Here are some women who used their cunning, intellect, and even their powers of seduction to gain influence and power.
She dressed her sons in their best, made herself as alluring as possible, and took the boys into the woods for a picnic, choosing a spot under an oak tree that she hoped the hunting party would be likely to pass that day.
The King, struck by her beauty stopped to speak with her. He became infatuated with her and he decided to take her as his mistress. She refused the honour. He later attempted to force himself on her, but she drew a knife and threatened to take her own life rather than submit to him. So, since he couldn’t have her any other way, he married her in secret. A marriage treaty was underway with a French princess when the king finally presenting her to his council as his lawful wife and Queen. The couple had 10 children together 7 daughters and 3 sons. Edward was never faithful to his wife and took many mistresses. Edward’s passing in 1483 proved a difficult blow, forcing Elizabeth to draw an alliance with the Tudor family to ensure the safety of her own.
Julia Agrippina the Younger
Both ancient and modern sources describe Agrippina’s personality as ruthless, ambitious, violent and domineering. She was born in to a life of privilege. She was directly connected by blood and marriage to five Roman emperors: Caesar Augustus, her great- grandfather Tiberius, her great-uncle Caligula, her brother Claudius, her uncle and Nero, her son. She wasn’t satisfied with being an appendage and living life on the sidelines, as elite Roman women were expected to do. In 39 AD, she was exiled for plotting against her brother, Caligula. in 49 AD she seduced her uncle and the new emperor Claudius and they were married on New Year’s Day, making her an Empress and the most powerful and influential woman in the Roman Empire. Even by Roman standards, such a marriage was considered incestuous and morally wrong. This was her third marrige and his fourth. Claudius later repented of marrying Agrippina and adopting her son Nero. His actions allegedly gave Agrippina a motive to eliminate Claudius. She poisoned Claudius on October 13, 54 (a Sunday) with a plate of deadly mushrooms at a banquet, thus enabling Nero to quickly take the throne as emperor.
She now openly and officially assumed power as de facto co-ruler of Rome during her son’s youth. Nero tried to kill Agrippina in numerous ways he first tried to poison her 3 times. She prevented her death by taking the antidote in advance.
She now openly and officially assumed power as de facto co-ruler of Rome during her son’s youth. Nero tried to kill Agrippina in numerus ways he first tried to poison her 3 times. She prevented her death by taking the antidote in advance. Afterwards, he rigged up a machine in her room which would drop her ceiling tiles onto her as she slept, but she once again escaped her death after she received word of the plan.
Nero’s final plan was to collapse and sink her boat. she was nearly crushed by a collapsing lead ceiling only to be saved by the side of a sofa breaking the ceiling’s fall and she swam to shore. Nero eventually ordered the assassination of Agrippina and made it look as if she had committed suicide. He felt so guilty he would have nightmares about his her. He even believed he saw her ghost and got Persian magicians to scare her away.
Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator who led Italy through WWII, was a notorious lothario, and his rise to political power perhaps only widened his playing field. Though he had a string of mistresses, only one stayed by his side until the bitter end. Clara Petacci came from a well-connected family – her father was a doctor for the Vatican – and she became Mussolini’s mistress at 19. Though Mussolini was a married man with five children, he was hopelessly devoted to his young mistress. The relationship with Mussolini allowed her to be provided for and guarded in style: Mussolini gifted her bodyguards, a chauffeur, and lodging in his offices at the Palazzo Venezia.
Their affair came crashing down, however, with Mussolini’s fascist regime – in April 1945, the pair attempted to flee the country, but were caught, executed, and hung upside-down in Milan.
Pacetti did manage to have the final word: her private
diaries, which explicitly detailed her affair with Mussolini,
were finally published in 2009
Harriette Wilson was one of Georgian England’s most prolific courtesans and shrewdest writers. Born and bred in London, she began her career at the tender age of 15, when she became mistress to Earl William Craven. She quickly became a fixture of London high society, even as she was publicly shunned – but privately enjoyed – by its leading members. She racked up an impressive list of lovers, including prime ministers, war heroes, and royals: the Duke of Wellington, George IV, and Lord Palmerston, among dozens of others, counted her as a mistress at various points in time. Her numerous trysts built her a network of powerful men to whom she could turn when in need. She eventually fell on hard times, but devised an ingenious solution in the 1820s: she penned a memoir and blackmailed former lovers who wished to preserve their anonymity.
The choice was clear – pay Har, or their names would be published in the text. In this way, she used her illicit history as leverage to generate an income. If money is power, she used her romantic liaisons to get both.
