Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart Montespan.

Memoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete online

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desire nor ambition, - to this we can testify.

Upon our return, which for our liking can never be too soon, we will
acquaint your Majesty with the slight authorised mortification which we
had to put up with at Orleans. We are in possession of certain
information regarding this, and your Majesty will have ample means of
throwing a light upon the subject. As for the magistrates, they behaved
most wonderfully; they had an address all ready for us, but Madame de
Montespan would not listen to it, saying that "such honours are meet only
for you and for your children." Such modesty on my sister's part is in
keeping with her great intelligence; I had almost said her genius. But
in this matter I was not wholly of her opinion. It seemed to me, Sire,
that, in refusing the homage offered to her by these worthy magnates,
she, so to speak, disowned the rank ensured to her by your favour. While
the Marquise enjoys your noble affection, she is no ordinary personage.
She has her seat in your own Chapel Royal, so in travelling she has a
right to special honour. By your choice of her, you have made her
notable; in giving her your heart, you have made her a part of yourself.
By giving birth to your children, she has acquired her rank at Court, in
society, and in history. Your Majesty intends her to be considered and
respected; the escorts of cavalry along the highroads are sufficient
proof of that.

All France, Sire, is aware of your munificence and of your princely
generosity: Shall I tell you of the amazement of the provincials at
noticing that the ducal housings are absent from my sister's splendid
coach? Yes, I have taken upon myself to inform you of this surprise, and
knowing how greatly Athenais desires this omission to be repaired, I went
so far as to promise that your Majesty would cause this to be done
forthwith. It must be done, Sire; the Marquise loves you as much as it
is possible for you to be loved; of this, all that she has sacrificed is
a proof. But while dearly loving you, she fears to appear importunate,
and were it not for my respectful freedom of speech, perhaps you would
still be ignorant of that which she most fervently desires.

What we all three of us ask is but a slight thing for your Majesty, who,
with a single word, can create a thousand nobles and princes. The kings,
your ancestors, used their glory in making their lovers illustrious. The
Valois built temples and palaces in their honour. You, greater than all
the Valois, should not let their example suffice. And I am sure that you
will do for the mother of the Duc du Maine what the young prince himself
would do for her if you should happen to forget.

Your Majesty's most humble servant, "MARQUISE DE THIANGES."

To the Abbess and myself; this ending seemed rather too sarcastic, but
Madame de Thianges was most anxious to let it stand. There was no way of
softening or glossing it over; so the letter went off, just as she had
written it.

It so happened that the Bishop of Poitiers was in his diocese at the
time. He came to pay me a visit, and ask me if I could get an abbey for
his nephew, who, though extremely young, already acted as vicar-general
for him. "I would willingly get him a whole regiment," I replied,
"provided M. de Louvois be of those that are my friends. As for the
benefices, they depend, as you know, upon the Pere de la Chaise, and I
don't think he would be willing to grant me a favour."

"Permit me to assure you, madame, that in this respect you are in error,"
replied the Bishop. "Pere de la Chaise respects you and honours you, and
only speaks of you in such terms. What distresses him is to see that you
have an aversion for him. Let me write to him, and say that my nephew
has had the honour of being presented to you, and that you hoped he might
have a wealthy abbey to enable him to bear the privations of his

The young vicar-general was good-looking, and of graceful presence. He
had that distinction of manner which causes the priesthood to be held in
honour, and that amenity of address which makes the law to be obeyed. My
sisters began to take a fancy to him, and recommended him to me. I wrote
to Pere de la Chaise myself, and instead of a mere abbey, we asked for a
bishopric for him.

It was my intention to organise a brilliant fete for the Fontevrault
ladies, and invite all the nobility of the neighbourhood. We talked of
this to the young vicar, who highly approved of my plan, and albeit
monsieur his uncle thought such a scheme somewhat contrary to rule and to
what he termed the proprieties, we made use of his nephew, the young
priest, as a lever; and M. de Poitiers at last consented to everything.

