Marie-Anne de la Trémouille (c. 1642–1722)

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Marie-Anne de la Trémouille (c. 1642–1722)

Princess of the Ursins and ambitious French aristocrat who headed the household of Queen Marie Louise of Savoy, wife of Philip V of Spain, and wielded great political influence during the War of the Spanish Succession . Name variations: Madame or Princess des Ursins; Marie Anne Ursins; Anne Marie de la Trémouille, Duchess of Bracciano; Marie-Anne de la Tremouille; Marie-Anne Orsini. Probably born 1642 (perhaps as early as 1635); died in Rome on December 5, 1722; eldest child of Louis de la Trémouille, marquis of Noirmoutier, and Julie Aubry; married Adrien-Blaise de Talleyrand, prince of Chalais, July 5, 1659 (died 1670); married Flavio deglio Orsini, duke of Bracciano, on February 17, 1675 (died, April 5,1698); no known children. Appointed camarera mayor (1701); dismissed and exiled (December 1714).

Birth of Louis XIV (1638); accession of Louis XIV to throne (1643); Peace of the Pyrenees between France and Spain (1659); marriage of Louis XIV to Maria Teresa of Spain (1660); birth of Charles II of Spain (1661); accession of Charles II (1665); birth of Philip of Anjou (1683); death of Charles II (1700); coronation of Philip V (1701); marriage of Philip V and Marie Louise of Savoy (1701); start of the War of Spanish Succession (1701); Treaty of Utrecht (1713); death of Marie Louise (1714); marriage of Philip V and Elizabeth Farnese (1714); death of Louis XIV (1715).

Marie-Anne de la Trémouille spent her first half century as a minor aristocratic figure in France, Spain, and Rome. She then played a central role during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–13), after which she submitted to a forced retirement in Italy during her remaining days. The date and place of her birth are unknown, except that she was born by 1642 (perhaps as early as 1635) in France, the eldest child of Louis de la Trémouille, marquis of Noirmoutier, and his bourgeois wife, Julie Aubry . Marie-Anne's family enjoyed social prestige and her father held political office. On July 5, 1659, she married Adrien-Blaise de Talleyrand, prince of Chalais. Three years later, Adrien-Blaise participated in a duel, despite a law condemning to death those involved in such brawls. To save his life, he fled to Spain. Marie-Anne waited to go there until 1666, meanwhile gathering the financial resources to support them in exile. When she arrived in Madrid, another predicament faced her: Chalais had joined Spanish forces fighting the Portuguese, who had captured and imprisoned him. Her acumen and independence of spirit carried her through until he returned to Spain in 1668. She quickly became prominent at the Spanish court, gaining the friendship of the queen regent Maria Anna of Austria (c. 1634–1696) and her chief minister, the Austrian Jesuit Johann Nithard.

In mid-1670, the couple moved to Venice, rented a modest house, and participated on the fringes of aristocratic life. Both soon came down with fever, and Chalais died. The French refused to help, out of fear of Louis XIV, but the Spanish community aided her. She retired briefly to a convent but soon emerged with her worldly ambitions intact. At Marie-Anne's urging, Nithard petitioned the Austrian emperor to recognize her as a princess of the empire. That failed, but in 1673 her fortunes rose. She charmed Cardinal d'Estrées, and he interceded with Louis XIV, who appointed her France's secret envoy to the papacy. With her Spanish connections, Louis XIV hoped she could influence the succession to the Spanish throne; Spain's king, Charles II, had no children and Europe's royal families were maneuvering to claim his crown. Marriage between the French and Spanish royal families gave Louis' grandson, Philip of Anjou (the future Philip V of Spain), a strong claim to succeed Charles.

A sizeable pension accompanied Marie-Anne's appointment, and she became a charming, energetic fixture of Roman society. In March 1675, she married Flavio deglio Orsini, duke of Bracciano, and received a personal letter of congratulations from Louis himself. Nonetheless, other than his titles, which included prince of the Austrian empire and grandee of Spain, the duke was a disappointment. He was bankrupt and lacked the intellect or energy to satisfy Marie-Anne's powerful ambitions. Unlike her marriage to Chalais, love had little role in her second union. During ensuing years, she often lived apart from Bracciano, and spent long periods in France.

