Montespan, Françoise, Marquise de (1640–1707)

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Montespan, Françoise, Marquise de (1640–1707)

Brilliant mistress of Louis XIV, during his most successful years, who lived a life of splendor, scandal, and sincere repentance. Name variations: Athénaïs or Athenais; Madame de Montespan. Pronunciation: Fran-SWAHZ mar-KAY-sa der MOHN-TES-PAH. Born Françoise de Rochechouart de Mortemart on October 5, 1640, in the Château de Lussac near Lussacles-Châteaux (Vienne); died at Bourbon-l'Archambault (Allier), May 27, 1707, probably of heart disease and an overdose of emetic, and was buried in the Church of the Franciscans (Cordeliers) in Poitiers (Vienne); daughter of Gabriel de Rochechouart, marquis (later duke) de Mortemart, and Diane de Grandseigne (d. 1666); educated at the Convent of Sainte-Marie at Saintes (Charente-Maritime); married Louis-Henry de Pardaillan de Gondrin, marquis de Montespan, in 1663; children: (with husband) Marie-Christine (1663–1675), Louis-Antoine, marquis (later duke) d'Antin (1665–1736); (with Louis XIV, king of France [r. 1643–1715]) Louise (1669–1672), Louis-Auguste de Bourbon (1670–1736), duke of Maine, Louis-César de Bourbon (1672–1683), count of Vexin, Louise-Françoise de Bourbon (1673–1743), countess of Nantes, Louise-Marie-Anne de Bourbon (1674–1681), countess of Tours, Françoise-Marie de Bourbon (1677–1749), countess of Blois, Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon (1678–1737), count of Toulouse.

Came to court (1660); married the Marquis de Montespan (1663); became Louis XIV's mistress (1667); the "Reign of the Three Queens," (1668–74); separated from her husband (1674); under Church pressure, ceased sexual relations with Louis (1675–76); probably ceased relations with Louis permanently (1678); secretly implicated in the Poisons affair (1680–81); took over supervision of the Daughters of Saint Joseph (1681); left the court (1691); founded the Hospice of the Holy Family (1693); transferred the Hospice to her Château d'Oiron (1703).

Rochechouart. Mortemart. So distinguished were these names that their holders, tracing their noble ancestry to misty times long before the Crusades, granted precedence only to the La Rochefoucaulds and viewed the reigning Bourbons as parvenus. Françoise de Rochechouart de Mortemart, later known as Madame de Montespan, was the third of five children born to Diane de Grandseigne . Diane, daughter of Jean, seigneur de Marsillac, and Catherine de la Beraudière (of the prominent Frottier de la Messelière family), was the wife of Gabriel de Rochechouart, marquis of Mortemart and of Lussac and Vivonne, prince of Tonnay-Charente. He had grown up with Louis XIII (r. 1610–1643), campaigned with him, supported cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, and been lavishly rewarded: appointment as First Gentleman of the King's Bedchamber, Knight of the Order of the Holy Spirit, governor and lieutenant general of the lands and bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, and, by letters-patent of 1650 (confirmed in 1663), the raising of the marquisate of Mortemart to a peer-duchy of France. Diane, a lady-of-honor to Anne of Austria , the mother of Louis XIV (b. 1638, r. 1643–1715), was delicately beautiful, pious, cheerful, wise, charitable, and musically gifted. Gabriel was handsome, intelligent, a lover of music, hunting, dancing, dining, conversation, and sex, and possessed the famous Mortemart wit, described by Voltaire as "a singular trick of conversation mingling pleasantries, naïveté, and finesse." He engaged in numerous extramarital affairs. Her patience exhausted, Diane obtained a separation in 1663.

Save for the fourth child, Marie-Christine, a nun of whom little is known, Françoise's siblings became highly prominent. Gabrielle de Thianges (1634–1696) married the marquis of Thianges and became a fixture at court. Louis-Victor (1636–1688), Louis XIV's closest childhood playmate, was made duke of Vivonne and a marshal of the army. Marie-Madeleine-Gabrielle (1645–1704), who became abbess of the famous abbey of Fontevrault in 1670, won universal esteem for her wisdom, piety, and administrative skill. Contemporaries disagreed as to which of the daughters was the most beautiful. All the children, moreover, were blessed with brains and the Mortemart wit.

