Basically the step up from Your Cheating Heart
, but not up there with a concubine. It's a girlfriend for an already married man. Sometimes the affair is public, but just as often is not.
The reasons can vary. Often the husband just doesn't care enough for his wife, especially if there was an Arranged Marriage
. Sometimes it's actually expected in a culture (even if not actually said). Sometimes the wife can even drive the husband to this, but just as often she can be a kind woman, or even a Hot Consort
Sometimes the mistress will be happy with her position, but sometimes she will want the husband to leave his wife and marry her. Sometimes the latter could even lead to trying to outright get rid of the wife
. Needless to say, if the wife wasn't aware of her existence and finds out about her, the mistress is very likely to be killed at her hands, if the husband isn't the one to die that is.
Crime Fiction stories often involve this, as it conveniently gives everyone involved a motive for murdering at least one
of the triangle. The more mistresses, the more potential red herrings/victims.
There are a LOT of historical examples
, because European aristocratic marriages were almost always purely political. It was generally accepted that the husband and (though less tolerated
) wife would take lovers to provide the emotional fulfillment they would not be getting from their marriage. It was usually considered bad form to be public about it, but not always. In some countries, such as France, the mistress was even something of a semi-official position. Formalizing and legitimizing it made things less awkward in public, and it also made it easier to keep tabs on any illegitimate children that might one day contest the throne.
Remember, this has to be a mistress, not just an affair. That's Your Cheating Heart.
Note that this is NOT the owner of a servant, even if the word "Mistress" is supposed to be the feminine version of the word "Master". This trope is also not for a Mistress in the BDSM context - see Dominatrix
Compare The Unfair Sex
, Oops I Forgot I Was Married
(if the mistress does not know about the other's family), Dark Mistress
(who is not
an evil version of this, despite the name).
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Anime and Manga
- This trope is referenced in Ranma ½. One of the things Ranma does to try and get Ukyo to dump him is to tell her he's going to go spend the night with his mistress. Made funnier when he enters Akane's room and tries to convince her to go along with it. She really doesn't take it well.
- Rosario + Vampire makes use of it overtly; in the case of those seeking Tsukune's love only one has expressed real interest in marriage, with the others either outright saying they want to be something else to him, or simply showing no great interest either way. However more subtly when we finally discover the full picture of the Shuzen family, we learn that not only was Issa casually polygamous, but it is implied that among his partners, Moka's mother Akasha Bloodriver is Issa Shuzen's mistress rather then his wife. This despite also being a Shinso vampire and one of the Three Dark Lords, who control/watch over Japan.
- Nodoka gets the idea of being this in Mahou Sensei Negima! when her subconscious suggests a solution to a Love Triangle she's in. That suggestion is "saishoudoukin," a situation where a man keeps a wife and a concubine in the same house.
- Being set at the court of Versailles in the years preceding The French Revolution, Rose of Versailles has various examples, the most notable being Madame Du Barry (the mistress of King Louis XV and an early villain and enemy of Marie Antoinette). At the time, as explained by Madame De Polignac, it was so common for married nobles to have a lover on the side that people were astonished that Louis XVI and Oscar's father had none, and many were willing to believe that Fersen was Marie Antoinette's lover because it made more sense than Marie Antoinette refusing to consummate their love because of her duty as the queen.
- Speaking of Madame De Polignac... Her lover was her brother in love.
- When it appeared that he would marry Oscar, Girodelle told Andre he would allow him to be Oscar's lover if they both wished. That is how easily it was accepted.
- Lola's father has one in Run, Lola, Run.
- Helen's husband Charles has one in Diary of a Mad Black Woman , and she even had two children with him (meanwhile Helen had two miscarriages).
- The book in Down with Love causes even mistresses to not cooperate with men anymore.
- Sam's mistress in Ruthless People, who tries to blackmail him because she's sleeping with another man.
- Veronica Franco becomes this to Marco Venier in Dangerous Beauty, after having been a courtesan.
- In In the Mouth of Madness, an Insurance Fraud scam is found out when a guy claims a warehouse full of fur coats was supposedly destroyed, but he kept the coats, giving some to his wife, who ratted on him when it turned out he gave some to his mistress.