Marie-Anne's contacts at Versailles served her well. She became friends with Madame de Maintenon , whom Louis XIV had secretly married. This rapport was crucial because Maintenon helped persuade the king that Marie-Anne could be useful to French interests in Italy and Spain. Marie-Anne also made the acquaintance of the duke of St. Simon, and featured prominently in his gossipy chronicle of the later decades of the Louis XIV's reign. In 1697, she helped arrange the marriage of the duke of Burgundy (Louis' grandson and father of the future Louis XV) to Marie Adelaide of Savoy . Meanwhile, her public life in Rome was "brilliant and pompous in spite of debts and poverty," and she constantly entertained diplomats, political leaders, and aristocrats who could help persuade Spaniards to support France. Having sold some of his titles to raise money, her husband began calling himself the prince of the Orsini. He died in April 1698. Modifying the name slightly, she took the title princess des Ursins.

The widow had no intention of fading into obscurity. Indeed, her greatest years lay ahead, though she was nearing 60. Charles II of Spain died in November 1700. As his heir, Charles named Philip of Anjou, the duke of Burgundy's younger brother. The French, the Spaniards, and the papacy agreed to Philip's accession, but Archduke Charles of Austria (the future Holy Roman emperor Charles VI) also tried to claim the throne. Louis XIV's numerous enemies sided with Charles, and the War of the Spanish Succession erupted. Trained from youth to be submissive and pious so he would not challenge his elder brother for the French crown, Philip was ill-suited to rule. Louis intended to establish the general policies for Philip's realm, but the new king, only 17 years old, had to make the daily decisions of government. Philip also needed a wife, and his grandfather chose for him Marie Louise of Savoy .

This gave the Princess des Ursins an opening to the European stage. She requested of Louis permission to chaperon the bride to Spain. After all, she noted, her second marriage had given her the title of a Spanish grandee. From her years in Madrid, she could speak the language, and she still had many influential friends at the Spanish court. One was the powerful chief minister, Cardinal Portocarrero, who supported Ursins' petition. In April 1701, Louis approved it, to her great delight. Leaving Rome on August 27, she attended Marie Louise's marriage by proxy to Philip on September 11. They then departed for Spain, with a large retinue. The Spaniards refused to let the queen's Italian servants and courtiers cross the border, leaving Ursins as Marie Louise's chief confidante. On November 3, in Figueras, Philip met them and married Marie Louise amid general celebration.

Ursins' handling of an unexpected problem quickly showed Louis XIV her potential value in Spain. The morning of November 4, she met a sexually frustrated Philip, who reported that rather than consummating the marriage, his 13-year-old bride had harangued him about European politics. Victor Amadeus II, duke of Savoy, who soon joined the cause of Archduke Charles, had instructed his daughter Marie Louise to make anti-French demands of Philip. Ursins immediately informed Versailles about the state of affairs, and her counsel smoothed out the monarchs' marital discord. Philip's sensuality made it easy for the queen to manipulate him, however, especially as he was generally passive in other respects.

Madame des Ursins was born to mould and direct great public affairs and to have a high hand in the intrigues of state.

—Constance Hill

Louis XIV knew that Philip's strong-willed bride would dominate her husband. The great monarch also foresaw that as the young queen's chief confidante, Ursins could influence Philip's decisions. Thus, Louis instructed his grandson to name Ursins camarera mayor (head of the queen's household). Ursins' friends in Versailles, including Madame de Maintenon and Marie Adelaide, also supported the princess. Even before leaving Italy, Ursins had probably begun maneuvering to obtain the post. It positioned her to implement Louis XIV's policy for Spain and further her own ambitions. As camarera mayor, she occupied the bedroom next to the queen's and controlled access to Marie Louise's apartments. In processions, her coach followed directly after that of the monarchs and her servants wore the royal livery. She attended the queen constantly.

Her own intelligence, ambition, and energy meant that Ursins became more than a mere conduit for Louis XIV's policies. Philip soon left for Italy to lead Spanish forces there, appointing the queen to act as regent in his absence. Ursins, Cardinal Portocarrero, and the French ambassador, the Marquis de Louville, attempted to rule Spain. The two men preferred to remove Spaniards from the government and appoint the French to fill the more important positions. Ursins resisted this policy. She recognized that Philip and Marie Louise needed support from their subjects if they were to reign successfully. Ursins thus guided the monarchs to be more than simple tools of France, at the same time recognizing that Philip could not protect his crown without military assistance from Louis XIV. She introduced French and Italian culture and fashions at court, to the dismay of some Spanish conservatives. Ursins also tried to curb the influence of the Inquisition, with little success. According to historian John Lynch, Ursins "came to monopolize power from 1702 to 1704, marginalizing the Spanish ministers, excluding the grandees, and alienating even the French ambassadors."

