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Born without a dowry, nearly forced into a convent, and later married off to a man she didn't love, Olimpia Maidalchini vowed never to be poor, powerless, or beholden to any man again. Instead, using her wits, Olimpia became the unofficial ruler of the most powerful institution in the world: the Roman Catholic Church.

The Church firmly states that women must be excluded from church leadership positions—but for more than a decade in the seventeenth century, Olimpia ran the Vatican. As sister-in-law and reputed mistress of the indecisive Pope Innocent X, she appointed cardinals, negotiated with foreign ambassadors, and helped herself to a heaping portion of the Papal States' treasury.

In Mistress of the Vatican, New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Herman brings to life not only an extraordinary woman lost in history but an entire civilization in all its greatness . . . and ignominy. This is the unforgettable story of a woman ahead of her time.

Published: HarperCollins on Oct 13, 2009
ISBN: 9780061827419
List price: $7.99
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For over a decade in the seventeenth century a woman unofficially, but openly, ran the Vatican. Beginning in 1644, and for eleven years after, Olimpia Maidalchini, sister-in-law and reputed mistress of the indecisive Pope Innocent X, directed Vatican business, appointed cardinals, negotiated with foreign ambassadors, and helped herself to a heaping portion of the Papal State's treasury. The society she is part of includes the fact that "everyone from the lowliest servant up to the pope's august relatives unblushingly stole as much as they possibly could. Nepotism was rampant, and popes gave away huge sums and principalities to their nephews instead of helping the poor. Dead pontiffs were left naked on the Vatican floor because their servants had pilfered the bed and stripped the corpse. "read more
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I enjoyed this book immensely. Eleanor Herman's lively writing brought Olimpia Maidalchini, and her time as the power behind the Vatican in mid-17th century, to life. (As cliche as that may sound.) That the Catholic Church was corrupt is an understatement by any stretch of the imagination. That Olimpia, despite her gender, was able to take advantage of that corruption to enrich herself and her family, is a tribute to her ingenuity, intelligence, and sneakiness. Make no mistake, Olimpia is not a likeable woman, but she can certainly be applauded for pulling herself from poverty to untold riches in a time in history when few women were even allowed to try. Thank you Eleanor Herman for bringing this little known woman to light (and life).read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Mistress of the Vatican was one of the most compelling books that I've read in a long time. In an age when we are still debating celibacy for priests and the correct role for women within the church, it was amazing to learn that Olimpia Maidalchini effectively ruled the Holy See with an iron fist. Her brother-in-law, Cardinal Giambattista, the future Pope Innocent X, is characterized as a man who loved the church but was so indecisive as to be ineffectual.Olimpia operated on the premise that she would never be poor, powerless, or at the mercy of someone else after she left her father's house. In order to preserve his carefully built fortune in favor of his only son, Olimpia's father attempted to have her placed in a convent, where he would not have to pay a dowry. Instead, Olimpia out-wits her father and soon ends up married to a wealthy young man who has the decency to die early. Her second marriage is to the brother of Cardinal Giambattista, and it is characterized as being a mostly happy marriage (if not happy, at least content). However, Olimpia soon realizes that if she wants to be taken seriously by Roman society she must elevate the family. Using her money and charm, and aided by Giambattista's excellent reputation as a man inclined to think first (and long) and act (much much) later, Olimpia guides her brother through the papal hierarchy until he is elected pope. Better still, Cardinal Giambattista, i.e. Pope Innocent X lives a long time, instead of dying early as Popes were supposed to, giving Olimpia time to establish herself as the FIRST woman of the Holy See.Admired, hated envied, and feared, Olimpia suffered the tragedy of being born an intelligent, ambitious, and cunning woman in a man's world, yet she triumphed, achieving her wildest dreams despite her gender. The day that Cardinal Gianbattista Pamphili was elected pontiff, Cardinal Alessandro Bichi angrily declared, “We have just elected a female pope.” Most of her contemporaries (including Innocent's successor, Pope Alexander VII) disliked Olimpia’s interference in Vatican affairs – she was far smarter than almost all the men in her environment, and it hurt. But some fair-minded ambassadors praised her for her intelligence, dignity, and financial acumen. The French ambassador Bali de Valençais admired Olimpia, informing Louis XIV that she was, without doubt, a “great lady.” Even Cardinal Pallavicino, who despised Olimpia, gave her grudging approval for her “intellect of great worth in economic government” and her “capacity for the highest affairs.” Even more amazingly, unlike to rumored Pope Joan, the existence of Olimpia Maidalchini cannot be ignored or forgotten, as there are diplomatic missives and internal church documents which exist to verify her influence.I am giving this book 4 stars instead of 5 because I feel that about 50 pages of the book were unnecessary. I appreciate that the author took a considerable amount of time to explain the court protocol and procedure, but there were places in the book were the descriptions ran on for 4-5 pages. Otherwise, this is an excellent book which I highly recommend.read more
