Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Historical Flavor of the Week: Madame De Maintenon

Madame De Maintenon (November 27, 1635- April 15,1719)

How did this lady who was literally raised in the staunchest of poverty, come to be Louis XIV’s secret wife?

Bit of background:

Françoise d'Aubigné, at the age of fifteen, was sent to Paris to be entrusted to the Ursuline nuns for her upbringing. In Paris, a year later, she was married off to Paul Scarron a 41 year-old (burlesque poet in his youth) whose body had become severely deformed and paralyzed due to rheumatoid arthritis. Nonetheless, Scarron managed to get himself appointed at the Court of Anne of Austria as a jester. He loved Francoise dearly and taught her many languages and even helped her open up her own salon. That was the extent of his money lending though, as he spent every last penny searching for a cure to his illness. Eight years later Francoise was left a penniless widow.
Anne of Austria took pity on her when she saw that Francoise was a widow in dire need and decided to give her an annual pension.

So, finally, how did this lady who seemed to have been struck with constant misfortune attract the eye of the Sun King?

Word of mouth spread that she would be perfect to be governess of Louis’ children by Montespan. Disturbed by the nature of Louis’ relationship with Montespan, Francoise initially seeked counsel from her confessor who quickly advised her that whatever the King wished for, was approved by God (even an adultress liaison). From that point on, as long as it was Ok in God’s eyes, Francoise became a dutiful governess filled with a sense of loyalty to the King. Consequently, Louis bestowed her with the title of Marquise de Maintenon , after her estate.

Francoise was a virtuous woman of duty, though ‘rather cold’, she was dedicated to her work and terrified by the wrath of God. Louis became attracted to this woman who fascinated him with her stories of youth, the way she brought up the children, her religious ardor, sense of order and judicious advice. When he finally broke off all ties with Montespan, it was Francoise who urged him to be faithful and loving to the Queen. In her clear, yet subtle ways, she convinced him to follow a more correct and virtuous path by staying with the Queen and remaining faithful to her. Somehow Louis was convinced; resulting in probably the best last few years of the Queen’s life. For this, the Queen was forever grateful to De Maintenon.

After the Queen’s death, Louis became more and more drawn to Madame de Maintenon, until he fell deeply in love with her. At this point Louis found her irresistible and due to his Bourbon temperament, made every attempt to ‘conquer’ her. This is where Francoise was different from all the rest: She made sure to decline his invite since sleeping with a man other than one’s husband, even a King, was to her most sinful.

In 1684 (this is an approximate date deducted by Maintenon’s own letters), a morganatic marriage took place. Louis and Francoise were secretly married (He was 45 and she 48). This was never publicly announced and although there was constant speculation in the King’s court, noone could say for sure.

She became a source of sage wisdom for the King, who respected her opinion in many ways. Madame de Maintenon did not always agree with the ways of the court. Although Louis did not make such a big deal about flamboyant behaviours of others, Madame de Maintenon frowned upon much that was going on around her at court. She was extremely prudish and would find even the Opera a sinful form of art. She did not particularly like to attend this event, even though this was Louis’ favourite form of entertainment. Fortunately the King had mellowed with age and his love for the lady helped overcome their obvious differences.

Her letters apparently reveal that she was most happy in her marriage with Louis. The couple remained together until the end. As for the King; ‘the woman that Louis most loved and respected was Francoise d’Aubigny, Madame de Maintenon.’

Madame de Maintenon and Louis XIV



Viola said...

Lovely bio, Ms.Lucy!:) I still think that she seems rather sly and manipulative, though. What do you think?

Ingrid Mida said...

How fascinating! In those days, women who faced misfortune really were at the mercy of others.

Arleigh said...

Thank you for this post Lucy! I didn't know anything about this lady and you summed it up very well! It's hard to believe that Louis, with all his mistresses and wives, is not as popular in fiction as Henry VIII. Someone should definitely write about this one!

sallymandy said...

I loved reading about Mme. Maintenon yesterday. I couldn't get my comment to post for some reason. And--I learned something else new: what a morganic marriage is. Looked it up on Wiki.

Thank you so much, Ms Lucy, for continuing to have wonderful and fascinating reading material here. I love what you write. I get lost in another world, and that is refreshing.

I also wanted to tell you how very much I've appreciated your comments at my blog this week. Sincerely. It's been a big deal for me to write what I have, and I value your opinions. Thank you...xoxo

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this blog! I just discovered it. And now I want to read most all the books here.

One thing I didn't see is anything about the fabulous French musical Le Roi Soleil about Louis XIV. If you like Mme. Maintenon, Marie Mancin and Madame de Montespan you'll want to see it (there's a DVD). Well, I love it at least and I don't even understand French.

Anonymous said...

I discovered your lovely blog while researching the life of the very fascinating de Maintenon.

I first discovered de Maintenon several years ago after reading a fictionalized version of her life in a book by Sylvia Pell called The Shadow of the Sun: The Three Loves of Louis XIV. I've been fascinated by this woman and her extraordinary life ever since.

I enjoyed reading your summary of her biography. If you haven't already done so, I'd encourage you to watch the French film L'Allee du Roi (1995)--as told from the point of view of de Maintenon. The play Le Roi Soleil is also well done. I don't speak French, but because of my familiarity with the history of de Maintenon, I could still thoroughly enjoy both film and play.

Kind regards,

Grace Draven

Anonymous said...