After Cardinal d'Estrées replaced Louville as French ambassador to Madrid, and both he and his nephew, the abbé d'Estrées, quarreled with Ursins, she secured the cardinal's dismissal and even dared intercept her enemies' correspondence. Louis tired of her independence and engineered her removal. He anticipated that Marie Louise would insist that Philip protect Ursins. Louis thus encouraged Philip to go with the army on its campaign against the Portuguese. Having separated the royal couple, Louis then ordered his grandson to dismiss the princess. Philip reluctantly did so in mid-1704, to Marie Louise's outrage. Louis ordered Ursins to return to Rome, but later that year her friends persuaded him to allow the princess to go to Versailles instead.

By then things in Spain were in such disarray that Louis XIV reconciled himself to restoring Ursins as camarera mayor. In January 1705, he received her at Versailles with great public favor and on January 13 announced his intention of sending her back to Madrid. Serving with her were ambassador Michel-Jean Amelot and financial expert Jean Orry. Their task was twofold: to win the war, and to centralize the power of the Spanish monarchy by curbing the independence of the grandees and clergy and by abolishing the fueros (privileges) of Aragon. Ursins reached Madrid on August 3, to the delight of Marie Louise. Writes Lynch, the princess "immediately recovered control of court patronage, throwing out her enemies and bringing in her own clients, and she reestablished her domination over the queen, to such an extent that even Philip was secretly jealous of her."

With the war going badly, Ursins' task was difficult. In late August 1705, the archduke's fleet besieged Barcelona, which fell on October 4. Philip's enemies soon penetrated the Spanish heartland and forced the monarchs to flee Madrid in June 1706. Harshly criticizing the great aristocrats who refused to defend their sovereigns but waited instead to learn which side would prevail, Ursins accompanied Marie Louise on her desperate flight to Burgos in June and July. Throughout it all Ursins showed great fortitude, strengthening the will of the monarchs to continue the struggle. Her endurance was remarkable, given her age and poor eyesight (cataracts had rendered her nearly blind). Hungry for power themselves, the grandees resented Ursins. When she and the queen returned to Madrid in late 1706, Ursins reportedly engineered the dismissal of 300 ladies-in-waiting who had refused to accompany the queen to Burgos. She forced the Church to contribute heavily to Philip's cause and worked to strengthen the king's will. Biographer François Combes wrote: "If the King inspired respect and fear, it was through Madame des Ursins that he did so. She alone … kept him up to a high standard of principle and of action." Meanwhile, through Madame de Maintenon and her other correspondents at Versailles, she also besieged Louis XIV with requests for more soldiers and aid.

For a while the war turned in Philip's favor. Unable to hold Castile, the archduke's armies withdrew. The duke of Berwick arrived from France to command the Spanish-French forces, which dealt the enemy a crushing defeat at Almansa on April 25, 1707. On August 25 of that year, the queen gave birth to Louis (I), the crown prince, to general celebration in Castile. But Philip and Louis could not vanquish their enemies. The terrible winter of 1709–10 caused great suffering in France and made it hard for Louis to sustain the war. France was attacked on several fronts, and the archduke invaded Castile again in 1710. Ursins held firm in her support for Philip, despite flagging enthusiasm in Versailles. When Philip was ready to abdicate, she upbraided him: "How is this, sire? Are you a king? Are you a man? You, who value so lightly your sovereignty!" Her correspondence with Madame de Maintenon took on a chilly and sometimes sarcastic tone, for Louis' wife had become a pacifist, willing to accept peace on nearly any terms. Louis opened secret negotiations with the enemy and offered to sacrifice Philip and Spain.

Led by the duke of Vendôme, Spanish-French forces achieved victories at Villaviciosa and Saragossa (Zaragoza) in 1710, convincing the archduke's allies that he could not subdue Castile. Then, in April 1711, the Austrian ruler died, leaving the title to his brother, the archduke, who became Emperor Charles VI. The English and other allies had no interest in seeing Austria annex the Spanish empire. Divisions among the allies enabled Philip to make slow progress against Charles' forces in Catalonia. The Peace of Utrecht (1713) ended the European conflict, although Barcelona held out against the Bourbon siege for another year. In the peace negotiations, Ursins had confidently requested that Louis obtain a small Dutch principality for her. She intended to trade it for territory in Touraine. Nothing came of her demands, however, which were considered presumptuous by the negotiators.

