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Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart Montespan.

Memoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete online

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anything happen to me."

Tears filled the Queen's eyes, and she trembled in amazement. The King
instantly made for the dungeon, and in default of a key, broke open all
the gates. In a few minutes Madame de Bleink-Elmeink, supported by two
guards, entered the Queen's presence, and was about to fling herself at
her feet; but the King prevented this. He himself placed her in an
armchair, and we others at once formed a large semicircle round her.

She seemed to breathe with difficulty, sighing and sobbing without being
able to utter a word. At, length she said to the King in fairly good
French, "May my Creator and yours reward you for this, great and
unexpected boon! Do not forsake me, Sire, now that you have broken my
fetters, but let your might protect me against the unjust violence of my
husband; and permit me to reside in France in whatever convent it please
you to choose. My august liberator shall become my lawful King, and
under his rule I desire to live and die."

In spite of her sorrow, Madame de Bleink-Elmeink did not appear to be
more than twenty-eight or thirty years old. Her large blue eyes, though
she had wept, much, were still splendid, and her high-bred features
denoted nobility and beauty of soul. To such a charming countenance her
figure scarcely corresponded; one side of her was slightly deformed, yet.
this did not interfere with the grace of her attitude when seated, nor
her agreeable deportment.

Directly she saw her, the Queen liked her. She looked half longingly at
the Countess, and then rising approached her and held out her hand to be
kissed, saying, "I mean to love you as if you were one of my own family;
you shall be placed at Val-de-Grace, and I will often come and see you."

Recovering herself somewhat, the Countess sank on her knees and kissed
the Queen's hand in a transport of joy. We, led her to her room, where
she took a little refreshment and afterwards slept until the following
day. All her servants and gardeners came to express their gladness at
her deliverance; and in order to keep her company, the Queen decided to
stay another week at the castle. The Countess then set out for Paris,
and it was arranged that she should have the apartments at Chaillot, once
constructed by the Queen of England.

As for her dreadful husband, the King gave him plenty to do, and he did
not see his wife again for a good long while.




CHAPTER LVII.

The Silver Chandelier. - The King Holds the Ladder. - The Young Dutchman.


One day the King was passing through some of the large rooms of the
palace, at a time of the morning when the courtiers had not yet made
their appearance, and when carpenters and workmen were about, each busy
in getting his work done.

The King noticed a workman of some sort standing tiptoe on a double
ladder, and reaching up to unhook a large chandelier from the ceiling.
The fellow seemed likely to break his neck.

"Be careful," cried the King; "don't you see that your ladder is a short
one and is on castors? I have just come in time to help you by holding
it."

"Monsieur," said the man, "a thousand pardons, but if you will do so, I
shall be much obliged. On account of this ambassador who is coming
today, all my companions have lost their heads and have left me alone."

Then he unhooked the large crystal and silver chandelier, stepped down
carefully, leaning on the King's shoulder, who graciously allowed him to
do so. After humbly thanking him, the fellow made off.

That night in the chateau every one was talking about the hardihood of
some thief who in sight of everybody had stolen a handsome chandelier;
the Lord High Provost had already been apprised of the matter. The King
began to smile as he said out loud before every one, "I must request the
Lord High Provost to be good enough to hush the matter up, as in cases of
theft accomplices are punished as well, and it was I who held the ladder
for the thief."

Then his Majesty told us of the occurrence, as already narrated, and
every one was convinced that the thief could not be a novice or an
apprentice at his craft. Inquiries were instantly made, since so bold an
attempt called for exemplary punishment. All the upholsterers of the
castle wished to give themselves up as prisoners; their honour was
compromised. It would be hard to describe their consternation, being in
truth honest folk.

When the Provost respectfully asked the King if he had had time to notice
the culprit's features, his Majesty replied that the workman in question
was a young fellow of about five-and-twenty, fair complexioned, with
chestnut hair, and pleasant features of delicate, almost feminine cast.

At this news, all the dark, plain men-servants were exultant; the
good-looking ones, however, were filled with fear.