In a word, a triumphant beauty intended to be admired by all the ambassadors.

—Madame de Sévigné

Françoise was born deep in the country fastness of the West in Poitou at the mighty Château de Lussac, of which only the ruins of a gigantic drawbridge now remain. Like her sisters, she was raised mostly by peasant domestics while her parents were off at court. At about 13, she followed Gabrielle at the convent school of Sainte-Marie in Saintes (Charente-Maritime). Education there was casual. Manners and religion took precedence, with elements of reading, writing, arithmetic, some liturgical Latin, household management, and sewing following at a distance. Even for the 17th century, Françoise's spelling and grammar remained extraordinarily unstable.

Leaving school around 1658, she came to court in 1660 and through her mother's influence became a maid-of-honor to Henrietta Anne , duchess of Orléans (1644–1670), wife of Louis XIV's only brother, Philippe Bourbon-Orléans, known as Monsieur. Françoise conducted herself in a seemly manner, pious and chaste. Although she danced with Louis in a ballet, Hercule Amoureux (1662), he—surprisingly for him—took no special note of her, probably because he was in thrall to Louise de La Vallière , his first serious love after an adolescent idyll with Marie Mancini . Pretty, gentle Louise loved Louis with a passion which overbore her shame at her weakness. Françoise was said to have remarked about being the king's mistress, "If I were unlucky enough to have that misfortune happen to me, I'd hide myself for the rest of my life."

In 1661, she became engaged to young Louis-Alexandre de La Trémouille, marquis of Noirmoutiers. Unfortunately, he seconded the Prince de Charlais in an eight-man affray (January 1662) in which Henry de Pardaillon, marquis d'Antin, was killed, and he had to flee into exile to escape execution for violating the edict against duelling. He died five years later fighting for the Portuguese against Spain. Mourning her loss after his flight, Françoise met the grieving younger brother of d'Antin, Louis-Henry de Pardaillon de Gondrin, marquis de Montespan (1640–1701). They fell in love, a contract was signed (January 28, 1663), and they were married in Paris at Saint-Sulpice on February 6. The king and other royals refused to sign the contract because one uncle of Louis-Henry had taken the wrong side during the Fronde uprising (1648–53) and another, the archbishop of Sens, was a leader of the Jansenists, a dissident puritanical movement. Due to the families' financial situations, the complicated contract left the couple with a comfortable income of 22,500 livres annually but little ready capital.

Louis-Henry was a dashing Gascon spendthrift, impetuous, ambitious, and addicted to gambling. Financial troubles descended immediately, abetted by the births of Marie-Christine, baptized on November 17, 1663, and Louis-Antoine, the future duc d'Antin, born on September 5, 1665. Françoise stayed involved in the expensive court scene, where she drew some unfavorable attention by participating in an intrigue in Henrietta Anne's entourage. She also frequented the literary salon at the Hôtel d'Albret, home of a cousin of Louis-Henry. Following the fashion of using classical pseudonyms found among attendees at such salons devoted to the reading of flowery, overwrought poetry and novels written in the style précieux, she began to call herself Athénaïs, the name by which she was known thereafter. Marriage had cost her her position as maid-of-honor; helped by Monsieur and her brother, she was chosen one of the Queen Maria Teresa 's (1638–1683) six ladies-of-honor in the spring of 1664. Louis-Henry, meanwhile, bored and chafing to win fame and fortune as a soldier, borrowed heavily to join a disastrous campaign in Algeria in 1664 and returned broke. Badly advised, Françoise invested in a business venture which collapsed in a welter of lawsuits that would not be settled until 1684. At the beginning of 1667, the year she became the king's mistress, the future looked bleak.