The Fontevrault gardens are one of the most splendid sights in all the
country round. We chose the large alley as our chief entertainment-hall,
and the trees were all illuminated as in my park at Clagny, or at
Versailles. There was no dancing, on account of the nuns, but during our
repast there was music, and a concert and fireworks afterwards. The fete
ended with a performance of "Genevieve de Brabant," a grand spectacular
pantomime, played to perfection by certain gentry of the neighbourhood;
it made a great impression upon all the nuns and novices.

Before going down into the gardens, the Abbess wished to present me
formally to all the nuns, as well as to those persons it had pleased her
to invite. Imagine her astonishment! Three nuns were absent, and
despite our entreaties and the commands of their superiors, they
persisted in their rebellion and their refusal. They set up to keep
rules before all things, and observe the duties of their religion, lying
thus to their Abbess and their conscience. It was all mere spite. Of
this there can be no doubt, for one of these refractory creatures, as it
transpired, was a cousin of the Marquis de Lauzun, my so-called victim;
while the other two were near relatives of Mademoiselle de Mauldon, an
intimate friend of M. de Meaux.

In spite of these three silly absentees, we enjoyed ourselves greatly,
and had much innocent amusement; while they, who could watch us from
their windows, were probably mad with rage to think they were not of our

My sister complained of them to the Bishop of Poitiers, who severely
blamed them for such conduct; and seeing that he could not induce them to
offer me an apology, sent them away to three different convents.


The Page-Dauphin. - A Billet from the King. - Madame de Maintenon's
Letter. - The King as Avenger. - His Sentence on the Murderers.

The great liberty which we enjoyed at Fontevrault, compared with the
interminable bondage of Saint Germain or Versailles, made the abbey ever
seem more agreeable to me; and Madame de Thianges asked me in sober
earnest "if I no longer loved the King."

"Of course I do," was my answer; "but may one not love oneself just a
little bit, too? To me, health is life; and I assure you, at
Fontevrault, my dear sister, I sleep most soundly, and have quite got rid
of all my nervous attacks and headaches."

We were just talking thus when Madame de Mortemart entered my room, and
introduced young Chamilly, the Page-Dauphin, - [The chief page-in-waiting
bore the title of Page-Dauphin] - who brought with him a letter from the
King. He also had one for me from Madame de Maintenon, rallying me upon
my absence and giving me news of my children. The King's letter was
quite short, but a king's note such as that is worth a whole pile of
commonplace letters. I transcribe it here:

I am jealous; an unusual thing for me. And I am much vexed, I confess,
with Madame de Mortemart, who might have chosen a very different moment
to be ill. I am ignorant as to the nature of her malady, but if it be
serious, and of those which soon grow more dangerous, she has played me a
very sorry trick in sending for you to act as her nurse or her physician.
Pray tell her, madame, that you are no good whatever as a nurse, being
extremely hasty and impatient in everything; while as regards medical
skill, you are still further from the mark, since you have never yet been
able to understand your own ailments, nor even explain these with the
least clearness. I must ask the Abbess momentarily to suspend her
sufferings and come to Versailles, where all my physicians shall treat
her with infinite skill; and, to oblige me, will cure her, as they know
how much I esteem and like her. Farewell, my ladies three, who in your
friendship are but as one. I should like to be there to make a fourth.
Madame de Maintenon, who loves you sincerely, will give you news of your
little family and of Saint Germain. Her letter and mine will be brought
to you and delivered by the young Comte de Chamilly. Send him back to me
at once, and don't let him, see your novices or your nuns, else he will
not want to return to me. LOUIS.

Madame de Maintenon's letter was not couched in the same playfully
mocking tone; though a marquise, she felt the distance that there was
between herself and me; besides, she always knows exactly what is the
proper thing to do. The Abbess, who is an excellent judge, thought this
letter excellently written. She wanted to have a copy of it, which made
me determine to preserve it. Here it is, a somewhat more voluminous
epistle than that of the King:

I promised you, madame, that I would inform you as often as possible of
all that interests you here, and now I keep my promise, being glad to say
that I have only pleasant news to communicate. His Majesty is
wonderfully well, and though annoyed at your journey, he has hardly lost
any of his gaiety, as seemingly he hopes to have you back again in a day
or two.