Among the feutiers, whose sole duty it is to attend to the fires and
candles in the royal apartments, there was a nice-looking young Dutchman,
whom his companions pointed out to the Provost. They entered his room
while he was asleep, and found in his cupboard the following articles:
Two of the King's lace cravats, two shirts marked with a double L and the
crown, a pair of pale blue velvet shoes embroidered with silver, a
flowered waistcoat, a hat with white and scarlet plumes, other trifles,
and splendid portrait of the King, evidently part of some bracelet. As
regarded the chandelier, nothing was discovered.

When this young foreigner was taken to prison, he refused to speak for
twenty-four hours, and in all Versailles there was but one cry, - "They've
caught the thief!"

Next day matters appeared in a new light. The Provost informed his
Majesty that the young servant arrested was not a Dutchman, but a very
pretty Dutch woman.

At the time of the invasion, she was so unlucky as to see the King close
to her father's house, and conceived so violent a passion for him that
she at once forgot country, family, friends, - everything. Leaving the
Netherlands with the French army, she followed her conqueror back to his
capital, and by dint of perseverance managed to secure employment in the
royal palace. While there, her one delight was to see the King as often
as possible, and to listen to praise of his many noble deeds.

"The articles found in my possession," said she to the Provost, "are most
dear and precious to me; not for their worth, but because they have
touched the King's person. I did not steal them from his Majesty; I
could not do such a thing. I bought them of the valets de chambre, who
were by right entitled to such things, and who would have sold them
indiscriminately to any one else. The portrait was not sold to me, I
admit, but I got it from Madame la Marquise de Montespan, and in this
way: One day, in the parterres, madame dropped her bracelet. I had the
good fortune to pick it up, and I kept it for three or four days in my
room. Then bills were posted up in the park, stating that whoever
brought the bracelet to madame should receive a reward of ten louis. I
took back the ornament, for its pearls and diamonds did not tempt me, but
I kept the portrait instead of the ten louis offered."

When the King asked me if I recollected the occurrence, I assured him
that everything was perfectly true. Hereupon the King sent for the girl,
who was immediately brought to his chamber. Such was her modesty, and
confusion that she dared not raise her eyes from the ground. The King
spoke kindly to her, and gave her two thousand crowns to take her back to
her own home. The Provost was instructed to restore all these different
articles to her, and as regarded myself, I willingly let her have the
portrait, though it was worth a good deal more than the ten louis
mentioned.

When she got back to her own country and the news of her safe arrival was
confirmed, the King sent her twenty thousand livres as a dowry, which
enabled her to make a marriage suitable to her good-natured disposition
and blameless conduct.

She made a marked impression upon his Majesty, and he was often wont to
speak about the chandelier on account of her, always alluding to her in
kindly, terms. If ever he returns to Holland, I am sure he will want to
see her, either from motives of attachment or curiosity. Her name, if I
remember rightly, was Flora.




CHAPTER LVIII.

The Observatory. - The King Visits the Carthusians. - How a Painter with
His Brush May Save a Convent. - The Guilty Monk. - Strange
Revelations. - The King's Kindness. - The Curate of Saint Domingo.


When it was proposed to construct in Paris that handsome building called
the Observatory, the King himself chose the site for this. Having a map
of his capital before him, he wished this fine edifice to be in a direct
line of perspective with the Luxembourg, to which it should eventually be
joined by the demolition of the Carthusian Monastery, which filled a
large gap.

The King was anxious that his idea should be carried out, but whenever he
mentioned it to M. Mansard and the other architects, they declared that
it was a great pity to lose Lesueur's admirable frescos in the cloisters,
which would have to be destroyed if the King's vast scheme were executed.

One day his Majesty resolved to see for himself, and without the least
announcement of his arrival, he went to the Carthusian Monastery in the
Rue d'Enfer. The King has great knowledge of art; he admired the whole
series of wall-paintings, in which the life of Saint Bruno is divinely
set forth.

[By a new process these frescos were subsequently transferred to canvas
in 1800 or 1802, at which date the vast property of the Carthusian monks
became part of the Luxembourg estates. - EDITOR'S NOTE.]

"Father," said he to the prior who showed him round, "these simple,
touching pictures are far beyond all that was ever told me. My
intention, I admit, was to move your institution elsewhere, so as to
connect your spacious property with my palace of the Luxembourg, but the
horrible outrage which would have to be committed deters me; to the
marvellous art of Lesueur you owe it that your convent remains intact."

