Category Archives: Historical Femme Fatales

Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin “George Sand” (1804-1876) – Mistress Sand – Historical Femme Fatale


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Geroge Sand

Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin was born into a liberal household during the Napoleonic Era, in Paris. She grew up in the house of her grandmother, Marie-Aurore de Saxe, Madame Dupin de Francueil, the illegitimate daughter of Maurice de Saxe, Count of Saxony and Marshal General of France. Great Grandfather Maurice was in turn the illegitimate son of Augustus II, Elector of Saxony, King of Poland, and Duke of Lithuania.

After Amantine turned 18, she married the illegitimate son of Baron Jean-Francois Dudevant, Francois Casimir Dudevant. After the birth of two children, she separated from her husband. Since divorce was heavily frowned upon in those days to the point that divorced women were outcast and shunned in society, it was not uncommon for married couples to separate and have discreet love affairs. Back then this kind of arrangement was way more acceptable than being divorced.

Amantine was known for her high profile, artistic lovers, and being a prominent writer of the Romantic era. Some of the loves in Amantine’s life were: Jules Sandeau, a french novelist; Prosper Merimee, a French writer, archaeologist, and historian; Alfred Musset, a French dramatist, poet, and novelist; Pierre Bocage, a French actor; Charles Didier, a Swiss writer and poet; Jean Pierre Felicien Mallefille, a French novelist and playwright; Louis Blanc, a French politician and historian; and most famously, Frederic Francois Chopin, the famous Polish composer of the Romantic era. After some letters have been uncovered, it is even speculated that Amantine may have been bisexual and even had a love affair with the French actress, Marie Dorval.

During Amantine’s affair with Jules Sandeau is when she began to write under the pseudonym, “George Sand.” Jules and Amantine wrote a novel together using the combined pseudonym “Jules Sand.” This how the well known “George Sand,” got her start. Women writers throughout history often used male pseudonyms in order for their work to be read by wider audiences, or in some cases to even be published. Women writers suffered from discrimination in Amantine’s time.

Amantine was a woman way ahead of her time and a notable feminist. People either loved or hated Sand. Some critics, at odds with her unconventional ways, went so far as to call her a untalented slut. Others admired her greatly for her daring and devil may care attitude. She was even known for dressing in men’s clothing and frequenting men’s clubs and gatherings, and smoking a tobacco pipe (the later so scandalous and shocking for a lady).

It is believed that the greatest love of Amantine’s life was Chopin. However, at the time it seemed to be a love/hate affair. At first Chopin could not stand Amantine, commenting that she was unattractive and he was not even sure she was actually a woman. He also had a fiance’, the beautiful Maria Wodzinska. Maria’s mother implied that marriage with her daughter was unlikely because of his poor and ever declining health and the engagement was cut off. It was after this, that Chopin sought solace with Amantine.

This great love affair lasted several years (about 9). It began to decline was Chopin’s health continued to worsen. Amantine began to express that Chopin was like another child to her and she was more like his nurse, than his lover. Amantine’s son always disliked Chopin and Chopin always favored Amantine’s daughter, even when the mother argued with her. This irritated Amantine more than anything else. It seems that it was even believed by Amantine that Chopin may have been secretly in love with her daughter. Chopin was also indifferent to Amantine’s political activism, and Amantine despised all of Chopin’s high society friends. Most likely most of those high society friends refused to associate with Amantine. It was obvious that a weak sickly character in one of her novels was inspired by Chopin, and it was sometime after this that Chopin ended their relationship.

A lot of society had begun to treat Amantine with disdain, because of her open and public affair with Chopin (and other lovers) and her dressing like a man. Pretty much she behaved like a man the way she conducted her affairs, smoked, drank, and gambled, and it scandalized all the proper society ladies.  Poet Charles Baudelaire delivered one of the harshest insults to Sand: “She is stupid, heavy and garrulous. Her ideas on morals have the same depth of judgment and delicacy of feeling as those of janitresses and kept women… The fact that there are men who could become enamored of this slut is indeed a proof of the abasement of the men of this generation.”

When Chopin passed away, Amantine, still holding a grudge because he ended their affair, stubbornly refused to attend. This kind of put people off, as it was known that they were together at one time and for so long. She was viewed by many as cold and heartless because of it. Sand died many years later at the age of 71.


Amantine had two children with her husband, Casimir Dudevant…

Maurice Dudevant (1823-1889)
Solange Dudevant (1828-1899)

Amantine “Geroge Sand” has been portrayed on film a couple times. The most recent film is from 1991, where she is a main character in a film about her love affair with Chopin, titled: “Impromptu.”

