Callista Gingrich, Judith Nathan, and other political mistresses who became political wives.

Callista Gingrich, Judith Nathan, and other political mistresses who became political wives.

Callista Gingrich, Judith Nathan, and other political mistresses who became political wives.

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
March 4 2011 12:53 PM

Advice for Callista Gingrich

Navigating the tricky path from mistress to political wife, with help from Judi Nathan and Anne Boleyn.

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If Judi Nathan is the cautionary tale, Camilla is proof that perseverance can pay off. Over the years, thanks to a low profile and a careful PR campaign, she gradually came to be seen as more likable. In public appearances, she revealed warmth, an occasional nervousness, and what one British fan called an appealing "ordinariness." As one writer put it in the Guardian, "the middle-aged mum with the hips and the laughter lines" also happens to be "the only woman anyone can imagine with the Prince of Wales." When Camilla and Charles married in 2005, she eschewed the lofty title of princess, opting for Duchess of Cornwall instead. Time and Charles' evident happiness in the marriage have legitimized her, earning her the greatest honor a former mistress can hope for: to be unremarkable.

Rule 4: Keep your eye on the competition.
Anne Boleyn's story is also a tale of royal lust and love, but it's much shorter. Anne, of course, had the bad luck to be the second of Henry VIII's six wives. She'd been appointed to the royal court as a maid of honor to his first wife, Queen Catherine, when the king took notice of her. He lusted after her; she kept him at a distance, refusing to be just another mistress; eventually, the king decided to swap his old queen for a new one.

Anne was not, to put it mildly, a crowd favorite. The people's sympathies were with Catherine, whom they considered a "saint," as the historian Carolly Erickson has written. Anne, already pregnant at the wedding, was pronounced a "strong harlot" and a "great whore." As for the king, one vicar remarked, his life was "more stinking than a sow," given over to "foul pleasure of the flesh and other voluptuousness."


Henry was indeed a man of some appetite; he'd already carried on an affair with Anne's sister when he took up with Anne. This is the precariousness of being the mistress-turned-wife: There's a chance you, too, might be traded in. When, three years into their marriage, Anne had failed to produce the male heir he wanted, Henry had his wife arrested and killed so a new mistress, Jane Seymour, could take her place.

Rule 5: If all else fails, move to Maryland.
During his second term as Maryland governor, Parris Glendening divorced his second wife and, in early 2002, married his deputy chief of staff, Jennifer Crawford, who was almost 25 years younger. Their relationship had been the subject of gossip and speculation around the state capitol for some time, with the governor's political enemies painting Crawford, a key member of his staff, as manipulative and scheming (a recurring theme in mistress-turned-wife stories).

Their story attracted little attention beyond Annapolis, however, in part because Glendening wasn't running for re-election and also because he and his second wife were already separated when his relationship with Crawford became public. Crawford also kept a staunchly low profile after the wedding, resigning her post and giving birth to a baby girl later that year.

But if Glendening and Crawford got off easy, it may also be because Marylanders are inured to this sort of thing. Almost 30 years earlier, another Maryland governor took a mistress who became his wife. After Marvin Mandel issued a statement confessing his love for the tall, blond Jeanne Dorsey, his wife refused to leave the mansion for half a year. The governor had to stay in a hotel. Mandel's divorce was finalized in 1974; that very same day he married Dorsey, and they lived happily ever after. (Well, first Mandel was convicted of mail fraud and racketeering, and he went to jail. Then he got out and they lived happily ever after.)

Click to view a slide-show essay  on political mistresses turned wives.

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at