Occupying a place in the queen's intimate circle and having become a close friend of La Vallière, Madame de Montespan was in a strong position to draw the king's attention when his ardor for La Vallière began to cool. Historians have sharply disagreed over which one—Louis or Françoise—set out to conquer the other. Madame de Caylus and the duke de Saint-Simon reported that she warned her husband that the king was falling in love with her; she asked to go back to Gascony, where he was raising a company to fight on the Spanish frontier, but he paid no attention. Again, historians divide over the truth of this report. About Montespan's attractiveness, however, there is universal agreement. "Blond hair," wrote a contemporary, Primi Visconti, "large, azure-blue eyes, an aquiline but well-formed nose, a small, vermilion mouth, very beautiful teeth—in a word, a perfect face. As for her body, she was of medium height and well-proportioned. Her color, of a marvelous whiteness, made her shine among all." Everyone remarked on her gracefulness and extraordinary wit. At her death Saint-Simon would write, "She was the best company in the world. …There was never anything like her conversation; it was an incomparable blend of wit, eloquence, and the most delicate politeness. She had such an odd way of putting things, and such a natural genius for hitting off the right expression, that she seemed to have a language peculiar to herself."

The earliest mention of a brewing affair came in November 1666. At length, on May 4, 1667, the king was seen riding in a carriage alone with Montespan. On the 13th, he made La Vallière a duchess and had their daughter legitimized—a sign he was preparing to drop her. Telling her to remain behind because of her pregnancy, on the 16th he and the queen with Montespan and many of the court left for Amiens, where he then went to the front with his army to begin the War of Devolution (1667–68). In June, he rejoined the entourage at Avesnes, probably to see Montespan. Meanwhile, La Vallière, sensing the danger to her position, had sped to join the party. Louis received her coolly. In a famous remark, Montespan in the presence of the outraged queen observed, "God help me from being the mistress of the King, but if I am ever so unfortunate, I would never have the effrontery to present myself before the Queen." God did not help, it seems, for it was probably at Avesnes between June 9 and 14 that she and Louis began sexual relations.

The king's new liaison posed formidable problems. Would Montespan's husband prove compliant? Would the church? It took an especially dim view of this "double adultery"; at least La Vallière was single. Louis, who in honesty

refused to call a sin by some other name, knew he was setting a bad example to his people and all Europe.

Montespan's husband turned into a major headache. During the languid Roussillon (Pyrenees) campaign in 1667, he got embroiled with the authorities over an escapade with a local girl. He returned to Paris early in 1668 to raise more money and left for Roussillon, it seems, amazingly, still ignorant of his wife's infidelity. In June, however, he got leave, went to Versailles, and began to behave in violent and bizarre ways to protest his being cuckolded. His discovery that summer that his wife was pregnant by the king only fed the flames. After a violent scene when he burst into the home of Montespan's closest friend, he crossed the line when he decked his carriage in black and told the king, who asked him about it, that he was in mourning for his wife, who had "disappeared." Louis had him jailed (September 20–October 7) and then exiled to his family lands in Guienne. There he reportedly held a mock funeral for his wife and mounted huge horns on his carriage to advertise his cuckoldry. In 1669, he was allowed to rejoin the army but caused a new uproar when he abducted a local girl and his men attacked the citizenry. A royal order disbanded his company in December; to avoid arrest, he fled to Spain with his son—and a high official's wife. Facing probable disinheritance, in 1670 he begged the king's pardon, which Louis prudently granted rather than risk embarrassment at his hands at the court of Spain among the queen's relatives. Meanwhile, in July 1670, Montespan applied for a separation, but it sank in a procedural swamp. On her reapplication in 1674, the Parlement of Paris hastened to please the king and granted a settlement which would have ruined Louis-Henry. She did not want that, however, and on July 21 the two reached an agreement which saved his financial skin.

