Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart Montespan.

Memoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete online

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solicited the liberty of the Marquis de Lauzun, and the King commenced by
granting "the authorisation of mineral waters."

Meanwhile, Mademoiselle, presented by Madame de Maintenon, went to take
counsel with the King. She made a formal donation of the two
principalities which I have named. His Majesty, out of courtesy, left
her the revenues, and, in fine, she was permitted to marry her M. de
Lauzun, and to assure him, by contract, fifty thousand livres of income.


M. de Brisacier and King Casimir. - One Is Never so Well Praised as by
Oneself. - He Is Sent to Get Himself Made a Duke Elsewhere.

The Abbe de Brisacier, the famous director of consciences, possessed
enough friends and credit to advance young Brisacier, his nephew, to the
Queen's household, to whom he had been made private secretary. Slanderers
or impostors had persuaded this young coxcomb that Casimir, the King of
Poland, whilst dwelling in Paris in the quality of a simple gentleman,
had shown himself most assiduous to Madame Brisacier, and that he,
Brisacier of France, was born of these assiduities of the Polish prince.

When he saw the Comte Casimir raised to the elective throne of Poland, he
considered himself as the issue of royal blood, and it seemed to him that
his position with the Queen, Maria Theresa, was a great injustice of
fortune; he thought, nevertheless, that he ought to remain some time
longer in this post of inferiority, in order to use it as a ladder of

The Queen wrote quantities of letters to different countries, and
especially to Spain, but never, or hardly ever, in her own hand. One
day, whilst handling all this correspondence for the princess's
signature, the private secretary slipped one in, addressed to Casimir,
the Polish King.

In this letter, which from one end to the other sang the praises of the
Seigneur Brisacier, the Queen had the extreme kindness to remind the
Northern monarch of his old liaison with the respectable mother of the
young man, and her Majesty begged the prince to solicit from the King of
France the title and rank of duke for so excellent a subject.

King Casimir was not, as one knows, distrust and prudence personified; he
walked blindfold into the trap; he wrote with his royal hand to his
brother, the King of France, and asked him a brevet as duke for young
Brisacier. Our King, who did not throw duchies at people's heads, read
and re-read the strange missive with astonishment and suspicion. He
wrote in his turn to the suppliant King, and begged him to send him the
why and the wherefore of this hieroglyphic adventure. The good prince,
ignorant of ruses, sent the letter of the Queen herself.

Had this princess ever given any reason to be talked about, there is no
doubt that she would have been lost on this occasion; but there was
nothing to excite suspicion. The King, no less, approached her with
precaution, in order to observe the first results of her answers.

"Madame," he said, "are you still quite satisfied with young Brisacier,
your private secretary?"

"More or less," replied the Infanta; "a little light, a little absent;
but, on the whole, a good enough young man."

"Why have you recommended him to the King of Poland, instead of
recommending him to me directly?"

"To the King of Poland! - I? I have not written to him since I
congratulated him on his succession."

"Then, madame, you have been deceived in this matter, since I have your
last letter in my hands. Here it is; I return it to you."

The princess read the letter with attention; her astonishment was

"My signature has been used without authority," she said. "Brisacier
alone can be guilty, being the only one interested."

This new kind of ambitious man was summoned; he was easily confounded.
The King ordered him to prison, wishing to frighten him for a punishment,
and at the end of some days he was commanded to quit France and go and be
made duke somewhere else.

This event threw such ridicule upon pretenders to the ducal state, that I
no longer dared speak further to the King of the hopes which he had held
out to me; moreover, the things which supervened left me quite convinced
of the small success which would attend my efforts.


Compliment from Monsieur to the New Prince de Dombes. - Roman
History. - The Emperors Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, and Verus. - The Danger of

Monsieur, having learnt what his cousin of Montpensier had just done for
my Duc du Maine, felt all possible grief and envy at it. He had always
looked to inherit from her, and the harshest enemy whom M. de Lauzun met
with at his wedding was, undoubtedly, Monsieur. When M. le Duc du Maine
received the congratulations of all the Court on the ground of his new
dignity of Prince de Dombes, his uncle was the last to appear; even so he
could not refrain from making him hear these disobliging words, - who
would believe it? - "If I, too, were to give you my congratulation, it
would be scarcely sincere; what will be left for my children?"