- Tom's relationship with Myrtle in The Great Gatsby.
- In Katherine Kerr's Deverry series, Rhodry takes Jill as a mistress. He would have liked to marry her, and his allies do end up arranging things so she can be given a title to enable them to marry. However, fate has different plans in store for them and they can't... for reasons of destiny. It's acknowledged that this is common among the nobility due to the proliferation of political marriages; and in many cases the jilted spouse doesn't particularly mind as long as you are tactful and discreet.
- One interpretation of the poem "The Rival" by Sylvia Plath (in Ariel Plath) is that the subject is an expy of the mistress of Plath's husband.
- Making Money The bank's previous owner was the mistress of the former chairman, mentioning that as his mistress, she had the wife's approval because it got him out of her hair for a while. She was also good with numbers, which is why she remained in charge of the bank after his death. Before she passed on, she noted that standards have dropped and that now "the ability to spin upside down on a pole is considered sufficient".
- The position is deconstructed, as Paul Atreides considers the woman who is technically his mistress as his true wife, and never consummates his official (and political) marriage with his actual wife.
- Going back a generation, Paul's mother Jessica is the 'bound concubine' of Leto Atreides, and presumably if he'd married she would have been this - but the two of them considere themselves married in everything but name.
- Petra Cotes in One Hundred Years of Solitude, doubling as one of the three hookers with hearts of gold.
- In Guilty Wives, Winnie is revealed to have been the mistress of the President of France for some time before the action of the novel begins.
- A Song of Ice and Fire plays with this trope constantly.
- As part of the series's back story, King Aegon IV ("The Unworthy") had several semi-official mistresses. As bastards, they weren't entitled to inherit, until the king legitimized them on his deathbed. Civil war resulted.
- Some high lords keep mistresses; but they have no official standing and the relationship is considered adulterous and immoral. Such mistresses are kept behind closed doors and the relationship is kept officially secret, even if it's common knowledge. (Tyrion Lannister's whore is treated in this way, though the stakes are higher: as a commoner, she must be kept secret at first lest she be used against him by his evil sister Cersei. Later, she's kept secret because his father doesn't approve of whores and threatens to hang the next one he finds in Tyrion's bed. In a sign of the hypocrisy of the series, after she betrays Tyrion, he discovers her in her father's bed as he escapes.)
- In Dorne, where looser standards of sexual morality are in play, mistresses can be given official status as Paramours. The relationships are public and have no implication of shame. Even a Dornish member of the supposedly celibate Kingsguard kept one. In some cases, a man and wife will even share a paramour.
- In Les MisÚrables, Marius's grandfather has had many mistresses over the course of his life, and believes it's better to take a woman as a mistress than to actually marry her. When Marius tells his grandfather about Cosette, his immediate advice is to keep her as a mistress instead of as a legal wife (Marius, who reveres Cosette, finds the idea of dishonoring her so much to be unspeakable).
- In Charlotte BrontŰ's Jane Eyre, Rochester's past is filled with lovers — usually rich and well-known performers, such as CÚline Varens. At the time of the novel, he says he's grown tired of keeping girlfriends. After their would-be wedding is busted, Rochester offers this position to Jane. Jane realizes she could not possibly live with herself in this way, and leaves him.
- In In the Time of the Butterflies, Papa has another family with three other children in addition to the four daughters he has with his wife.
- Spoofed in Designing Women, when they get a mistress to stop seeing a married man, but the wife was angry, because she knew about the affair and was having her own.
- In the first time in Quantum Leap where Sam leapt into a woman, he was there to save "his" roommate from committing suicide over an relationship with her boss - she thought her boss would leave his wife for her, but the wife made it clear to her that she tolerated his "indiscretions" but they would never break up (and she was a former mistress of the boss herself, having broken up his previous marriage).
- An extremely rare Gender Flip version appears on The Office (US), during the plotline where Michael thinks his girlfriend Donna is cheating on him but it turns out that the "other man" is her husband: "I'M the mistress?"
- Kaamelott: Arthur has up to four mistresses at any given time, going from one to the other as his needs warrant. Hilarity Ensues when a rumor spreads of his rebuking the queen, and each girl tries to convince him to marry her.
