Tuesday, 08 October 2013

The Hot and the Dead – Malcolm X

If you’ve never heard of Malcolm X, you’ve either been stuck under a rock or you’re much younger than you look. Honestly, I shouldn’t have to describe him to you. He was in all the papers. There have been books and a big movie about him, for chrissakes. If you can’t even be bothered to pay attention to the history of racial tensions and civil rights in the United States over the last few decades then it’s hardly my responsibility to spoon-feed you details about one of the most influential cultural figures in living memory OH ALL RIGHT THEN I WILL.

Malcolm Little was born in 1925 to a Grenadian mother and African-American father in Omaha, Nebraska. He bore the rust-coloured hair of his Scottish maternal grandfather, which earned him the nickname ‘Detroit Red’ during his teenage years in Michigan. He had many pastimes during his life, and changing his name seemed to be one of his favourites. More about that later.

Little’s childhood was not an enviable one. His father Earl died in a streetcar accident (but was rumoured to have been murdered by white supremacists) when Malcolm was only six. His mother Louise struggled to keep her family together, but she spent 24 years in a psychiatric hospital while her seven children went to foster homes. Malcolm, who did well at school, became disenchanted with formal education when a teacher told him that becoming a lawyer was “no realistic goal for a nigger”. I don’t care what the cultural or historical setting, that’s quite a shit thing to say.

By the time he’d hit his 20s, Little had tried his hand at gambling, drug-dealing, pimping and theft, and was convicted of larceny and breaking-and-entering and ended up in prison. It was there that he discovered the Nation of Islam, a religious movement started in 1930 that appealed greatly to African-Americans who were impatient or unimpressed with the promises of the more mainstream civil rights movement.

Not widely regarded as much of a cuddly organisation, the Nation of Islam taught, among other things, that white people are devils created by an evil scientist, that racial segregation is good and that non-violence has no place in civil rights. However strange and implausible that may sound to anyone who isn’t in 1950s America trying to make sense of a racist society freshly hatched from the acceptance of slavery, it was right up Malcolm’s alley.

Malcom took to the Nation of Islam like a fish to water, where the fish is a six-foot-three chunk of impressionable and angry young man, and the water is… um… something to do with the Nation of Islam and I’d like to back out of this analogy now please.

Like many in the movement, Malcolm changed his surname to ‘X’ to signify the loss of his original African family name to his ancestors’ slavemasters. He would later adopt the names Malcolm Shabazz and Malik el-Shabazz, although ‘The Activist Formerly Known As Detroit Red’ never caught on.* His striking appearance and forceful eloquence saw his responsibility in the Nation of Islam expand, membership of the organisation explode and my hind-sighted ladyboner go all the way up to eleven and a half.

By the early 1960s, Malcolm X was the superstar of the Nation of Islam, was regularly appearing in the media, was being watched closely by the FBI and several police departments and was either loved or hated by most people in America.

Then things turned a bit sour. After he made controversial comments about President J F Kennedy pretty much getting what he deserved, the Nation of Islam began to distance themselves from Malcolm. And when Mr X figured out that the Nation of Islam’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, was rather fond of boinking his secretaries extramaritally, the last straw snapped and Malcolm officially left the organisation in 1964.

Much like Kylie Minogue after The Henderson Kids and her early Neighbours years, Malcolm X did not look back upon his time with the Nation of Islam fondly, but went on to bigger and better things, travelling through many African nations, the UK and Europe, speaking at many universities and gatherings and launching a handful of his own religious and secular organisations.

Unlike Kylie Minogue, who was never gunned down on stage by several members of the Ramsay family**, Malcolm X was assassinated in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on 21 February 1965 while speaking to the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Three members of the Nation of Islam emptied their firearms into Malcolm’ body and were convicted of his murder.

I admit, it can be difficult to look at such a serious, complex and emotionally-charged topic as this, try to simplify it and then openly objectify one of its most treasured and accomplished figureheads merely because of his horn-rimmed hotness. But where I may fail in the often over-emphasised skills of “explaining things” and “being appropriately sensitive to dead people in very specific religious and cultural contexts”, I think I get the “objectifying” part down pat.

Malcolm X. Phwoar.

*Mostly because I just made that up. And regretted it almost instantly. Sorry.

