became violent during these episodes and Isabueu reportedly suffered at his hands. However, when he met Odette, she appeared to have a calming effect on him during his delusions. She possessed a gentle spirit and remained constantly loyal to her king. The couple produced one daughter together and Odette remained by his side until his death in 1422. ” The Little Queen” disappears from the record shortly thereafter. Some scholars believe she died in relative poverty. Even still, her kindness and peaceful spirit were so legendary that Alexandre Dumas wrote of her, and there is a breed of French rose named for her as well.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Nell Gwynn- Wikipedia

11. Nell Gwynn

Miss Eleanor Gwynn was a famous prostitute turned actress turned mistress during the 17th century. Nell came from relative poverty before being discovered as a talent for the stage. She blazed her own trail by making it into the London acting scene at all. During this time, theater productions did not allow women on the stage. If a production required a female character, a man played the part. Ironically enough it was her exposure to the salacious and seedy world of prostitution that exposed her to the theater in the first place. Once she gained exposure as an actress, she also spent time as a mistress to many of the London elite. None of her lovers was so famous as the king himself, Charles II. The previously mentioned Barbara Palmer was also his mistress.

Nell became a mistress to the king in 1688 and during that time there was less competition for his affections. By 1670, Nell became pregnant and gave the king a son; not that he was short on those. He already had 7 other sons by 5 different women. Nell returned to the stage for a short time before giving birth to another son in 1671. She had a good relationship with the king and that translated into houses and money for her, and titles for her children. She died 2 years after the king of complications from two strokes as well as syphilis. In the end, her reputation for her acting prowess outweighed her more outlandish actions. The world of acting hails her as one of the first successful actresses in history.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Grigory Potemkin- Wikipedia

10. Grigory Potemkin

Grigory Potemkin is an interesting character that you don’t often hear about. This is rather surprising when you learn the extent of his association with the Russian royal family. Grigory was a favorite of Catherine the Great of Russia. He came from a military family and became a military man himself. His professional connections allowed him access to the empress who with the help of her other lover, overthrew her husband. Catherine was a powerful woman that any man would want to be close to. For years he worked in and around the palace before becoming Catherine’s lover.

In 1744 their relationship finally became more than just a passing flirtation. He became Catherine’s favorite and as such his military status increased as well. He commanded various regiments and continued to gain political power. His relationship with Catherine is documented in many of their letters and appears to be passionate, funny, and loving. Scholars believe that it is highly likely that the couple married at some point, but kept their union a secret. Unfortunately for him, another man superseded him in Catherine’s affections just 2 years later. Despite the end of their affair, the two remained very close and Grigory maintained his military and political pull. 15 years later he succumbed to bronchial pneumonia while on a campaign. In response, Catherine ordered a period of mourning in the capital city and halted all social activities.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History

Madame de Montespan- Wikipedia

9. Madame de Montespan

A daughter of the House of Rouchechouart, one of the oldest noble families in France, Françoise-Athénaïs became the main mistress of the most famous kings in French history. She met and married Louis Henri de Pardaillan de Gondrin, the Marquis de Montespan in 1663. Upon marrying him, she took the title of Madame de Montespan and gave her husband two children. Due to her family name and title, she procured a position at the palace as a lady in waiting, thus giving her access to her future lover, Louis XIV.

The Madame de Montespan set her sights on Louis almost as soon as she saw him. The king’s marriage to his queen was not going to stop her from becoming his head mistress. Using her charming personality and beautiful body, she managed to seduce the king. Françoise-Athénaïs held onto Louis’s affections for a decade and bore him seven children. Unfortunately, her status as the king’s favorite mistress fell apart in 1680 when she was suspected of being involved with a series of murders known as the Affaire des Poisons. Her relationship with Louis never recovered and she lived out the rest of her life in exile before passing away at the age of 67.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Agnes Bernauer- Wikipedia

8. Agnes Bernauer

Unlike most of the people on this list, Agnes Bernauer is not of noble blood. Most of her early life is a mystery but she is thought to be the daughter of a barber surgeon from Ausburg. At the age of 18, she met Albert III, Duke of Bavaria at a tournament that took place in the city. Albert fell in love and shortly after meeting her, brought her to his home in Munich. Over the next few years, she became an integral part of Albert’s household and it is believed the couple may have married in secret. Sadly, the couple’s relatively happy story takes a tragic turn in 1435.

