Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart Montespan.

Memoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete online

. (page 20 of 30)
Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 20 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

swiftly away. Her pregnancy, by reason of toilsome rides, hunting
parties, and other agitations, became complicated. From the eighth month
she fell into a fever, into exhaustion and languor. The terror that took
possession of her imagination caused her to desire a sojourn in a convent
as a refuge of health, where God would see her nearer and, perhaps, come
to her aid.

She had herself transported during the night to the House of the Ladies
of Val-de-Grace, and desired that they should place in her chamber
several relics from their altars.

Her confinement was not less laboured and sinister. When she saw that
all the assistance of art could not stop the bleeding, with which her
deep bed was flooded, she caused the King to be summoned, embraced him
tenderly, in the midst of sobs and tears, and died in the night,
pronouncing the name of God and the name of the King, the objects of her
love and of fears.


Madame de Sevigne. - Madame de Grignan. - Madame de Montespan at the
Carmelites. - Madame de la Valliere. - These Two Great Ruins Console One
Another. - An Angel of Sweetness, Goodness, and Kindness.

Fifteen or twenty days before the death of Mademoiselle de Fontanges, my
sister and I were taking a walk in the new woods of Versailles. We met
the Marquise de Sevigne near the canal; she was showing these marvellous
constructions to her daughter, the Comtesse de Grignan. They greeted us
with their charming amiability, and, after having spoken of several
indifferent matters, the Marquise said to me: "We saw, five or six days
ago, a person, madame, of whom you were formerly very fond, and who
charged us to recall her to the memory of her friends. You are still of
that number, - I like to think so, and our commission holds good where you
are concerned, if you will allow it."

Then she mentioned to me that poor Duchesse de la Valliere, to whom I was
once compelled by my unhappy star to give umbrage, and whom, in my fatal
thoughtlessness, I had afflicted without desiring it.

Tears came into my eyes; Madame de Sevigne saw them, and expressed her
regret at having caused me pain. Madame de Thianges and I asked her if
my old friend was much changed. She and Madame de Grignan assured us
that she was fresh, in good health, and that her face appeared more
beautiful. On the next day I wished absolutely to see her, and drove to
the Carmelites.

On seeing my pretty cripple, who hobbled among us with so great a charm,
I uttered a cry, which for a moment troubled her. She sank down to
salute the crucifix, as custom demands, and, after her short prayer, she
came to me. "I did not mention your name to Mesdames de Sevigne," said
she; "but, however, I am obliged to them, since they have been able to
procure me the pleasure of seeing you once more."

"The general opinion of the Court, and in the world, my dear Duchess,"
answered I, "is that I brought about your disgrace myself; and the
public, that loved you, has not ceased to reproach me with your

"The public is very kind still to occupy itself with me," she answered;
"but it is wrong in that, as in so many other matters. My retirement
from the world is not a misfortune, and I never suspected that the soul
could find such peace and satisfaction in these silent solitudes.

"The first days were painful to me, I admit it, owing to the
inexpressible difference which struck me between what I found here and
what I had left elsewhere. But just as the eye accustoms itself, little
by little, to the feeble glimmer of a vault, in the same way my body has
accustomed itself to the roughness of my new existence, and my heart to
all its great privations.

"If life had not to finish, in fulfilment of a solemn, universal, and
inevitable decree, the constraint that I have put upon myself might at
length become oppressive, and my yoke prove somewhat heavy. But all that
will finish soon, for all undertakings come to an end. I left you young,
beautiful, adored, and triumphant in the land of enchantments. But six
years have passed, and they assure me that your own afflictions have
come, and that you, yourself, have been forced to drink the bitter cup of

At these words, pronounced in a melancholy and celestial voice, I felt as
though my heart were broken, and burst into tears.

"I pity you, Athenais," she resumed. "Is, then, what I have been told
lightly, and almost in haste, only too certain for you? How is it you
did not expect it? How could you believe him constant and immutable,
after what happened to me?