The threat posed to the "absolute" monarch's image by a rather daft, wronged husband helped create the truly baroque interlude (1668–74) dubbed "The Reign of the Three Queens": the official queen, the dim and dowdy Maria Teresa, with whom the king dutifully copulated twice a month; the official mistress, La Vallière, who hoped Louis would return but who finally stayed on to endure public humiliation to punish herself for her sins; and the unofficial but real mistress, Montespan, who, to avoid offending public sensibilities too much and to help keep her husband from bringing a hugely embarrassing lawsuit over the paternity of her children by the king, had to bear and raise them in secrecy while posing as a friend of La Vallière's, whose apartment Louis would publicly enter in order to reach Montespan's nest next door "secretly." This living arrangement was preserved wherever the royal household stayed, even on military campaigns. It ended only when La Vallière, after an abortive attempt at departing in 1671, finally left on April 21, 1674, to become a Carmelite nun, in which calling she remained until her death in 1710.

That same month, Louis decided to build a palace for Montespan and their children. Clagny, near the palace of Versailles, designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart with gardens by Le Nôtre, took ten years to build and cost 2,448,000 livres. Only pictures of this magnificent creation survive, for it was demolished by Louis XVI before the Revolution to expand the town of Versailles. In the 1670s, Montespan was at the peak of her influence while Louis was overawing Europe with his constructions and military triumphs. Her dazzling beauty and wit outshone all rivals, and, much abetted by her sister Gabrielle de Thianges, her patronage of artists, writers, and musicians, gave the court of the Sun King an intellectual sheen to match its material eclat. Among her favorites were Molière; La Fontaine; especially Boileau and Racine, who regularly read before her; the painter Pierre Mignard; musicians Michel Lambert and Jean-Baptiste Lulli; and the librettist Philippe Quinault. The decoration one sees today on the grounds of Versailles—the falls, ponds, canal, fountains, and statues—owed much to her. She played no political role—which Louis forbade to his mistresses—but forged close relations with Jean-Baptiste Colbert, his chief minister, and found good places and marriages for her friends and family. Her father, for example, was mollified by being named (1669) governor of Paris and the Ile de France, and her brother became (1669) general of the galleys (most of the Mediterranean navy) and a marshal (1675).

Knowing Louis' proclivities, Montespan kept none but virtuous ladies and rather homely maids in her entourage. Time proved she made a mistake, however, when she had Louis name as governess of their children the widow of the poet Paul Scarron, the virtuous Françoise d'Aubigné (the future Marquise de Maintenon ), whom she had met at the Hôtel d'Albret. Five years older than Montespan, Mme Maintenon, who would be Louis' second wife, was attractive, intelligent, subtle, and patient. She worked terribly hard raising Montespan's children in secrecy. The first two, Louise (1669–1672) and the duke of Maine (1670–1736), were raised in separate residences in Paris, but after the count of Vexin was born (1672) they were brought under one roof, and by the summer of 1674 they and their later siblings were being housed at court and at Clagny. Temperamental opposites, Montespan and Maintenon inevitably clashed over the children's upbringing, made worse by the king's growing fondness for the governess' soothing company, a contrast to his proud mistress' rages and barbed witticisms. Montespan would shower the children with attention and gifts when she could find time for them and complained of Maintenon's strictness. It is often said that she was a bad mother. While not groundless, the charge seems overdrawn. When the count of Vexin died at 11, for example, it was observed that for six days and nights she had never left his bedside.

Montespan's reign was abruptly interrupted at Easter in 1675 when a courageous priest refused to grant her absolution, saying she must end her adultery. She appealed to Louis, who was told to do likewise by Bishop Bossuet. Pressured by their consciences, they ended their relations, thus reconciling with the Church, and for a year saw each other only in public. Louis, however, thinking it would be unjust, refused to banish her from court. Deciding to end an awkward semi-exile, he rode to Clagny in July 1676 with several of the most grave and respectable ladies to announce it to her personally. However, the two soon moved to an alcove, where they were seen in an obviously intimate conversation. Rejoining the company, they paused, bowed, and then passed into an adjacent bedroom, from whence unmistakable sounds presently emerged. The next spring the future Duchess of Orléans was born, to be followed in 1678 by the last of their seven children, the future count of Toulouse. As the Savoyard ambassador once remarked about Montespan's fertility, "Her fuse is easily lit."