The monk, overjoyed, expressed his gratitude to the King, and promised
him the love and guardianship of Saint Bruno in heaven.

Just then, service in the chapel was over, and the monks filed past two
and two, never raising their eyes from the gloomy pavement bestrewn with
tombstones. The prior, clapping his hands, signalled them to stop, and
then addressed them:

"My brethren, stay your progress a moment; lift up your heads, bowed down
by penance, and behold with awe the descendant of Saint Louis, the august
protector of this convent. Yes, our noble sovereign himself has
momentarily quitted his palace to visit this humble abode. On these
quiet walls which hide our cells, he has sought to read the simple,
touching story, of the life of our saintly founder. The august son of
Louis the Just has taken our dwelling-place and community under his
immediate protection. Go to your cells and pray to God for this
magnanimous prince, for his children and successors in perpetuity."

As he said these flattering words, a monk, with flushed cheeks and mouth
agape, flung himself down at the King's feet, beating his brow repeatedly
upon the pavement, and exclaiming:

"Sire, forgive me, forgive me, guilty though I be. I crave your royal
pardon and pity."

The prior, somewhat confused, saw that some important confession was
about to be made, so he dismissed the others, and sent them back to their
devotions. The prostrate monk, however, never thought of moving from his
position. Perceiving that he was alone with the King, whose calm, gentle
demeanour emboldened him, he begged anew for pardon with great energy,
and fervour. The King clearly saw that the penitent was some great
evil-doer, and he promised forgiveness in somewhat ambiguous fashion.
Then the monk rose and said:

"Your Majesty reigns to-day, and reigns gloriously. That is an amazing
miracle, for countless incredible dangers of the direst sort have beset
your cradle and menaced your youth. A prince of your house, backed up by
ambitious inferiors, resolved to wrest the crown from you, in order to
get it for himself and his descendants. The Queen, your mother, full of
heroic resolution, herself had energy enough to resist the cabal; but
more than once her feet touched the very brink of the precipice, and more
than once she nearly fell over it with her children.

"Noble qualities did this great Queen possess, but at times she had too
overweening a contempt for her enemies. Her disdain for my master, the
young Cardinal, was once too bitter, and begot in this presumptuous
prelate's heart undying hatred. Educated under the same roof as M. le
Cardinal, with the same teachers and the same doctrines, I saw, as it
were, with his eyes when I went out into the world, and marched beneath
his banner when civil war broke out.

"Dreading the punishment for his temerity, this prelate decided that the
sceptre should pass into other hands, and that the elder branch should
become extinct. With this end in view, he made me write a pamphlet
showing that you and your brother, the Prince, were not the King's sons;
and subsequently he induced me to issue another, in which I affirmed on
oath that the Queen, your mother, was secretly married to Cardinal
Mazarin. Unfortunately, these books met with astounding success, nor,
though my tears fall freely, can they ever efface such vile pages.

"I am also guilty of another crime, Sire, and this weighs more heavily
upon my heart. When the Queen-mother dexterously arranged for your
removal to Vincennes, she left in your bed at the Louvre a large doll.
The rebels were aware of this when it was too late. I was ordered to
ride post-haste with an escort in pursuit of your carriage; and I had to
swear by the Holy Gospels that, if I could not bring you back to Paris, I
would stab you to the heart.

"The enormity of my offence weighed heavily upon my spirit and my
conscience. I conceived a horror for the Cardinal and withdrew to this
convent. For many years I have undergone the most grievous penances, but
I shall never make thorough expiation for my sins, and I hold myself to
be as great a criminal as at first, so long as I have not obtained pardon
from my King."

"Are you in holy orders?" asked the King gently.

"No, Sire; I feel unworthy to take them," replied the Carthusian, in
dejected tones.

"Let him be ordained as soon as possible," said his Majesty to the prior.
"The monk's keen repentance touches me; his brain is still excitable; it
needs fresh air and change. I will appoint him to a curacy at Saint
Domingo, and desire him to leave for that place at the earliest
opportunity. Do not forget this."

