Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart Montespan.

Memoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete online

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Produced by David Widger


Written by Herself

Being the Historic Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV.


Madame de Montespan - - Etching by Mercier

Hortense Mancini - - Drawing in the Louvre

Madame de la Valliere - - Painting by Francois

Moliere - - Original Etching by Lalauze

Boileau - - Etching by Lalauze

A French Courtier - - Photogravure from a Painting

Madame de Maintenon - - Etching by Mercier from Painting by Hule

Charles II. - - Original Etching by Ben Damman

Bosseut - - Etching by Lalauze

Louis XIV. Knighting a Subject - - Photogravure from a Rare Print

A French Actress - - Painting by Leon Comerre

Racine - - Etching by Lalauze



Historians have, on the whole, dealt somewhat harshly with the
fascinating Madame de Montespan, perhaps taking their impressions from
the judgments, often narrow and malicious, of her contemporaries. To help
us to get a fairer estimate, her own "Memoirs," written by herself, and
now first given to readers in an English dress, should surely serve.
Avowedly compiled in a vague, desultory way, with no particular regard to
chronological sequence, these random recollections should interest us, in
the first place, as a piece of unconscious self-portraiture. The cynical
Court lady, whose beauty bewitched a great King, and whose ruthless
sarcasm made Duchesses quail, is here drawn for us in vivid fashion by
her own hand, and while concerned with depicting other figures she really
portrays her own. Certainly, in these Memoirs she is generally content
to keep herself in the background, while giving us a faithful picture of
the brilliant Court at which she was for long the most lustrous ornament.
It is only by stray touches, a casual remark, a chance phrase, that we,
as it were, gauge her temperament in all its wiliness, its egoism, its
love of supremacy, and its shallow worldly wisdom. Yet it could have
been no ordinary woman that held the handsome Louis so long her captive.
The fair Marquise was more than a mere leader of wit and fashion. If she
set the mode in the shape of a petticoat, or devised the sumptuous
splendours of a garden fete, her talent was not merely devoted to things
frivolous and trivial. She had the proverbial 'esprit des Mortemart'.
Armed with beauty and sarcasm, she won a leading place for herself at
Court, and held it in the teeth of all detractors.

Her beauty was for the King, her sarcasm for his courtiers. Perhaps
little of this latter quality appears in the pages bequeathed to us,
written, as they are, in a somewhat cold, formal style, and we may assume
that her much-dreaded irony resided in her tongue rather than in her pen.
Yet we are glad to possess these pages, if only as a reliable record of
Court life during the brightest period of the reign of Louis Quatorze.

As we have hinted, they are more, indeed, than this. For if we look
closer we shall perceive, as in a glass, darkly, the contour of a subtle,
even a perplexing, personality.

P. E. P.




The Reason for Writing These Memoirs. - Gabrielle d'Estrees.

The reign of the King who now so happily and so gloriously rules over
France will one day exercise the talent of the most skilful historians.
But these men of genius, deprived of the advantage of seeing the great
monarch whose portrait they fain would draw, will search everywhere among
the souvenirs of contemporaries and base their judgments upon our
testimony. It is this great consideration which has made me determined
to devote some of my hours of leisure to narrating, in these accurate and
truthful Memoirs, the events of which I myself am witness.

Naturally enough, the position which I fill at the great theatre of the
Court has made me the object of much false admiration, and much real
satire. Many men who owed to me their elevation or their success have
defamed me; many women have belittled my position after vain efforts to
secure the King's regard. In what I now write, scant notice will be
taken of all such ingratitude. Before my establishment at Court I had
met with hypocrisy of this sort in the world; and a man must, indeed, be
reckless of expense who daily entertains at his board a score of insolent

I have too much wit to be blind to the fact that I am not precisely in my
proper place. But, all things considered, I flatter myself that
posterity will let certain weighty circumstances tell in my favour. An
accomplished monarch, to greet whom the Queen of Sheba would have come
from the uttermost ends of the earth, has deemed me worthy of his
entertainment, and has found amusement in my society. He has told me of
the esteem which the French have for Gabrielle d'Estrees, and, like that
of Gabrielle, my heart has let itself be captured, not by a great king,
but by the most honest man of his realm.

