Snag the Sun King’s heart
By being only one who’s
Allowed to talk back.
(Sorry for the lack of haiku yesterday. I’ve caught a cold, again. Pro tip: don’t be a teacher if you don’t like germs.)
Maybe today’s entry for French Queens Week is a controversial pick, being more than a mistress but not actually an official queen. But Madame de Maintenon was secretly married to Louis XIV and certainly had more influence than his official consort, Maria Theresa of Spain.
Françoise d’Aubigne, the future Madame de Maintenon, was born in 1635 and had sufficiently romantic origins. Her father: a Huguenot, imprisoned for conspiring against Cardinal Richelieu! Her mother: his jailer’s beautiful Catholic daughter! After Françoise’s father’s release, the family shipped out to the West Indies. Her education was mostly seen to by her mother, as pops soon returned to France and stayed there. She didn’t return herself until 1647 and then the following happened: dad died, she went to live with a Protestant aunt whom she loved, Catholic godparents objected to this, and she got shipped off to a convent. Convent life was pretty miserable for her, but she did become a firm Catholic in the process, so mission accomplished.
After the convent, she met her first husband Paul Scarron, a well-regarded novelist and poet who was 25 years her senior. That man hadn’t had an easy go of life – he’d been paralyzed by polio, became addicted to opium to deal with the subsequent pain, and had to financially support his sisters to boot. The two began writing to each other and he offered to either a) be her husband or b) pay the ‘dowry’ so she could enter a convent as a nun. (Often not a bad option in those days.) Françoise opted for the former and was his wife/nurse from 1652 to Scarron’s death in 1660. As he’d been a favorite of Louis XIV’s mother, Anne of Austria, Françoise received a hefty pension until Anne herself died.
Then that pension was cut off. Fuck.
Then Françoise met Madame de Montespan, Louis XIV’s current favorite gal pal. Great! The royal mistress got her pension back and once she started producing some royal bastards, Françoise got the job of governess. That’s how she first came into direct contact with the king, and she was in the unique position of being able to tell him exactly what she thought. Can’t really be an effective educator without having an opinion on how to educate and being able to back up that opinion, after all.
Then Louis began to like her. Then he began to like like her. Then they started to meet up to talk about religion and politics and suchlike. Then he made her the Marquise of Maintenon, pissing off Montespan in the process. But the former favorite wasn’t a problem for much longer before she got involved in the Affair of the Poisons (dramatic topic for another time) and was effectively banished from court.
Now Madame de Maintenon was the top mistress. And because Louis had plenty of proof that she had a good head on her shoulders, he often came to her for advice – and listened when she encouraged him to actually do more than give lip service to religious matters.
Oddly enough, Françoise and the Queen got along fairly well with each other. This is because of Françoise kept insisting that Louis pay his queen her due respect – in contrast to Madame de Montespan, who had to be repeatedly reminded by Louis to stop being a shit to her. Nevertheless, Queen Maria died in the summer of 1683. Louis’ reaction: “This is the first chagrin which she has given me.”
He waited until winter to tie the knot with Françoise, all secret-like. After that, well… Nothing much changed. She still had great influence, people still approached her to help her out when their status was too low to go talk to the king directly. She didn’t forget about being an educator, either, starting up a girls’ school in nearby Saint-Cyr in 1684 and setting up the rules and curriculum. (She wanted impoverished noble girls to have better options than she did when she was young, you see.) As for her first students, Montespan’s children? She made sure they got sufficiently high positions. Françoise didn’t love their mother, but she certainly loved them.
So it was until 1715, when Louis XIV finally died. Once widowed a second time, Françoise got a fat pension from the regent (the new king, Louis XV, being all of five years old) and trotted off to Saint-Cyr to enjoy a comfortable retirement.
Interestingly enough, Françoise got a chance to meet Peter the Great during his ‘incognito’ trip of Europe, albeit in a creepy manner. One morning, she woke up to find him sitting in a chair at the foot of her bed, staring at her. Instead of freaking out at the sight of a freakishly tall stranger in her room, she asked him why he was there. He replied, “I came to see everything worthy of note that France contains.” Nice sentiment, Peter, but that’s still creepy.
Madame de Maintenon died in 1719 of general old age.