Mademoiselle de Nantes declares that she would have behaved very well in
the coach, and that she is a nearer relation to you than the Duchesse de
Nevers, and that it was very unfair not to take her with you this time.
In order to comfort her, the Duc du Maine has discovered an expedient
which greatly amuses us, and never fails of its effect. He tells her how
absolutely necessary it is for her proper education that she should be
placed in a convent, and then adds in a serious tone that if she had been
taken to Fontevrault she would never have come back!

"Oh, if that is the case," she answered, "why, I am not jealous of the
Duchesse de Nevers."

The day after your departure the Court took up its quarters at Saint
Germain, where we shall probably remain for another week. You know,
madame, how fond his Majesty is of the Louis Treize Belvedere, and the
telescope erected by this monarch, - one of the best ever made hitherto.
As if by inspiration, the King turned this instrument to the left towards
that distant bend which the Seine makes round the verge of the Chatou
woods. His Majesty, who observes every thing, noticed two bathers in the
river, who apparently were trying to teach their much younger companion,
a lad of fourteen or fifteen, to swim; doubtless, they had hurt him, for
he got away from their grasp, and escaped to the river-bank, to reach his
clothes and dress himself. They tried to coax him back into the water,
but he did not relish such treatment; by his gestures it was plain that
he desired no further lessons. Then the two bathers jumped out of the
river, and as he was putting on his shirt, dragged him back into the
water, and forcibly held him under till he was drowned.

When they had committed this crime, and their victim was murdered, they
cast uneasy glances at either river-bank, and the heights of Saint
Germain. Believing that no one had knowledge of their deed, they put on
their clothes, and with all a murderer's glee depicted on their evil
countenances, they walked along the bank in the direction of the castle.
The King instantly rode off in pursuit, accompanied by five or six
musketeers; he got ahead of them, and soon turned back and met them.

"Messieurs," said he to them, "when you went away you were three in
number; what have you done with your comrade?" This question, asked in a
firm voice, disconcerted them somewhat at first, but they soon replied
that their companion wanted to have a swim in the river, and that they
had left him higher up the stream near the corner of the forest, close to
where his clothes and linen made a white spot on the bank.

On hearing this answer the King gave orders for them to be bound and
brought back by the soldiery to the old chateau, where they were shut up
in separate rooms. His Majesty, filled with indignation, sent for the
High Provost, and recounting to him what took place before his eyes,
requested him to try the culprits there and then. The Marquis, however,
is always scrupulous to excess; he begged the King to reflect that at
such a great distance, and viewed through a telescope, things might have
seemed somewhat different from what they actually were, and that, instead
of forcibly holding their companion under the water, perhaps the two
bathers were endeavouring to bring him to the surface.

"No, monsieur, no," replied his Majesty; "they dragged him into the river
against his will, and I saw their struggles and his when they thrust him
under the water."

"But, Sire," replied this punctilious personage, "our criminal law
requires the testimony of two witnesses, and your Majesty, all-powerful
though you be, can only furnish that of one."

"Monsieur," replied the King gently, "I authorise you in passing sentence
to state that you heard the joint testimony of the King of France and the
King of Navarre."

Seeing that this failed to convince the judge, his Majesty grew impatient
and said to the old Marquis, "King Louis IX., my ancestor, sometimes
administered justice himself in the wood at Vincennes; I will to-day
follow his august example and administer justice at Saint Germain."

The throne-room was at once got ready by his order. Twenty notable
burgesses of the town were summoned to the castle, and the lords and
ladies sat with these upon the benches. The King, wearing his orders,
took his seat when the two prisoners were placed in the dock.

By their contradictory statements, ever-increasing embarrassment, and
unveracious assertions, the jury were soon convinced of their guilt. The
unhappy youth was their brother, and had inherited property from their
mother, he being her child by a second husband. So these monsters
murdered him for revenge and greed. The King sentenced them to be bound
hand and foot, and flung into the river in the selfsame place "where they
killed their young brother Abel."

When they saw his Majesty leaving his throne, they threw themselves at
his feet, implored his pardon, and confessed their hideous crime. The
King, pausing a moment, thanked God that their conscience had forced such
confession from them, and then remitted the sentence of confiscation
only. They were executed before the setting of that sun which had
witnessed their crime, and the next day, that is, yesterday evening, the
three bodies, united once more by fate, were found floating about two
leagues from Saint Germain, under the willows at the edge of the river
near Poisay.

Orders were instantly given for their separate interment. The youngest
was brought back to Saint Germain, where the King wished him to have a
funeral befitting his innocence and untimely fate. All the military
attended it.

Forgive me, madams, for all these lengthy details; we have all been so
much upset by this dreadful occurrence, and can talk of nothing else, - in
fact, it will furnish matter for talk for a long while yet.

I sincerely hope that by this time Madame de Mortsmart has completely
recovered. I agree with his Majesty that, in doctoring, you have not had
much experience; still, friendship acts betimes as a most potent
talisman, and the heart of the Abbess is of those that in absence pines,
but which in the presence of some loved one revives.

She has deigned to grant me a little place in her esteem; pray tell her
that this first favour has somewhat spoiled me, and that now I ask for
more than this, for a place in her affections. Madame de Thianges and
Madame de Nevers are aware of my respect and attachment for them, and
they approve of this, for they have engraved their names and crests on my
plantain-trees at Maintenon. Such inscriptions are a bond to bind us,
and if no mischance befall, these trees, as I hope, will survive me.

I am, madame, etc., MAINTENON.


Mademoiselle d'Amurande. - The Married Nun. - The Letter to the
Superior. - Monseigneur's Discourse. - The Abduction. - A Letter from the
King. - Beware of the Governess. - We Leave Fontevrault.

Amoung the novices at Fontevrault there was a most interesting, charming
young person, who gave Madame de Mortemart a good deal of anxiety, as she
thought her still undecided as to the holy profession she was about to
adopt. This interested me greatly, and evoked my deepest sympathy.

The night of our concert and garden fete she sang to please the Abbess,
but there were tears in her voice. I was touched beyond expression, and
going up to her at the bend of one of the quickset-hedges, I said, "You
are unhappy, mademoiselle; I feel a deep interest for you. I will ask
Madame de Mortemart to let you come and read to me; then we can talk as
we like. I should like to help you if I can."

She moved away at once, fearing to be observed, and the following day I
met her in my sister's room.

"Your singing and articulation are wonderful, mademoiselle," said I,
before the Abbess; "would you be willing to come and read to me for an
hour every day? I have left my secretary at Versailles, and I am
beginning to miss her much."

Madame de Mortemart thanked me for my kindly intentions towards the young
novice, who, from that time forward, was placed at my disposal.

The reading had no other object than to gain her confidence, and as soon
as we were alone I bade her tell me all. After brief hesitation, the
poor child thus began:

"In a week's time, a most awful ceremony takes place in this monastery.
The term of my novitiate has already expired, and had it not been for the
distractions caused by your visit, I should have already been obliged to
take this awful oath and make my vows.

"Madame de Mortemart is gentle and kind (no wonder! she is your sister),
but she has decided that I am to be one of her nuns, and nothing on earth
can induce her to change her mind. If this fatal decree be executed, I
shall never live to see this year of desolation reach its close. Perhaps
I may fall dead at the feet of the Bishop who ordains us.

"They would have me give to God - who does not need it - my whole life as a
sacrifice. But, madame, I cannot give my God this life of mine, as four
years ago I surrendered it wholly to some one else. Yes, madame," said
she, bursting into tears, "I am the lawful wife of the Vicomte d'Olbruze,
my cousin german.

"Of this union, planned and approved by my dear mother herself, a child
was born, which my ruthless father refuses to recognise, and which kindly
peasants are bringing up in the depths of the woods.

"My dear, good mother was devotedly fond of my lover, who was her nephew.
From our very cradles she had always destined us for each other. And she
persisted in making this match, despite her husband, whose fortune she
had immensely increased, and one day during his absence we were legally
united by our family priest in the castle chapel. My father, who, was
away at sea, came back soon afterwards: He was enraged at my mother's
disobedience, and in his fury attempted to stab her with his own hand. He
made several efforts to put an end to her existence, and the general
opinion in my home is that he was really the author of her death.

"Devotedly attached to my husband by ties of love no less than of duty, I
fled with him to his uncle's, an old knight-commander of Malta, whose
sole heir he was. My father, with others, pursued us thither, and scaled
the walls of our retreat by night, resolved to kill his nephew first and
me afterwards. Roused by the noise of the ruffians, my husband seized
his firearms. Three of his assailants he shot from the balcony, and my
father, disguised as a common man, received a volley in the face, which
destroyed his eyesight. The Parliament of Rennes took up the matter. My
husband thought it best not to put in an appearance, and after the
evidence of sundry witnesses called at random, a warrant for his arrest
as a defaulter was issued, a death penalty being attached thereto.

"Ever since that time my husband has been wandering about in disguise
from province to province. Doomed to solitude in our once lovely
chateau, my father forced me to take the veil in this convent, promising
that if I did so, he would not bring my husband to justice.

"Perhaps, madame, if the King were truly and faithfully informed of all
these things, he would have compassion for my grief, and right the
injustice meted out to my unlucky husband."

After hearing this sad story, I clearly saw that, in some way or other,
we should have to induce Madame de Mortemart to postpone the ceremony of
taking the vow, and I afterwards determined to put these vagaries on the
part of the law before my good friend President de Nesmond, who was the
very man to give us good advice, and suggest the right remedy.

As for the King, I did not deem it fit that he should be consulted in the
matter. Of course I look upon him as a just and wise prince, but he is
the slave of form. In great families, he does not like to hear of
marriages to which the father has not given formal consent; moreover, I
did not forget about the gun-shot which blinded the gentleman, and made
him useless for the rest of his life. The King, who is devoted to his
nobles, would never have pronounced in favour of the Vicomte, unless he
happened to be in a particularly good humour. Altogether, it was a risky

I deeply sympathised with Mademoiselle d'Amurande in her trouble, and
assured her of my good-will and protection, but I begged her to approve
my course of action, though taken independently of the King. She
willingly left her fate in my hands, and I bade her write my sister the
following note:

MADAME: - You know the vows that bind me; they are sacred, having been
plighted at the foot of the altar. Do not persist, I entreat you, do not
persist in claiming the solemn declaration of my vows. You are here to
command the Virgins of the Lord, but among these I have no right to a
place. I am a mother, although so young, and the Holy Scriptures tell me
every day that Hagar, the kindly hearted, may not forsaken her darling

I happened to be with Madame de Mortemart when one of the aged sisters
brought her this letter. On reading it she was much affected. I feigned
ignorance, and asked her kindly what was the reason of her trouble. She
wished to hide it; but I insisted, and at last persuaded her to let me
see the note. I read it calmly and with reflection, and afterwards said
to the Abbess:

"What! You, sister, whose distress and horror I witnessed when our stern
parents shut you up in a cloister, - are you now going to impose like
fetters upon a young and interesting person, who dreads them, and rejects
them as once you rejected them?"

Madame de Mortemart replied, "I was young then, and without experience,
when I showed such childish repugnance as that of which you speak. At
that age one knows nothing of religion nor of the eternal verities. Only
the world, with its frivolous pleasures, is then before one's eyes; and
the spectacle blinds our view, even our view of heaven. Later on I
deplored such resistance, which so grieved my family; and when I saw you
at Court, brilliant and adored, I assure you, my dear Marquise, that this
convent and its solitude seemed to me a thousand times more
desirable than the habitation of kings."

"You speak thus philosophically," I replied, "only because your lot
happens to have undergone such a change. From a slave, you have become
an absolute and sovereign mistress. The book of rules is in your hands;
you turn over its leaves wherever you like; you open it at whatever page
suits you; and if the book should chance to give you a severe rebuke, you
never let others know this. Human nature was ever thus. No, no, madame;
you can never make one believe that a religious life is in itself such an
attractive one that you would gladly resume it if the dignities of your
position as an abbess were suddenly wrested from you and given to some
one else."

"Well, well, if that is so," said the Abbess, reddening, "I am quite

Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 15 of 30)