A favourite or favorite (American English), was the intimate companion of a ruler or other important person. In medieval and Early Modern Europe, among other times and places, the term is used of individuals delegated significant political power by a ruler. It is especially a phenomenon of the 16th and 17th centuries, when government had become too complex for many hereditary rulers with no great interest or talent for it, and political institutions were still evolving. The period 1600-1660 saw particular successions of all-powerful minister-favourites in much of Europe, particularly in Spain, England, France and Sweden. The term is also sometimes employed by conservative writers who want to avoid terms such as “royal mistress”, or “friend”, “companion” or “lover” of either sex. Several favourites had sexual relations with the monarch (or their spouse), but the feelings of the monarch for the favourite covered the full gamut from a simple faith in the favourite’s abilities, through various degrees of emotional affection and dependence, to sexual infatuation. The term has an inbuilt element of disapproval, and is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “One who stands unduly high in the favour of a prince”, citing Shakespeare: “Like favourites/ Made proud by Princes”.

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