**Although I wouldn’t put it past that cheeky Henry Ramsay and his harebrained schemes.

Malcolm x

Published in Weekly Email

Hello there, and welcome to another instalment of The Hot and the Dead. Regular readers (hi, immediate family members!) and search-engine drop-ins (hi, disappointed necrophiliacs!) may have already become familiar with the playful and irreverent way I take an aesthetically-pleasing personage from history, briefly touch on a few biographical details and throw in a few saucy double-entendres for the sake of satisfying a word limit. We learn something, we have some fun and we get on with our day.

But not this time.

Today I want to talk very seriously about An Important Topic. Sit down, lean in and do that thing with your eyebrows that makes you look concerned and perspicacious. We’re going to take a moment to consider the history of women’s rights in Pakistan.

What do we think about when we think about women’s rights in Pakistan? Do we think about the gaping chasm in literacy between males and females? Do we think of feudal tradition and the merely reproductive characterisation of women? Or the social constraints placed on women living in a primarily Islamic nation?

I don’t know about you, but I think of Zaib-un-Nissa Hamidullah, Pakistan’s pioneering journalist, editor, publisher and a women’s rights champion. It’s probably not appropriate to mention her bewitching eyes at this point, so I’ll just press on, shall I?

Zaib-un-Nissa Hamidullah was born in Kolkata in 1921 and named after a Mughal poet-princess. Surrounded by literary personalities throughout her childhood, she had her first poem published in the Illustrated Weekly of India at age 15. She continued to write for various magazines and newspapers over the next six decades, and is credited with many social and literary firsts. She also had quite lovely legs, but that’s hardly relevant to the discussion at hand, is it?

Hamidullah began writing a column in the Karachi newspaper Dawn in 1948, entitled ‘Thru a Woman’s Eyes’, but convinced her editor togive her column space elsewhere in the paper commenting on political and other issues. In this role she was Pakistan’s first female political commentator. She was also the country’s first English-language female columnist, first female editor and first female publisher.

By 1951, Hamidullah was running her own magazine, The Mirror, which became one of the most popular social magazines in the country’s history. In 1958 she published a book of short stories entitled The Young Wife, of which four editions were printed. Three years later she established her own publishing company, Mirror Press. On top of all that, she was a founding member of the Pakistani Working Women’s Association and of the Karachi Business and Professional Women’s Club, and was president of both the Women’s International Club of Karachi and the All Pakistan Women’s Association. Her bravery, ambition and political nous made her a formidable and determined commentator and businesswoman, and won her international acclaim. Her figure, though delightful, had nothing to do with her success.

After the death of her husband in 1984, Zaib-un-Nissa entered a long period of personal mourning, and gradually withdrew completely from public life. She wrote sporadically, and remained a symbol of literary and feminist progress until her death at age 78 in September 2000.

At this juncture, it would only be flippant and disrespectful to draw attention to the way her sultry lips parted slightly when she did that cute half-smile thing with her pretty face. So I won’t.

Zaib-un-Nissa Hamidullah

Published in Weekly Email
Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Hot and the Dead – Neal Hefti

Mmm. Jazz trumpeters. There’s something unavoidably hot about men in tidy suits emptying their lungs into a squealing piece of metal. And though I’m tempted to launch immediately into a barrage of playful puns about “double-tonguing”, “bell-ends” and “complex fingering”, I don’t want to bring down the otherwise lofty and dignified tone of this august periodical. I like to keep it nice.

Having said that, Neal Hefti gives me the horn.

Born in Hastings, Nebraska in 1922, Hefti started life as a poor kid in a poor family, just in time for the Great Depression. His family struggled to make ends meet, and often relied on charity to put food on the table. So, unlike most high school kids you may be familiar with, who park themselves in front of Resident Evil and shout angrily whenever they run out of Twisties, Neal went to work.

Opportunities were thin on the ground for a down-and-out kid in 1930s Omaha. McDonald’s wasn’t invented yet, so the only other option available for casual work was playing trumpet in local dance bands, obviously.

Playing led to arranging, and Hefti cut his trumpety teeth in the days of swing and big bands, playing with Nat Towles, Earl Hines and Charlie Spivak and coming within touching distance of Dizzy Gillespie and other bebop legends. By now he’d drawn deeply on the jazz pipe, and was hooked.*

Hefti’s most stable and memorable performing stint in the 1940s was with Woody Herman’s band, First Herd, during which time he met his wife, vocalist Frances Wayne. It was also during this period that he decided to focus on writing and arranging music. He temporarily laid down his trumpet and started concentrating on putting squiggly things with dots together in appealing ways.

