Dating a mistress
In the courts of Europe, particularly Versailles and Whitehall in the 17th and 18th centuries, a mistress often wielded great power and influence.A king might have numerous mistresses, but have a single "favourite mistress" or "official mistress" (in French, maîtresse en titre), as with Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour.The keeping of a mistress in Europe was not confined to royalty and nobility, but permeated down through the social ranks, essentially to any man who could afford to do so.Any man who could afford a mistress could have one (or more), regardless of social position.
It is noteworthy that the ballad-maker assigned this role to the knight's mistress ("leman" was the term common at the time) rather than to his wife.In its more sinister form, the theme of being "kept" is never far from the surface in novels about women as victims in the 18th century in England, whether in the novels of Eliza Haywood or Samuel Richardson (whose heroines in Pamela and Clarissa are both put in a position of being threatened with sexual degradation and being reduced to the status of a kept object).With the Romantics of the early 19th century, the subject of "keeping" becomes more problematic, in that a non-marital sexual union can occasionally be celebrated as a woman's free choice and a noble alternative.There is often also the implication (if not the fact) that the mistress is "kept" – i.e.
that her lover is paying for some (and sometimes all) of her living expenses.
Historically the term has denoted a "kept woman", who was maintained in a comfortable (or even lavish) lifestyle by a wealthy man so that she would be available for his sexual pleasure.