Montespan now seemed stronger than ever. She occupied 20 rooms on the first floor at Versailles while the queen had only 11 on the second. Her train de vie was more magnificent than ever. Her traveling entourage numbered up to 50, including a dozen mounted guards. Behind the scenes, however, her imperious airs, willfulness, and angry outbursts grated on Louis. Public wit could easily turn to private shrewishness. He carried on a succession of affairs, notably with the Princesse de Soubise and Madame Marie de Ludres and culminating in a passionate round with Marie-Angélique, Duchesse de Fontanges , in 1678–80. Sexual relations between Montespan and Louis probably lapsed after the 1678 birth of Toulouse. She grew very fat and gambled excessively. It was probably the Affair of the Poisons which finally doomed her future relations with Louis—that and the ascendancy of Madame de Maintenon, who by 1681 had conquered his heart for good.

Nothing in Montespan's life is more controversial than her role in the Poisons affair. Pathology and toxicology at the time being infant sciences at best, poison usually could not be detected; hence accusations of poisoning were common when unexpected deaths occurred. Moreover, 17th-century religion was a compound of ardent faith, mysticism, gross superstition, and pagan survivals from the Middle Ages. Masses pleased God, and charms could placate Satan. Paris housed a swarm of sorcerers, alchemists, fortune-tellers, abortionists ("angelmakers"), poisoners, mediums, and quacks of every hue. A crackdown on this hive began in September 1677, and in April 1679 a special secret court, the Chambre Ardente, was set up to avoid growing scandal and publicity. It was the arrest (March 1679) and burning (February 1680) of sorceress and poisoner Catherine Deshayes Monvoisin ("la Voisin") that revealed the involvement of court personages in this underworld. Montespan's name finally surfaced, in secret, during the summer of 1680 when Voisin's imprisoned daughter began to talk. Briefly, she and several other prisoners variously asserted, sometimes under torture, that Montespan (1) had had two renegade priests make spells and bless love potions in 1667–68 to win the king's love and bring death or banishment to La Vallière; (2) had used love potions on the king thereafter; (3) had tried to poison the king; (4) had murdered Mlle. de Fontanges by poison (1681); and (5) had ordered black masses in 1673, 1675, and 1677–80 and participated by being the masked, prone, naked woman whose belly was used as the altar, masses during which a newborn or aborted infant would be killed and its blood used as the wine in the chalice, the object of the masses being to ward off her rivals, keep the king's love, or cause him to die if he were unfaithful.

Stunned by these grisly revelations, Louis could not possibly allow such allegations against a mother of his children to come to light. His chief minister Colbert, whose daughter had recently married one of Montespan's nephews, examined the evidence early in 1681 and, aided by a famed lawyer, wrote a strong refutation of its worth. On May 14, 1681, Louis ordered the testimony against Montespan (and her sister, Mme de Thianges, and sister-in-law, Mme de Vivonne) removed from the file. The Chambre Ardente finished its work on other cases in July 1682, but Montespan's accusers were secretly imprisoned for life in sundry dungeons on the king's personal orders (lettres de cachet). She was never interrogated nor were she and her accusers made to confront each other.

Fontanges, Duchesse de (1661–1681)

French royal. Name variations: Marie Angélique de Fontanges. Born Marie-Angélique de Scorraille de Roussilles in 1661; died in 1681; mistress of Louis XIV, king of France. Marie-Angélique de Roussilles was created the duchesse of Fontanges by Louis XIV.

Historians' judgment on this immensely complicated affair have tended to become less unfavorable toward Montespan than they usually were before the early 20th century. A consensus appears to support the following: (1) the events of 1667–68 were probably true, and through a personal maid, Claude de Vin des OEillets (1638–1687), Montespan was in contact with Voisin and others, obtaining aphrodisiacs and charms to keep the king's favor; (2) Fontanges died of natural causes, not poison; (3) Montespan had nothing to do with any plot to poison the king, but des OEillets, who had three children with Louis (one of whom survived), may have used her as a cover for her own attempts, in concert with a mysterious Englishman, to poison the king after he refused to legitimize their daughter; and (4) the accounts of the black masses contain significant discrepancies and an air of implausibility in light of Montespan's known character, standing, and activities, but cannot be ruled out definitively—hence, the Scottish verdict "not proved" best applies here.