Madame de Maintenon, who is never at a loss, replied: "There will be left
always, Monseigneur, the remembrance of your virtues; that is a fair
enough inheritance."

We complained of it to the King; he reprimanded him in a fine fashion. "I
gave you a condition so considerable," said he, "that the Queen, our
mother, herself thought it exaggerated and dangerous in your hands. You
have no liking for my children, although you feign a passionate affection
for their father; the result of your misbehaviour will be that I shall
grow cool to your line, and that your daughter, however beautiful and
amiable she may be, will not marry my Dauphin."

At this threat Monsieur was quite overcome, and anxious to make his
apologies to the King; he assured him of his tender affection for M. le
Duc du Maine, and would give him to understand that Madame de Maintenon
had misunderstood him.

"It is not from her that your compliment came to us; it is from M. le Duc
du Maine, who is uprightness itself, and whose mouth has never lied."

Monsieur then started playing at distraction and puerility; the
medal-case was standing opened, his gaze was turned to it. Then he came
to me and said in a whisper: "I pray you, come and look at the coin of
Marcus Aurelius; do you not find that the King resembles that emperor in
every feature?"

"You are joking," I answered him. "His Majesty is as much like him as
you are like me."

He insisted, and his brother, who witnessed our argument, wished to know
the reason. When he understood, he said to Monsieur: "Madame de
Montespan is right; I am not in the least like that Roman prince in face.
The one to whom I should wish to be like in merit is Trajan."

"Trajan had fine qualities," replied Monsieur; "that does not prevent me
from preferring Marcus Aurelius."

"On what grounds?" asked his Majesty.

"On the grounds that he shared his throne with Verus," replied Monsieur,

The King flushed at this reply, and answered in few words: "Marcus
Aurelius's action to his brother may, be called generous; it was none the
less inconsiderate. By his own confession, the Emperor Verus proved, by
his debauchery and his vices, unworthy, of the honour which had been done
him. Happily, he died from his excesses during the Pannonian War, and
Marcus Aurelius could only do well from that day on."

Monsieur, annoyed with his erudition and confused at his escapade, sought
to change the conversation. The King, passing into his cabinet, left him
entirely, in my charge. I scolded him for his inconsequences, and he
dared to implore me to put his daughter "in the right way," to become one
day Queen of France by marrying Monsieur le Dauphin, whom she loved
already with her whole heart.


The Benedictines of Fontevrault. - The Head in the Basin. - The
Unfortunate Delivery. - The Baptism of the Monster. - The Courageous
Marriage. - Foundation of the Royal Abbey of Fontevrault.

Two or three days after our arrival at Fontevrault, the King, who loves
to know all the geographical details of important places, asked me of the
form and particulars of the celebrated abbey. I gave him a natural
description of it.

"They are two vast communities," I told him, "which the founder, for some
inexplicable whim, united in one domain, of an extent which astonishes
the imagination."

The Community of Benedictine Nuns is regarded as the first, because of
the abbotorial dignity it possesses. The Community of Benedictine Monks
is only second, - a fact which surprises greatly strangers and visitors.
Both in the monastery and the convent the buildings are huge and
magnificent, the courts spacious, the woods and streams well distributed
and well kept.

"Every morning you may see a hundred and fifty to two hundred ploughs
issue from both establishments; these spread over the plain and till an
immense expanse of land. Carts drawn by bullocks, big mules, or superb
horses are ceaselessly exporting the products of the fields, the meadows,
or the orchards. Innumerable cows cover the pastures, and legions of
women and herds are employed to look after these estates.

"The aspect of Fontevrault gives an exact idea of the ancient homes of
the Patriarchs, in their remote periods of early civilisation, which saw
the great proprietors delighting in their natal hearth, and finding their
glory, as well as their happiness, in fertilising or assisting nature.

"The abbess rules like a sovereign over her companion nuns, and over the
monks, her neighbours. She appoints their officers and their temporal
prince. It is she who admits postulants, who fixes the dates of
ordinations, pronounces interdictions, graces, and penances. They render
her an account of their administration and the employment of their
revenues, from which she subtracts carefully her third share, as the
essential right of her crosier of authority."