- Midsomer Murders loves this trope along with general adultery.
- The Sopranos: Almost every made guy has a "Comare" (literally "godmother" in Sicilian dialect, but slang for mistress) on top of their wives who they won't divorce for their Catholic beliefs. For the main character, it becomes a major plot device when one of his mistresses actually contacts his home pushing his wife to call it quits, albeit temporarily.
- Desperate Housewives wouldn't really be Desperate Housewives if it didn't have at least one mistress per season.
- In the Firefly episode "Shindig," Atherton Wing wanted Inara for one of these. Mal objected, leading to a sword duel over her honor.
- On My Name Is Earl, Earl had a Bad Boss with a hot blonde wife and an equally hot brunette girlfriend on the side. When Earl punches him (landing him in the hospital), the two women show up to be by his side...and find out about each other's existence. When the (soon-to-be-ex) wife is giving him a Defenestrate and Berate, she finds the money he's been laundering and he winds up in prison. He loses both his wife and his girlfriend...but he does become his cellmate's prison bitch. (With a coffee mug that has "World's Best Bottom" scrawled on it.)
- On Scandal we find out that Olivia Pope used to be the President's Press Secretary as well as his mistress. Millie, the President's wife, knew about it and was generally fine with it since the marriage was purely a political one at this point. The people who knew assumed that when the President's term in office was over he would divorce Millie and marry Olivia. However, Olivia threw a wrench into the arrangement by breaking off the relationship and quitting her job. Throughout the series the President tries to rekindle the relationship but Olivia is tired of the lies and betrayals. In season 2 the relationship between them turns outright toxic.
- One of Olivia's clients turns out to be a male example of this. He is in love with his brother's wife and they have been having a clandestine relationship for more than a decade. Olivia gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech where she explains why such an arrangement is not a real relationship and he needs to end it if he wants to be ever truly happy. Of course she is partly talking about herself as well.
- "Can't Let U Go" by Fabolous is about a man who is already married, and is torn between his wife and his girlfriend (and trying to keep the former from finding out about the latter). For now, he decides to secretly have his cake and eat it too, because "the entree ain't as good without something on the side. For her part, the mistress knows full well that her boyfriend is already married, and is apparently OK with the status quo.
- "Saving All My Love For You", by Whitney Houston, is from the mistress's POV as she laments that her paramour is being about as honest with her as he is with his wife and family.
- King's Mistress is one of the endings in some of the Princess Maker games.
- Not only that, the second game as a possible ending with the girl as the lover of a local landlord as well. Said landlord can potentially show up earlier and makie the girl his lover if she has high Charisma with low Morals — it's not reccomended to just let her be, though, as her stats and overall rep will go lower.
- In said second game the King of the Land also has a royal concubine, and your daughter can speak to her. She seems to be a pretty but deadly bored woman rather disenchanted with the life of the court, but unwilling to leave it due to the benefits it still gives her.
- Fire Emblem Blazing Sword: King Desmond of Bern has a son (Zephiel) by the queen (Helenne), and a daughter (Guinevere) by his unnamed mistress. His illegitimate family lives in the palace, while his official one lives in an old out-of-the way manor. It's explained in the prequel Sword of Seals that said mistress was actually the King's old girlfriend, whom the King couldn't marry due to being forced in an Arranged Marriage with the Queen.. Needless to say, it does NOT end well.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, if you make Alistair king and cannot/will not make yourself queen and are in a romance, and provided you "hardened" him earlier, you may become his mistress. Not just a mistress, though, you may be his adviser, as well.
- In Tales of Symphonia, Zelo's father had a mistress, who was the mother of Zelo's half-sister Seles. Despite him being the Chosen, it's implied that it was something everyone knew, as Zelos and Seles not only knew about each other, but they got on rather well. The mistress wasn't happy with the arrangement though, knowing that Zelos would be The Chosen One instead of their daughter. Let's just say things got worse and leave it at that.