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For over a decade in the seventeenth century a woman unofficially, but openly, ran the Vatican. Beginning in 1644, and for eleven years after, Olimpia Maidalchini, sister-in-law and reputed mistress of the indecisive Pope Innocent X, directed Vatican business, appointed cardinals, negotiated with foreign ambassadors, and helped herself to a heaping portion of the Papal State's treasury. The society she is part of includes the fact that "everyone from the lowliest servant up to the pope's august relatives unblushingly stole as much as they possibly could. Nepotism was rampant, and popes gave away huge sums and principalities to their nephews instead of helping the poor. Dead pontiffs were left naked on the Vatican floor because their servants had pilfered the bed and stripped the corpse. "
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I enjoyed this book immensely. Eleanor Herman's lively writing brought Olimpia Maidalchini, and her time as the power behind the Vatican in mid-17th century, to life. (As cliche as that may sound.) That the Catholic Church was corrupt is an understatement by any stretch of the imagination. That Olimpia, despite her gender, was able to take advantage of that corruption to enrich herself and her family, is a tribute to her ingenuity, intelligence, and sneakiness. Make no mistake, Olimpia is not a likeable woman, but she can certainly be applauded for pulling herself from poverty to untold riches in a time in history when few women were even allowed to try. Thank you Eleanor Herman for bringing this little known woman to light (and life).
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Mistress of the Vatican was one of the most compelling books that I've read in a long time. In an age when we are still debating celibacy for priests and the correct role for women within the church, it was amazing to learn that Olimpia Maidalchini effectively ruled the Holy See with an iron fist. Her brother-in-law, Cardinal Giambattista, the future Pope Innocent X, is characterized as a man who loved the church but was so indecisive as to be ineffectual.Olimpia operated on the premise that she would never be poor, powerless, or at the mercy of someone else after she left her father's house. In order to preserve his carefully built fortune in favor of his only son, Olimpia's father attempted to have her placed in a convent, where he would not have to pay a dowry. Instead, Olimpia out-wits her father and soon ends up married to a wealthy young man who has the decency to die early. Her second marriage is to the brother of Cardinal Giambattista, and it is characterized as being a mostly happy marriage (if not happy, at least content). However, Olimpia soon realizes that if she wants to be taken seriously by Roman society she must elevate the family. Using her money and charm, and aided by Giambattista's excellent reputation as a man inclined to think first (and long) and act (much much) later, Olimpia guides her brother through the papal hierarchy until he is elected pope. Better still, Cardinal Giambattista, i.e. Pope Innocent X lives a long time, instead of dying early as Popes were supposed to, giving Olimpia time to establish herself as the FIRST woman of the Holy See.Admired, hated envied, and feared, Olimpia suffered the tragedy of being born an intelligent, ambitious, and cunning woman in a man's world, yet she triumphed, achieving her wildest dreams despite her gender. The day that Cardinal Gianbattista Pamphili was elected pontiff, Cardinal Alessandro Bichi angrily declared, “We have just elected a female pope.” Most of her contemporaries (including Innocent's successor, Pope Alexander VII) disliked Olimpia’s interference in Vatican affairs – she was far smarter than almost all the men in her environment, and it hurt. But some fair-minded ambassadors praised her for her intelligence, dignity, and financial acumen. The French ambassador Bali de Valençais admired Olimpia, informing Louis XIV that she was, without doubt, a “great lady.” Even Cardinal Pallavicino, who despised Olimpia, gave her grudging approval for her “intellect of great worth in economic government” and her “capacity for the highest affairs.” Even more amazingly, unlike to rumored Pope Joan, the existence of Olimpia Maidalchini cannot be ignored or forgotten, as there are diplomatic missives and internal church documents which exist to verify her influence.I am giving this book 4 stars instead of 5 because I feel that about 50 pages of the book were unnecessary. I appreciate that the author took a considerable amount of time to explain the court protocol and procedure, but there were places in the book were the descriptions ran on for 4-5 pages. Otherwise, this is an excellent book which I highly recommend.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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