Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program


First Advisor

Page Herrlinger


This thesis focuses on the French official mistress as a position of unofficial female political power under the French monarchy from the 16th to the 18th century. Centering on three case studies – Diane de Poitiers, Madame de Maintenon, and Madame de Pompadour – this thesis argues that the role of the official mistress extended beyond sexual companion to advisor, negotiator, diplomat, artistic patron, and cultural trendsetter. By taking a deep look at the epistolary and artistic record of these three official mistresses from across France’s modern history, the extent of their autonomy and political maneuvering becomes clear in the tactics they used to project and solidify their power. Diane de Poitiers, Madame de Maintenon, and Madame de Pompadour all existed in unique contexts of the French court and constructed their own methods of fulfilling the role of the official mistress, revealing both changes in the monarchy and their impacts upon it. Notably, the ways in which they projected identity through self-fashioning resulted in a reflection of this image back onto the monarch, expanding the extent of their impact on the monarchy. In striving to understand the political reality of women in France under Salic law and today, the position of maîtresse-en-titre is a crucial framework to recognize the significance of female power structures at court and in the monarchy, and the degree to which women were able to shape these structures themselves.