And this is where things start getting familiar to those of us who aren’t up-to-speed with our be-bop-era session musicians and who only had album covers of Chet Baker and Dizzy Gillespie on our walls because we found them at a car boot sale and we thought they’d make us look more interesting when we pulled an Arts student at some god-awful house party. After laying down arrangements for the likes of Charlie Parker and Count Basie for a decade or so, Neal Hefti wrote some of the most familiar TV themes of his generation. The most famous was the theme to the 1960s Batman series, followed closely by the theme to The Odd Couple film and TV series.

Neal Hefti died of throat cancer in California in 2008. He is remembered as a talented trumpeter, an accomplished arranger, a smoking hot babe and the creator of some of the 20th Century’s stickiest earworms.

*Does that sound like something that people who are into jazz would say? Or is it just something wanky I made up? Wait. I don’t want to know. Ignore this bit.


Published in Weekly Email
Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Hot and the Dead – Mary Blandy

Oh, the things a hot youngish lady would do for a gentleman’s attention in the mid-eighteenth century! The bows and ribbons! The rib-crushing stays! The hoops and panniers! The demure, cow-eyed gazes that belie the effort required to stay conscious!

Mary Blandy, the daughter of lawyer Francis Blandy of Henley, had all those things at her disposal, in addition to a rather cute nose. And when she was well-and-truly at hitching age, she found herself with no shortage of suitors. This may have had something to do with the whopping ₤10,000 dowry her father offered an acceptable son-in-law, of course. Nothing attracts a swag of potential husbands like a cinched waist, an ample bosom and a cartload of coin.

Miss Blandy’s pick of the bunch was Captain William Henry Cranstoun, a Scottish aristocrat. Mr Blandy also approved of Cranstoun, and welcomed him into his family home as his daughter’s fiancé. There was only one thing – a miniscule thing, really - standing between Mary and William’s future happiness. Only the teensy, tiny little smudge of a hiccup. The almost insignificant detail of Cranstoun’s existing wife and child back in Scotland.

Despite Cranstoun’s assurances that the marriage was illegitimate, Mary’s father instantly withdrew his endorsement of the union and kicked William out of his house. But Mary stuck in her silk-lined heels and continued to consort with the Captain, who hit on a rather sneaky and only slightly insane idea. He began to send her “forgiveness powder”, a concoction allegedly sourced from wise old Scottish women, that would, if slipped into her father’s tea and supper, eventually soften his heart and bring him to his ten-thousand-pound senses.

It wasn’t forgiveness powder though, silly. It was arsenic.

A few months later, in August 1751, Francis Blandy was dead, Mary Blandy was charged with his murder and Captain Cranstoun had sod off somewhere.

Mary Blandy admitted to administering the powder to her father during her trial. But was she really to blame for his death? Was not the real culprit the aching blindness of forbidden love? Was it not the scheming and avaricious young man who sought to profit from deceit and bigamy? Or the cruelty of a society that provided a woman of age so few opportunities to marry for love that she was left with little choice?

Well yes, it was probably a little bit of all of those. But mostly it was just Mary sprinkling poison on her Dad’s porridge.

Blandy was found guilty and on 6 April 1752 she was hanged outside Oxford Castle. As a last request, she had implored, “for the sake of decency, gentlemen, don't hang me high,” because after all the kerfuffle of parricide and public execution, the last thing you need is some perv looking up your frock.

Some people believe that the ghost of Mary Blandy still floats around Henley on Thames, appearing in pubs and at windows, perhaps searching for the happiness in love that so eluded her during her lifetime. Other, more rational people think that’s probably bollocks.

mary blandy

Published in Weekly Email
Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Hot and the Dead – Andrew Fisher

When I sat down to think about this week’s Hot Dead Person I thought, “I know! In honour of the election of a new government, I’ll choose one of the Australian Prime Ministers who takes my fancy. We’ve had 28 of them – should be a cinch!”