"To-day, I make no secret to you of it, and I say it with the peaceful
indifference which God has generously granted me, after such dolorous
tribulations. I make no secret of it to you, Athenais; a thousand times
you plunged the sword and dagger into my heart, when, profiting by my
confidence in you, by my sense of entire security, you permitted your own
inclination to substitute itself for mine, and a young man seething with
desires to be attracted by your charms. These unlimited sufferings
exhausted, I must believe, all the sensibility of my soul. And when this
corrosive flame had completely devoured my grief, a new existence grew up
in me; I no longer saw in the father of my children other than a young
prince, accustomed to see his dominating will fulfilled in everything.
Knowing how little in this matter he is master of himself, he who knows
so well how to be master of himself in everything to do with his numerous
inferiors, I deplored the facility he enjoys from his attractions, from
his wealth, from his power to dazzle the hearts which he desires to move
and subdue.

"Recognise these truths, my dear Marquise," she added, "and gain, for it
is time, a just idea of your position. After the unhappiness I felt at
being loved no longer, I should have quitted the Court that very instant,
if I had been permitted to bring up and tend my poor children. They were
too young to abandon! I stayed still in the midst of you, as the swallow
hovers and flits among the smoke of the fire, in order to watch over and
save her little ones. Do not wait till disdain or authority mingles in
the matter. Do not come to the sad necessity of resisting a monarch, and
of detesting to the point of scandal that which you have so publicly
loved; pity him, but depart. This kind of intimacy, once broken, cannot
be renewed. However skilfully it may be patched up, the rent always

"My good Louise," I replied to the amiable Carmelite, "your wise counsels
touch me, persuade me, and are nothing but the truth. But in listening
to you I feel overwhelmed; and that strength which you knew how to gain,
and show to the world, your former companion will never possess.

"I see with astonished eyes the supernatural calm which reigns in your
countenance; your health seems to me a prodigy, your beauty was never so
ravishing; but this barbarous garb pierces me to the heart.

"The King does not yet hate me; he shows me even a remnant of respect,
with which he would colour his indifference. Permit me to ask from him
for you an abbey like that of Fontevrault, where the felicities of
sanctuary and of the world are all in the power of my sister. He will
ask nothing better than to take you out, be assured."

"Speak to him of me," answered Louise; "I do not oppose that; but leave
me until the end the role of obedience and humility that his fault and
mine impose on me. Why should he wish that I should command others, - I
who did not know how to command myself at an epoch when my innocence was
so dear to me, and when I knew that, in losing that, one is lost?"

As she said these words two nuns came to announce her Serene Highness,
that is to say, her daughter, the Princesse de Conti. I prayed Madame de
la Valliere to keep between ourselves the communications that had just
taken place in the intimacy of confidence. She promised me with her
usual candour. I made a profound reverence to the daughter, embraced the
mother weeping, and regained my carriage, which the Princess must have
remarked on entering.


Reflections. - The Future. - The Refuge of Foresight. - Community of Saint
Joseph. - Wicked Saying of Bossuet.

I wept much during the journey; and to save the spectacle of my grief
from the passers-by, I was at the pains to lower the curtains. I passed
over in my mind all that the Duchess had said to me. It was very easy
for me to understand that the monarch's heart had escaped me, and that,
owing to his character, all resistance, all contradiction would be vain.
The figure, as it had been supernumerary and on sufferance, which the
Duchess had made in the midst of the Court when she ceased to be loved,
returned to my memory completely, and I felt I had not the courage to
drink a similar cup of humiliation.

I reminded myself of what the prince had told me several times in those
days when his keen affection for me led him to wish for my happiness,
even in the future, - even after his death, if I were destined to survive

"You ought," he said to me, at those moments, "you ought to choose and
assure yourself beforehand of an honourable retreat; for it is rarely
that a king accords his respect or his good-will to the beloved
confidante of his predecessor."

Not wishing to ask a refuge of any one, but, on the contrary, being
greatly set upon ruling in my own house, I resolved to build myself, not
a formal convent like Val-de-Grace or Fontevrault, but a pretty little
community, whose nuns, few in number, would owe me their entire
existence, which would necessarily attach them to all my interests. I
held to this idea. I charged my intendant to seek for me a site spacious
enough for my enterprise; and when he had found it, had showed it to me,
and had satisfied me with it, I had what rambling buildings there were
pulled down, and began, with a sort of joy, the excavations and

The first blow of the hammer was struck, by some inconceivable fortuity,
at the moment when the Duchesse de Fontanges expired. Her death did not
weaken my resolutions nor slacken my ardour. I got away quite often to
cast an eye over the work, and ordered my architect to second my
impatience and spur on the numerous workmen.

