(WOMENSENEWS)– By 1666, the harmony that the Colonna couple had found in the first years of their marriage was already weakening.
Lorenzo had mistresses, which in itself was not a transgression that would have seriously damaged most aristocratic marriages. But one of his affairs was with a prominent noblewoman, his wife’s social equal, and this Marie found particularly humiliating. In 1665 Christina Paleotti, daughter of one of the wealthiest families in Rome, gave birth to a girl whom, everyone knew, Lorenzo had fathered.
In November of that same year Marie delivered their third son, Carlo. Soon after, Marie told her husband that she wanted to break off conjugal relations for good and establish a separazione di letto, or separation of beds.
In her memoirs, she wrote only that she feared the health risks of another pregnancy, and having produced three sons, her husband had no cause to be concerned for the family succession. Her third delivery had been a difficult one. Though later she would remember that her husband had rushed to be with her for it, as he had promised her he would, she also recalled that the experience had frightened her and made her decide that she had given him enough:
The very evening he arrived, I gave him a third successor, but since this gift cost me much dearer than the first two, and even threatened my life, I took the view that I should give him no more of these gifts which might expose me to such perils. However, it was not enough for me to have made this resolution, if he did not confirm it with his consent. It was toward that goal that I worked, and I was quite successful, as he has since kept his word to me very scrupulously in all the time that we have been together.
Marie’s views on the subject were decidedly foreign to Lorenzo.
They were influenced by the aspects of her French upbringing that he found most annoying: the feminist streak in those salon conversations of which she was so fond, and that inspired her to exhort Roman women to a greater degree of independence from their husbands.
Her ideas on pregnancy and motherhood were influenced, too, by the readings and storytelling of her youth that remained popular among female readers long into adulthood, fairy tales and legends that relentlessly focused on fertility, pregnancy, and the power and danger that came to women through their capacity to bear children.
Like the husbands in these tales, Lorenzo had indulged his pregnant wife, sometimes to his regret (as when he allowed her to go riding), other times to his satisfaction (as when he rushed to be with her for the birth of a son).
Marie understood the importance of fertility in a noble marriage and the control this could give her over her husband. She also was apprehensive about the loss of power that their separazione di letto would generate for her. But in this era when one out of 10 women could expect to die in childbirth, she also believed strongly in her own right to a long life after becoming a mother. Her older sister Laure-Victoire, who had been so welcoming to her younger siblings when they first arrived in France, had died at 22 after the birth of her third child. Marie was determined not to let this be her own fate.
Elizabeth C. Goldsmith is a professor of French at Boston University. She has written several books on literature in the age of Louis XIV, with a focus on letter correspondence and women’s writing.
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Buy the book: “The Kings’ Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin.”