The monk again prostrated himself before the King, overwhelming him with
blessings, and these royal commands were in due course executed. So it
came about that Lesueur's frescos led to startling revelations, and
enabled the Carthusians to keep their splendid property intact, ungainly
though this was and out of place.




CHAPTER LIX.

Journey to Poitou. - The Mayor and the Sheriffs of Orleans. - The
Marquise's Modesty. - The Serenade. - The Abbey of Fontevrault. - Family
Council. - Duchomania. - A Letter to the King. - The Bishop of
Poitiers. - The Young Vicar. - Rather Give Him a Regiment. - The Fete at the
Convent. - The Presentation. - The Revolt. - A Grand Example.


The Abbess of Fontevrault, who, when a mere nun, could never bear her
profession, now loved it with all her heart, doubtless because of the
authority and freedom which she possessed, being at liberty to go or come
at will, and as absolute mistress of her actions, accountable to no one
for these.

She sent me her confidential woman, one of the "travelling sisters" of
the community, to tell me privately that the Principality of Talmont was
going to be sold, and to offer me her help at this important juncture.

Her letter, duly tied up and sealed, begged me to be bold and use my
authority, if necessary, in order to induce the King at last to give his
approval and consent. "What!" she wrote, "my dear sister; you have given
birth to eight children, the youngest of which is a marvel, and you have
not yet got your reward. All your children enjoy the rank of prince, and
you, their mother, are exempt from such distinction! What is the King
thinking about? Does it add to his dignity, honour, and glory that you
should still be merely a petty marquise? I ask again, what is the King
thinking of?"

In conclusion my sister invited me to pay a visit to her charming abbey.
"We have much to tell you," said she, and "such brief absence is needful
to you, so as to test the King's affection. Your sort of temperament
suits him, your talk amuses him; in fact, your society is absolutely
essential to him; the distance from Versailles to Saumur would seem to
him as far off as the uttermost end of his kingdom. He will send courier
upon courier to you; each of his letters will be a sort of entreaty, and
you have only just got to express your firm intention and desire to be
created a duchess or a princess, and, my dear sister, it will forthwith
be done."

For two days I trained the travelling nun from Fontevrault in her part,
and then I suddenly presented her to the King. She had the honour of
explaining to his Majesty that she had left the Abbess sick and ailing,
and informed him that my sister was most anxious to see me again, and
that she hoped his Majesty would not object to my paying her a short
visit. For a moment the King hesitated; then he asked me if I thought
such a change of urgent necessity. I replied that the news of Madame de
Mortemart's ill-health had greatly affected me, and I promised not to be
away more than a week.

The King accordingly instructed the Marquis de Louvois - [Minister of War,
and inspector-General of Posts and Relays.] - to make all due arrangements
for my journey, and two days afterwards, my sister De Thianges, her
daughter the Duchesse de Nevers, and myself, set out at night for
Poitiers.

The royal relays took us as far as Orleans, after which we had
post-horses, but specially chosen and well harnessed. Couriers in
advance of us had given all necessary orders to the officials and
governors, so that we were provided with an efficient military escort
along the road, and were as safe as if driving through Paris.

At Orleans, the mayor and sheriffs in full dress presented themselves at
our carriage window, and were about to deliver an address "to please the
King;" but I thought such a proceeding ill-timed, and my niece De Nevers
told these magnates that we were travelling incognito.

Crowds collected below our balcony. Madame de Thianges thought they were
going to serenade me, but I distinctly heard sounds of hissing. My niece
De Nevers was greatly upset; she would eat no supper, but began to cry.
"What are you worrying about?" quoth I to this excitable young person.
"Don't you see that we are stopping the night on the estates of the
Princess Palatine, - [The boorish Bavarian princess, the Duc d'Orleans's
second wife. EDITOR'S NOTE.] - and that it is to her exquisite breeding
that we owe compliments of this kind?"

Next morning at daybreak we drove on, and the day after we reached
Fontevrault. The Abbess, accompanied by her entire community, came to
welcome us at the main gate, and her surpliced chaplains offered me holy
water.

After rest and refreshment, we made a detailed survey of her little
empire, and everywhere observed traces of her good management and tact.
Rules had been made more lenient, while not relaxed; the revenues had
increased; everywhere embellishments, contentment, and well-being were
noticeable.