The personal and the political collided disastrously in the story of Lola Montez. Born in Ireland in 1821, she spent her childhood in India, England, and Scotland, and eloped at the age of 19. By 1843, she had left her husband and was trying to jump-start a career as a professional dancer in Europe. In 1846, She captured the attention of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. As his mistress, she was only too happy to accept gifts from the king, including a stately palace in Munich. Ludwig spent lavishly on Lola, and indulged her desire for a title: she became Baroness Rosenthal and Countess of Lansfeld. Though she lacked the title of queen, Lola nonetheless possessed queenly power. Under her influence, the Bavarian government beckoning to her desires. The liberal reforms she encouraged targeted Jesuits. She so succeeded in alienating the group, in fact, they fought back, labelling her a Venus and attacking her virtue. Opposition to Ludwig’s government wasn’t aided by her seemingly unwarranted influence. In 1848, as revolutionary fever swept Europe, Ludwig was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Maximilian.
She fled Bavaria and eventually began peddling her stories around the world. While staying in New York City in 1860, Lola was showing the effects of syphilis and her body began to waste away. She died at the age of 39 on 17 January 1861.
The iconic, controversial First Lady of Argentina began life in a small town in 1919 as María Eva Duarte also known as Evita, an illegitimate girl with dreams of stardom. She moved to Buenos Aires at the age of 15 landed several acting and modelling jobs. Though few consider her a great actress.
In 1942 she signed a five-year contract with Radio Belgrano, which assured her a role in a popular historical-drama program called Great Women of History, in which she played Elizabeth I of England, Sarah Bernhardt, and the last Tsarina of Russia. By 1943, Eva was one of the highest-paid radio actresses in the nation.
Though Eva’s rise to stardom was not quite as scandalous as Andrew Lloyd Webber claims in Evita, she had much to gain when she met rising political star Juan Perón in 1944. Indeed, she unabashedly attached herself to his coattails. On the night of their first meeting, she even threw his teenaged mistress out of the house, demonstrating that, as far as she was concerned, there was room for only one woman in Juan Perón’s life. Eva’s film career was boosted once Perón allegedly funded her production company. Such favours were not one-sided, however: she also supported his political agenda and was a glossy, charismatic social ambassador for his politics.
Eva and Juan married in 1945 and moved into the Casa Rosada the next year as Argentina’s President and First Lady.
Thanks to Eva’s influence, women benefited from Perón’s working-class reforms. Critics of the Peróns dismissed her, claiming she had no business in politics, but her influence in her husband’s government never truly diminished, and she has since been regarded as an influential female figure in 20th-century politics. Eva’s tenure as First Lady was brief: she died at 8:25 p.m. on Saturday, 26 July 1952, from cervical cancer at the age of 33. The streets of Buenos Aires overflowed with huge piles of flowers. Within a day of her death, all flower shops in Buenos Aires had run out of stock.
Flowers were flown in from all over the country, and as far away as Chile. Despite the fact that Eva Perón never held a political office, she was eventually given a state funeral usually reserved for a head of state, along with a full Roman Catholic Requiem Mass.
Mary Anne Clarke
She was married at just 15 to Joseph Clarke, the son of a wealthy stonemason. However, 3 years after the marriage, her husband went bankrupt, and Mary left him taking their children with her. Mary became a courtesans to generate income for her young family.
She quickly climbed the ranks of high society in early 19th-century London, eventually attracting the attention of Frederick, Duke of York, the second son of King George III and commander-in-chief of the British Army.
Though she and the duke spent several good years together, he paid for her extravagant household in a fashionable London square, and she provided constant attention and affection – their relationship came crashing down in 1806, when he ended the affair. As recompense, Mary loudly said that she had trafficked military appointments while she was the Duke’s mistress: officers would bribe her for promotions, and she pocketed the income. The allegations scandalized a nation deep in war within Napoleon’s France and resulted in a sensationalized inquiry by the House of Commons. She was prosecuted for libel in 1813 and imprisoned for nine months. On her release from prison, she went to live in France where she died in 1852.
In 1954 Her great granddaughter Daphne du Maurier wrote a fictionalised life story of her great grandmother. The novel was called Mary Anne
She was born c.500 AD. Her father was a bear trainer and her mother a dancer and an actress. when she was 4 her father died and her mother brought Theodora and her 2 younger sisters wearing garlands into the hippodrome and presented them as suppliants to the chariot races. From then on, Theodora would be their supporter. from an early age Theodora worked in a Constantinople brothel serving low-status customers later, she performed on stage. made a name for herself with her salacious portrayal of Leda and the Swan. she would ermm… put seed somewhere intimate and the swan would eat it. (I think that’s enough said on that) At the age of 16, Theodora travelled to North Africa here she met Justinian or Justin heir to the Byzantine Empire. Though Justinian fell madly in love with Theodora, he could not marry her, as unions between public officials and actresses were forbidden. Justin passed a new law, which decreed that reformed actresses could thereafter legally marry outside their rank if approved by the emperor. In the future The same law allowed her illegitimate daughter (whose name has been lost) to marry one of the previous emperor relatives.