Amazingly, the charges against Montespan remained secret until long after her death, known only to three or four of Louis' most trusted officials. It is impossible to decipher his real opinion. Colbert's refutation doubtless weighed heavily, but Louis probably felt at least some suspicion that she had used aphrodisiacs. Typically, he showered favors on her while her real status was sinking. In 1679, he had named her Superintendent of the Queen's Household (an astonishing appointment for a royal mistress) and granted her the status of a duchess (Louis-Henry having refused the title of duke out of pride); and during the height of the Affair in 1681 he gave her powers to sign for the duke of Maine and legitimized her last two children, the second, third, and fourth having already been legitimized in 1673 and the fifth in 1676. Louis visited her (with others) twice daily, from 2 to 2:30 pm between mass and dinner, and from 11 pm to midnight after supper, still lured by her conversation and spontaneity. But after the queen's death (July 30, 1683) and his secret marriage to Mme de Maintenon (probably in late 1683 or early 1684), she steadily lost status. In December 1684, Montespan was relegated to a small apartment on the ground floor at Versailles and so began to spend much time at Clagny. In 1686, she was left off a travel list despite large parties she had given in 1685 and 1686, and the court snubbed the wedding of her legitimate son, d'Antin; in 1687, the king ceased his daily visits. Montespan was becoming a ghost at Versailles, as had happened to La Vallière before her. At last, when Louis assigned supervision of her youngest daughter to the wife of the duke of Maine's governor, thus depriving her of any pretext to stay at court, she asked him on March 15, 1691, for permission to retire to the convent of the Daughters of Saint Joseph. He granted it with more alacrity than she expected.

Montespan had always retained a tie to the Church. From the mid-1670s, her piety deepened slowly but steadily. The childhood deaths of her legitimate daughter (1675), the countess of Tours (1681), and the always sickly count of Vexin (1683) tore her heart. She became intensely active in charitable works: she founded (1678) a hospital for the elderly at Saint-Germain-en-Laye; expanded it (1682) at Fillancourt nearby; enlarged the general hospital and founded (1681) a boarding school for girls at Saint-Ger-main; started (1686) an orphans' hospital at Fontainebleau which became (1695) the Hospital of the Holy Family, educating 60 orphans; and furnished a house for the Oratorians at Saumur. Montespan gave her greatest attention in the 1680s and 1690s, however, to the Daughters of Saint Joseph, who educated poor and orphaned girls at an edifice in Paris on the rue Saint-Dominique (nowadays housing the Ministry of Defense). She contributed heavily from 1676 and in 1681 was given full powers, because of its financial woes, to reform its rule and choose personnel and pupils. She turned the order for a time toward making upholstery for Versailles and high-quality embroidery, a forerunner of Maintenon's Saint-Cyr project.

Her final major foundation (1693) became her most lasting monument—the Hospice of the Holy Family, originally a refuge for a hundred indigents she began at Fontevrault, where her sister was abbess. In 1700, Montespan bought the beautiful Château d'Oiron, in Deux-Sèvres between Thouars and Loudun, and transferred the hospice there in 1703. Her portrait as Mary Magdalene by Pierre Mignard still graces the expanded hospice's principal salon.

Bringing true Christian humility to her proud spirit proved an arduous enterprise. She chose a stern director, Pierre François d'Arères de La Tour, a famous Oratorian, who persuaded her to flee the court for good and give up a dream that Louis would return after Maintenon's death. Instead, as an ultimate penance, he made her ask pardon of her husband and offer to rejoin him. He, of course, refused her—only (in an astonishing finale) to appoint her his executor and affirm his love for her in his will just before he died in 1701. In her later years, Montespan feared solitude and the night and the specter of death and damnation. She mortified her flesh with fasts, rough cloth underclothes and bedding, and iron-pointed bracelets, garters, and a belt. She even curbed her famous tongue, a heroic achievement. Her repentance was spectacular, in short, although she never was given the credit for it that La Vallière got for hers. Montespan explained her new insight into herself and humanity in a letter: "We are ourselves most of the time a large crowd, and we often converse in our souls with a numerous populace of passions, designs, inclinations, and tumults which … prevents us from hearing God, who speaks to our hearts and who alone should be our world, our all."

