La Vallière, Louise de (1644–1710)

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La Vallière, Louise de (1644–1710)

French mistress of Louis XIV from 1661 to 1667. Name variations: Duchesse de La Vallière; Sister (Soeur) Louise de la Miséricorde. Born Françoise Louise de la Baume Le Blanc in Tours, Touraine, France, on August 6, 1644; died in 1710; daughter of Laurent de la Baume Le Blanc (d. 1651, an officer who took the name of La Vallière from a small property near Amboise) and a mother (name unknown) who joined the court of Gaston d'Orléans at Blois; children: (with Louis XIV) Charles (December 1663–1666); a second child (January 1665–1666); daughter Marie Anne, known as Mlle de Blois (b. October 1666, who married Armand de Bourbon, prince of Conti, in 1680; Mlle de Blois' youngest child, the count of Vermandois, died on his first campaign at Courtrai in 1683); another son (b. October 1667).

Louise de La Vallière, favorite mistress of Louis XIV of France, was born in Touraine in 1644, of an ancient and noble family. Her father Laurent de la Baume Le Blanc, an officer, took the name of La Vallière from a small property near Amboise. When he died in 1651, her mother (name unknown) soon married once more

and joined the court of Gaston d'Orléans, duke of Orléans and brother of Louis XIII, at Blois. Louise was brought up at the court with the younger princesses, Françoise d'Orleans, Marguerite Louise of Orleans , and their stepsister Anne Marie Louise d'Orléans Montpensier (daughter of Gaston's first wife Marie de Bourbon ). After Gaston d'Orléans' death in 1660, his second wife Marguerite of Lorraine moved with her daughters to the palace of the Luxembourg in Paris, and with them went Louise, who was now a girl of 16. A skillful rider and fine musician, Louise was known for her sweet voice and even sweeter disposition. Her contemporaries noted that she was not a great beauty and was slightly lame, but she was easy-going and charming.

Through the influence of a distant relation, Mme de Choisy , La Vallière was named maid of honor to Henrietta Anne , duchess of Orléans and daughter of Charles I, king of England, who was about her own age and had just married Philip I, duke of Orléans, Louis XIV's brother. Arriving from England, Henrietta joined the court at Fontainebleau and was soon on the friendliest terms with her brother-in-law, so friendly that there was some scandal. In an effort to avoid gossip, it was decided that the king should turn his attentions elsewhere. The person selected was Henrietta's maid of honor, Louise de La Vallière. Thus, after only two months in Fontainebleau, Louise became the king's mistress. The affair, begun on Louis' part as a decoy, developed immediately into genuine passion on both sides. It was the king's first serious attachment, and Louise—an innocent, religious-minded girl—brought neither coquetry nor self-interest to their association, which was diligently concealed.

But in February 1662, there was a serious breach between Louis and Louise when Louise loyally refused to gossip about Henrietta Anne's possible involvement with the Comte de Guiche. Louise fled to an obscure convent at Chaillot, but Louis soon followed. Louise's enemies—chief of whom was Olympia Mancini —sought her downfall by bringing her liaison to the ears of Louis' queen Maria Teresa of Spain . La Vallière was presently removed from the service of Henrietta and established in a small building in the Palais Royal, where in December 1663 she gave birth to a son Charles. He was given in charge to two faithful servants of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, France's minister of finances.

Concealment was practically abandoned after her return to court and, within a week of the queen-mother's death (Anne of Austria ) in January 1666, La Vallière appeared at mass beside Maria Teresa. But Louise's favor was already waning. She had given birth to a second child by Louis in January 1665, but both children were dead before the autumn of 1666. A daughter born at Vincennes in October 1666, who received the name of Marie Anne and would be known as Mlle de Blois , was publicly recognized by Louis as his daughter in letters-patent, making Louise a duchess in May 1667 and conferring on her the estate of Vaujours. In October of that year, she had a son, but by this time her place in Louis' affections was forever usurped by the Marquise de Montespan , who had long been plotting against her. La Vallière was compelled to remain at court as the king's official mistress, and even to share Mme de Montespan's apartments at the Tuileries. She made an attempt at escape in 1671, when she fled to the convent of Ste. Marie de Chaillot, but was forced to return. In 1674, she was finally permitted to enter the convent of the Carmelites in the Rue d'Enfer in Paris, taking her final vows, a year later, as Sister (Soeur) Louise de la Miséricorde; she spent 36 years there in penance and prayer.

La Vallière's Réflexions sur la miséricorde de Dieu, written after her retreat, was printed by Lequeux in 1767, and in 1860 her Réflexions, lettres et sermons, edited by M.P. Clement, appeared in two volumes. Some apocryphal Mémoires were printed in 1829 and the Lettres de Mme la duchesse de la Vallière (1767) is a bastardized version of her correspondence with the Maréchal de Bellefonds. Later biographical works include Arsène Houssaye's Mlle de la Vallière et Mme de Montespan (1860), Jules Lair's Louise de la Valliére (3rd ed., 1902, English trans., 1908), and C. Bonnet's Documents inédits sur Mme de la Vallière (1904). Madame de Genlis and Alexandre Dumas wrote historical novels based on her life, and Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun used Louise's visage for her painting of a penitent Mary Magdalene . A necklace with pendants has been named for her; it is usually spelled lavaliere.