Ursins still continued to wield wide power over Philip and Marie Louise and thus over Spain. A serious illness in 1711 and her advancing age (she was now about 70) had not curbed Ursins' energy or her ambition. Nonetheless, an unforeseen crisis awaited. On February 14, 1714, the queen died of tuberculosis. Philip turned his children over to Ursins' care and talked of abdicating. Philip's melancholy and lethargy foreshadowed the mental illness that afflicted his later years. To forestall an abdication and to protect her own position, Ursins isolated Philip. Enemies of the princess spread rumors that she was trying to force Philip to marry her. More realistically, Ursins set about to find him another wife. Giulio Alberoni, envoy of the duke of Parma, shrewdly suggested Elizabeth Farnese , the duke's niece. The girl, Alberoni assured Ursins, was "plump, healthy, and well bred, brought up in the petty court of her uncle Duke Francis, and accustomed to hear of nothing but needlework and embroidery." Thinking she would be able to dominate Farnese as she had Marie Louise, Ursins recommended the marriage to Philip and the negotiations were soon completed. Elizabeth Farnese married Philip by proxy on September 25, 1714, and then set out for Spain.

As it turned out, the new queen was not the submissive girl described by Alberoni. As camarera mayor, Ursins went out to the village of Jadraque to meet Elizabeth, while Philip awaited his bride nearby in Guadalajara. Alberoni had coached Farnese on how to deal with the princess. When they met on December 23, Elizabeth accused Ursins of disrespect and ordered the guards to arrest her. She further commanded them to escort the princess out of Spain without delay. Ursins had no time to gather possessions or make any arrangements. Guards placed her in a carriage with an attendant and hastily drove her to the French border. His new wife's presumption surprised Philip, but his anticipation of spending a pleasurable night in the wedding bed foreclosed any possibility that he would intercede on Ursins' behalf. He allowed her to be cast aside ignominiously although she had served his cause faithfully for more than a decade.

Ursins' fortunes improved a little in France. Louis XIV and Madame de Maintenon received her on March 27, 1715, and Louis doubled Ursins' pension to 40,000 livres. Royal finances made it doubtful, however, that she would ever receive much from Versailles. Influenced by Farnese, Philip refused to provide any assistance. Meanwhile, Ursins decided to return to Italy. She feared to stay in France, where her enemies could persecute her after the death of the aged Louis XIV. Philippe Bourbon-Orleans, 2nd duke of Or léans, one of the princess' most implacable foes, became regent when the great king died on September 1, 1715. Ursins, who had already left Paris, made her way to Genoa, where she resided for a while. In 1718, she moved to Rome. For many years, she had dreamed of returning to the Eternal City, "because there one sees only those one wishes and the climate is gentle and agreeable to a lazy woman who likes to be well lodged, to hear the best music that exists, and seeks also to pass the rest of her life in some tranquility." She died there on December 5, 1722.

Marie-Anne de la Trémouille, princess of Ursins, played a remarkable political role during the first decade and a half of the 18th century. Of her, historian Henry Kamen observes, "In Spain Madame des Ursins achieved an eminence perhaps greater than that of Madame de Maintenon in France. Louis XIV treated directly with her as though she were arbiter of the destinies of Spain, and ministers appointed in Madrid had invariably to pass under her scrutiny." Many resented her power, for her ambition and her gender, but her "extraordinary mental faculties and physical energy" made her formidable. Biographer Maud Cruttwell concludes, "Thanks to her clear brain, energy, and ability, Spain was twice saved—first from becoming a mere province under the domination of France and later from being partitioned out by Louis to half the European powers to save his own skin."


Combes, François. La Princesse des Ursins; essai sur sa vie et son caractére politique. Paris: Didier et Cie, 1858.

Cruttwell, Maud. The Princess des Ursins. NY: E.P. Dutton, 1927.

Hill, Constance. The Story of the Princess des Ursins in Spain (Camarera-Mayor). NY: John Lane, 1906.

Kamen, Henry Arthur Francis. The War of Succession in Spain, 1700–15. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969.

Lynch, John. Bourbon Spain, 1700–1808. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

Ribardière, Diane. La Princesse des Ursins: Dame de fer et de velours. Paris: Librairie Académique Perrin, 1988.

The Secret Correspondence of Madame de Maintenon, with the Princess des Ursins; from the Original Manuscripts in the Possession of the Duke de Choiseul. 3 vols. London: G.B. Whittaker, 1827.

suggested reading:

Rosseeuw Saint-Hilaire, Eugene François Achille. La Princesse des Ursins. Paris: Furne, Jouvet, 1875.

Saint-René Taillandier, Madeleine. La princesse des Ursins: une grande dame française à la cour d'Espagne sous Louis XIV. Paris: Hachette, 1926.

Kendall W. Brown , Professor of History, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

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Marie-Anne de la Trémouille (c. 1642–1722)

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Marie-Anne de la Trémouille (c. 1642–1722)