To France, Gabrielle gave the Vendome, to-day our support. The princes,
my sons, give promise of virtues as excellent, and will be worthy to
aspire to destinies as noble. It is my desire and my duty to give no
thought to my private griefs begotten of an ill-assorted marriage. May
the King ever be adored by his people; may my children ever be beloved
and cherished by the King; I am happy, and I desire to be so.


That Which Often It is Best to Ignore. - A Marriage Such as One Constantly
Sees. - It is Too Late.

My sisters thought it of extreme importance to possess positive knowledge
as to their future condition and the events which fate held in store for
them. They managed to be secretly taken to a woman famed for her talent
in casting the horoscope. But on seeing how overwhelmed by chagrin they
both were after consulting the oracle, I felt fearful as regarded myself,
and determined to let my star take its own course, heedless of its
existence, and allowing it complete liberty.

My mother occasionally took me out into society after the marriage of my
sister, De Thianges; and I was not slow to perceive that there was in my
person something slightly superior to the average intelligence, - certain
qualities of distinction which drew upon me the attention and the
sympathy of men of taste. Had any liberty been granted to it, my heart
would have made a choice worthy alike of my family and of myself. They
were eager to impose the Marquis de Montespan upon me as a husband; and
albeit he was far from possessing those mental perfections and that
cultured charm which alone make an indefinite period of companionship
endurable, I was not slow to reconcile myself to a temperament which,
fortunately, was very variable, and which thus served to console me on
the morrow for what had troubled me to-day.

Hardly had my marriage been arranged and celebrated than a score of the
most brilliant suitors expressed, in prose and in verse, their regret at
having lost beyond recall Mademoiselle de Tonnai-Charente. Such elegiac
effusions seemed to me unspeakably ridiculous; they should have explained
matters earlier, while the lists were still open. For persons of this
sort I conceived aversion, who were actually so clumsy as to dare to tell
me that they had forgotten to ask my hand in marriage!


Madame de Montespan at the Palace. - M. de Montespan. - His Indiscreet
Language. - His Absence. - Specimen of His Way of Writing. - A Refractory
Cousin. - The King Interferes. - M. de Montespan a Widower. - Amusement of
the King. - Clemency of Madame de Montespan.

The Duc and Duchesse de Navailles had long been friends of my father's
and of my family. When the Queen-mother proceeded to form the new
household of her niece and daughter-in-law, the Infanta, the Duchesse de
Navailles, chief of the ladies-in-waiting, bethought herself of me, and
soon the Court and Paris learnt that I was one of the six ladies in
attendance on the young Queen.

This princess, who while yet at the Escurial had been made familiar
with the notable names of the French monarchy, honoured me during the
journey by alluding in terms of regard to the Mortemarts and
Rochechouarts, - kinsmen of mine. She was even careful to quote matters
of history concerning my ancestors. By such marks of good sense and good
will I perceived that she would not be out of place at a Court where
politeness of spirit and politeness of heart ever go side by side, or, to
put it better, where these qualities are fused and united.

M. le Marquis de Montespan, scion of the old house of Pardaillan de
Gondrin, had preferred what he styled "my grace and beauty" to the most
wealthy partis of France. He was himself possessed of wealth, and his
fortune gave him every facility for maintaining at Court a position of
advantage and distinction.

At first the honour which both Queens were graciously pleased to confer
upon me gave my husband intense satisfaction. He affectionately thanked
the Duc and Duchesse de Navailles, and expressed his most humble
gratitude to the two Queens and to the King. But it was not long before
I perceived that he had altered his opinion.

