Marie Mancini – A niece of Cardinal Mazarin (Part one)

marie mancini
(public domain)

Anna Maria Mancini was born into an aristocratic family to parents Girolama Mazzarani and Baron Lorenzo Mancini and was the fourth of their ten children. Some of the girls, along with two of their cousins grew up to be known as the Mazarinettes and rose to fame and prosperity under the guidance of their uncle Cardinal Mazarin, the chief minister of France.

When Anna Maria, known as Marie, was born in 1639 it is said that her father, who was an astrologer, went outside to read the planets and predicted that Marie would bring trouble for the family in the future. Marie herself reflected on this in later life when she penned her memoirs and noted that her mother always preferred her sisters and was adamant on Marie being sent off to a convent to keep out of trouble when she was old enough.

Cardinal Mazarin (public domain)

Marie and her siblings started their lives living with their parents in Rome, where they had a comfortable upbringing. The Mancini siblings were well educated, and Marie would spend her time devouring books in her father’s study; she grew up to be well-read, funny and sharp-witted as well as classically beautiful. Had the children’s father lived for longer than he did, the Mancini girls would have probably married into other Roman noble families, and we would have heard little of their lives. However, in 1650 Lorenzo passed away, which changed their fate. Marie’s mother Girolama, a widow with a flock of young children, was invited to France by her brother Cardinal Mazarin who held great power and influence as the King’s closest advisor. With no heirs of his own, Cardinal Mazarin wished to orchestrate beneficial marriages and positions for his nieces and nephews in order to create links to the great families of France and leave behind a legacy.

The family did not all leave at once, first of all, the eldest girl Laure-Victoire was sent over and was soon married to the Duke of Vendôme, a grandson of King Henry IV of France. After the older nieces and nephews were settled in France, the Cardinal sent for his sisters Girolama and Laura and the rest of their children. It was then in 1653 that Marie left Rome and made her way to France with her younger sister Hortense, brother Philippe, their two cousins Laura and Anne Marie, their aunt and their mother. The group boarded a beautiful boat and were dressed in fine clothes which would have looked rather out of place at the shipping docks of Civitavecchia where locals usually saw nothing but trade and fishing boats. In her memoirs, Marie wrote that they were treated like queens on this journey which led them to Marseille.

Marie was very excited upon reaching France, as the children had spent years reading letters and hearing tales of all of the festivities and things to enjoy at the French court. On top of this, Marie knew she was very lucky to be there at all, she had spent the previous two years being educated in a convent, and due to her mother believing she would bring bad luck on the family, she was almost left behind! Marie pleaded to be allowed to travel with the rest of the family and told her mother that if she was inspired by “pious impulses” that there were convents everywhere!

Marie and the rest of the family did not reach the French court straight away after reaching France; after their week-long journey by sea, they spent eight months in the south of France where they stayed with Marie’s recently married sister Laure-Victoire who had been tasked by their uncle to teach the others the ways of the French court. Over the months, the family perfected their French language, became accustomed to French dress and came to understand just how powerful their uncle Cardinal Mazarin really was. Wherever they went, they were greeted with pomp and parties, and consuls sent extravagant gifts to welcome them all to France. The family were visited by a stream of important guests during their stay in the south of France and Marie remembers in her memoirs that her aunt was appalled at the French custom of greeting guests with a kiss on the lips, aunt Laura refused to take part in this custom for a while “which was a subject of hilarity for many people.”

By the time the family left for Paris, the Mancini and Martinozzi siblings were prepared for life at the French court and reached the incredible Mazarin Palace in 1654. It was not long before the family visited the young King Louis XIV and his mother Queen Anne (born of Austria). The court was filled with gossip about the family; after all Cardinal Mazarin had great authority and had already married his niece Laure-Victoire to the Duke of Vendôme and now here were a whole bunch of his nieces ready to be set up with grand marriage matches or raised in France until they were old enough.

Rumours of the matchmaking did not go down well with a lot of the older noble families at court; many of whom were still shaken up by the Fronde rebellions, these families did not enjoy watching Mazarin marry off his lower-ranking nieces to the most eligible men in France. Of course, Mazarin was so close to the King and so devoted to him and his mother that he was untouchable at this stage and used his vast wealth to provide huge dowries to entice men to marry his nieces that would usually be way out of their league.

The next match was between Anne-Marie Martinozzi and Armand de Bourbon, Prince of Conti. This hugely important marriage came about due to the Prince of Conti having taken part in the Fronde – a civil war. The Prince of Conti had sided with the rebels and was imprisoned. After his release, it was later agreed that the Prince of Conti would marry one of Mazarin’s nieces which was a sign of irrefutable defeat. For the Prince of Conti this was humiliating, but for Anne-Marie, Marie’s cousin, this meant she became a princess of the blood and was extremely high-up at the French court. With their cousin now a princess and in the King’s inner circle, the nieces of Cardinal Mazarin were thrown into the limelight.1

Read part two here.

  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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