George Sand has written over 50 novels, 13 plays, and 2 non-fiction/autobiographical works.

Note: The background for the framed portrait of George Sand is a detail in a painting by Monet. And the painting on the easel is actually a completed portrait of a famous unfinished painting of Sand and Chopin, by artist Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix. The painting was reconstructed using modern digital technology.


Charlotte Corday (1768-1793) – Angel Assassin – Historical Femme Fatale


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Charlotte Corday

Marie-Anne Charlotte de Corday d’Armont was an average girl, born to a minor aristocratic family in France. At a very young age she lost her mother and older sister to one of the fatal illness of the era. Her father, not able to cope with loss, sent Charlotte and her younger sister to live in a convent in Caen, France, know as the Abbey of Sainte-Trinite. There she was raised by nuns surrounded by classical writings, and grew up into a very intelligent and educated young lady. It was during this time that she discovered great political and philosophical writings from some of our history’s masters: Plutarch, Rousseau and Voltaire…

After her time in the convent, she went on to live with her cousin, Madame Le Coustellier de Bretteville-Gouville. The two women became very close and the greatest friends.

During her young adulthood, the French Revolution was ongoing. What started out as a Revolution had now spun out of control into an age of terror. There were two sides of the revolutionaries: the Girondins (moderates) and the Montagnards (radicals). Charlotte sympathized with the moderate revolutionaries and was revolted by the radicals. She especially detested the Jacobin (Montagnard) leader, Jean-Paul Marat. Montagnards supported the radicalized idea that those who did not support their cause should be brutally executed and eliminated. There really was no middle ground with them. Girondins sought to cease the violence that had been spreading throughout France and avoid civil war. Charlotte was even against the execution of the King Louis XVI. Regardless that she was a revolutionary herself, she felt the execution and murder of the aristocracy was inhumane and barbaric. She also vehemently believed that her country, with the instigation of Marat, was headed toward a bloody civil war. She saw him as an enemy of the Republic and decided he must be stopped at all costs.

Charlotte left the home of her cousin and traveled to Paris (where Marat would be) and took a room at the Hotel de Providence. She wrote her “Addresse aux Français Amis des Lois et de la Paix (Address to the French people, friends of Law and Peace) to explain her motives for assassinating Marat. Then, armed with a kitchen knife from her home, she ventured over to Marat’s residence claiming to have information about a Girondin uprising. She was at first turned away. She was probably told Marat was indisposed at the moment. He had some kind of celiac skin condition. The condition was extremely itchy and even burning. It is known that Marat took bath treatments for this condition. He even conducted business and held meetings from his bathtub.

Charlotte was admitted to the presence of Marat during one such treatment on her second visit, so he could listen to the information she claimed to have. It was during this meeting that Charlotte stabbed Marat directly into his chest. He was able to yell out and Charlotte was apprehended taken away by members of his household, but it was too late. The petite, childlike, seemingly innocent girl managed to deliver a fatal blow in her first and only stab. Marat died.

On trial for murder, Charlotte said, “I knew that he, Marat, was perverting France. I have killed one man to save a hundred thousand.” She was sentenced and executed by guillotine.

Charlotte Corday, changed the role and view of women as revolutionaries. In a way she contributed to the feminist movement that was steadily on the rise. She showed every man in France that women too can be active revolutionaries, have strong opinions, and take action and fight against what they deemed injustices. Women were beginning to not to be seen as the weak, meek, unopinionated, malleable, and insignificant. She was seen as either a Heroine by some (men and women alike), or an abomination of her sex.


Charlotte never married and was even examined after death and found to be virgo intacta. Physicians had been called to examine her, because it was speculated that she probably had a lover who manipulated her to commit such a “unfeminine” crime. Women were not capable of being cold blooded assassins… Well, they were and are. An innocent virgin girl with the face of an angle assassinated a Jacobin leader like it was nothing. So she was known as the “Angel of Assassination.”

Charlotte Corday has been portrayed many times… in novels, plays, operas, and even mentioned or memorialized by other characters in some productions. Wouldn’t it be great to see a modern film about her?


Marie-Madeleine-Marguerite d’Aubray (1630-1676) – Murderess Marquise – Historical Femme Fatale


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Madame de Brinvilliers

Marie-Madeleine-Marguerite d’Aubray, Marquise de Brinvillier’s arrest and execution was most known for what kicked off the infamous L’affaire des poisons (Affair of the Poisons). This catastrophic event marked the decline of the Versailles French court’s prestigiousness with her peers across Europe. France’s reputation changed, from one of sophisticated, if libertine, refinement- to a place of vice and murder. However, historians are skeptical if the Marquise, or most or any of the other people who died during the Affair of the Poisons, were actually guilty, as most of their confessions were tortured out of them.

