Marie Mancini – Dust and Ashes (Part four)

Hortense and Marie (public domain)

Read part three here.

Fearing for her life, Marie and her sister Hortense left Rome with only a few possessions, so they did not arouse suspicions. Marie took a small sum of money, some diamonds from her husband whom she still loved despite their terrible problems, and she took the pearls which King Louis XIV had given to her.

Marie and Hortense travelled to France together dressed in men’s clothing which was hidden under their gowns, but they eventually parted ways as Hortense moved on and lived under the protection of the Duke of Savoy. Marie’s husband Lorenzo and King Louis XIV had been allies for a long time, and when Marie landed in France, she knew she had to speak to the King before her husband did. Lorenzo had spies and emissaries looking everywhere to capture Marie and send her back to Rome as an Italian woman needed her husband’s permission to travel in those days. Louis received word from Lorenzo first and heard his version of events before Marie could explain that she had only left because she feared for her life.

King Louis XIV wrote back to Marie and sent her a large sum of money, but he said she could only remain in France if she settled in a convent and was to stay away from Paris. Marie was crushed at this news yet remained in France for some time, moving from convent to convent, creeping closer to Paris. At this time Marie maintained correspondence with her husband, and in some letters, the pair seem to be on good terms. Lorenzo occasionally sent money to Marie to live off as his reputation would be shattered if he allowed his wife to live in poverty overseas. Marie also wrote home for news of her three sons and told them how much she missed and loved them, pleading for Lorenzo to allow them to visit her. Lorenzo’s power and wealth meant that wherever she moved to, Marie was followed and soon she gave up on trying to reach the King and moved to Lyon to stay with her brother Philippe. When she realised Philippe also wanted her to reconcile with her husband, Marie wrote to Hortense to arrange protection from the Duke of Savoy, which was granted and agreed to by King Louis XIV.

Hortense Mancini (public domain)

After a happy period in Turin, Marie was persuaded by a con man to travel to Spanish Flanders; she travelled through Frankfurt and Cologne on her way. Upon arriving in Flanders, Marie realised she was not to find the independence she sought and was taken to a fortress where she was imprisoned by allies of Lorenzo, and only letters from her husband could reach her. Writing to Hortense, Marie said, “I was obliged to obey him for fear that violence would be done to me.” Marie’s life continued this way until she moved on to Madrid which her husband had agreed to, here she was again essentially a prisoner living with a relative of her husband with no chance of leaving the house.

Marie and her husband met each other again in 1679 when Lorenzo took the role of Viceroy of Aragon and moved close to Marie with their sons and his mistress. Things seemed to go well for a while, but Lorenzo could never allow Marie the freedom she wished for, and she was moved from place to place mostly under lock and key. On one occasion, a broken, unrecognisable Marie stabbed one of her guards when he broke into her room, and she was put in prison in a cold medieval fortress called The Alcazar. After this, Lorenzo was inundated with letters from friends and relatives begging him to have Marie released as she was unwell. Hortense wrote that Marie had already “suffered too many misfortunes”, while Olympia begged “do not reduce her to despair” going on to say if Marie were to die in prison that Lorenzo would never console himself.

After a few months, Marie was released but only to another convent where she had to stay and miss her son Filippo’s wedding. Her loving son made sure to visit his mother the following day with his new bride, which brought much happiness to Marie. As time went on, Lorenzo returned to Rome, and as his power lessened, Marie moved to a much nicer convent where she was free to come and go. She spent years delaying taking her vows to become a nun which she had promised to Lorenzo.

Lorenzo and Marie’s cat and mouse game finally came to an end in 1688 when Lorenzo died after sending heartfelt letters to Marie to reconcile. Marie mourned the loss of her husband greatly, which came as a shock to everyone after how they had conducted themselves. After Lorenzo’s death, Marie returned to Rome for a short while to spend time with her sons and her life-long friend Ortensia who had been her husband’s mistress. She eventually returned to Spain and lived happily for a while but then spent the following ten years travelling around Europe after being banished from Spain for spying. Marie, it seemed, was never far from trouble and strange situations, and soon after this, she lost a huge amount of her fortune to a man who pretended to be a long lost relative.

Marie-Anne Mancini (public domain)

Marie made a final trip to Italy where she settled in Pisa before her death. She had just suffered the loss of her younger sister Marie-Anne and also her son Filippo and was distraught. Aged seventy-five Marie died after spending the days prior arranging her will with a monk, she suffered a stroke at the priory and died there. In amongst the few possessions in Marie’s will were the pearls given to her half a century earlier by King Louis XIV, her true love, the will dictated that the pearls should remain in the family and never be sold.

Marie left behind her some astrological works which she published herself as well as the memoirs she was forced to write to counteract a false and slanderous memoir which had circulated in France. Hortense too wrote a memoir, she lived out her days in Savoy and then in England as mistress of King Charles II. These extraordinary sisters were the first women in France to have their own memoirs printed and left behind a wealth of information on women’s lives and rights in the period.

Marie’s final wish to her son Carlo was that her body was not brought back to Rome, a nod to her winning her freedom, at last. She was buried in a simple grave in Pisa. Marie’s tombstone says nothing other than, Marie Mancini Colonna, dust and ashes.1

  1. Sources:
    *Sarah Nelson: Hortense Mancini and Marie Mancini- Memoirs
    * Elizabeth Goldsmith: The Kings’ Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin,
    * C. Begg: Writing from the road- Space and the spectacle of Hortense Mancini, Duchess of Mazarin
    * Susan Shifrin: “The Wandering life I led” essays on Hortense Mancini and early modern women’s border crossings

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