Marie Leszczynska queen of France and Navarre 1703-1768
His reign lasted more than 42 years in Versailles but his name, certainly not easy to pronounce, did not mark the spirits. Daughter of a deposed king of Poland, Marie Leszczynska (1703-1768) married Louis XV in 1725. She was then a discreet queen, pious and subject to etiquette. But also a lover of the arts. In its private apartments, reopened today but not restored, an exhibition evokes this passion through numerous paintings, including a series of Chinese inspiration, but also porcelain.
“She really marked the life of the castle by her commissions to artists but also in the development: she is the first to have asked for private apartments for the queen”. We even discover her as a painter, copying with talent a rustic canvas by Baptiste Oudry, one of her favorite artists.
Daughter of the dethroned king of Poland (Stanislas Leszczyński), Marie Leszczynska married Louis XV in 1725, thanks to the enterprise of the Duke of Bourbon. Left out of business, little considered by the Court, the queen devoted herself to her convent, which she founded in the city of Versailles for the education of poor young girls. She oversees the moral and religious education of the “Le Dauphin” King’s son, her son, who died in 1765, three years before her.
With a spirit that is both playful and serious, very cultivated, she knows how to fulfill her role of queen with dignity and is committed to maintaining a “label” as rigorous as under Louis XIV. Marie Leszczynska was chosen in 1725 to marry Louis XV, first betrothed to the Infanta of Spain. The latter considered too young to ensure the descendants, they preferred the Princess of Poland, seven years eldest to the king.
Anecdote (brief, revealing account of Marie Leszczynska)
Little by little left by Louis XV for the benefit of her mistresses, Marie Leszczynska devotes herself to devotion and takes under her protection a number of charitable works. The King, however, retained a deep affection for his wife.
In 1726, having sought to support the Duke of Bourbon, then Prime Minister and architect of her marriage, she incurred the grudge of Cardinal Fleury, who had great influence over the King. She then keeps herself out of business and has no political role. Gradually abandoned by Louis XV for the benefit of his mistresses, she devoted herself to devotion and took under its protection a number of charitable works, contributing in particular to the spread of the cult of the Sacred Heart.
The King Louis XV, however, retained a deep affection for his wife. Concerned about the education of poor young girls, she founded the Queen’s Convent in the city of Versailles, now the Lycée Hoche, whose buildings were built by the Lorraine architect Richard Mique. Loving good food and endowed with a certain humor, she likes to withdraw into the intimate circle of her friends. She enjoys reading, drawing and music. It organizes concerts in the Salon de la Paix and contributes to maintaining the musical life of the Court.
Not very maternal, she especially sees her many children during the ceremonies that punctuate her days. Ladies, his daughters, sometimes regret his coldness and his distance, unlike Louis XV, who seems to them a more attentive and affectionate father. However, she oversaw the moral and religious education of her son, the Dauphin Louis-Ferdinand, who died prematurely in 1765. She died a few years later in 1768.
A duo of intriguing
The Duke of Bourbon, Prime Minister since the death of the Regent in 1723, and his mistress Madame de Prie are at the height of their power. Louis XV is still too young and too easily influenced to govern on his own: the couple take charge with relish.
Marie Leszczynska, a Polish without fortune or future, daughter of a dethroned King, did not become Queen by chance. While urgently looking for a wife to the King capable of giving him offspring, her name is launched by Madame de Prie.
She wants “a king’s daughter, but simple, gentle, docile, pious at will, without pretensions or support”. Indeed, what would become of her if the young sovereign married a woman of character supported by a powerful family? There is no question. She needs a Queen in her pay, inexperienced, ready to trust her completely. Why ? Quite simply to counterbalance the influence of Cardinal de Fleury, the King’s tutor, much listened to and much appreciated by the latter.
At seventy-two, Cardinal Fleury didn’t just make friends. The Duke of Bourbon and his mistress cannot stand his influence over the King, whom he keeps in tete-a-tete talk for hours, and his interference in affairs.
The prelate attended all of the King’s talks with the Prime Minister and at all the Councils, and the Duke was enraged to feel constantly spied on.
The two accomplices set up a maneuver (moreover not very subtle) to gain access in particular to the King and try to speak to him freely. The ultimate goal is obviously to permanently oust Fleury! As time is running out, their politics are less and less popular.
Marie Leszczynska knows the King’s attachment to Fleury. But she doesn’t appreciate him interfering in her intimate life, going so far as to “give her his opinion on the ideal frequency of marital intercourse”! An easily malleable toy for the Duke and his mistress, she accepted, after some hesitation, to intercede in favor of the Duke of Bourbon.