While it seems that most didn’t give a second thought to the couple or their union, apparently it bothered one person greatly. Because of her status as a commoner, Albert’s father Ernest found her unworthy of his son and a threat to the line of succession. The two argued over this matter extensively until Ernest decided he’d had enough. Albert left on a hunting trip and his father arrested Agnes for witchcraft. The court convicted Agnes and she was drowned in the Danube River as punishment. The news of his beloved’s fate devastated Albert. He built a chapel in her honor and multiple statues have been dedicated to her memory since her death.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Phillipe de Lorraine-Wikipedia

7. Phillipe de Loraine

This handsome fellow made his way into the history books as the not-so-secret lover to Phillipe I, Duke of Orleans. A member of the House of Guise, Phillipe was a noble from birth. His family connections placed him in close proximity to the king’s brother, also named Phillipe. The two became lovers in spite of the fact that the Duke of Orleans was already married. A scandal arose when his first wife Henriette died under “mysterious circumstances” because many suspected the Chevalier de Loraine poisoned her. Turns out she actually died of a perforated ulcer, but that isn’t nearly as exciting saying she was murdered.

Though the Duke of Orleans married for a second time, his lover remained by his side for the most part. These two loved each other and like every couple had their fights, but their spats usually ended up in the Chevalier being exiled. Many at court were not fond of the Phillipe, including the Duke’s brother, Louis XIV. However, Phillipe remained (mostly) loyal to his lover, until the day the Duke died. Legends of the man’s exploits still survive to this day.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Guilia Farnese-italoamericano.org

6. Guilia Farnese

Recognized as one of the most beautiful women of her day, Guilia Farnese is one of the most well-known mistresses in history. Her family married her off at the age of fifteen to a man with connections to the Vatican. It was through those connections that she met Rodrigo Borgia. He later became Pope Alexander VI. Rodrigo fell head over heels in love with young Guilia and took her on as his mistress though he had his own family already. He kept her on as his lover even once he took the title of Pope, which directly contradicts the vow of celibacy that comes with the title.

Guilia was not only beautiful, she was also intelligent. She used her favored position with the Pope to gain her brother a position in the Vatican. She also formed a close relationship with his daughter, Lucrezia. Guilia became pregnant in 1492 though no one knows if the father was her husband or the Pope. Society gossiped about her and she eventually fell out of the Pope’s favor at the ripe old age of 25. Her first husband also died but she did marry again later life. Guilia’s beauty has been the inspiration for art, music, and theatre over the last 500 years.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on HistoryMadame de Pompadour- Wikipedia

5. Madame de Pompadour

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, the Madame de Pompadour is a recognizable name from the history books. What we don’t often hear is that it was the word of a fortune teller that sealed her fate as mistress to the King. Upon hearing the words of the seer, Jeanne’s mother immediately began to groom her to become the future lover of King Louis XV. Her extensive education included painting, dancing, the arts, and theatre. She grew in charm and grace and was well-liked by all who knew her. Jeanne did eventually marry, but that did not keep her from her destiny of wooing the king.

The future Madame met the king while frequenting the salons at court. When his current mistress died, Jeanne was more than ready to fill her shoes. Her efforts to catch Louis’ eye paid off and she became his official mistress in 1745. During her tenure as mistress, she patronized the arts and theatre and became the best friend of the king. Those at court often gossiped about her but that did not diminish the king’s love for her. Louis even tended to her on her death bed. Following her death in 1764, her image and life have inspired art and theatre productions the world over. This seems fitting for a woman who loved those industries so much.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Lola Montez- Wikipedia

4. Lola Montez

While Lola Montez is not her real name, it is the moniker that made this lady stand out. Born Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in 1821, this young lady became well known for her drive and fiery temper. Her rough upbringing led her to make spur-of-the-moment decisions, including getting married at the age of 16. She separated from her husband five years later and did the next logical thing- became a stage dancer. Marie arrived in London and began pursuing her dancing career under the name Lola Montez, the “Spanish Dancer.” Funny thing was, she was actually Irish.

