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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 it's public, but just as often as 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, and may even use it to get benefits aside of simply being this, 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.
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".
- 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. (Among other things, this made it easier to keep tabs on any illegitimate children that might one day contest for the throne...)
- The picture is of 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".
- The Doctor even mentions that she and the queen were good friends.
The Doctor: "France! It's another planet!"
- Queen Marie wasn't happy with her husbands affairs at all, since she was a devout Catholic. She merely preferred the well-behaved and properly deferential Pompadour over her downright arrogant predecessors. Marie Therese, on the other hand, was openly dissappointed when her husband exchanged Louise de la Valliere for de Montespan.
- Madame DuBarry was another mistress late in his life, who was an initial antagonist in Rose of Versailles.
- 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 a confirmed two 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.
- 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. As well as 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 (Lady 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 the former Prime Minister David Cameron.
- 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.
- 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 to 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.
- According to some Mobile Suit Gundam supplementary materials (more exactly, mangas like Char's Deleted Affair), Prince Dozle Zabi took Haman Karn's older sister Marlene as his lover half due to her great beauty, half to protect the Karn family (the patriarch, Maharaja Karn, was a supporter of Zeon Zum Daikun and then the leader of the Axis asteroid base). Maharaja was conflicted over this, but Marlene was well cared for and at times even acted as a sort-of Lady in Waiting for Dozle's actual wife Princess Zenna. Marlene died around the end of the One Year War, but the Zabis didn't have anything to do with it as far as one knows: she had always been an Ill Girl. Her death and her dad's were among the reasons why Haman, her surviving sister, became the caretaker of Dozle's daughter Minerva.
- Miyokichi from Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu was this to Kikuhiko and Sukeroku's master, Yakumo Yuurakutei the 7th.
- Rose of Versailles has Madame Du Barry, the mistress of King Louis XV, as one of the antagonists.
- A vital plot point in Shingeki no Kyojin: Historia/Krista's mother, Alma, was the mistress to Lord Rod Reiss... which makes Krista the heir to the throne...
- Imperial Prince Sincline's Missing Mom in GoLion was at best his father Emperor Daibazaal's mistress, and at worst his Sex Slave.
- 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.
- Tom's relationship with Myrtle in The Great Gatsby.
- In Katherine Kerr's Devvery series, Rhodry takes Jill as a mistress -- he would have liked to marry her, but could not for political reasons. 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) 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 in Dune wherein 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.
- 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.
- 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, 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 "gumar" 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.
- "Comare." Literally "godmother" in Sicilian dialect, but slang for mistress.
- 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.
- 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:
- Fire Emblem Blazing Blade: 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 Fire Emblem Fates, King Garon had many mistresses that also bore him children. This led to LOTS of horrifying in-fighting in the Deadly Decadent Court of Nohr.
- It's also strongly implied that the Avatar's mother, Mikoto, was the mistress of said Avatar's Parental Substitute King Sumeragi, prior to marrying him. It is at least confirmed that Mikoto and an infant Avatar came to the Hoshidan court on their own when Sumeragi's legal wife and the Queen, Ikona, was still alive...
- In Dragon Age, if a Female Warden makes Alistair King and cannot/will not make herself queen but are still in a romance, and provided the player "hardened" him earlier, she may become his mistress. Not just a mistress, though, she may be his adviser, as well.
- In Tales of Symphonia, Zelos' father had a mistress, who was the mother of Zelos'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 her daughter... So she tried to kill young!Zelos, but Zelos' mother Mylene died protecting him (though she still said it would've been better if he hadn't been born). The mistress was soon executed, Seles was locked away in an abbey, and even in adulthood Zelos blames himself for all the mess.