The Mazarinettes were the seven nieces of Cardinal Jules Mazarin, the Chief Minister of France during the youth of King Louis XIV. He brought them, together with three of his nephews, from Italy to France in the years 1647 and 1653. Afterwards, he arranged advantageous marriages for them to powerful and influential French and Italian princes. To overcome aristocratic resistance to the matches, the cardinal generously granted huge dowries to the fiancés.
The girls were daughters of Mazarin's sisters, Laura Margherita and Geronima:
Laura Martinozzi (1635–1687), by marriage with Alfonso IV d'Este, Duchess of Modena and Reggio since 1658
Laura Mancini (1636–1657), by marriage with Louis de Bourbon, Duchess of Mercœur since 1651
Anne Marie Martinozzi (1637–1672), by marriage with Armand de Bourbon, Princess of Conti since 1654
Marie Mancini (1639–1715), by marriage with Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna, Princess Colonna since 1661
Olympia Mancini (1640–1708), by marriage with Eugène Maurice of Savoy, Countess of Soissons since 1657
Hortense Mancini (1646–1699), by marriage with Armand Charles de La Porte de La Meilleraye, Duchess Mazarin since 1661
Marie Anne Mancini (1649–1717), by marriage with Godefroy Maurice de La Tour d'Auvergne, Duchess of Bouillon since 1662
Arriving in France at different times, the girls were aged between seven and thirteen years old at the time of their arrival. Their uncle, Cardinal Mazarin, had requested their presence at the French court for several reasons. First, he was tired of being surrounded by French nobles and courtiers he could not trust. He wanted to be able to relax around and confide in members of his own family. Second, he wished to use his nieces and nephews to consolidate his legacy in French society and history. As a cleric, he had no legitimate children with which to do that.
Upon their arrival in Paris, Anne of Austria, the mother of the young king, Louis XIV, took the children under her wing. She even allowed the younger ones to be educated together with the king and his younger brother, Philippe, in the Palais-Royal. With this mark of favour, she placed the young ladies on the same level as the princesses of the blood.
When the girls were first officially presented at court, Marshal Villeroy said to king's uncle, Gaston de France, Duke of Orléans:
"Voilà des petites demoiselles qui présentement ne sont point riches, mais qui bientôt auront de beaux châteaux, de bonnes rentes, de belles pierreries, de bonne vaisselle d'argent, et peut-être de grandes dignités […]" (engl. "Here are young ladies who just at present are not rich at all, but who soon shall have beautiful castles, good incomes, precious stones, substantial silver plate, and per chance great rank […]").
In Paris, the Mazarinettes caused quite a stir because of their appearance. In a milieu where pale skin and a full figure were regarded as the established ideal of beauty, the girls' darker Italian complexions and slight builds were much remarked upon.
One of the so-called Mazarinades, satires and pamphlets against Mazarin that were very numerously published in France between 1648 and 1653, described the cardinal's nieces as follows:
French original and English translation
Elles ont les yeux d'un hibou,
L'écorce blanche comme un chou,
Les sourcils d'une âme damnée,
Et le teint d'un cheminée.
They possess the eyes of an owl,
The bark so white as a cabbage,
The eyebrows of a damned soul,
And a complexion of a chimney.
Other Mazarinades called them "dirt princesses" and "stinking snakes".
As protegées of their uncle, the girls' lives often reflected the cardinal's variable fortunes. During the Fronde, they twice were forced to leave Paris and go into exile. After the revolt was crushed, though, Cardinal Mazarin secured for them all a life of carefree prosperity by finding them suitable husbands and showering lavish wedding gifts upon them.