"Have you invited the Benedictine Fathers to your fete in the wood?" the
King asked me, smiling.

"We had no power, Sire," I answered. "There are many young ladies being
educated with the nuns of Fontevrault. The parents of these young ladies
respectful as they are to these monks, would have looked askance at the
innovation. The Fathers never go in there. They are to be seen at the
abbey church, where they sing and say their offices. Only the three
secular chaplains of the abbess penetrate into the house of the nuns; the
youngest of the three cannot be less than fifty.

"The night of the feast the monks draw near our cloister by means of a
wooden theatre, which forms a terrace, and from this elevation they
participate by the eye and ear in our amusements; that is enough."

"Has Madame de Mortemart ever related to you the origin of her abbey?"
resumed the King. "Perhaps she is ignorant of it. I am going to tell
you of it, for it is extremely curious; it is not as it is related in the
books, and I take the facts from good authority. You must hear of it,
and you will see.

"There was once a Comtesse de Poitiers, named Honorinde, to whom fate had
given for a husband the greatest hunter in the world. This man would
have willingly passed his life in the woods, where he hunted, night and
day, what we call, in hunter's parlance, 'big game.' Having won the
victory over a monstrous boar, he cut off the head himself, and this
quivering and bleeding mask he went to offer to his lady in a basin. The
young woman was in the first month of her pregnancy. She was filled with
repugnance and fright at the sight of this still-threatening head; it
troubled her to the prejudice of her fruit.

"Eight, or seven and a half, months afterwards, she brought into the
world a girl who was human in her whole body, but above had the horrible
head of a wild boar! Imagine what cries, what grief, what despair! The
cure of the place refused baptism, and the Count, broken down and
desolate, ordered the child to be drowned.

"Instead of throwing it into the water, his servant scrupulously went
straight to the monastery where your sister rules. He laid down his
closed packet in the church of the monks, and then returned to his lord,
who never had any other child.

"The religious Benedictines, not knowing whence this monster came,
believed there was some prodigy in it. They baptised in this little
person all that was not boar, and left the surplus to Providence. They
brought up the singular creature in the greatest secrecy; it drank and
lapped after the manner of its kind. As it grew up it walked on its
feet, and that without the least imperfection; it could sit down, go on
its knees, and even make a courtesy. But it never articulated any
distinct words, and it had always a harsh and rough voice which howled
and grunted. Its intelligence never reached the knowledge of reading or
writing; but it understood easily all that could be said to it, and the
proof was that it replied by its actions.

"The Comte de Poitiers having died whilst hunting, Honorinde learnt of
her old serving-man in what refuge, in what asylum, he had long ago
deposited the little one. This good mother proceeded there, and the
monks, after some hesitation, confessed what had become of it. She
wished to see it; they showed it her. At its aspect she felt the same
inward commotion which had, years before, perverted nature. She groaned,
fainted, burst into tears, and never had the courage and firmness to
embrace what she had seen.

"Her gratitude was not less lively and sincere; she handed a considerable
sum to the Benedictines of Fontevrault, charging them to continue their
good work and charity.

"The reverend Prior, reflecting that his hideous inmate came of a great
family, and of a family of great property, resolved to procure it as a
wife for his nephew. He sounded the young man, who looked fixedly at his
future bride, and avowed that he was satisfied.

"She is a good Christian," he replied to his uncle, since you have
baptised her here. She is of a good family, since Honorinde has
recognised her. There are many as ugly as she is to be seen who still
find husbands. I will put a pretty mask on her, and the mask will give
me sufficient illusion. Benedicte, so far as she goes, is well-made; I
hope to have fine children who will talk.

"The Prior commenced by marrying them; he then confided in Honorinde,
who, not daring to noise abroad this existence, was compelled to submit
to what had been done.

"The marriage of the young she-monster was not happy. She bit her
husband from morning to night. She did not know how to sit at table, and
would only eat out of a trough. She needed neither an armchair, a sofa,
nor a couch; she stretched herself out on the sand or on the pavement.

