Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV’s secret wife (1635-1719)
At court, she was nicknamed “Madame de now”. Born poor in Niort, Françoise d’Aubigné (1635-1719), who will become Madame de Maintenon in 1675, will gradually conquer the power and the favors of the most powerful king in Europe: after having made her his mistress, Louis XIV married her in secret in 1663.
The last great female figure of the reign of Louis XIV, Madame de Maintenon, recommended by Madame de Montespan, first assumed the role of governess of the sovereign’s bastard children before becoming the king’s secret wife. She provides education for their children away from court. But Madame de Maintenon precedes the favorite in the heart of the king and settles in the Palace of Versailles, where order and rigor now reign.
To evoke this gradual conquest of power, Versailles opened for the first time the apartments of the favorite, located near the king’s bedroom, completely reupholstered as in 1680. A chronologically narrated journey through many paintings, of the king but especially of his “almost queen”, but also rare documents, such as these two letters from the Bishop of Chartres, testifying to her marriage to the king. An opportunity to get a bit of the personality of this woman that Catherine Pégard describes as a “fascinating mystery”.
Secret Wife of Louis XIV (Morganatic Marriage)
A morganatic marriage is a type of marriage that can be contracted in some countries, usually between people of different social rank, which prevents the transfer of the titles and privileges of a higher-ranking spouse to the wife or husband.
After the queen’s death on July 30, 1683, Ludwig secretly entered into a morganatic marriage or a marriage to the left with the widow Scarron . Much has been speculated about the exact time, but most historians tend to assume that the marriage took place in October 1683.
There were only a few people present: the Archbishop of Paris , François Harlay de Champvallon , and Father de la Chaise , who performed the wedding; and as witnesses : Alexandre Bontemps , the king’s valet and manager of the Palace of Versailles , possibly Louvoisand one or two other people.
Reasons for this secrecy lay in the fact that she was not befitting an official consort of the king and also a widowed woman (she was officially called “Madame Scarron” even a few years after her marriage). He lived with her until his death in 1715 and visited her daily in her rooms and often at Maintenon Castle. The outwardly unclear relationship between the two, and the fact that she was a little older than him, led to talk at court and in Europe. In addition, there was her reserved manner and at the same time constant presence in the life of the king. B. claimed Anne Marguerite Dunoyer, The Maintenon “never shows herself in public, except when she accompanies the king on the drive. Then you can see her in the back of the body with glasses on, working on an embroidery.
Anecdote (brief, revealing account of Madame de Maintenon)
Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon, arrived at the Court of Versailles in the 1670s. Born in 1635 in Niort prison where her father was imprisoned for debt, orphan in 1647, in 1652 she married the author for the first time. Paul Scarron, known for his mastery of the burlesque genre. Died in 1660, the poet bequeathed to him only debts and the name of “widow Scarron”. On the advice of the Marquise de Montespan, mistress of Louis XIV whom she had met a few years earlier, in 1669 she became the governess of their children. Excellent opportunity to meet the King in person when he visits his offspring. But history says he would have found it “unbearable.”
However, the situation is changing. In 1675, still on the advice of the Marquise de Montespan, Louis XIV granted her two bonuses which enabled her to buy the Maintenon estate and take its name. In 1680, she was given the office, specially created for her, of “second lady atour” of the Dauphine. She subsequently took advantage of the disgrace of the Marquise de Montespan and the death of Queen Marie-Thérèse of Austria to secretly marry the King in 1683.
Madame de Maintenon enjoys great influence over Louis XIV, who visits her home daily, in his apartment overlooking the royal courtyard of the Château. He works there, receives his ministers and offers himself moments of calm, one-to-one with his wife. However, it is difficult to assess the role it played in the sovereign’s political decisions. Her “reign”, which some qualify as harsh and boring, however coincides with the king’s own development and she wears the hat of this new order that many courtiers reproach her for. A few days before the death of Louis XIV in 1715, this powerful shadowy woman retired to Saint-Cyr, to the house for the education of young girls that she had created for Louis XIV.
Madame de Maintenon is buried in the boarding school for young girls of Saint-Cyr, site of the future military school founded by Napoleon. His body was exhumed in 1793 by the revolutionaries. His remains, found during World War II in the rubble of the bombed-out school, were placed in the Royal Chapel of the Palace of Versailles before being replaced in 1969 on the site of Saint-Cyr.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo explanations: painting of allegory of Music (Portrait of Madame de Maintenon with the natural children of Louis XIV) by Antoine Coypel.