In May 1707, in her 67th year, Montespan went for a cure to the famous spa at Bourbonl'Archambault (Allier) as she had often done since 1676. She was feeling more strongly the premonitions of death she had experienced since the death in 1704 of her abbess sister. Probably subject to heart disease, Montespan became suddenly ill with shortness of breath and fainting. A young woman companion gave her a huge overdose of an emetic which gravely weakened her. She faded slowly for days, passing in and out of consciousness, but was fully able to ask forgiveness of everyone, confess, and serenely receive the sacraments—dying the kind of death the 17th century admired. Near 3 am on May 27, she expired. Her last word was "Pardon."

Her passing was greatly mourned by her son Toulouse and her daughters—Louise-Françoise de Bourbon , countess of Nantes, and Françoise-Marie de Bourbon , countess of Blois—but not by d'Antin or Maine. Nor by the court nor Louis, who received the news with regal indifference, although some accounts connect the news with a long walk he took in a garden alone. Montespan was placed beside her mother and brother in the Mortemart tomb in the Franciscan (Cordeliers) church at Poitiers (Vienne). The church later was destroyed and the tomb desecrated during the Revolution. A famous, macabre story, somewhat suspect, says that she had wished to have her entrails placed in the abbey of Saint-Menoux near Bourbon. The peasant charged with taking the container there was disturbed by an odor and opened it. Horrified at what he saw, he dumped the contents into a ditch. It so happened that a herd of pigs was coming down the road. The sequel can be imagined.

Montespan's children and their descendants played notable historical roles. Louis loved his children, and it was doubtless their presence which preserved her place at court for a decade after she had ceased to be his mistress. When he lost his son (his sole surviving legitimate child), grandson, and eldest great-grandson in 11 months, he inserted Maine and Toulouse in the line of succession (July 29, 1714), an act nullified (July 1, 1717) after his death in 1715. D'Antin, "the courtier's courtier," succeeded Hardouin-Mansart in the important post of Superintendent of the King's Buildings, Maine was loaded with lands and sinecures, and the able Toulouse became head of the navy. Louis could not find foreign princes for Mlls de Nantes and de Blois, so they were married to French princes of the blood, Nantes to Louis III de Bourbon-Condé (their son becoming Louis XV's prime minister, 1723–26), and Blois, after much difficulty, to Louis' nephew, the future duke of Orléans and (after Louis' death) regent of France (1715–23). Through Blois, Montespan became the great-great-great-grandmother of Louis-Philippe, France's last reigning king (r. 1830–1848), and through his ten children "the Grandmother of Europe," a direct ancestor of the present occupants of or claimants to the thrones of France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Bulgaria, Brazil, Württemberg, and Luxemburg. Also, the tragic Empress Carlota of Mexico and Archduke Rudolf of Habsburg, of the Meyerling tragedy, descended from her.

Françoise-Marie de Bourbon (1677–1749)

Countess of Blois and duchess of Orléans. Name variations: Mlle de Blois; Françoise-Marie de Blois; Francoise de Blois. Born on May 25, 1677; died on February 1, 1749; illegitimate daughter of Louis XIV, king of France (r. 1643–1715), and Françoise, Marquise de Montespan (1640–1707); married Philip Bourbon-Orléans (1674–1723), 2nd duke of Orléans (r. 1701–1723), on February 18, 1692; children: Marie Louise (1695–1719, who married Charles, duke of Berri); Louise Adelaide (1698–1743); Charlotte-Aglae (1700–1761, who married Francis III of Modena); Philippe Louis (1703–1752), 3rd duke of Orléans; Louise Elizabeth (1709–1750, who married Louis I, king of Spain); Philippa-Elizabeth (1714–1734); Louise-Diana (1716–1736).

