What fascinates me even more about Olympia is the automatic assertion that she was having an affair with her brother-in-law, soon to be Pope. My feeling is theirs was a Platonic relationship, and Olympia was far more in love with power than a prince of the church.
Author Eleanor Herman offers no real evidence that 17th century Pope Innocent X had a sexual relationship with Olimpia, his sister-in-law, as the term "mistress" would suggest. She offers no facts that Olimpia was pope, although she apparently was extremely influential in papal decisions. She's done the research Herman has culled the diaries and papers of Vatican officials of the period and the works of commentators during the mid 1600s, and what she's come up with are some things about our church at the time that today we'd consider unthinkable. Evidence shows Olimpia's influence There seems to be little doubt, though, that the widow of Pope Innocent X's brother was extremely influential in day-to-day decisions concerning the Papal States. The evidence author Herman brings to light shows that Olimpia's fingerprints are on the appointments of cardinals, on the finances of the church, on the church's relationship with the governments and royalty of nations such as France and Spain, among others, and much, much more.
Nevertheless, this book's very modern perspective on 17th Century religious conduct was, well, jaw-dropping. It was the whole picture, which was made more compelling by a very modern tone and writing style.
Her actions certainly point to her believing herself on par, if not higher, intellectually with men and she did do things to help poorer women, but most of her ambition was turned inward, to pull herself up from the dust first and then her family. I guess, though, reading this and knowing how different things were from now to then, it's just a little difficult to imagine having no say in your life. It's the past, and women like Olimpia, who helped to eventually shape the future. Still, it's a really enjoyable read, particularly for anyone interested in church history or women's studies.
Cannot believe how much research Eleanor Herman went through to make it, but so thankful she did not only did she tell Olimpia's story but she explain what Rome was like during her time.
Ms. Herman has a fine sense of irony and there is much irony to be found in Olimpia's life and times. As it was, she was born in Italy in the late 16th century and, for a time, it looked like she would fall victim, as so many girls did in those days, to being given a life sentence behind convent walls against her will.
Alternating between mildly interesting tidbits about 17th century life, the unexpected actions of a woman in the face of misogyny, and the infuriating greed, theft, nepotism, and general corruption of the Catholic church, this book tediously and salaciously plods along as it chronicles the life of Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphili.
New York Times best-seller Eleanor Herman's new non-fiction book, The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul, is set to come out in June 2018. The New York Times Book Review wrote that Eleanor writes enlightening social history that is great fun to read. Eleanor, a New York Times bestseller, has also written Sex with Kings (a history of royal mistresses), Sex with the Queen (a look at queens' love affairs), Mistress of the Vatican (a biography of an influential papal mistress), and a four-part YA fantasy series on Alexander the Great, called The Blood of Gods and Royals.