It is September 17, 1725. The day draws to a close, and Louis XV, who returns from the hunt, has an hour of free time before meeting Fleury for an interview. Marie sends the Marquis de Nangis, her knight of honor, to ask the King to come to her house. Louis XV does not have to be told twice, and joins his wife in his office. How amazed she was to find her in the company of the Prime Minister!
Certainly unable to discern the mask of cold anger on her husband’s face, Marie Leszczynska assures him that it will be beneficial for her to work in particular with the Duke of Bourbon. The latter then launches into reading a letter hostile to Fleury and then asks the King what he thinks of it. The King, walled in a leaden silence since the start of this curious interview, launches:
– Nothing !
– Is your Majesty not giving me any orders?
– That things remain as they are.
– So I had the misfortune to displease your Majesty?
– Your Majesty is no longer kind to me?
– de Fréjus (Fleury) alone has the confidence of Your Majesty?
The defeat of the Duke of Bourbon is scathing. Louis XV returns to his apartments, leaving Marie in tears. He saw his wife being the instrument of his tutor’s enemies. The trap she set for him, which he never expected, made him mad!
The Queen blindly gives her trust
Dazzled by the Court of Versailles, honored every night by an eager husband and metamorphosed by marriage, whom she loves with all her soul, Marie swims in happiness. A happiness that will only be short-lived. Less than four months after her union with Louis XV, she will commit a misstep that will cost her dearly.
Marie was projected, without prior initiation and alongside a too young husband, at the head of a court to be resuscitated. There was no lack of rules to do this: there were rather too many.
She completely trusts Madame de Prie to help her acclimatize and learn about her new role. Why would it be any different? She is the main architect of this unexpected union with the most powerful King of Europe and her father swears by her and the Duke of Bourbon …
All the more so as she ignores the sordid aspect of the negotiations which brought her to the King’s bed and knows nothing of the duke and the Marquise’s unsavory past.
The mistress of the Duke of Bourbon is jubilant. Far from teaching her protege all the subtleties of etiquette, and helping her to arbitrate disputes over precedence, she uses her ascendancy and plays with the naivety of the young Queen to shower her friends with favors, ” to the exclusion of others ”.
This princess is obsessed with Madame de Prie. It is not free for her to talk to whomever she wants or to write. Madame de Prie enters her rooms at any time to see what she is doing, and she is not the mistress of any grace.
The price of inconsistency
Following this episode, the days of the Duke of Bourbon and his mistress at Court are numbered. They will only survive there for a few months. Having lost a lot of credit, the couple show more consideration to the King, are careful not to upset him, believing they are gaining ground. Marie Leszczynska, who persists, intercedes on behalf of those to whom she believes herself intimately linked. In reality Louis XV, cleverly pushed by Fleury and showing great dissimulation, was about to notify them of their dismissal. On June 11, 1726, the Duke of Bourbon was disgraced. Madame de Prie must return to her land in Normandy, where she died a few months later: power was her reason for living!
And Marie? In this case, she loses a lot. At the very moment when the Duke of Bourbon receives his “sentence of exile”, she is presented with a letter from Fleury’s own hand. Louis XV addresses his wife in a very dry and very cruel manner:
I beg you, madam, to have faith in everything that the former bishop of Fréjus (Fleury) tells you on my behalf, as if it were myself. Louis.
It is therefore through the intermediary of a mentor that he informs the Queen of the misfortune of his proteges. Marie is in shock, completely distraught by the news and the brutality with which her husband tells her.
Marie hadn’t seen it coming. Sharing the blindness of the Duke of Bourbon, she had thought that things would calm down and had not thought it necessary to distance herself from Madame de Prie, in accordance with the King’s wish. The Duke’s disgrace hit her head on.
Not only did she not realize how much the King was viscerally attached to Fleury, who would also lead the affairs of France until her death, but she also realizes that the love she has for Louis is not paid back. At least not in the same way.
In addition, by abrupting this great shy man who hates dramas and conflicts, distant from others, Marie has committed a very serious fault. She says goodbye to her chances of becoming her confidante, and of seeing a real bond between them. If the King forgives his wife quickly enough, shows her attention and continues to visit her bed, “he will hold a grudge against her for a long time and never again will he indulge in confidences with her”.
From then on, and for the rest of her life, Mary will be constantly afraid of displeasing the King, whom she loves more than he loves him. After these particularly trying few months, she has realized that he dominates her and she is more submissive and submissive than ever. From now on, their relations will be devoid of spontaneity and, irremediably, Louis XV will detach himself from his too sweet and too enamored wife …
This defeat was alas final: she had had a few months to touch her husband’s heart and had failed.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons