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How Italy’s ‘Runaway Duchess’ Changed How We Drink Champagne

Hortense Mancini, Duchesse de Mazarin (1646-99) and her sister, Marie Mancini (1639-1715) / The Picture Art Collection / Alamy

Hortense Mancini, Duchesse de Mazarin (1646–1699), was many things in her life. She was a mother, noblewoman, exiled wife and autobiographer. But perhaps one of her greatest legacies is her influence on how we drink and think of Champagne today.

The Runaway Duchess

Born to a noble family in Rome, Mancini’s father died when she was four. Her mother sent her and her sisters to live in France with their uncle who was Chief Minister to King Louis XIV, making him one of the most powerful men in the country. The Mancini sisters became “important at the French court,” says Annalisa Nicholson, a Laming Research Fellow at The Queen’s College Oxford who recently completed her PhD on Hortense Mancini’s salon and Anglo French social networks.

“They [were] so ingrained in the upper echelons of the French nobility,” she says. “Even though they themselves [were] not necessarily French aristocracy they’re treated as such.”

At 15, Mancini married Armand Charles de La Porte de La Meilleraye, “the richest man in all of France,” says Nicholson. Shortly after they’re married, Meilleraye starts isolating Mancini, confiscating her jewelry, and periodically searching her and her rooms. After six years and three children, she “famously leaves under the cover of nightfall,” says Nicholson. “Her and her servants, all dressed up as men, flee out of Paris” and travel to Rome, where one of her sisters lived.