After praising the Abbess as she deserved, we talked a little about the
Talmont principality. My sister was inconsolable. The Tremouilles had
come into property which restored their shattered fortunes; the
principality was no longer for sale; all thought of securing it must be
given up.

Strange to say, I at once felt consoled by such news. Rightly to explain
this feeling, I ought, perhaps, to make an avowal. A grand and brilliant
title had indeed ever been the object of my ambition; but I thought that
I deserved such a distinction personally, for my own sake, and I was
always wishing that my august friend would create a title specially in my
favour. I had often hinted at such a thing in various ways, and full as
he is of wit and penetration, he always listened to my covert
suggestions, and was perfectly aware of my desire. And yet,
magnificently generous as any mortal well could be, he never granted my
wish. Any one else but myself would have been tired, disheartened even;
but at Court one must never be discouraged nor give up the game. The
atmosphere is rife with vicissitude and change. Monotony would seem to
have made there its home; yet no day is quite like another. What one
hopes for is too long in coming; and what one never foresees on, a sudden
comes to pass.

We took counsel together as to the best thing to be done. Madame de
Thianges said to me: "My dear Athenais, you have the elegance of the
Mortemarts, the fine perception and ready wit that distinguishes them,
but strangely enough you have not their energy, nor the firm will
necessary for the conduct of weighty matters. The King does not treat
you like a great friend, like a distinguished friend, like the mother of
his son, the Duc du Maine; he treats you like a province that he has
conquered, on which he levies tax after tax; that is all. Pray
recollect, my sister, that for ten years you have played a leading part
on the grand stage. Your beauty, to my surprise, has been preserved to
you, notwithstanding your numerous confinements and the fatigues of your
position. Profit by the present juncture, and do not let the chance
slip. You must write to the King, and on some pretext or other, ask for
another week's leave. You must tell him plainly that you have been
marquise long enough, and that the moment has come at last for you to
have the 'imperiale', and sign your name in proper style."

[The distinctive mark of duchesses was the 'imperiale'; that is, a rich
and costly hammer-cloth of embroidered velvet, edged with gold, which
covered the roofs of ducal equipages. - EDITOR'S NOTE.]

Her advice was considered sound, but the Abbess, taking into account the
King's susceptibility, decided that it would not do for me to write
myself about a matter so important as this. The Marquise de Thianges, in
some way or other, had got the knack of plain speaking, so that a letter
of hers would be more readily excused. Thus it was settled that she
should write; and write she did. I give her letter verbatim, as it will
please my readers; and they will agree with me that I could never have
touched this delicate subject so happily myself.

SIRE: - Madame de Montespan had the honour of writing one or two notes to
you during our journey, and now she rests all day long in this vast and
pleasant abbey, where your Majesty's name is held in as great veneration
as elsewhere, being beloved as deeply as at Versailles. Madame de
Mortemart has caused one of the best portraits of your Majesty, done by
Mignard, to be brought hither from Paris, and this magnificent personage
in royal robes is placed beneath an amaranth-coloured dais, richly
embroidered with gold, at the extreme end of a vast hall, which bears the
name of our illustrious and well-beloved monarch. Your privileges are
great, in truth, Sire. Here you are, installed in this pious and
secluded retreat, where never mortal may set foot. Before you, beside
you daily, you may contemplate the multitude of modest virgins who look
at you and admire you, becoming all of them attached to you without
wishing it, perhaps without knowing it, even.

Surely, Sire, your penetration is a most admirable thing. After your
first interview with her, you considered our dear Abbess to be a woman of
capacity and talent. You rightly appreciated her, for nothing can be
compared to the perfect order that prevails in her house. She is active
and industrious without sacrificing her position and her dignity in the
slightest. Like yourself, she can judge of things in their entirety, and
examine them in every little detail; like yourself, she knows how to
command obedience and affection, desiring nothing but that which is just
and reasonable. In a word, Sire, Madame de Mortemart has the secret of
convincing her subordinates that she is acting solely in their interests,
a supreme mission, in sooth, among men; and my sister really has no other



Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 14 of 30)