Justinian assumed the throne in 527 AD with Theodora at his side. They were two of the most powerful people in the world.
She shared in his plans and political strategies, participated in state councils, and Justinian called her his “partner in my deliberations.” She had her own court, her own official entourage, and her own imperial seal. proved herself a worthy and able leader.
She died of cancer on 28 June 548 at the age of 48. Along with her spouse, Theodora is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church and in the Oriental Orthodox Church.
(AKA Lady of Beauty)
As the first official royal mistress of France from 1444–50, She commanded power and influence in the court of King Charles VII. The brazenness of Charles’s affection for her scandalized the French court and earned her many enemies.
She did not seek royal favors only for herself, however: she used her position to advance the fortunes and standing of her family by securing them positions at court.
Her fashion choices were as bold and daring as her public affair: she wore her dresses so that one breast was always completely exposed. Charles gifted Agnès lands, a private residence, and mountains of jewels – including what might be the first cut diamond. Her tenure was relatively brief – she passed due to mercury ingestion at the age of 28 in 1450. Some even suspect foul play was involved in her demise. Charles’ son, the future King Louis XI, had been in open revolt against his father for the previous four years.
It has been speculated that he had Agnès poisoned in order to remove what he may have considered her undue influence over the king.
Diane de Poitiers
One of the most beautiful, intelligent, and fashionable women in the 16th-century French court, Diane de Poitiers caught the eye of Prince Henry, heir to the throne and a man 20 years her junior. She grew to be an essential figure in Henry’s life throughout his reign. when They first met at the tournament held for the coronation of king Francis’s new wife, Eleanor of Austria, in 1531, while the court of France saluted the new Queen as expected, Henry addressed his salute to Diane. As a royal mistress, Diane held no official power in the court, but her relationship with the king did afford her influence and favours.
She eclipsed the queen in the royal court, and Henry lavished her with gifts
When Henry died in a jousting accident in 1551, Diane fell dramatically. Queen Catherine de Medici – Henry’s widow and new Queen Regent – swiftly reduced Diane’s position, even forcing her to trade castles. Diane passed 15 years after Henry’s death when she was 66.
When experts dug up her remains in 2009 they found her death was self-inflicted but accidental – she consumed drinkable gold to preserve her youth and beauty, which ultimately killed her.
Madame de Pompadour
Growing up in a well-off but not noble family, Madame de Pompadour was groomed by her family to be a royal mistress from a young age. She was well-educated and made good use of her sharp intelligence. She first came to the attention of King Louis XV at a masked ball at the royal palace of Versailles in 1745.
Following this encounter, she quickly became the king’s chief mistress.
She was given her own quarters at Versailles and had intimate contact with the king. She took charge of the king’s schedule and was a valued aide and advisor, despite her frail health and many political enemies. She secured titles of nobility for herself and her relatives, and built a network of clients and supporters. Through her position as court favourite she wielded considerable power and influence; she was elevated on 12 October 1752, to duchess and in 1756 to lady-in-waiting to the queen, the most noble rank possible for a woman at court.
She effectively played the role of prime minister, becoming responsible for appointing advancements, favours, and dismissals, and contributing in domestic and foreign politics.
critics at the time generally tarred her as a malevolent political influence, but historians are more favourable, emphasizing her successes as a patron of the arts and a champion of French pride. She was able to wield such influence at court due to the invaluable role she played as a friend and confidant of the King. In opposition to previous mistresses of Louis XV She made herself invaluable to the King by becoming the only person whom Louis trusted and who could be counted on to tell him the truth.
Louis remained devoted to her until her death from tuberculosis in 1764 at the age of forty-two.
Wallis Simpson was a glamorous American divorcee who caught the eye of future King of England Edward VIII in 1931. Though Edward was known for his dalliances and he cultivated a reputation as a playboy prince, everyone assumed his fling with Wallis would be short-lived.
When Edward ascended to the throne following his father’s passing in 1936, he made it clear that he wanted Wallis at his side.
Contrary to his wishes, the relatively conservative British Government wouldn’t accept a divorced woman as the queen because divorce was forbidden by the Church of England. Rather than reigning without the woman he loved, Edward abdicated in favour of his younger brother, who became George VI. Wallis and Edward married soon after, and she accompanied Edward on his appointment as Governor of the Bahamas.
Though Wallis never achieved the privilege or title of a queen, she was dubbed Duchess of Windsor after the couple married.