The love-affair between Mademoiselle de la Valliere and the King having
now become public, M. de Montespan condemned this attachment in terms of
such vehemence that I perforce felt afraid of the consequences of such
censure. He talked openly about the matter in society, airing his views
thereanent. Impetuously and with positive hardihood, he expressed his
disapproval in unstinted terms, criticising and condemning the prince's
conduct. Once, at the ballet, when within two feet of the Queen, it was
with the utmost difficulty that he could be prevented from discussing so
obviously unfitting a question, or from sententiously moralising upon the

All at once the news of an inheritance in the country served to occupy
his attention. He did all that he could to make me accompany him on this
journey. He pointed out to me that it behoved no young wife to be
anywhere without her husband. I, for my part, represented to him all
that in my official capacity I owed to the Queen. And as at that time I
still loved him heartily (M. de Montespan, I mean), and was sincerely
attached to him, I advised him to sell off the whole of the newly
inherited estate to some worthy member of his own family, so that he
might remain with us in the vast arena wherein I desired and hoped to
achieve his rapid advance.

Never was there man more obstinate or more selfwilled than the Marquis.
Despite all my friendly persuasion, he was determined to go. And when
once settled at the other end of France, he launched out into all sorts
of agricultural schemes and enterprises, without even knowing why he did
so. He constructed roads, built windmills, bridged over a large torrent,
completed the pavilions of his castle, replanted coppices and vineyards,
and, besides all this, hunted the chamois, bears, and boars of the
Nebouzan and the Pyrenees. Four or five months after his departure I
received a letter from him of so singular a kind that I kept it in spite
of myself, and in the Memoirs it will not prove out of place. Far better
than any words of mine, it will depict the sort of mind, the logic, and
the curious character of the man who was my husband.

MONTESPAN, - May 15, 1667.

I count more than ever, madame, upon your journey to the Pyrenees. If you
love me, as all your letters assure me, you should promptly take a good
coach and come. We are possessed of considerable property here, which of
late years my family have much neglected. These domains require my
presence, and my presence requires yours. Enough is yours of wit or of
good sense to understand that.

The Court is, no doubt, a fine country, - finer than ever under the
present reign. The more magnificent the Court is, the more uneasy do I
become. Wealth and opulence are needed there; and to your family I never
figured as a Croesus. By dint of order and thrift, we shall ere long
have satisfactorily settled our affairs; and I promise you that our stay
in the Provinces shall last no longer than is necessary to achieve that
desirable result. Three, four, five, - let us say, six years. Well, that
is not an eternity! By the time we come back we shall both of us still
be young. Come, then, my dearest Athenais, come, and make closer
acquaintance with these imposing Pyrenees, every ravine of which is a
landscape and every valley an Eden. To all these beauties, yours is
missing; you shall be here, like Dian, the goddess of these noble
forests. All our gentlefolk await you, admiring your picture on the
sweetmeat-box. They are minded to hold many pleasant festivals in your
honour; you may count upon having a veritable Court. Here it is that you
will meet the old Warnais nobility that followed Henri IV. and placed the
sceptre in his hand. Messieurs de Grammont and de Biron are our
neighbours; their grim castles dominate the whole district, so that they
seem like kings.

Our Chateau de Montespan will offer you something less severe; the
additions made for my mother twenty years ago are infinitely better than
anything that you will leave behind you in Paris. We have here the
finest fruits that ever grew in any earthly paradise. Our huge, luscious
peaches are composed of sugar, violets, carnations, amber, and jessamine;
strawberries and raspberries grow everywhere; and naught may vie with the
excellence of the water, the vegetables, and the milk.

You are fond of scenery and of sketching from nature; there are half a
dozen landscapes here for you that leave Claude Lorrain far behind. I
mean to take you to see a waterfall, twelve hundred and seventy feet in
height, neither more nor less. What are your fountains at Saint Germain
and Chambord compared with such marvellous things as these?

Now, madame, I am really tired of coaxing and flattering you, as I have
done in this letter and in preceding ones. Do you want me, or do you
not? Your position as Court lady, so you say, keeps you near the
monarch; ask, then, or let me ask, for leave of absence. After having
been for four consecutive years Lady of the Palace, consent to become
Lady of the Castle, since your duties towards your spouse require it.
The young King, favourite as he is with the ladies, will soon find ten
others to replace you. And I, dearest Athenais, find it hard even to
think of replacing you, in spite of your cruel absence, which at once
annoys and grieves me. I am - no, I shall be - always and ever yours, when
you are always and ever mine.