But it wasn’t a cinch, was it. I couldn’t have set myself a more challenging challenge if I’d tried to find a flattering pair of jeans or a nice-tasting cupboard. Not to put too fine a point on it, but as far as historical hormone-heightening humpability goes, Australian Prime Ministers are very good at sitting down and signing bits of paper. What a bunch of mingers.

Sure, Gough was a bit of all right as a young fellow, but rather inconveniently for my current deadline-meeting purposes, he’s still alive. Menzies’ eyebrows had quite a hypnotic quality, but so did my Granddad’s. Chifley? Meh. Curtin? Creeps me out. Page? Lyons? Hughes? Must we go all the way back past the Great War? Fisher? HELLO LOVELY.

Andrew Fisher was Prime Minister of Australia from 1908-1909; 1910-1913; and 1914-1915. That’s right – three times, and he wasn’t even tired.

Under Fisher’s stewardship, the foundations of Canberra were laid, pensions were extended, the Trans-Australian Railway began construction, the Commonwealth Bank was established, the Royal Australian Navy and Australian Imperial Force were created and a national currency was introduced.

Although Fisher led Australia into World War I enthusiastically at the beginning of his third term in office, he was generally not chuffed about war and medals and all that killing business. After resigning his prime ministership on 27 October 1915 he served as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom until 1921, during which time he publicly opposed conscription and helped to expose the horrible reality of WWI, including the dog’s breakfast of the Gallipoli Campaign.

Born in Scotland in 1862, Fisher returned to the UK to live out his final… um… his final years in… of… dementia and died of ‘flu in… oh goodness… 1928 aged… aged… I’m sorry, I just can’t stop thinking about swinging from that magnificent moustache.

Andrew Fisher

Published in Weekly Email
Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Hot and the Dead – Maud Menten

You know the girl. The pretty one who does well at school and can play musical instruments and speak four languages and draw realistic-looking horses and who hardly ever gets any ingrown hairs.

Maud Menten was that girl. The one about whom the bitches with dishevelled ringlets who sat up the back of class would say, “Like, she thinks she’s so tops and everything, the way she’s got really nice-looking eyes and figured out an equation for determining the rate of enzyme reactions that became the basis for the development of most modern drugs and omigod she doesn’t even GO here.”

Born in Ontario in 1879, Maud Leonora Menten progressed through her school education before earning a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Toronto in 1904. Then, while most women were busy accessorising themselves with broad-brimmed hats and ridiculously large numbers of children, Menten embellished herself with a Master’s degree in Physiology in 1907, a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1911 and PhD in Biochemistry in 1916.

“What a frikkin’ show-pony”, those ringleted bitch-girls would say, if only they could be heard over the noise of their many children.

Menten is most famous for formulating the Michaelis-Menten equation in 1913 with German biochemist Leonor Michaelis. I’m going to try and describe that equation for you now, in the hope that no qualified experts in enzyme kinetics are reading this and laughing at my childishly inadequate interpretation.*

The Michaelis-Menten equation is a mathematical tool for figuring out the rate at which enzymes, whose primary role in living organisms is to react to certain chemicals, perform those reactions. Without enzymes, we wouldn’t be able to metabolise food, reproduce DNA or contract our muscles. Before the equation was put together, it was much more difficult for scientists to understand how enzymes worked and, more constructively, to develop safe and effective medicines.

But enough of all that molecular rubbish. What else did Maud do? Are you sitting comfortably?

She was one of Canada’s first female doctors. She was a fellow of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. She studied radium bromide and its effect on cancers in rats. She invented a dye that is still used in immunohistochemistry**. She wrote or co-wrote close to 100 research papers. She treated patients. She used immunization in the treatment of disease in animals. She played clarinet. She climbed mountains. She went on an Arctic expedition. She drove a Model T Ford. She spoke Russian, French, German, Italian and one or two Native American languages. She made paintings. And she had really nice-looking eyes.

Maud Menten was that girl.

*Incidentally, if you are a qualified expert in enzyme kinetics, thanks for reading. Shouldn’t you be in the lab or something?

**I’m not really up to speed with my immunohistochemistry. But it’s fun to say with a mouthful of crackers.

Maude Menten

Published in Weekly Email

“How convulsively his mere appearance affected them! How boisterous was the applause which rang to meet him! What acclaim it was! A veritable insanity, one unheard of in the annals of furore” *

So wrote Heinrich Heine of the audience’s behaviour at one of Franz Liszt’s Italian performances, which characterised his effect on much of Europe during the 1840s.

