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Maintenon, Françoise d'Aubigné

FranÇoise d'AubignÉ Maintenon


Royal Mistress

An Unfortunate Early Life.

Born while her father was in debtor's prison, the early life of Françoise d'Aubigné Maintenon was filled with trials. Following her father's release in 1645, the family emigrated to a French possession in the Caribbean, where her father planned to take up a position as a royal governor. They discovered the post was unavailable upon their arrival, however, and so her father returned to France; his death there left his family abandoned in the West Indies. The young Françoise returned to France and was entrusted to the care of an aunt with whom she lived for several years. When she was sixteen, her aunt sent her to live with the author Paul Scarron, and a few years later the couple married, despite a 25-year age difference. Françoise seems to have had little attraction for her husband, although she did care for him until his death in 1660.

Maintenon 's Rise at Court.

The death of her husband left Françoise penniless, and so she entered a convent, although she continued to direct her deceased husband's salon, an important group of highly literate men and women on the Parisian scene during the later seventeenth century. Through the ministrations of members of the salon, she eventually received a pension from Anne of Austria, the king's mother. In 1668, she began to care for and educate the bastard children of her friend, the royal mistress Madame de Montespan. Since King Louis XIV had fathered Montespan's children, he valued Françoise's discretion and rewarded her financially. In 1675, he gave her the noble title Marquise de Maintenon, and she became a lady-in-waiting to the Dauphine, the wife of the heir apparent of France. As a result, she ceased to serve as governess to the royal bastards, and instead embarked upon a career in court society. As her estimation rose in the king's eyes, she faced the jealousy of her former friend, Madame de Montespan, and she may have eventually supplanted her as the royal mistress. When the queen died in 1683, Louis may have secretly married Maintenon in the same year, although this marriage may not have taken place until 1697. Maintenon was never named "Queen of France" because of her first marriage, common birth, and the deference that Louis XIV continued to show to his first wife and their children. Yet as the consort of the reigning king, she exerted a powerful influence over the life of the court. Intensely pious, she began to steer Louis away from the life of indulgence and frivolity that he had led to this point. In place of the many lavish court entertainments that had been mounted in the previous decades, Maintenon favored quieter pursuits. And in general she was responsible for toning down the lavish excesses of fashion and dress that had flourished in Versailles and other royal palaces in the previous generation. Her portrait by Pierre Mignard suggests the fervent piety that she tried to instill in members of the royal family and at court, and as she aged, the images of Maintenon suggest the increasing gravity of her dress. In these years, too, she also took up her occupation as a teacher yet again, patronizing a local orphanage and sometimes teaching the orphans that lived there. In 1715 at the death of her husband Louis XIV, she retired to the convent of Saint Cyr, the institution that controlled the school she had long supported, and spent the remaining few years of her life in seclusion, mourning the death of her husband. Maintenon was not a woman of fashion. Her deep piety marked a very different strain of behavior from that which was then in fashion when she came to power at the French court. Through her religious zeal, she exerted a significant influence over the fashion of her times, weaning the French court away for a time from the lavish extravagances of the early years of Louis XIV's reign.


André Castelot, Madame de Maintenon: La reine sècrete (Paris: Perrin, 1996).

Jean Paul Desprat, Madame de Maintenon, 1635–1719 (Paris: Perrin, 2003).

Charlotte Franken Haldane, Madame de Maintenon. Uncrowned Queen of France (Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs, Merrill, 1970).

Julien Gulfi, Madame de Maintenon, 1635–1719 (Lyon: L'Hermés, 1986).

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