I hastened to tell my husband in reply that his impatience and ill-humour
made me most unhappy; that as, through sickness or leave of absence, five
or six of the Court ladies were away, I could not possibly absent myself
just then; that I believed that I sufficiently merited his confidence to
let me count upon his attachment and esteem, whether far or near. And I
gave him my word of honour that I would join him after the Court moved to
Fontainebleau, that is to say, in the autumn.

My answer, far from soothing or calming him, produced quite a contrary
effect. I received the following letter, which greatly alarmed and
agitated me:

Your allegations are only vain pretexts, your pretexts mask your
falsehoods, your falsehoods confirm all my suspicions; you are deceiving
me, madame, and it is your intention to dishonour me. My cousin, who saw
through you better than I did before my wretched marriage, - my cousin,
whom you dislike and who is no whit afraid of you, - informs me that,
under the pretext of going to keep Madame de la Valliere company, you
never stir from her apartments during the time allotted to her by the
King, that is to say, three whole hours every evening. There you pose as
sovereign arbiter; as oracle, uttering a thousand divers decisions; as
supreme purveyor of news and gossip; the scourge of all who are absent;
the complacent promoter of scandal; the soul and the leader of sparkling

One only of these ladies became ill, owing to an extremely favourable
confinement, from which she recovered a week ago. At the outset, the King
fought shy of your raillery, but in a thousand discreditable ways you set
your cap at him and forced him to pay you attention. If all the letters
written to me (all of them in the same strain) are not preconcerted, if
your misconduct is such as I am told it is, if you have dishonoured and
disgraced your husband, then, madame, expect all that your excessive
imprudence deserves. At this distance of two hundred and fifty leagues I
shall not trouble you with complaints and vain reproaches; I shall
collect all necessary information and documentary evidence at
headquarters; and, cost me what it may, I shall bring action against you,
before your parents, before a court of law, in the face of public
opinion, and before your protector, the King. I charge you instantly to
deliver up to me my child. My unfortunate son comes of a race which
never yet has had cause to blush for disgrace such as this. What would
he gain, except bad example, by staying with a mother who has no virtue
and no husband? Give him up to me, and at once let Dupre, my valet, have
charge of him until my return. This latter will occur sooner than you
think; and I shall shut you up in a convent, unless you shut me up in the

Your unfortunate husband, MONTESPAN.

The officious cousin to whom he alluded in this threatening letter had
been so bold as to sue for my hand, although possessed of no property.
Ever since that time he remained, as I knew, my enemy, though I did not
know, nor ever suspected, that such a man would find pleasure in spying
upon my actions and in effecting the irrevocable estrangement of a
husband and a wife, who until then had been mutually attached to each

The King, whose glance, though very sweet, is very searching, said to me
that evening, "Something troubles you; what is it?" He felt my pulse,
and perceived my great agitation. I showed him the letter just
transcribed, and his Majesty changed colour.

"It is a matter requiring caution and tact," added the prince after brief
meditation. "At any rate we can prevent his showing you any disrespect.
Give up the Marquis d'Antin to him," continued the King, after another
pause. "He is useless, perhaps an inconvenience, to you; and if deprived
of his child he might be driven to commit some desperate act."

"I would rather die!" I exclaimed, bursting into tears.

The King affectionately took hold of both my hands, and gently said:

"Very well, then, keep him yourself, and don't give him up."

As God is my witness, M. de Montespan had already neglected me for some
time before he left for the Pyrenees; and to me this sudden access of
fervour seemed singularly strange. But I am not easily hoodwinked; I
understood him far better and far quicker than he expected. The Marquis
is one of those vulgar-minded men who do not look upon a woman as a
friend, a companion, a frank, free associate, but as a piece of property
or of furniture, useful to his house, and which he has procured for that
purpose only.

I am told that in England a man is the absolute proprietor of his wife,
and that if he took her to the public market with a cord round her neck
and exhibited her for sale, such sale is perfectly valid in the eyes of
the law. Laws such as these inspire horror. Yet they should hardly
surprise one among a semibarbarous nation, which does nothing like other
peoples, and which deems itself authorised to place the censer in the
hands of its monarch, and its monarch in the hands of the headsman.

