A recommended accessory for the 18th Century noblewomen: Cicisbeo were their law-mandated extramarital Italian lovers. From carrying the Lady's bible to escorting her to the theater, this devoted courtier was more than a trusted servant.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded mention of this cavalier servente was in a letter written by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1718.
"The fashion… is now received all over Italy, where the husbands are not such terrible creatures as we represent them. There are none amongst them such brutes to pretend to find fault with a custom so well established.”
Emerging around the 1690s and practiced across Rome, Venice, Florence, Nice and Genoa, this custom was entrenched into society and any means to ridicule the practice was met with distaste. Contessa Guiccioli's second husband would often be seen braggin about his wife's cicisbeo, Lord Byron, calling her Madame la Marquise de Boissy, autrefois la Maitresse de Milord Byron (the Marquise de Boissy, formerly the mistress of Lord Byron).
"... for, you must understand, this Italian fashion prevails at Nice among all ranks of people; and there is not such a passion as jealousy known. The husband and the cicisbeo live together as sworn brothers; and the wife and the mistress embrace each other with marks of the warmest affection. Every married lady in this country has her cicisbeo, or servente, who attends her every where on all occasions, and upon whose privileges the husband dares not encroach, without incurring the censure and ridicule of the whole community."- Lord Byron, Beppo
Some Italian women were also known to travel with a bogie full of cicisbei. We read about the depiction in Madame Germaine de Staël's novel, Corinne, ou l'Italie (1807).
Three or four men with different functions follow the same lady, who, sometimes without even taking the trouble to mention their names to her host, takes them with her; one is the favourite, another is the man who aspires to be so, the third is called the sufferer (il patito). He is completely scorned; but he is allowed to play the part of ardent admirer; and all these rivals live peacefully together.
Luigi Ponelato, "Il cicisbeo," etching from Carlo Goldoni, Opere teatrali, voI. 13 (Venice, 1790), reproduced in Rita Levi Pisetzsky, Storia del costume in Italia, voI. 4 (Milan, 1969).
Although bizarre but seemingly an apt practice for these convent educated young women whose marriages were arranged for titles and money, and not for the purpose of falling in love. Freeing the husband from any romantic entanglements, these cicisbei were also required to maintain their Lady's moral reputation.
As mentioned in Bizzochhi's novel, to the annoyance of Casanova, it was the cicisbeo preventing him from a meeting with his romantic entanglement and not the husband. From accompanying their mistress to the toillete to even fascilitating her chocolate drinking habits, the roles of the cicisbei and their presence soon began to be mentioned in marriage contracts across Italy.
Curiously distanced by historically penned diaries and letters, cicisbei and their relationships with their mistresses shall always be a mystery to us.
Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cicisbeo" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 360.
Cicisbeo. Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press.
Patriarca, Silvana. (2005). Indolence and Regeneration: Tropes and Tensions of Risorgimento Patriotism. The American Historical Review. 110. 380-408. 10.1086/ahr/110.2.380.
Roberto Bizzocchi (2014). A Lady's Man: The Cicisbei, Private Morals and National Identity in Italy. Translated by Noor Giovanni Mazhar. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 320. ISBN 978-1-137-45092-0.