Historically, Cleopatra is cast as the ultimate femme fatale, whose influence supposedly ruined a good man’s career and resulted in his demise (never mind her own). In reality, Cleopatra was a shrewd politician whose primary objective was to preserve the autonomy of Egypt in the face of Roman aggression and expansion. To that end, she strove to make Roman allies through the only means accessible to a woman of the era.
Cleopatra first engaged in an affair with the great Julius Caesar, and even bore him a son.
After Caesar’s murder at the hands of senators in 44 BC, Cleopatra took as her lover and eventual husband one of his devoted comrades, Marc Antony.
Their love affair produced three children, but did not safeguard Egypt as she had hoped. By 30 BC, Caesar’s great nephew, adopted son, and heir, Octavian, defeated Antony and Cleopatra’s forces on land and sea, annexing Egypt into the Roman Empire. The lovers’ ends are prototypical of literature and legend…
Antony and Cleopatra each took their own life – Antony fell on his sword and Cleopatra pressed an asp to her breast.
She was a royal mistress with political ambitions. In 1590, the 17-year-old French noblewoman became the mistress of King Henry IV, a Protestant king leading a Catholic-majority country in a climate of religious warfare sweeping Europe. Gabrielle, loyal to her king, was also a loyal Catholic, and used her position to convince Henry to renounce Protestantism and return to the Catholic faith.
She proved to be an asset to the king, and, though she had no official power, she did wield social capital.
When Henry issued the Edict of Nantes, granting Protestants rights, Gabrielle used her social and diplomatic skill to quiet vocal criticism from Catholic nobles. With pride, Henry claimed, “My mistress has become an orator of unequalled brilliance, so fiercely does she argue the cause of the new edict.”
Henry sought an annulment from the pope for his first marriage in the hopes of wedding his mistress, but, after delivering a stillborn baby, she passed in 1599 at the age of 26 due to eclampsia.
Born Marion Dourcas in 1897 Brooklyn, Marion Davies always harboured dreams of stardom. She got her start in entertainment as a show girl on Broadway, and by 1917, she was starring in a film she herself had written.
She quickly found an audience substantial enough to attract the attention of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
Hearst immediately set out to make his mistress a star. He even founded a production company – Cosmopolitan Pictures – in 1918 solely to produce and promote her work. He oversaw her career to the point of obsession, brokering deals and advertising her performances in his newspaper empire. Though Davies was a natural comedian with ambitions of screenwriting, her affair held her back, as people assumed she was getting ahead because of her relationship with Hearst. In the film Citizen Kane (1941), the title character’s second wife an untalented singer whom he tries to promote—was widely assumed to be based on Davies. But many commentators, including Citizen Kane writer/director Orson Welles himself, have defended Davies’ record as a gifted actress, to whom Hearst’s patronage did more harm than good. She retired from the screen in 1937, choosing to devote herself to Hearst and charitable work.
Since the early 1920s, there has been speculation that Davies and Hearst had a child together some time between 1920 and 1923. The child was rumored to be Patricia Lake (née Van Cleve), who was publicly identified as Davies’ niece.
On October 3, 1993, Lake died of complications from lung cancer in Indian Wells, California. Ten hours before her death, Lake requested that her son publicly announce that she was not Davies’ niece but Davies’ biological daughter, whom she had conceived with Hearst. Lake had never commented on her alleged paternity in public. She reportedly told Lake of her true parentage when she was 11 years old.
Eleven weeks and one day after Hearst’s death, Davies married Horace Brown on October 31, 1951, in Las Vegas. It was not a happy marriage.
She died of stomach cancer on September 22, 1961, in her home in Hollywood, California.
was a key figure in the cultural and political life of ancient Athens, thanks in no small part to the fact that she was the mistress of Pericles, one of the most powerful and important statesmen in the ancient world. She was born around 470 BC and was an immigrant to Athens. From around 445 BC, Aspasia was Pericles’s mistress and an Athenian hetaera, or courtesan. Though both ancient and contemporary sources differ on details of her life, they agree on many aspects. Aspasia, officially a concubine, was witty, intelligent, and articulate, and used her proximity to Pericles to entertain and debate with powerful men.
Socrates was a regular visitor who delighted in debating with her. There have been suggestions Pericles turned to her as an advisor; what actual influence she had remains unknown.
She did, however, face substantial criticism. Her relationship to Pericles was parodied in stage comedies and questioned by the Senate, as many felt she was a wicked, scandalous presence who overstepped her bounds as a woman. Many politicians even blamed her for political and military blunders – they feared Pericles was merely a puppet overseen by Aspasia’s whims. Given their commitment to one another, she was more than likely devastated when he succumbed to the plague in 429 BC.
She outlived him by nearly three decades, passing around 401 or 400 BC. Scholars continue to debate her legacy even centuries later.
Below are some books, TV shows and films about these fascinating women I recommend.
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