"Her husband, in despair, demanded the nullification of his marriage; and
as the courts did not proceed fast enough for his impatience, he killed
his companion, Benedicte, with a pistol-shot, at the moment when she was
biting and tearing him before witnesses.

"Honorinde had her buried at Fontevrault, and over her tomb, at the end
of the year, she built a convent, to which her immense property was
given, where she retired herself as a simple nun, and of which she was
appointed first abbess by the Pope who reigned at the time.

"There, madame," added the King, "is the somewhat singular origin of the
illustrious abbey which your sister rules with such eclat. You must have
remarked the boar's head, perfectly imitated in sculpture, in the dome;
that mask is the speaking history of the noble community of Fontevrault,
where more than a hundred Benedictine monks obey an abbess."


Fine Couples Make Fine Children. - The Dauphine of Bavaria. - She
Displeases Madame de Montespan. - First Debut Relating to Madame de
Maintenon, Appointed Lady-in-waiting. - Conversation between the Two

The King, in his moments of effusion and abandonment (then so full of
pleasantness), had said more than once: "If I have any physical beauty, I
owe it to the Queen, my mother; if my daughters have any beauty, they owe
it to me: it is only fine couples who get fine children."

When I saw him decided upon marrying Monseigneur le Dauphin, I reminded
him of his maxim. He fell to smiling, and answered me: "Chance, too,
sometimes works its miracles. My choice for my son is a decided thing;
my politics come before my taste, and I have asked for the daughter of
the Elector of Bavaria, whose portrait I will show you. She is not
beautiful, like you; she is prettier than Benedicte, and I hope that she
will not bite Monseigneur le Dauphin in her capricious transports."

The portrait that the King showed me was a flattering one, as are, in
general, all these preliminary samples. For all that, the Princess
seemed to me hideous, and even disagreeable, especially about her eyes,
that portion of the face which confirms the physiognomy and decides

"Monseigneur will never love that woman," I said to the King. "That
constrained look in the pupil, those drooping eyes, - they make my heart

"My son, happily," his Majesty answered, "is not so difficult as you and
I. He has already seen this likeness, and at the second look he was
taken; and as we have assured him that the young person is well made, he
cries quits with her face, and proposes to love her as soon as he gets

"God grant it!" I added; and the King told me, more or less in detail, of
what important personages he was going to compose his household. The
eternal Abbe Bossuet was to become first chaplain, as being the
tutor-in-chief to the Dauphin; the Duchesse de Richelieu, for her great
name, was going to be lady of honour; and the two posts of ladies in
waiting were destined for the Marquise de Rochefort, wife of the Marshal,
and for Madame de Maintenon, ex-governess of the Duc du Maine. The
gesture of disapproval which escaped me gave his Majesty pain.

"Why this air of contempt or aversion?" he said, changing colour. "Is it
to the Marechale de Rochefort or the Marquise de Maintenon that you
object? I esteem both the one and the other, and I am sorry for you if
you do not esteem them too."

"The Marechale de Rochefort," I replied, without taking any fright, "is
aged, and almost always sick; a lady of honour having her appearance will
make a contrast with her office. As to the other, she still has beauty
and elegance; but do you imagine, Sire, that the Court of Bavaria and the
Court of France have forgotten, in so short a time, the pleasant and
burlesque name of the poet Scarron?"

"Every one ought to forget what I have forgotten," replied the King, "and
what my gratitude will not, and cannot forget, I am surprised that you,
madame, should take pleasure in forgetting."

"She has taken care of my children since the cradle, I admit it with
pleasure," said I to his Majesty, without changing my tone; "you have
given her a marquisate for recompense, and a superb hotel completely
furnished at Versailles. I do not see that she has any cause for
complaint, nor that after such bounty there is more to add."

"Of eight children that you have brought into the world, madame, she has
reared and attended perfectly to six," replied the King. "The estate of
Maintenon has, at the most, recompensed the education of the Comtes de
Vegin, whose childhood was so onerous. And for the remainder of my
little family, what have I yet done that deserves mention?"

"Give her a second estate and money," I cried, quite out of patience,
"since it is money which pays all services of that nature; but what need
have you to raise her to great office, and keep her at Court? She dotes,
she says, on her old chateau of Maintenon; do not deprive her of this
delight. By making her lady in waiting, you would be disobliging her."