The rumour was current in Paris that the example of "Soeur Louise" had
touched me, and that I was going to take the veil in my convent. I took
no notice of this fickle public, and persisted wisely in my plan.

The unexpected and almost sudden decease of Mademoiselle de Fontanges had
singularly moved the King. Extraordinary and almost incredible to
relate, he was for a whole week absent from the Council. His eyes had
shed so many tears that they were swollen and unrecognisable. He shunned
the occasions when there was an assembly, buried himself in his private
apartments or in his groves, and resembled, in every trait, Orpheus
weeping for his fair Eurydice, and refusing to be consoled.

I should be false to others and to myself if I were to say that his
extreme grief excited my compassion; but I should equally belie the truth
if I gave it to be understood that his "widowhood" gave me pleasure, and
that I congratulated myself on his sorrow and bitterness.

He came to see me when he found himself presentable, and, for the first
few days, I abstained from all reprisal and any allusion. The
innumerable labours of his State soon threw him, in spite of himself,
into those manifold distractions which, in their nature, despise or
absorb the sensibilities of the soul. He resumed, little by little, his
accustomed serenity, and, at the end of the month, appeared to have got
over it.

"What," he asked me, "are those buildings with which you are busy in
Paris, opposite the Ladies of Belle-Chasse? I hear of a convent; is it
your intention to retire?"

"It is a 'refuge of foresight,'" I answered him. "Who can count upon the
morrow? And after what has befallen Mademoiselle de Fontanges, we must
consider ourselves as persons already numbered, who wait only for the

He sighed, and soon spoke of something else.

I reminded myself that, to speak correctly, I had in Paris no habitation
worthy of my children and of my quality. That little hotel in the Rue
Saint Andre-des-Arcs I could count for no more than a little box. I
sought amongst my papers for a design of a magnificent hotel which I had
obtained from the famous Blondel. I found it without difficulty, with
full elevations and sections. The artist had adroitly imitated in it the
beautiful architecture of the Louvre; this fair palace would suit me in
every respect.

My architect, at a cursory glance, judged that the construction and
completion of this edifice would easily cost as much as eighteen hundred
thousand livres. This expense being no more than I could afford, I
commissioned him to choose me a spacious site for the buildings and
gardens over by Roule and La Pepiniere.

Not caring to superintend several undertakings at once, I desired, before
everything, that my house in the Faubourg Saint Germain should be
complete and when the building and the chapel were in a condition to
receive the little colony, I dedicated my "refuge of foresight" to Saint
Joseph, the respectful spouse of the Holy Virgin and foster-father of the
Child Jesus. This agreeable mansion lacked a large garden. I felt a
sensible regret for this, especially for the sake of my inmates; but
there was a little open space furnished with vines and fruit-walls, and
one of the largest courtyards in the whole of the Faubourg Saint Germain.

Having always loved society, I had multiplied in the two principal blocks
of the sleeping-rooms and the entrance-hall complete apartments for the
lady inmates. And a proof that I was neither detested by the world nor
unconsidered is that all these apartments were sought after and occupied
as soon as the windows were put in and the painting done. My own
apartment was simple, but of a majestic dignity. It communicated with
the chapel, where my tribune, closed with a handsome window, was in face
of the altar.

I decided, once for all, that the Superior should be my nomination whilst
God should leave me in this world, but that this right should not pass on
to my heirs. The bell of honour rang for twenty minutes every time I
paid a visit to these ladies; and I only had incense at high mass, and at
the Magnificat, in my quality of foundress.

I went from time to time to make retreats, or, to be more accurate,
vacations, in my House of Saint Joseph. M. Bossuet solicited the favour
of being allowed to preach there on the day of the solemn consecration. I
begged him to preserve himself for my funeral oration. He answered
cruelly that there was nothing he could refuse me.