M. de Montespan came to Paris and instituted proceedings against me
before the Chatelet authorities. To the King he sent a letter full of
provocations and insults. To the Pope he sent a formal complaint,
accompanied by a most carefully prepared list of opinions which no lawyer
was willing to sign. For three whole months he tormented the Pope, in
order to induce him to annul our marriage. Of a truth, our Sovereign
Pontiff could have done nothing better, but in Rome justice and religion
always rank second to politics. The cardinals feared to offend a great
prince, and so they suffered me to remain the wife of my husband. When
he saw that on every side his voice was lost in the desert, and that the
King, being calmer and more prudent than he, did not deign to pick up the
glove, his folly reached its utmost limit. He went into the deepest
mourning ever seen. He draped his horses and carriages with black. He
gave orders for a funeral service to be held in his parish, which the
whole town and its suburbs were invited to attend. He declared, verbally
and in writing, that he no longer possessed a wife; that Madame de
Montespan had died of an attack of coquetry and ambition; and he talked
of marrying again when the year of mourning and of widowhood should be

His first outbursts of wrath were the source of much amusement to the
King, who naturally was on the side of decorum and averse to hostile
opinion. Pranks such as these seemed to him more a matter for mirth than
fear, and, on hearing the story of the catafalque, he laughingly said to
me, "Now that he has buried you, it is to be hoped that he will let you
repose in peace." But hearing each day of fresh absurdities, his Majesty
grew at last impatient. Luckily, M. de Montespan, perceiving that every
house had closed its doors to him, decided to close his own altogether
and travel abroad.

Not being of a vindictive disposition, I never would allow M. de Louvois
to shut him up in the Bastille. On the contrary I privately paid more
than fifty thousand crowns to defray his debts, being glad to render him
some good service in exchange for all the evil that he spoke of me.

I reflected that he had been my husband, my confidant, my friend; that
his only faults were bad temper, love of sport, and love of wine; that he
belonged to one of the very first families of France; and that, despite
all that was said, my son D'Antin certainly was nothing to the King, and
that the Marquis was his father.


Mademoiselle de la Valliere Jealous. - The King Wishes All to Enjoy
Themselves. - The Futility of Fighting against Fate. - What is Dead is

MADEMOISELLE DE LA VALLIERE was tall, shapely, and extremely pretty, with
as sweet and even a temper as one could possibly imagine, which eminently
fitted her for dreamy, contemplative love-making, such as one reads of in
idyls and romances. She would willingly have spent her life in.
contemplating the King, - in loving and adoring him without ever opening
her mouth; and to her, the sweet silence of a tete-a-tete seemed
preferable to any conversation enlivened by wit.

The King's character was totally different. His imagination was vivid,
and mere love-making, however pleasant, bored him at last if the charm of
ready speech and ready wit were wanting.

I do not profess to be a prodigy, but those who know me do me the justice
to admit that where I am it is very difficult for boredom to find ever so
small a footing.

Mademoiselle de la Valliere, after having begged me, and begged me often,
to come and help her to entertain the King, grew suddenly suspicious and
uneasy. She is candour itself, and one day, bursting into tears, she
said to me, in that voice peculiar to her alone, "For Heaven's sake, my
good friend, do not steal away the King's heart from me!" When
mademoiselle said this to me, I vow and declare in all honesty that her
fears were unfounded, and that (for my part at least) I had only just a
natural desire to gain the good-will of a great prince. My friendship for
La Valliere was so sincere, so thorough, that I often used to superintend
little details of her toilet and give her various little hints as to
attentive conduct of the sort which cements and revives attachments. I
even furnished her with news and gossip, composing for her a little
repertoire, of which, when needful, she made use.

But her star had set, and she had to show the world the touching
spectacle of love as true, as tender, and as disinterested as any that
has ever been in this world, followed by a repentance and an expiation
far superior to the sin, if sin it was.

Moreover, Mademoiselle de la Valliere never broke with me. She shed
tears in abundance, and wounded my heart a thousand times by the sight of
her grief and her distress. For her sake I was often fain to bid
farewell to her fickle lover, proud monarch though he was. But by

Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 1 of 30)