"She will accept out of courtesy," he said to me, putting on an air of
mockery. And as the time for the Council was noted by him on my clock,
he went away without adding more.

Since M. le Duc du Maine had grown up, and Mademoiselle de Nantes had
been confided to the Marquise de Montchevreuil, Madame de Maintenon
continued to occupy her handsome apartment on the Princes' Court. There
she received innumerable visits, she paid assiduous court to the Queen,
who had suddenly formed a taste for her, and took her on her walks and
her visits to the communities; but this new Marquise saw me rarely. Since
the affair of the vine-grower, killed on the road, she declared that I
had insulted her before everybody, and that I had ordered her imperiously
to return to my carriage, as though she had been a waiting-maid, or some
other menial. Her excessive sensibility readily afforded her this
pretext, so that she neglected and visibly overlooked me.

As she did not come to me, I betook myself to her at a tolerably early
hour, before the flood of visitors, and started her on the history of the
lady in waiting.

"His Majesty has spoken of it to me," she said, "as of a thing possible;
but I do not think there is anything settled yet in the matter."

"Will you accept," I asked her, "supposing the King to insist?"

"I should like a hundred times better," she replied, "to go and live in
independence in my little kingdom of Maintenon, and with my own hands
gather on my walls those velvet, brilliant peaches, which grow so fine in
those districts. But if the King commands me to remain at Court, and
form our young Bavarian Princess in the manners of this country, have I
the right, in good conscience, to refuse?"

"Your long services have gained you the right to desire and take your
retirement," I said to her; "in your place, I should insist upon the
necessities of my health. And the Court of France will not fall nor
change its physiognomy, even if a German or Iroquois Dauphine should
courtesy awry, or in bad taste."

Madame de Maintenon began to laugh, and assured me that "her post as lady
in waiting would be an actual burden, if the King had destined her for it
in spite of herself, and there should be no means of withdrawing from

At this speech I saw clearly that things were already fixed. Not wishing
to call upon me the reproaches of my lord, I carried the conversation no


The "Powder of Inheritance." - The Chambre Ardente. - The Comtesse de
Soissons's Arrest Decreed. - The Marquise de Montespan Buys Her
Superintendence of the Queen's Council. - Madame de Soubise. - Madame de
Maintenon and the King.

At the time of the poisonings committed by Madame de Brinvilliers, the
Government obtained evidence that a powder, called "the powder of
inheritance," was being sold in Paris, by means of which impatient heirs
shortened the days of unfortunate holders, and entered into possession
before their time.

Two obscure women, called La Vigoureuse and La Voisine, were arrested,
having been caught redhanded. Submitted to the question, they confessed
their crime, and mentioned several persons, whom they qualified as
"having bought and made use of the said powder of inheritance."

We saw suddenly the arrest of the Marechal de Luxembourg, the Princesse
de Tingry, and many others. The 'Chambre Ardente' - [The French Star
Chamber.] - issued a warrant also to seize the person of the Duchesse de
Bouillon and the Comtesse de Soissons, the celebrated nieces of the
Cardinal Mazarin, sisters-in-law, both, of my niece De Nevers, who was
dutifully afflicted thereby.

The Comtesse de Soissons had possessed hitherto an important office,
whose functions suited me in every respect, - that of the superintendence
of the Queen's household and council. I bought this post at a
considerable price. The Queen, who had never cared for the Countess, did
me the honour of assuring me that she preferred me to the other, when I
came to take my oath in her presence.

Madame la Princesse de Rohan-Soubise had wished to supplant me at that
time, and I was aware of her constant desire to obtain a fine post at
Court. She loved the King, who had shown her his favours in more than
one circumstance; but, as she had a place neither in his esteem nor in
his affection, I did not fear her. I despatched to her, very adroitly, a
person of her acquaintance, who spoke to her of the new household of a
Dauphine, and gave her the idea of soliciting for herself the place of
lady in waiting, destined for Madame de Maintenon.

The Princesse de Soubise put herself immediately amongst the candidates.
She wrote to the King, her friend, a pressing and affectionate letter, to
which he did not even reply. She wrote one next in a more majestic and

Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 18 of 30)