The Court Travels in Picardy and Flanders. - The Boudoir Navy. - Madame de
Montespan Is Not Invited. - The King Relates to Her the Delights of the
Journey. - Reflections of the Marquise.

The King, consoled as he was for the death of the Duchesse de Fontanges,
did not, on that account, return to that sweet and agreeable intimacy
which had united us for the space of eleven or twelve years. He
approached me as one comes to see a person of one's acquaintance, and it
was more than obvious that his only bond with me was his children.

Being a man who loved pomp and show, he resolved upon a journey in
Flanders, - a journey destined to furnish him, as well as his Court, with
numerous and agreeable distractions, and to give fresh alarm to his

Those "Chambers of Reunion," as they were called, established at Metz and
at Brisach, competed with each other in despoiling roundly a host of
great proprietors, under the pretext that their possessions had formerly
belonged to Alsace, and that this Alsace had been ceded to us by the last
treaties. The Prince Palatine of the Rhine saw himself stripped, on this
occasion, of the greater part of the land which he had inherited from his
ancestors, and when he would present a memoir on this subject to the
ministers, M. de Croissy-Colbert answered politely that he was in despair
at being unable to decide the matter himself; but that the Chambers of
Metz and Brisach having been instituted to take cognisance of it, it was
before these solemn tribunals that he must proceed.

The Palatine lost, amongst other things, the entire county of Veldentz,
which was joined to the church of the Chapter of Verdun.

The King, followed by the Queen and all his Court, - by Monsieur le
Dauphin, Madame la Dauphine and the legitimate princes, whom their
households accompanied as well, - set out for Flanders in the month of
July. Madame de Maintenon, as lady in waiting, went on this journey; and
of me, superintendent of the Queen's Council, they did not even speak.

The first town at which this considerable Court stopped was at Boulogne,
in Picardy, the fortifications of which were being repaired. On the next
day the King went on horseback to visit the port of Ambleteuse; thence he
set out for Calais, following the line of the coast, while the ladies
took the same course more rapidly. He inspected the harbours and
diverted himself by taking a sail in a wherry. He then betook himself to
Dunkirk, where the Marquis de Seignelay - son of Colbert - had made ready a
very fine man-of-war with which to regale their Majesties. The Chevalier
de Ury, who commanded her, showed them all the handling of it, which was
for those ladies, and for the Court, a spectacle as pleasant as it was
novel. The whole crew was very smart, and the vessel magnificently
equipped. There was a sham fight, and then the vessel was boarded. The
King took as much pleasure in this sight as if Fontanges had been the
heroine of the fete, and our ladies, to please him, made their hands sore
in applauding. This naval fight terminated in a great feast, which left
nothing to be desired in the matter of sumptuousness and delicacy.

On the following day, there was a more formal fight between two frigates,
which had also been prepared for this amusement.

The King was in a galley as spectator; the Queen was in another. The
Chevalier de Lery took the helm of that of the King; the Capitaine de
Selingue steered that of the Queen. The sea was calm, and there was just
enough wind to set the two frigates in motion. They cannonaded one
another briskly for an hour, getting the weather gauge in turn; after
this, the combat came to an end, and they returned to the town to the
sound of instruments and the noise of cannon.

The King gave large bounties to the crew, as a token of his satisfaction.

The prince was on board his first vessel, when the Earl of Oxford, and
the Colonel, afterwards the Duke of Marlborough, despatched by the King
of England, came to pay him a visit of compliment on behalf of that

The Duke of Villa-Hermosa, Spanish Governor of the Low Countries, paid
him the same compliment in the name of his master.

Both parties were given audience on this magnificent vessel, where M. de
Seignelay had raised a sort of throne of immense height.

(All this time Mademoiselle de Fontanges lay in her coffin, recovering
from her confinement.)

From Dunkirk the Court moved to Ypres, visiting all the places on the
way, and arrived at Lille in Flanders on the 1st of August. From Lille,
where the diversions lasted five or six days, they moved to Valenciennes,
thence to Condo, meeting everywhere with the same honours, the same
tokens of gladness. They returned to Sedan by Le Quenoy, Bouchain,
Cambrai; and the end of the month of August found the Court once more at

I profited by this absence to go and breathe a little at my chateau of
Petit-Bourg, where I was accompanied by Mademoiselle de Blois, and the
young Comte de Toulouse; after which I betook myself to the mineral
waters of Bourbonne, for which I have a predilection.

On my return, the King related to me all these frivolous diversions of
frigates and vessels that I have just mentioned; but with as much fire as
if he had been but eighteen years old, and with the same cordiality as if
I might have taken part in amusements from which he had excluded me.

How is it that a clever man can forget the proprieties to such a degree,
and expose himself to the secret judgments which must be formed of him,
in spite of himself and however reluctantly?


The Duchesse d'Orleans. - The Duchesse de Richelieu. - An Epigram of Madame
de Maintenon. - An Epigram of the King to His Brother.

Madame la Dauphine brought into the world a son, christened Louis at the
font, to whom the King a few moments afterwards gave the title of the
Duke of Burgundy. We had become accustomed, little by little, to the
face of this Dauphine, who (thanks to the counsels and instruction of her
lady in waiting) adopted French manners promptly enough, succeeded in
doing her hair in a satisfactory manner, and in making an appearance
which met with general approval. Madame de Maintenon, for all her
politeness and forethought, never succeeded in pleasing her; and these
two women, obliged to see each other often from their relative positions,
suffered martyrdom when they met.

The King, who had noticed it, began by resenting it from his
daughter-in-law. The latter, proud and haughty, like all these petty
German royalties, thought herself too great a lady to give way.

Madame de Maintenon had, near the person of the young Bavarian, two
intermediaries of importance, who did not sing her praises from morn till
eve. The one was that Charlotte Elizabeth of Bavaria, whom I have
already described to the life, who, furious at her personal
monstrousness, could not as a rule forgive pretty women. The other was
the Duchesse de Richelieu, maid of honour to the Princess of Bavaria,
once the protector of Madame Scarron, and now her antagonist, probably
out of jealousy.

These two acid tongues had taken possession of the Dauphine, - a character
naturally prone to jealousy, - and they permitted themselves against the
lady in waiting all the mockery and all the depreciation that one can
permit oneself against the absent.

Insinuations and abuse produced their effect so thoroughly that Madame de
Maintenon grew disgusted with the duties of her office, and with the
consent of the monarch she no longer appeared at the house of his
daughter-in-law, except on state and gala occasions. Madame de Richelieu
related to me one day the annoyance and mortification of the new

"Madame d'Orleans came in one day," said she to me, "to Madame la
Dauphine, where Madame de Maintenon was. The Princess of the Palais
Royal, who does not put herself about, as every one knows, greeted only
the Dauphine and me. She spoke of her health, which is neither good nor
bad, and pretended that her gowns were growing too large for her, in
proof that she was going thin. 'I do not know,' she added, brusquely,
'what Madame Scarron does; she is always the same.'

"The lady in waiting answered on the spot: 'Madame, no one finds you
changed, either, and it is always the same thing.'

"The half-polite, half-bantering tone of Madame de Maintenon nonplussed
the Palatine for the moment; she wished to demand an explanation from the
lady in waiting. She took up her muff, without making a courtesy, and
retired very swiftly."

"I am scarcely, fond of Madame de Maintenon," said I to Madame de
Richelieu, "but I like her answer exceedingly. Madame is one of those
great hermaphrodite bodies which the two sexes recognise and repulse at
the same time. She is an aggressive personage, whom her hideous face
makes one associate naturally, with mastiffs; she is surly, like them,
and, like them, she exposes herself to the blows of a stick. It makes
very little difference to me if she hears from you the portrait I have
just made of her; you can tell her, and I shall certainly not give you
the lie."

Monsieur, having come some days afterwards to the King, complained of
Madame de Maintenon, who, he said, had given offence to his wife.

"You have just made a great mistake," said the King; "you who pride
yourself on speaking your tongue so well, and I am going to put you
right. This is how you ought rather to have expressed yourself: 'I
complain of Madame de Maintenon, who, by ambiguous words, has given
offence, or wished to give offence to my wife.'"

Monsieur made up his mind to laugh, and said no more of it.


The Marquis de Lauzun at Liberty. - His Conduct to His Wife. - Recovery of

Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 20 of 30)