Marie was the daughter of Antoine Dreux d’Aubray, civil officer of Paris, Counselor of State, Master of the Requetes, a high-level judicial officer of administrative law. Her mother was Marie Olier, whom also came from a family of lawyers and justice men. Although, Marie’s family were civil servants, they were not of the French aristocracy. It was Marie’s marriage, no doubt encouraged by her parent’s, to Antoine Gobelin, Marquis de Brinvilliers, that brought her to that social level.

One can imagine that Marie’s marriage may have not been a happy one. It probably was not a love marriage. Seeing that Marie’s family could only bring judiciary favors and no wealth to Brinvilliers, perhaps he was was attracted to her. She was said to be a very beautiful lady, with golden blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Fair women were still admired in this period. Probably married to someone she did not chose, it is not too surprising that Marie took a lover.

Marie was introduced to Jean-Baptiste Godin de Sainte-Croix, a cavalry captain, by her husband, as they were friends. It is not certain when Marie and Croix became lovers, but it became public knowledge sometime after her husband abandoned her in attempt to flee his creditors. Marie’s father was so scandalized by the affair that he had Croix thrown in prison. In prison he met the notorious poisoner and alchemist known as Exili. Exili supposedly taught him the tools of his trade. After six weeks, Criox was released from prison and went immediately back to Marie. It is said that he taught her how to make poisons too and they they tested them on patients of a nearby hospital. Supposedly Marie would visit with sweets for the patients as a seeming act of charity and kindness. It is claimed that several of those patients that Marie visited ended up dead. Some historians are not entirely convinced that the patients, whom were already terminally ill, died because of some poisoned biscuits or what not.

When Marie’s father and both brothers, whom were against her relationship with Criox end up dead, these circumstances become even more suspicious. Marie would be accused of the murder of her father and brother’s in order to seize her father’s wealth in her own name, as she was then the oldest surviving child. The only thing that is for certain is that the whole family, even Marie herself fell ill. It could have also easily been something the family ate (a really awful food poisoning perhaps). People were not known to handle food as well as we do nowadays.

Criox dies of natural causes sometime later, and incriminating evidence is supposedly found among Criox’s private papers. There was said to be a locked box revealing Marie as a murderess and a poisoner, and that this box should not be opened until after Marie’s death. Marie gets wind that the law is coming for her and she lives on the run for years. Eventually she is arrested and put on trial for the deaths of her father and brothers. The prosecution also paints a picture of Criox, so in fear of his life that he hide this evidence away, not to be discovered until after Marie dies. conveniently he is not alive to testify to this. They also make it seem that Marie’s husband, Brinvilliers, left her to save his life (not escape his creditors- which in those times, being in debt was illegal and punishable by imprisonment).

Marie was tortured during interrogations. She was stripped naked, bound, and forced to drink 24 pints of water- this was known as water torture. Historians tend to be very skeptical of any confession obtained by torture. Perhaps the whole trial made Marie’s sister and husband believe that they to may have been poisoned too. Still, it is even possible that Marie’s sister knew she has a lot to gain if her sister was accused and condemned. It is also possible that Marie’s husband wanted revenged for the affair with his friend.

Another thing is, we often see in history, that whenever a woman comes into any kind of considerable inheritance, accusations of immorality, evil, wickedness, vices, and witchcraft often follow her. It is understood by modern historians that this is because someone is after their wealth and estates. The Defense of Marie was that there was no solid evidence against her, and her confession was obtained under torture. It is unclear if Marie truly was a serial killer, or if she was just another heiress that was falsely accused and her inheritance confiscated. As a married woman who had a known lover and was already and adulteress, many would have already decided to demonize her anyway and pre-judge her as guilty. She would have never had a fair trial.

It was after her arrest, conviction, and execution (by which she was beheaded and her body burned at the stake), that panic broke out in Versailles. Many Aristocrats were accused of witchcraft and murder (specifically poisonings), along with the peasant class apothecaries, healers, and mystics. Many were also executed. It was this event that ruined the French prestige across the continent. And it seems quite convenient that when a aristocrat is convicted of treason or a capital crime, that someone else (even the crown) benefits from it…


Marie d’Aubray gave birth to two sons by her husband, the Marquise de Brinvilliers…

Antoine Gobelin de Brinvilliers II
Dreux Gobelin de Brinvilliers

Marie, Marquise de Brinvilliers was most recently portrayed in the 2009 French Television production “La Marquise Des Ombres.” The infamous Affair of Poisons is also portrayed in the French-Canadian hit TV series Versailles (in season 2 to be exact).

Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796) – Empress the Great – House of Anhalt – Historical Femme Fatale


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Catherine the Great

Catherine II, Empress of all the Russias, is the only woman in history to be given the title “The Great.” This makes her a “great” woman in history, as well as a Historical Femme Fatale.

Born, Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, Catherine was poor, but beautiful. It is because the Russian Empress, Elizabeth II, of the House of Romanov took a liking to the girl, that she was accepted as a bride for Peter of Holstein-Gottorp. Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, never married or had children, so Peter, her sister’s son, was her chosen heir.

Although Catherine despised her fiance’, Peter, and made no secret that he revolted her, her ambition to be Empress of Russia gave her the drive to do anything to ascend the throne. Unlike Peter, Catherine, learned the language and culture of the Russian people, which made them love and respect her over him. Peter was also immature, played with toys even as a young man, and was a drunkard. No one liked him. Not even his aunt, Empress Elizabeth.

Catherine, willing to do anything to wear the crown, also converted to the faith of the people she one day hoped to rule. Upon her conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, she changed her name to “Yekaterina Alekseyevna.” Shortly after she and Peter were married and she became Duchess Consort of Holstein-Gottorp. The newlyweds were given the palace of Oranienbaum as their royal residence in Lomonosov.

It is speculated that after eight years of marriage, Catherine had yet to produce a child, and that this displeased the Empress. It is rumored that the young couple did not like each other and carried on with their own affairs. Peter openly had a mistress, Elizaveta Vorontsova. It is also said that Catherine had several lovers of her own. Historians are skeptical, because Catherine was not stupid. She was shrewd and ambitious. It seems highly unlikely she would have committed adultery and risked giving birth to a legitimate heir. This makes some believe that if she did have a lover, she would have had the support of the Empress herself, whose priority was securing the throne with an heir. She surely would not have had several lovers, and the man would have been chosen very carefully.

However the children were conceived, Catherine, gave birth to two children, supposedly fathered by Peter. A son and a daughter. The son would become Paul I, but the daughter died of a early childhood illness. Peter constantly denied being their father, but Elizabeth put an end to his public outbursts about his heirs. Especially about his son. Empress Elizabeth also took the children to be raised by her, to the displeasure of Catherine. However, Catherine was powerless and could not challenge the Empress.

Upon Empress Elizabeth’s death, Peter became Peter III, Emperor of the Russians, and Catherine became Empress consort. It was not long before Peter began to rub the Russian people the wrong way. Soon all of Russian nobility were against him, but they still respected and adored Catherine. Peter started working for the interests of Prussia, over those of Russia. It was also rumored that Peter was intending to banish his wife to a convent in order to marry Vorontsova. Some claim these rumors were what drove Catherine to join efforts with Vorontsova’s own sister, Princess Ekaterina Dashkova, and staged a palace coup which removed her husband from power in July 1762. She gave a moving speech to those of the military that supported her, asking them to protect her from her husband.

Catherine imprisoned her husband, and forced him to sign a document of abdication. She allowed his bed from his room, his dog, and his violin brought to his cell… But not his mistress.  The clergy awaited to ordain her as the sole occupant of the Russian throne. Peter III died at at the hands of Alexei Orlov (younger brother to Grigory Orlov, a favorite of Catherine’s and a participant in the coup).

Despite the ruthless means by which she came to the throne, it was probably the best for the Russian Empire. Peter would have, and was already, causing problems the short time he was in power. During her reign, Catherine extended the borders of the Russian Empire southward and westward to absorb New Russia, Crimea, Northern Caucasus, Right-bank Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and Courland. Catherine conquered the south, making Russia the dominant power in south-eastern Europe after the Russo-Turkish War. Russia inflicted some of the heaviest defeats ever suffered by the Ottoman Empire. Catherine also annexed the Crimea. She even picked up some territory that belonged to the Persians.

Catherine II was also a patron of the Arts and Humanities. Education in Russia also soared, even among women and children. She worked hard to modernize Russia and her reign was known as Russia’s Golden Age.

As Empress, Catherine never remarried. In other words, she never shared power or co-ruled. However, she did take several lovers throughout her reign and even gave birth to another son. It is also possible she had a daughter with a later lover too, but this is just speculation. Catherine never acknowledged this child as hers. Catherine chose her lovers from the most powerful and intelligent members of her nobility, more like recruited them into helping her govern her vast Empire. She only demanded unwavering and unending loyalty. In return she gave them titles, estates, and other valuable gifts. In many ways, she would not have been as successful of a sovereign without their help. She valued them and made sure they felt valued.

Catherine the Great died in 1796, of a stroke, at the age of 67.