- In Umineko: When They Cry, several characters theorize early on that the basis of the legends of Beatrice, the mysterious witch that Kinzo Ushiromiya seems to be obsessed with, is that Kinzo had a secret mistress (though Natsuhi, trying to be the loyal daughter-in-law, repeatedly tries to deny it). It turns out that they're right. Kinzo did have a mistress, Beatrice Castiglioni, who he met during the second World War. They fell deeply in love, and after Kinzo bought the island of Rokkenjima he built her a secret mansion, Kuwadorian, for her to live in, and he would often visit her under the pretense that he was going on business trips. They even had a daughter, but unfortunately Beatrice died in childbirth...and this caused Kinzo to go insane with grief, and as their daughter grew older he convinced himself that she was his mistress reincarnated, eventually leading him to rape her and get her pregnant.
- Nurse Bendy, to Principal Fakey on Moral Orel. She's pretty nonchalant about it. Though the episode Alone, implies that her mental state has regressed to that of a child, and that sleeping around has made her affection starved and depressed.
- There's a Gender Flip on King of the Hill. There is an Open Secret that Nancy has been having a 14 year affair with John Redcorn. Her husband Dale and son Joseph (who happens to look exactly like John, a brown-skinned Native American) are completely oblivious.
- Madame de Pompadour◊, one of the mistresses of Louis XV, who was featured in Le Chevalier d'Eon. She also appeared in the Doctor Who episode "The Girl In The Fireplace".
- Looking through the history of any European country, the amount of mistresses the royalty and nobility kept on hand is staggering. Special mention to Louis XIV of France, who was still sleeping around at 70, and Augustus II of Poland, who ended up with 350 children, of which one was legitimate.
- King Henry VIII had two confirmed mistresses, Elizabeth Blount and Mary Boleyn (yes, sister to Anne Boleyn). He may have had other mistresses and considering his personality that wouldn't be surprising but beyond Elizabeth and Mary it is purely speculation.
- Of course, Anne herself was his quasi-mistress while he went through that whole "divorcing Catherine of Aragon" debacle.
- Henry was a fan of marrying the mistress. Jane Seymour was his mistress (in the same, not-so-fully-consummated way that Anne had bee) while he was married to Anne Boleyn, and went on to become his third wife. Catherine Howard, wife number five, was his mistress while he was married to Anne of Cleves.
- The most famous example of a queen openly keeping lovers is Catherine The Great. She also rewarded her lovers handsomely (one of them briefly became king of Poland). Notably she started before she had her husband overthrown (and possibly murdered) and kept it up afterward. (This is the likely point of the rumor that she died, um...'ahorse' — it was a joke about her insatiable appetite and her penchant for picking her lovers from her horse guards.)
- A Swedish example: Frederik I's mistress Hedvig Taube who (like many others) acquired a large fortune from her liaison with the king.
- King Charles II of England, Scotland, and Ireland was known as "the Merry Monarch" for his free-living lifestyle, and is famous for having twelve acknowledged illegitimate children by seven mistresses — with no less than five of the children being by Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine — and no children at all by his legitimate wife, Catherine of Braganza. Many of Charles' bastards have prominent descendants, with one of them (Diana Spencer) marrying the Prince of Wales (making Princess Di), and thus probably finally getting one of Charles' descendants in line for the throne.
- William IV of the United Kingdom was also famous for a large number of illegitimate children (as, frankly, were many of the sons of George III, much to their devout and Happily Married father's disgust—at least when he was lucid enough to be disgusted). He had only two daughters by his wife, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, but he had ten by his mistress, the actress Dorothea Jordan. Both of his legitimate daughters died, leaving the throne to his niece Victoria. And of course, William's surviving children had important descendants, the most famous of whom is current Prime Minister David Cameron.
- William's case was a bit different, though, in that all of his bastards were born before his marriage, he dumped his mistress long before marrying, and his marriage was actually quite happy.
- Of course, marrying their mistresses wasn't much of an option to the children of George III, despite several attempts to try. They had to have the permission of the monarch (for most of their lives, their father) to marry, which wasn't granted. One son - Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, had two marriages declared invalid because his father hadn't given him permission.
- Marion Davies, longtime girlfriend of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst remained married to his wife Millicent until his death, despite having been carrying on with Davies for the last 34 years.
- Edward IV seems to have slept with something like half the married noblewomen in England. Interestingly, this seems to have helped him politically, as his mistresses would influence their husbands to support him in the War of the Roses.