For over 30 years (1660–91), Madame de Montespan was a striking presence at the court of France's Sun King, and for at least 11 (1667–78) she was its true queen. Indeed, in most respects she was the only fully queenly presence at Louis' side during his entire reign. It was with her that he emerged from his timid and awkward youth. Anne de Longueville , sister of the Great Condé, wrote that Louis' conquest of the brilliant Montespan "finally gave him confidence in himself, in his pride as a male. She revealed to him the power of his charm and his seduction." A ravishing beauty with a mind to match, she was a mistress to be shown off to the ambassadors, as Madame de Sévigné put it. Montespan had a sense of and taste for royal grandeur, and she inspired in Louis a similar passion. His immense building projects and his most successful military ventures drew quite direct inspiration from her. As Louis Bertrand, one of the king's most insightful biographers, wrote, "Manifestly, Louis XIV wanted to shine [paraître] in Montespan's eyes." It has even been seriously asserted, for example, that a major reason for his starting the Dutch War (1672–78) was to win glory before his mistress, whom he often commanded to accompany him in the field even when she was well along in a pregnancy.

As a result of this passionate affair, Montespan changed. From a fresh, pure, pious, restrained wife trapped in a marriage to a bizarre spendthrift who deserved no respect, she became a blazing goddess, revelling in the lusts of the flesh with a notoriously fleshly man. Proud of having been chosen, of having won, she became capricious, haughty, and imperious, and wielded a wickedly witty tongue without restraint. Louis spent a vast fortune on her; she acted as if she deserved every sou of it. How striking, then, that after her fall and the private agony of the Poisons affair, she embarked on a quarter century of penitence and good works. Not for her a merely showy piety. Rather, she made herself become what she finally thought in her heart a Christian must be: humble before God and ready to forgive and ask forgiveness. "Pardon" was her last word. It would seem only fair to grant that she had finally earned it.


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suggested reading:

Audiat, Pierre. Madame de Montespan. Paris: Fasquelle, 1938.

Bertrand, Louis. La Vie amoureuse de Louis XIV: Essai psychologique historique. Paris: E. Flammarion, 1924.

Bussy-Rabutin [Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussy]. Mémoires et histoires amoureuses des Gaules. Paris: Athéna, 1949 (numerous editions).

Caylus, Marthe-Marguerite Le Valois de Villette, Comtesse de. Souvenirs. Paris: Mercure de France, 1965 (numerous editions).

Clément, Pierre. Madame de Montespan et Louis XIV. Paris: L. A. Didier, 1868.

Estarvielle, Jacques. Monsieur de Montespan. Paris: Firmin Didot, 1929.

Gibson, Wendy. Women in Seventeenth-Century France. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Langlois, Marcel. Madame de Maintenon. Paris: Plon, 1932.

Lemoine, Jean. Madame de Montespan et la legende des poisons. Paris: Henri Leclerc, 1908.

Mitford, Nancy. The Sun King. NY: Harper & Row, 1966.

Mongrédien, Georges. Madame de Montespan et l'affaire des poisons. Paris: Hachette, 1953.

Mossiker, Frances. The Affair of the Poisons. NY: Knopf, 1969.

Petitfils, Jean-Christian. L'Affaire des poisons. Paris: Albin Michel, 1977.

Saint-Simon, Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de. Mémoires. Paris: Hachette, 1856–58 (numerous editions).

Sévigné, Madame de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de. Correspondance. Paris: Gallimard, 1972–78 (numerous editions).

Truc, Gonzague. Madame de Montespan. Paris: A. Colin, 1936.

Williams, H. Noël. Madame de Montespan and Louis XIV. NY: Scribner, 1910.

Zévaès, Alexandre. "Que sont devenues les entrailles de Mme. de Montespan?" in Miroir de l'histoire. No. 79, 1952, pp. 343–348.

Ziegler, Gilette, ed. At the Court of Versailles: Eye-witness Reports from the Reign of Louis XIV. Trans. by Simon Watson Taylor. NY: E. Dutton, 1966.

David S. Newhall , Professor Emeritus of History, Centre College, Danville, Kentucky

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Montespan, Françoise, Marquise de (1640–1707)

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