Her career managed to grow and she became a companion to many wealthy men. Her most famous liaison began in 1846 when she became mistress to Ludwig I of Bavaria. He granted her a title an annual annuity which angered some of his counterparts. As time passed it became more clear that Lola had a large amount of influence over the king and this caused conflict within the government. Her liberal influences led to Ludwig’s abdication and resulted in her fleeing the country. Lola pursued both her dancing career and other marriages in the United States and Australia but ultimately died of tuberculosis at the age of 39. Her life has been the subject of many plays and stage productions since the early 20th century.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Madame du Barry-Wikipedia

3. Madame du Barry

This woman holds the honor of being the last mistress to Louis XV of France. It may have taken her a little longer than most to gain the position after it had been vacated by Madame de Pompadour, but get it she did. In fact, she married someone of the nobility in order to become the king’s mistress. At that time you could not be considered for the position without a title, so she went and got one by marrying Comte Guillaume du Barry. After her marriage, she became a regular favorite of the king before finally securing the title of the official royal mistress.

Being the king’s mistress came with many perks, but Madame du Barry was most well known for her expensive tastes. The king looked upon her fondly, and as such bestowed many extravagant gifts upon her and her family. It was Louis’ generosity that actually began to cause problems for his mistress and what led to her eventual downfall. Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antionette banished her from court after Louis’ death. Unfortunately, her story did not end in peaceful exile, as she eventually became a victim of the French Revolution. Accused of aiding other exiles who were fleeing the revolution, she was convicted and beheaded along with many others in the French aristocracy.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Diane de Poitiers- thecultureconcept.com

2. Diane de Poitiers

Diane de Poitiers was the mistress of Henry II of France. She became the lifelong companion of the king despite his marriage to Catherine de Medici, with whom she shared a familial bloodline. A significant age difference existed between the couple, but that did not stop their relationship. Henry bestowed many titles and upon her along with extensive gifts and riches. The king went so far as to bestow the Crown Jewels upon her when they are almost always given to the queen. Another famous symbol of their love, a design of their interlocking initials (H&D), can still be found across the architecture in France today. She reportedly held power over the king in almost every way possible.

As much as Henry loved Diane, her power over him only lasted as long as he was alive. When he suffered an injury while jousting, his rightful queen decided she had had enough. Though her husband begged to see his mistress, Catherine would not allow it. Henry died shortly thereafter without saying goodbye to his true love. Catherine removed Diane from the court and sent her into virtual exile where she lived out the rest of her days in anonymity. Despite Catherine’s efforts to remove Diane from the historical narrative, the fact that there are still testaments to the king’s love for her that still exist 500 years later.

Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History
Anne Boleyn-Wikipedia

1. Anne Boleyn

Arguably the most infamous mistress on this list is Lady Anne Boelyn. A mistress turned queen, she is one of the most recognizable names in English history. Ironically enough, she managed to procure her king’s favor without “technically” sleeping with him some sources say. She used her beauty and wit to charm Henry VIII into divorcing his current queen, Catherine of Aragon and marrying her instead. Whether or not the couple actually had a physical relationship before his divorce is lost to history, but regardless, she pursued a married man and led him astray.

At first, Anne seemed to have everything she could have ever wanted. Henry married her, crowned her queen, and she became pregnant shortly thereafter. Yet trouble arrived in paradise following the birth of the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth. The fact that Elizabeth was not a boy combined with Henry’s wandering eye meant Anne had a problem. She tried various ways to keep her husband but made enemies in the process. This eventually cost her everything when Henry accused her of incest, witchcraft, along other crimes and ordered her death. Henry executed Anne in 1536, that was not the end of her legacy. That baby girl she gave birth to went on to be one of the greatest rulers in British history, as Elizabeth I.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

Agnes Sorel and the History of Toplessness. Julia Wytrazek. Culture Trip. August 30, 2018.

Famous Royal Mistresses. The Telegraph. 2010.

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings : A Brief Account. Monticello.org.

Published and Damned: The Shocking Life of Henriette Wilson. The Dangerous Women Project. January 19, 2017.

Robert Dudley: Queen Elizabeth’s Great Love. Dr. Tracy Borman. History Extra. January 2016.

Grigory Potemkin and Catherine the Great Have One of History’s Greatest Love Stories.

Agnes Bernauer’s Inglorious Trial and Death. Harold Sack. SciHi Blog. 2017

Lola Montez. Irish Dancer. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica.

The forgotten story of an Irish dancer who brought down the king of Bavaria. The Local. 17 February 2021

10 Royal Mistresses Who Had Their Men By The Crown Jewels. Jackie Fuchs. Listverse. DECEMBER 23, 2013