Liszt, the virtuosic Romantic pianist, was quite the pop star, surrounded by ladies fainting, squealing, stealing locks of hair and squabbling over his cigar-ends and coffee dregs. Try to imagine One Direction if One Direction was just one bloke with a piano and a lovely jacket and more interesting time signatures and probably fewer pimples.

But how did a boy from the small village Of Doborján in Hungary grow up to become such a hot, ivory-tinkling superstar? What was his secret? It was – and the kids in the queue for X Factor auditions aren’t going to like this – practice. Loads and loads and loads of practice.

Liszt started piano lessons with his father at age seven, and took to it like a fish to water, or some other tired idiom indicating natural talent. By the age of nine he had given his first public performance, and by the age of sixteen, when his father died, he was schlepping all over Paris giving piano lessons. And what does a young creative man in the 19th-century do to help him cope with the workaday drudgery of teaching moneyed Parisians to play sonatas? Why, he takes up smoking and drinking. And ladies. Liszt’s ladies were almost as important to his career as all that practice.

Take the Countess Marie d'Agoult. She left her husband to shack up with Liszt in 1835, and they produced three children. Their relationship also produced bucketloads of compositions by Liszt, who certainly seemed to benefit creatively from the regular availability of bouncy nakedness.

Then there was Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, who decided to substitute Liszt for her husband after seeing him perform in Kiev in 1847. Perhaps in an effort to keep him away from the hordes of swooning fans trying to get closer to his underpants, the princess suggested that he concentrate on composition, and Liszt quit the concert circuit, leaving behind an almost perfect reputation while still in his mid-thirties (did you hear that, Mick Jagger? I said DID YOU HEAR oh, never mind).

During the 1860s, the Catholic church, which was always spoiling things, refused to allow Liszt and his princess to marry. The composer also lost two of his children, and turned quite morose and goddy, joining the Third Order of St Francis and spending time in a monastery. Though he was still an active composer and music teacher in Hungary, Germany and Italy during his last decade and a half of life, his health declined and he died of pneumonia in 1886 at the age of 74.

So there you have Franz Liszt – hot, dead and worth celebrating. Now go and pour yourself a glass or three of Unicum** and see how many times you can shout “VIRTUOSIC ROMANTIC PIANIST!” out your front door before you get arrested.

* Sonneck, Oscar George Theodore (1922). "Henrick Heine's Musical Feuilletons". The Musical Quarterly 8: 457–58.

**A Hungarian herb liqueur. See? I don’t just paraphrase Wikipedia. I actually look things up.


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When you have Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Puvis de Chavannes lining up to paint you, it’s fair to say you’re in possession of something worth looking at. And if you study the works of those three French masters, you’ll soon spot the divine features of Suzanne Valadon peering back at you. Or slightly sideways. Or back-over-the-shoulder-with-a-bit-of-side-boob.

Suzanne Valadon was born Marie-Clementine Valadon in France in September 1865 to a historically unremarkable laundrywoman. Circumstances forced her to find work as a young teen, and at the age of fifteen Suzanne was working as an acrobat in the circus. A fall from a trapeze prompted a change in career, and she offered herself up to Pierre Puvis de Chavannes as a model, working in his studio amongst the gaggle of artists’ lodgings in Montmarte.

I know what you’re thinking. Pretty young girl. Alone with a passionate painter. Coquettish poses in various stages of undress.

And you’d be right. During the heyday of Impressionism in 19th century Paris, models were frequently mistresses to their employers, and Suzanne was no different. She was known to have provided a palette of pleasures to Renoir and Puvis de Chavannes.

But Madamoiselle Valadon didn’t just look pretty and bonk painters. During her time modelling, she paid attention to the materials and techniques used by her employers, and eventually discovered she was quite handy with a pastel herself. And that’s not a saucy euphemism.

She knew the business end of a paintbrush. No wait.

She knew her way around a naked body. Erm…

She became an accomplished artist. Yep. That’ll do.

Over the decades that Valadon developed her art, she became famous for her vibrant use of colour, striking composition and her bold representations of female nudes. Mostly working in pastels and oil paint, she was able to establish a steady income and respectable reputation, exhibiting frequently and becoming the first female painter to join the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

And if that’s not enough to impress your chaussettes off, there’s a crater on Venus named in her honour.

