Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, more commonly known by her title Madame de Pompadour or Marquise de Pompadour, was the most beloved official Mistress of French King Louis XV from 1745 to her death in 1764. She was known to be incredibly refined, beautiful, intelligent, a patron of multiple arts, and a favored political advisor of the King. She helped bring about the Treaty of Versailles, she popularized the hairstyle known as the Pompadour, apparently the French Champagne Coupe was inspired by the shape of her breast, and the Marquise Diamond Cut by the shape of lips. In other words, she was one of the most powerful and influential mistresses in history, despite being of 'common' birth.
Throughout European and Western history, it has been common for male royalty and aristocracy to have a mistress or two or more due to the political and business nature of marriage. They often had not met their brides before engagement, and rarely had much choice in their partners – they may get to select from a host of women in their social class but were generally encouraged towards more profitable or politically advantageous allegiances.
Sometimes, their relationships flourished after getting to know one another; often, they did not. Although high ranking women also had affairs, they were often less socially accepted and more secretive in nature – it was frowned on in part due to their duty to produce heirs for their husband, which could become legally complicated if they were having sexual trysts in an age where contraception was harder to access and not very reliable.
Madame Pompadour was trained to be a mistress from a young age; she was likely born to someone other than her mother’s husband, and was tutored under the care of a rich gentleman, whose nephew she married. Not long after, her rich patron encouraged her to meet a King saddened by the loss of his most recent official mistress. She moved into the palace within 6 months, was awarded her Marquisate in order to be presented at court, and embedded herself in court life. Many attribute her success to thwarting lesser mistresses who attempted to take her position of influence, her cordial relationship with the Queen, and her frequently commissioned portraits to remind the King of her beauty.
While much has changed since the 17th century, things are still the same in many ways. Although women who marry for status and money – gold diggers - have even less standing today, they are possibly even more common than they were. Cultivating arts, intelligence, and beauty are still very successful means for social elevation - unfortunately still more effective, for women, than working hard and gaining money and status via a career.
The restrictive ideas we as a society have about monogamy – which does work for some, but not for everyone – also encourages extramarital experiences We’re built in with expectations for how a relationship should work, and if one experiences feelings or urges that color outside those lines it can ruin the fragile structures we’ve built up around our romances. Like other taboo acts, many also fetishize affairs as something they ‘shouldn’t’ do. So, affairs happen.
This post was sponsored but all writing, opinions, and the illustration are my own.