Let Them Drink Champagne

The Italian noblewoman who made champagne famous and how to add bubbly to your wedding

Today’s post centers on a figure who ranks in importance spanning women’s history, French and English history and the history of champagne? She is also a 17th century noblewoman with ties to both the French and English courts of the time, fitting into our love of history and nobility here at “Let Them Eat Cake.” Finally, she is touted as a champion of Champagne, which was not at all popular during the 17th century. Today, we are diving into the exciting world of Hortense Mancini.  

Kelly here: in my research, I came across an article titled “The Batsh*t and Fantastical Life of Hortense Mancini,” and that was enough to intrigue me.)

Hortense Mancini was one of five children born to a wealthy family in Italy in 1646. When she was young, her father died and her mother sent her and her four sisters to live in the French court with their uncle Cardinal Mazarin, who was both Cardinal and the Chief Minister to King Louis XIV making him one of the most powerful men in France at the time. Hortense was considered the most beautiful of the sisters, who had come to be known as the Mazarinettes as their popularity grew. (Fun Fact: website fyeahhistory.com called them the Kardashians of the 17th century.) In a power move, Cardinal Mazarin matched Hortense (his favorite niece) with the richest man in France, Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye – who would, after the Cardinal made Hortense his heir, inherit his dukedom. Long story short, her husband was awful and there was no love in their marriage. It is here Hortense’s story becomes the stuff of gossip and she rises in popularity.

In her 30s (she married her husband when she was 15 yrs. old – ew), Hortense decided she had had enough of her husband and escaped his grasp with her servants (allegedly) under the cover of nightfall dressed as a man. She flees back to Rome and eventually, after a few years of traveling around Europe (as one does), lands in England.

It is in England where, in our opinion, Hortense really shines. She penned her own memoir in 1672 (considered one of the first memoirs written by a female), becomes a mistress to King Charles II and uses her now fame and status in the court to set up a space where women – like men at the time ­– could come together, speak freely, listen to lectures on art and science, gamble, drink and truly be without the scrutiny of the public (as many of her guests were mistresses to the wealthy and nobility). It became one of the most popular and celebrated salons in all of Europe. A cozy and intimate space, the food and drinks served, and the outfits worn at the salon became trendy and synonymous with the upper class and those considered the intellectual elite.

Hortense and another French exile Charles de Saint-Evremond, who became her friend and co-host at these gatherings, along with many other French exiles weren’t fans of English wine and spent a considerable amount to import wine directly from France. The duo took a liking to a newly popular type of wine that was sparkling and grown specifically in France. The wine was Champagne. It was here that scholars, politicians, scientists all clinked glasses of sparkling Champagne with Hortense and her guests. Because of this, Champagne quickly became the symbol of celebration and intellectual revelry throughout England and eventually into most of Europe.

Kelly here: I, for one, found Hortense Mancini fascinating. She not only escaped adversity and decided to take her life into her own hands, but she was also a writer, a lover of learning, a champion of women and the idea of living an authentic life with no apologies; and so far in my knowledge, one of the only mistresses to have had an affair with a king … and the king’s daughter.

But her love and support of champagne and its now staple reputation for celebration is why we’re even talking about her. A recent trend resurgence is that of champagne walls and towers. Potentially boosted due to pandemic-era rethinking of reception layouts and protocols, the idea of adding the bubbly beverage to a fête looks like it could be here to stay, once again.

New Orleans and champagne, or really imbibing in general, are no strangers. So, it should come as no surprise that event spaces and specific companies in the city help couples add the beverage as a spotlight. Most event spaces, it would seem, have the capability of helping a couple erect a champagne tower. But some companies, including Nola Grace Décor, can provide the necessities for a faux greenery champagne wall that not only provides the glasses of champagne, but also can also act as a focal point and photo backdrop. If you’re not looking for a full wall of champagne, we suggest an interactive option like Bubble Tap NOLA. This vintage trailer pulls right up to your wedding offering what their name suggests – three taps of champagne – for your guests. Not only is it refreshing, but also it is the perfect #Instagramable moment.

Whether you’re just opting for a champagne toast with you and your spouse or offering the beverage to you reveling family and friends, we have Hortense Mancini to thank for bringing a little sparkle to the celebration. To that we say, CHEERS!


An earlier version of this article was posted in March 2022.


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