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The Creation of the French Royal Mistress. From Agnès Sorel to Madame Du Barry

Tracy Adams, Christine Adams

ADAMS Tracy, ADAMS Christine, The Creation of the French Royal Mistress. From Agnès Sorel to Madame Du Barry, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2020.

ISBN : 978-0-271-08597-5

Kings throughout medieval and early modern Europe had extraconjugal sexual partners. Only in France, however, did the royal mistress become a quasi-institutionalized political position. This study explores the emergence and development of the position of French royal mistress through detailed portraits of nine of its most significant incumbents : Agnès Sorel, Anne de Pisseleu d’Heilly, Diane de Poitiers, Gabrielle d’Estrées, Françoise Louise de La Baume Le Blanc, Françoise Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Françoise d’Aubigné, Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, and Jeanne Bécu.
Beginning in the fifteenth century, key structures converged to create a space at court for the royal mistress. The first was an idea of gender already in place : that while women were legally inferior to men, they were men’s equals in competence. Because of their legal subordinacy, queens were considered to be the safest regents for their husbands, and, subsequently, the royal mistress was the surest counterpoint to the royal favorite. Second, the Renaissance was a period during which people began to experience space as theatrical. This shift to a theatrical world opened up new ways of imagining political guile, which came to be positively associated with the royal mistress. Still, the role had to be activated by an intelligent, charismatic woman associated with a king who sought women as advisors. The fascinating particulars of each case are covered in the chapters of this book.

Thoroughly researched and compellingly narrated, this important study explains why the tradition of a politically powerful royal mistress materialized at the French court, but nowhere else in Europe. It will appeal to anyone interested in the history of the French monarchy, women and royalty, and gender studies.

Table des matières


Introduction : What Was It About France ?

1. The Beginning of a Tradition : Agnès Sorel

2. A Tradition Takes Hold : Anne de Pisseleu d’Heilly

3. Diane de Poitiers : Epitome of the French Royal Mistress

4. Gabrielle d’Estrées : Never the Twain Shall Meet

5. The Mistresses of the Sun King : La Vallière, Montespan, Maintenon

6. Tearing the Veil : Pompadour and Du Barry

Epilogue : Mistress-Queen and the End of a Tradition : Marie Antoinette




Tracy Adams is Professor of French in the School of Cultures, Languages and Linguistics at the University of Auckland. She is the author of three books, including Christine de Pizan and the Fight for France, also published by Penn State University Press.

Christine Adams is Professor of History at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She is the author or coeditor of four books, including A Taste for Comfort and Status : A Bourgeois Family in Eighteenth-Century France, also published by Penn State University Press.