Wait a minute – Venus + crater = sexy lady hole!

That’s really taking it too far, isn’t it?

Suzanne Valadon

Published in Weekly Email

It takes a certain combination of assets to be a successful 19th century poet and playwright.

The ability to string words together in a pleasurable way is a good start. Oscar Wilde had that.

A considerable regard for alcohol seems to help. Oscar Wilde had that also.

But what really came in handy, if literary history tells us anything, was a pretty young thing to call upon whenever inspiration, patronage and/or sexy times were required. And Oscar Wilde had that in the form of Alfred Douglas.

Lord Alfred Bruce “Bosie” Douglas was born in 1870 to John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry and his wife Sybil. With a family history generously splattered with privilege, violence and mental illness, Douglas survived into adulthood with a relatively clean emotional slate.

Educated sufficiently at Winchester College and Oxford, Douglas became a poet in his own right and an excellent sonneteer. Despite his competence with a pen, however, he was destined to become best known as one of Oscar Wilde’s favourite diversions. His relationship with Wilde was passionate, indiscreet, bitchy and tumultuous. It would define not only his memory, but a decent portion of his existence.

It was Bosie’s father who was largely responsible for bringing the affair to the attention of the public. John Douglas loved horse racing, boxing and cheating on his wife, but loathed homosexuality, and did his best to rid his son of his most famous lover. Constant feuding with his defiant and mouthy son led the Marquess to openly accuse Wilde of sodomy, to which Wilde responded by suing him for criminal libel. Though Alfred sided with his lover rather than his father, the case was unsuccessful, and shortly afterwards charges of sodomy and gross indecency were made against Wilde. Amongst the evidence that would eventually convict him was a line from one of Bosie’s own poems, Two Loves, which described “…the love that dare not speak its name“.

One may wonder why any self-respecting Irish poet would bother with such a burdensome man-friend. Lord Alfred Bruce “Bosie” Douglas was undeniably a vain, difficult, demanding and disrespectful diva. But he was also gorgeous enough to make him worth the trouble.

Lord Alfred Douglas

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You don’t see too many opportunities for qualified Maitresse-en-titres these days. But back in the eighteenth century, the role of publicly-recognised King’s Mistress was a coveted ticket to comfort and status. Sure, twenty-first century royal people still have their fair share of totty-on-the-side, but today it’s more of a tabloid page-filler than an official position with room and board.

In France during Louis XV’s time, all you needed to qualify for the position of Royal Extramarital Plaything were fetching features, flexible morals and access to the right parties. And the sisters of the family de Nesle had those in abundance.

Born between 1710 and 1717, the de Nesle sisters had more than just good looks and parents in common. Four of the five young women were mistresses to the king of France.

Louise Julie de Mailly-Nesle, the eldest of the sisters, was the first to pique the interest of the king. With her husband Louis Alexandre de Mailly’s permission, she became the monarch’s mistress in 1732, and was officially recognised as such in 1738.

In that same year, the slightly-younger and much-more-ambitious Pauline wrote to Louise, asking for an introduction to the king, and more specifically, his pants. His Majesty’s pants responded appropriately, falling in love with Pauline, impregnating her and buying her a castle. When her life was cut short giving birth to the king’s son, it was time for another sister to step into the lady-shaped void.

Enter Marie-Anne, the youngest of the family, a widow and by all reports quite a high-maintenance pain in the arse. Already equipped with a lover when she met King Louis at a masked ball, she initially rejected his advances. The king would not be deterred, however, and sent Marie-Anne’s man-friend first into battle, and then into the arms of another woman. Among the gifts the king bestowed on his latest conquest – often as a response to her demands - were a regular income, the title of duchess and considerable political clout. According to rumour, Marie Anne made it worth his while, occasionally bringing in the middle sister, Diane Adélaïde, for a ménage à trois. When Marie-Anne died suddenly in 1744, Louis XV turned briefly to Diane, before dumping the family for good and moving on to Madame Pompadour.

But what of the fifth de Nesle sister? The one that was never a royal mistress? Poor Hortense doesn’t even rate her own Wikipedia page. I only hope she had a decent trade to fall back on.

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