Catherine II had 3 known children. Two legitimate children with her husband Peter III (though there is some doubt of their paternity, especially regarding the daughter), and one acknowledged child out of wedlock. There is also a speculated 4th child, but most historians doubt these rumors…

Paul I, Emperor of Russia (1754-1801)
Princess Anna Petrova, Grand Duchess of Russia (1757-1759). Died in infancy of illness.
Alexei Grigorievich, Count Bobrinsky (1762-1813)
*Elizabeth Grigoryevna Temkina (1775-1854) *Disputed*

Catherine the Great has been portrayed in TV and film many times. In 1995, she was played by actress Catherine Zeta Jones in the film “Catherine the Great.” More recently, a 2014 Russian TV series has aired, called “Ekaterina” (Catherine).

Irene of Athens (c.752-803) – The Woman Emperor of the Byzantines – Isaurian Dynasty – Historical Femme Fatale


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Irene of Athens, also known as Irene Sarantapechaina, started off early in life as a penniless orphan. When her parents died she was adopted or taken in by the patriarch of her house, the general, Constantine Sarantapechos. It was thanks to him that she made such a great marriage.

When she was about 16 or 17 years old, she was summoned to Constantinople to enter a “bride show.” Back in those days, all the single beauties of the Empire were called to the capital to be paraded in front of the Emperor or heir with the hopes of becoming the new Empress. In Irene’s case she was being inspected as a possible bride for Constantine V’s son, Leo. Finding a bride for Leo was quite the task and he seemed more interested in God, than women. It was the Emperor who chose Irene for his uninterested son, in the hopes that her great beauty would at least interest him into making some babies to inherit the Empire one day. And boy did Irene have her work cut out for her! She did eventually give birth to one child, a son, named Constantine.

Constantinople (what is now Istanbul) to this day is considered one the world’s most beautiful cities. In Irene’s time, it must have been THE most beautiful city in the world. Also, a strange religious revolution was going on, in what was known as Iconoclasm. Irene’s father-in-law, the Emperor of the Byzantium Empire, had declared all icons and prayers to the Saints heresy, punishable by death. Those who disapproved of icons and saints were called iconoclasts, and those who preferred icons and respected and venerated saints were called iconophiles. Irene, brought up in Greek Christian Orthodoxy was a iconophile. Irene’s husband, Leo was a iconoclasts, just like his father.

When Constantine V died, Iconophiles wasted no time in proclaiming it divine intervention. Leo IV was now Emperor and Irene Empress Consort. Although Leo was also a Iconoclasts, he seemed more moderate than his father. At least in the beginning.

Irene and her son’s position soon became very unstable. It is believed that after having one male child, Leo turned away from his wife and became obsessed with religion again. It is even speculated or rumored that Leo found icons hidden among the Empresses things, after which he scorned her and refused to sleep with her again. (I guess people will come up with all kinds of excuses in order to preserve the dignity and male vanity of what should be a powerful and vigorous man. However, it is common knowledge that Leo also came down with tuberculosis around this time. Being seriously ill may have affected his libido as well.

It was because of Leo’s illness that Irene had reason to panic. Her son was an infant and her husband had two strong adult half brother’s who had their eyes on their brother’s throne. There was just some relief when Leo publicly proclaimed his son, Constantine VI as Caesar, and his successor. Irene may have had some influence on this, as she would have wanted to secure her son’s position, given the delicate health of her husband. These were times when usurpers were very ruthless and usually executed their rivals without a second thought, regardless if they were family. As important as this decision was, Leo was a pretty weak Emperor and had a forgiving nature. When it was discovered that his half brothers were conspiring and committing treason against him, despite the opinions of his advisers and his Empress, he chose to spare their lives and not execute them. He did not even exile them, but fully pardoned them. This was seen as huge mistake by most people and made him appear to be a weak and ineffectual ruler.

Leo IV died of tuberculosis when Constantine VI was just 9 years old. Irene immediately took action and the regency, ruling for her young son. The half brothers of Leo wasted no time in trying to usurp the throne, so Irene took immediate action. Punishment was harsh, swift, and calculated. She had both of her half brother-in-laws ordained as priests. This made them ineligible to ascend the throne all the rest of their days. At the same time, it made her seem benevolent and merciful enough for which she gained the love and respect of many.

Irene proved to be a skilled diplomat and a strong force to reckoned with. She negotiated alliances with the power Carolingian dynasty and the Papacy, ended iconoclasm, put down rebellions, and constantly defended the Empire against the Abbasids throughout her reign.

