Friday, August 24, 2012

Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King

Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King is a 2006 book written by Antonia Fraser, as the title says, on the relationships between Louis XIV and the women in his life

The first and foremost woman in Louis XIV's life is his Mother, Anne of Austria. Louis was born on September 5,  1638, his Mother was thirty seven and had been married to Louis's Father, Louis XIII, for 23 years. Louis's birth was considered miracle a was sometimes referred to as Louis the Godgiven. Anne loved Louis more than anything else and this stayed true even after she gave birth to her second child, Philip.

At the age of 5, Louis became King Louis XIV. His Mother was made regent of France, with the help of her trusted companion, Cardinal Mazarin, during his minority. It was she who protected him during the troubling time that was called The Fronde, brought on by public hatred of the Cardinal. It wasn't until, at the age of thirteen, Louis's coming of age and coronation that the Fronde lost steam and ended in 1653.

Throughout all this time, Louis maintained a close relationship with his Mother but now that he was a hot blooded teenager, he began seeking independence from her. And the first way he decided to execute his right as King was in love. Mazarin had 5 nieces the loveliest of which was named Marie Mancini. Louis was smitten and completely set on marry her. Both the Queen Mother and the Cardinal were horrified. Marie was promptly sent away and a match was quickly arranged for the King.

On June 6, 1660, Louis married Maria Teresa of Spain, Marie Therese as she was known to the French. Anne had hoped for such a match since the two were weeks old. Marriage to the Spanish Infanta brought peace between the two feuding countries - even if it was only temporary. For the first year of their marriage, Louis was faithful to his wife. In 1661, Marie Therese did her duty to France and gave birth to a healthy baby boy; a Dauphin. Now it was time for Louis to move on.

With his brother entering into holy matrimony, Philip, Duke of Orleans, felt that he too should enter into wedded bliss. His bride was Henriette Anne of England, the daughter of Charles I of Great Britain and his french born wife, Henrietta Maria. The pair were ill matched, this might be because Philip was a flagrant homosexual. However there was someone who Henriette Anne was very much matched; her brother-in-law. The two grew incredibly close much to the jealousy of Henriette's husband, who complained to the Queen Mother about the couple. As a ruse for their secret meetings, the Duchess of Orleans suggested that her lady-in-waiting, Louise de la Valliere, sit in on their conversations. The cover up became a little too real.

Louise would become Louis' first mistress. She was a pious girl, who loved Louis for himself and not his crown. She provided him 4 children and was made Duchess of Vaujour. The couple went public with their  relationship after the Queen Mother's death in 1666 of breast cancer but Louise was disliked by the Queen and court. Within five years, Louise's star was beginning to fade as the King's affections fell on another.

Born into the Rochechouart de Mortemart in 1641, by the time that Francoise came to court some twenty years later, she was already married with two children. There she served as a lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Orleans, same as Louise, and quickly established herself as the court's reigning beauty. Louise viewed the Marquise of Montespan as a friend and often invited her to come and entertain the King. Louis was no match for Francoise's charm. Louise's relationship with the King ended as it had began, now she acted as a cover up for Louis and Francoise's meetings together. Unable to bear such torture, Louise fled to a convent and lived a life of repentance as a nun.

As maitresse-en-titre, Francoise now took on the name and persona of Athenais in honour of the Greek God, Athena. Because both Athenais and Louis were married, they committed the most serious sin of double adultery. When Athenais's husband., Louis-Henri, Marquis de Montespan, discovered the affair, he raised a scandal at court by challenging the King. He was sent to prison and then exiled to his lands, later fleeing to Spain. Francoise-Athenais remained the real Queen of France for over a decade and provided him with other seven children before she was implicated in the Affair of the Poisons and fell from grace.

 Despite having Athenais de Montespan holding the title of the maitresse-en-titre for over ten years, she was not without rivals. Louis's last mistress was Marie Angelique de Scorailles. She flaunted herself in front of Queen Marie Therese that would've shamed Athenais herself. She gave birth premature to a stillborn boy in 1679 and the event seems to have scarred her considerably. The King tired of her quickly because for all the beauty that she possessed, she was incredibly stupid. She died in 1681 and many accused Athenais of poisoning her.

For the care of the King's illegitimate children, Athenais hired the widow of the Poet Scarron, Francoise d'Aubigne. Francoise usurped Athenais' position in Louis's heart although they never consummated their relationship until Marie Therese died in 1683 whereupon the two married. Francoise, created in 1678 Marquise de Maintenon, was a deeply religious figure and during the last years of the King's reign there was a greater sense of modesty and religious fervor. 

The woman in Louis XIV's was his grand daughter-in-law, Marie Adelaide of Savoy. Having never really bonded with the wife of the Dauphin, Marianne Victorie of Bavaria, on account of her frail healthy and plainness. Marie Adelaide was the daughter of Victor Amadeus II of Savoy and the French born, Princess Anne Marie of Orleans. At the age of 10 as part of the Treaty of Turin, Marie Adelaide was sent to France to marry the Duke the Burgundy. She brought a breath of fresh air to the sobriety of Versailles that Madame de Maintenon had harbored in. Louis forgave her all her many discrepancies. He was devastated when she died in 1712 more than everyone else he lost that year including his son, grandson and great grandson.

I give this book 5/5. I, honestly, have no complaints with the book. Wonderfully well written, there was not a moment where I found the book dull. Antonia Fraser, hats off to you. A definite recommendation from me!

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