A mistress is a long-term female lover and companion who is not married to her partner especially when her partner is married or in another relationship. The relationship generally is stable and at least semi-permanent. An official mistress is one whom is designated as so by the king. There are also men however whom carry relationships with married women or women in another long-term relationship. These men could be considered lovers or paramours.
The historically best known and most-researched mistresses are the royal mistresses of European monarchs, for example, Agnès Sorel, Diane de Poitiers, Barbara Villiers, Nell Gwyn and Madame de Pompadour. The keeping of a mistress in Europe was not confined to royalty and nobility but permeated down through the social ranks, essentially to any man who could afford to do so. Any man who could afford a mistress could have one (or more), regardless of social position. A wealthy merchant or a young noble might have a kept woman. Being a mistress was typically an occupation for a younger woman who, if she were fortunate, might go on to marry her lover or another man of rank.
The primary reason a king would take a mistress seems to be the fact that royal marriages were rarely, if ever, based on love alone. Most often, English monarchs made a dynastic match, first for the production of heirs of royal blood and second for the treaties and huge dowry that often accompanied such brides. Compatibility was rarely considered in the contracting of these marriages.
Often, these brides were stringently instilled with a sense of chastity that often developed into sexual frigidity. To a king whose sexual appetites were often nurtured by friends and father-figures from an early age, this was a difficult barrier to surmount. This, added to the fact that often there was no physical attraction between the two royal partners, creates a situation which, to the sensibilities of the time, necessitated the establishment of a royal mistress.
Power & InfluenceEdit
In the courts of Europe, particularly Versailles and Whitehall in the 17th and 18th centuries, a mistress often wielded great power and influence. A king might have numerous mistresses but have a single "favourite mistress" or "official mistress" (in French, "maîtresse en titre"), as with Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour. The mistresses of both Louis XV (especially Madame de Pompadour) and Charles II were often considered to exert great influence over their lovers, the relationships being open secrets Other than wealthy merchants and kings, Alexander VI is but one example of a Pope who kept mistresses. While the extremely wealthy might keep a mistress for life (as George II of England did with "Mrs Howard", even after they were no longer romantically linked), such was not the case for most kept women.
Occasionally the mistress is in a superior position both financially and socially to her lover. As a widow, Catherine the Great was known to have been involved with several successive men during her reign; but, like many powerful women of her era, in spite of being a widow free to marry, she chose not to share her power with a husband, preferring to maintain absolute power alone.