The title of royal mistress goes back thousands of years. And as drama and scandal surrounded these women, society would often look down on them. However, these opinions were often kept a secret, because for some, the position of royal mistress was one of the highest in the land. Far from just keeping a monarch company in the bedchamber, royal mistresses, especially those from high-ranking families, often influenced them on issues of their own interests, and those of their relatives. And even if it could be an unstable position, love and lust remained strong, leaving an everlasting mark on the pages of history books.
Intrigued? Click on to discover the most influential royal mistresses throughout history.
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Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite and mistress to King David. She later became David's wife and mother to the future king, Solomon.
A mistress turned queen, Anne Boleyn charmed Henry VIII into divorcing his then-queen, Catherine of Aragon, and marrying her instead. He then had her executed for treason. This made Anne Boleyn a key figure in the political and religious upheaval, which marked the start of the English Reformation.
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The sister of English Queen Consort Anne Boleyn, she was also one of the mistresses of King Henry VIII. It has been rumored that she bore two of his children.
Madame de Pompadour was the official head mistress of King Louis XV from 1745 to 1751. A patron of decorative art and architecture, she remained influential until her death.
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Inês de Castro was a Galician noblewoman and mistress of the future King Peter I of Portugal. The relationship was forbidden by his father, King Afonso IV, who had her murdered. Legend has it that Peter coronated her exhumed corpse, making her his posthumously-recognized wife.
Born Marta Samuilovna Skavronskaya, Catherine worked in the household of Prince Alexander Menshikov. While serving the prince, she met Peter the Great, Emperor of Russia, and quickly became his mistress. They married after he divorced his first wife, and he crowned her empress.
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Camilla and the then-Prince of Wales, Charles, first met at a polo match in 1970. They were romantically involved periodically both before and during each of their first marriages. They were married in 2005, and she became Queen Camilla in 2023, upon the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
While King Edward VII was known for his many mistresses, Alice Keppel was his favorite. The British aristocrat meet the king in 1898, when he was still Prince of Wales, and remained by his side until his death. Through her daughter, Sonia Cubitt, Keppel is the great-grandmother of Queen Camilla, wife of King Charles III.
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Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn is a German-Danish socialite and businesswoman who became the mistress of Spanish King Juan Carlos I in 2004. In 2012, news of the relationship made international headlines when he transferred €65 million to her as a gift.
Known for being quick-witted and intelligent, Arabella Churchill was the mistress of King James II in 1665. She had four of his children. And yes, she is a distant relative of future British prime minister Winston Churchill.
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Diane de Poitiers was a French noblewoman and the mistress of Henry II of France. Despite the king's marriage to Catherine de' Medici, she became his lifelong companion and adviser. Her position increased her wealth and her family's status.
A true celebrity, Nell Gwynn was a prostitute who became one of the first successful actresses on the English stage. She was also known for being the long-time mistress of King Charles II of England.
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The last mistress to Louis XV of France, Madame du Barry's arrival at the royal court was seen as scandalous, as she had also been a prostitute and a commoner. She was executed, by guillotine, during the French Revolution.
Born Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in 1821, Lola Montez was an Irish dancer and actress who became the courtesan and mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. He made her Countess of Landsfeld, which angered many. During the revolutions of the Germany states, she fled to the US.
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A commoner, Agnes Bernauer became the mistress of Albert III, later Duke of Bavaria at the age of 18. Because his father considered this liaison inappropriate for his son's social standing, he had her condemned for witchcraft and drowned in the Danube.
Born into the House of Rochechouart, one of the oldest noble families in France, Madame de Montespan was the mistress of King Louis XIV. They had seven children together.
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Odette de Champdivers was the chief mistress of Charles VI of France. He would even call her la petite reine ("the little queen"). Known as the "Mad King" due to his violent psychosis, his wife, Isabeau of Bavaria, was happy to have Odette in the picture!
Caroline Lacroix was the most prominent and notorious of Leopold II of Belgium's mistresses. She met the king in Paris when she was only 16 and he was 65. Their relationship lasted until his death in 1909.
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While Nell Gwynn was the most famous lover of King Charles II, Barbara Palmer was the most powerful. Together they had five children, all of them acknowledged and ennobled.
Lillie Langtry was a British socialite, stage actress, and producer. She was the mistress of the future King Edward VII, from 1877 to 1880.
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Gabrielle d'Estrées was the mistress, confidante, and adviser of Henry IV of France. He controversially petitioned Pope Clement VIII for an annulment of his first marriage, and announced his intention to marry and crown her the next Queen of France. However, her coronation and wedding never occurred due to her sudden death.
Twice married and twice widowed, Maria Fitzherbert attracted the affections of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV. She became his long-term mistress, and both even secretly contracted a marriage. However, it was invalid under English civil law, as she was a Catholic.
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When King George I ascended to the British throne in 1698, he openly brought his mistress with him from Germany. Melusine bore three of his illegitimate children.
Marie Walewska was a Polish noblewoman and mistress of Emperor Napoleon I. She became an important figure in his court, and helped influence him positively for the Polish cause.
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Also known as dame de beauté ("lady of beauty"), Agnès Sorel was the favorite mistress of King Charles VII of France. Considered the first officially recognized royal mistress of a French king, she has been the subject of several paintings and works of art.
Niece of Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister of France, Hortense Mancini was the mistress of Charles II, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland. She was the fourth of the famous Mancini sisters, who, along with two of their cousins, were known at the court of King Louis XIV of France as the Mazarinettes.
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Sophie Amalie Moth was the mistress of King Christian V of Denmark, and bore six of his children. She was the first officially acknowledged royal mistress in Denmark.
Also known as Alice of Windsor, she was the lover of Edward III, King of England. This made her one of the wealthiest and most influential women in the country. She was widely criticized and often accused of taking advantage of the old king.
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An Italian noblewoman known for her beauty and intelligence, Giulia Farnese was mistress to Pope Alexander VI (ruler of the Papal States), and the sister of Pope Paul III. She eventually fell out of the pope’s favor at the ripe old age of 25.
Sources: (History Collection) (Tatler)
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