As capable and apt as she was, a regency was not permanent, and women were typically not allowed or deemed fit to rule. Constantine grew up and began to assert himself and demand the throne that was rightfully his. He had tried to end the regency and force his mother to step down, but he was always defeated by her. She was powerful and a good ruler, so she had a lot of political power and support. He had very little. However, Irene grew too arrogant and overconfident. She believed most people preferred her to her son, as she was doing so well. They did not, because she was a woman. She made the mistake of trying make all the Lords and the military swear an oath of fidelity to her alone. She was immediately removed from power and her son was officially sole ruler. Her regency ended.

Irene was upset, but her son allowed her to keep her title as Empress as a courtesy. It was not long until Constantine VI would prove incapable of ruling effectively. Not only was he defeated by the Arabs and Bulgarians, but his Uncle (one of the half brother’s of his father) was gaining momentum as a more preferred leader. Constantine responded by having his Uncle blinded, and all his other uncles tongues cut out. These handicaps made them especially barred from ever ascending the throne. He also shocked the Empire by divorcing his wife who had yet to produce an heir, and marrying his mistress.

Pretty much Irene just bid her time and waited for her son to screw up and make enemies out of everyone… Which he did. When Constantine lost all friends and allies, Irene cunningly made her move (for the good of the Empire of course). She conspired to remove her son from power. He was captured and blinded and Irene was then officially crowned the first ever Empress Regent of the Byzantines, as her son was incapable of ruling alone. Constantine then disappears and no one knows exactly when he dies. Many historians believe he probably died from his wounds shortly after being blinded. (His death was probably kept secret as long as possible for Irene to consolidate her power.) After this event, even though Irene still used the title Empress, at times she would refer to herself as “Emperor.”

Empress Irene is one of the more ruthless and cunning Historical Femme Fatales, as it is an actual historic fact that she blinded her own son in order to rule in his stead.


Irene had just one child…

Constantine VI, Emperor of Byzantium (771- before 805)

Eadburh (c.787- c.802) – The Widow of Wessex – House of Iclingas – Historical Femme Fatale


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Eadburh was an Anglo-Saxon Queen, who is said to have been such a nightmare that no more Anglo-Saxon women were honored with the title thereafter (until the daughter of Charles the Bald was crowned Queen Consort of Wessex). She was supposedly so bad that Anglo-Saxon Queen Consorts were not even allowed to sit next to their King while enthroned. She is also accredited for giving men a reason to be prejudice against female rulers in that region.

Eadburh was the daughter of the most powerful King of the time, Offa of Mercia. Her mother was Offa’s wife, Queen Cynethryth. Offa gave Eadburh to Beorthric, King of Wessex, in order to form an alliance and wield influence over this Kingdom. Eadburh was known to be a beauty of her time, and had many suitors throughout her life, but she was also known as a very strong personality. She is believed by many to be an agent of her father who served his interests. Some historians believe she may have easily controlled Beorthric.

Eadburgh had such influence that she could have people she disliked executed or exiled, and that she sometimes even resorted to murder. She probably disliked having to compete for control and influence over her husband. It is believed that she had one of her husband’s favorites murdered- that she tried to poison the favorite, but ended up accidentally poisoning her husband too. After her husband’s death, she fled to Francia.

What is interesting is that the exiled King of Wessex, who was supplanted by Eadburh’s husband, returned to Wessex from Francia to rule, as Eadburh fled to Francia to seek some type of asylum with the King of the Franks, and Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne. She could not return home, since her father and brother had died by this time. It is said that Charlemagne became smitten with the beautiful widow, but that she soon offended him. The story goes, that Charlemagne joked with her, asking who she would prefer to marry, himself or his son, Charles the Younger. Eadburh’s father had actually already offered one of his daughters (one of Eadburh’s sisters) for Charles the Younger, but Charlemagne refused.

Eadburgh perhaps did not get the joke, because she said she preferred to be married to the son. Charlemagne infamously retorted, “Had you chose me, you could have had both, but since you chose him, you can have neither!” Then he named her abbess of a convent and she had no option really but to accept. A woman of passion, this kind of life did not satisfy Eadburh, so she took up an intimate relationship with a Saxon. When it was discovered, Charlemagne had her expelled from the convent and exiled.

She ended her days as beggar in Pavia, where her her final resting place is.


Eadburh did not give birth to any children.

Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519) – The Daughter of Rome – House of Borja – Historical Femme Fatale


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Lucrezia Borgia

The Borgia Dynasty is probably one of the most infamous families in the history of the renaissance era. The Patriarch of this family was one of the most powerful men in the world of this time, Rodrigo Borgia – Pope Alexander VI. Pope Alexander is remembered and even respected as a shrewd politician and leader, even though he is one of the most controversial Popes in all of history. Most of this controversy stems from the fact that Pope Alexander had mistresses and children, then strategically placed his children in key positions of power in order to obtain and retain this power. Popes (let alone any ordained clergy member) of the Roman Catholic church were forbidden to marry and required to remain chaste. It is true that many did not follow such orders. One of the reasons is that most clergy of this era entered into this calling because it was expected of them, by their family. Many did not actually volunteer. This was very true among nobility. Peasants as well, as they often entered the Church because it was a way for them to possibly move up in the world. During these days, most did not become a priest because they sincerely felt the calling to become one. The Borgia Pope was no different. The Spanish House of Borgia would grow in power too much, making them many deadly enemies in Italy.

Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio, was born to Rodrigo Borgia when he was but the Cardinal-Bishop of Albano, and to his mistress, the beauty, Vannozza dei Canttanei. Cardinal Borgia openly claimed to be the father of the first four of Vannozza’s children: Cardinal Cesare Borgia, Duke of Valentinois; Giovanni Borgia, 2nd Duke of Gandia; Lucrezia; and Gioffre Borgia, Prince of Squillace and Duke of Alvito. She also had a half brother that was fathered by one of her mother’s arranged decoy marriages.

Lucrezia was the only daughter of her Pope father, so she was the only real bargaining tool he had. He had sons of course, but these sons offered benefit to their wives and their families. Lucrezia, as was the Western tradition, could bring benefit to her family by forging very strong political alliances. She was a very important pawn to her family surely. Also, marriage with her was very desirable for any eligible bachelor among the world’s nobility. Her father was the Pope. The Pope could make and unmake Kings in several ways. He could crown them, and he could deny a heirless King an annulment and end a dynasty. Having the Pope on your side, was the desire of nearly every European King at the time. Also, we can not ignore the fact that Lucrezia Borgia was a beauty. She was known as one of the greatest beauties of her time. Fair, healthy, and gentle… She was also a known intellect, whom had the greatest tutors and the most extensive educations any noble “woman” could ever dream to receive. No doubt her family valued her and esteemed her. She was a world renown administrator, and even Vatican business was entrusted to her.

The first marriage she entered to benefit her family was with Giovanni Sforza d’Aragona, Lord of Pesaro and Gradara, an illegitimate son of Costanzo I Sforza. Because Constanzo had no legitimate children with his wife, Giovanni succeeded him as his heir to his fortune and titles. It was a great match for Lucrezia, whom was illegitimate herself, and the alliance with the powerful Sforza family of Milan, who actually helped Borgia win the Papacy, seemed very beneficial at the time. Poor Lucrezia was just twelve years old when she married Sforza, though her marriage contract stipulated she would stay in Rome and the marriage would not be consummated until she was thirteen.

About two years passed when Lucrezia lived with Giovanni as his wife when it was discovered that Sofrza was not going to prove beneficial to the Pope. It was even believed that he was acting as a spy for the Sforza Milanos. So, the Pope and Cardinal Cesare Borgia began to plot the dissolution of Lucrezia’s marriage. The Pope began to desire other alliances, with more beneficial families. Cesare was forced into the church and had become a Cardinal after his father became Pope, so he could not marry at that time. Giovanni, Duke of Gandia, was being saved for a royal marriage, and young Gioffre, as well would probably wed a royal, though he was really young. All hopes mainly rested with Lucrezia.

The Pope petitioned to annul the marriage of his daughter and Sforza. The fact that they lived together as man and wife for a couple of years was a challenge, but since Lucrezia never conceived, it was not impossible. The Pope had Lucrezia testify that her marriage was never consummated and that she remained “in virgo intacta” (a virgin intact). Many historians find this highly unlikely by the end of the two years, as she would have been around fifteen, and of the common age for marriage and marital relations of the times… But since there was no child, it was easy to claim. Sforza was accused of impotence, a huge insult and embarrassing accusation. This pretty much insulted his manhood and made many of the Sforzas enemies of the Pope and the Borgia family. Since the Sforzas were one of Italy’s most powerful and leading families, this was not a small thing.

It was after these accusations, and the annulment, that rumors began to circulate that the Pope himself had an unnatural and incestuous relationship with his daughter, Lucrezia. It was also rumored that Lucrezia and her brother Cesare were lovers as well. Most modern historians discredit these rumors and accusations, because they only arose from Giovanni Sfroza after the insult to his virility and his disgrace. This has not stopped fiction writers and TV producers from indulging these rumors as historic fact though, which shows really bad taste to be honest. Sure the Borgia Pope was a ruthless, cut throat, shady politician… and even a lecher for he had numerous mistresses, but this kind of accusation is really vile and unfounded. But you would not expect anything less from ones enemies. The Sforza family put the pressure on Giovanni to admit to the impotency and “just move on for now,” which he eventually did.

Now that Lucrezia was a free woman, and officially declared a virgin, she was back in the game. Her family could use her again to their advantage, except for one minor problem. Lucrezia was pregnant. The Borgia family continued to deny that Lucrezia was pregnant or had been, let alone that Sfroza was the father. They tried to cover it up by sending Lucrezia to a convent to have the baby. This only fueled the rumors that Cesare could possibly be the father of his sister’s child. Then rumors emerged that the child was fathered by a servant of the Pope’s. No one may ever know who fathered this child, but it is most likely that the child was Sfroza’s. They furthermore tried to cover up about the child by claiming the child was Cesare’s by an unknown mistress. The child was also claimed in another Papal bull to be the Pope’s son. People were kinder to bastards of men then they were of bastards of women. It was not such a bad thing for a man to father illegitimate children, but it was a huge ordeal for a woman to do so. One thing was for certain, the Borgia’s would not want Lucrezia to have such an awful reputation, as it would harm her prospects of making an advantageous alliance for the family. One can see how such crazy rumors existed and were used against the Borgia family. It is not surprising in the least.

Lucrezia’s second marriage was to Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Bisceglie and Prince of Salerno (the illegitimate son of Alfonso II King of Naples). This husband was mysteriously murdered; some say by Cesare, as Cesare (and the Pope it is assumed as well) allied with the French against Naples. The interesting thing is, Pope Alexander wanted Cesare to marry the King of Naples’s legitimate daughter and heir, but the royal princess refused to accept a illegitimate son of a Pope as a husband (which is pretty understandable for many reasons). So the King of Naples offered his illegitimate son to the Pope’s illegitimate daughter. A more reasonable match.

Anyway, the murder of Alfonso got rid of the Borgia’s Naples alliance in favor of a much more desired French one. Also, Lucrezia was free to be married off again. The next alliance the Pope sought was with Duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio. This was the most significant marriage for Lucrezia. An arranged and fully political marriage, both husband and wife indulged in many extramarital affairs. Lucrezia herself was known to have three lovers during this marriage. No historian can say that their marriage was unhappy, but the couple seemed to have a mutual respect for each other and some kind of understanding. Lucrezia was esteemed as a well governing Duchess and entrusted with governing the Duchy when her husband was away. She proved to be a great governess. They had 8 known children.

Lucrezia, like many women of this age, took a great risk for every pregnancy they endured and every child they gave birth to. Childbirth complications and childbed fever was the leading cause of death among women of these times. Since Western noble women were expected to have baby after baby, not even able to take a rest for a couple of years and nurse their own babies, women’s health suffered greatly in these times. Also, western men could only be married to one woman, and often until death. She alone had to bare all the legitimate heirs. Lucrezia’s end was quite common. She died, along with her 10th  or 11th child, after giving birth, of puerperal fever (childbed fever).


Lucrezia gave birth to 10 (possibly 11) children. It is said that her first child may have been the illegitimate child that Cesare Borgia claimed as his by an unknown lover, and that this child’s birth was covered up by the family. Some rumors were that it was Lucrezia and her brother’s child; others were that it was a servants child. Most historians suspect it was Giovanni Sforzas child (her first husband).

Giovanni Borgia, Infans Romanus/Infant of Rome (1498-1548)

With her second husband, Alfonso De Colabria (Alfonso of Aragon), Duke of Bisceglie, Prince of Salerno it is believed she possibly had one child that was miscarried or stillborn. It is also documented that she had another:

Rodrigo of Aragon (Little Rodrigo), Duke of Bisceglie and Sermoneta (1499-1512)

With her third husband, Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, she gave birth to 8 known children:

A stillborn daughter (1502)
Alessandro d’Este (1507), died shortly after birth.
Ercole II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio (1508-1559)
Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este/Archbishop of Milan (1509-1572)
Alessandro d’Este (1514–1516)
Sister Eleonora d’Este (1515-1575)
Francesco d’Este, Marquess of Massalombarda (1516–1578)
Isabella Maria d’Este (1519), died shortly after birth.

Lucrezia Borgia has been portrayed on TV many times and sadly, most portrayals paint her as a bad person. The likely truth is that she was used as a pawn by her family, like most high born girls were, and that she was more a victim than a villain. One of the more recent portrayal is in the TV series called “The Borgias,” and stars Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander. There is also another BBC TV series by the same title too. I prefer Irons as Pope Alexander, as well as the other actors, so I like this one more. Both can be seen on Netflix.