Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart Montespan.

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Among her lady relatives who had come from the provinces at the rumour of
this favour, the Marquise distinguished and exhibited with satisfaction
the three Mademoiselles de Sainte Hermine, the daughters of a Villette,
if I am not mistaken, and pretty and graceful all three of them. She had
also brought to her Court, and more particularly attached to her person,
a very pretty child, only daughter of the Marquis de Villette, and
sister, consequently, of the Comte and of the Chevalier de Villette, whom
I have previously mentioned. This swarm of nephews, cousins, and nieces
garnished the armchairs and sofas of her chamber. They served as
comrades and playfellows to the legitimate princes and as pages of honour
to my daughter; and when the carriage of the Marquise came into the
country for her drives, the whole of this pretty colony formed a train
and court for her, - a proof of her credit.

The Marquise had a brother, her elder by four or five years, to whom she
was greatly attached, judging from what we heard her say, and to promote
whom we saw her work from the very first. This brother, who was called
Le Comte d'Aubigne, lacked neither charm nor grace. He even assumed,
when he wished, an excellent manner; but this cavalier, his own master
from his childhood, knew no other law but his own pleasures and desires.
He had made people talk about him in his earliest youth; he awoke the
same buzz of scandal now that he was fifty. Madame de Maintenon, hoping
to reform him, and wishing to constrain him to beget them an heir, made
him consent to the bonds of marriage. She had just discovered a very
pretty heiress of very good family, when he married secretly the daughter
of a mere 'procureur du roi'. The lady in waiting, being unable to undo
what had been done, submitted to this unequal alliance; and as her
sister-in-law, ennobled by her husband, was none the less a countess,
she, too, was presented.

The young person, aged fifteen at the most, was naturally very bashful.
When she found herself in this vast hall, between a double row of persons
of importance, whose fixed gaze never left her, she forgot all the bows,
all the elaborate courtesies, - in fine, all the difficult procedure of a
formal presentation, that her sister-in-law and dancing-masters had been
making her rehearse for twenty days past.

The child lost her head, and burst into tears. The King took compassion
on her, and despatched the Comtesse de Merinville to go and act as her
guide or mistress. Supported by this guardian angel, Madame d'Aubigne
gained heart; she went through her pausing, her interrupted courtesies,
to the end, and came in fairly good countenance to the King's chair, who
smiled encouragement upon her. While these things were taking place in
the gallery, Madame de Maintenon, in despair, her eyes full of tears, had
to make an effort not to weep. With that wit of which she is so proud,
she should have been the first to laugh at this piece of childishness,
which was not particularly new. The embarrassment, the torture in which
I saw her, filled me with a strong desire to laugh. It was noticed; it
was held a crime; and his Majesty himself was kind enough to scold me for

"I felt the same embarrassment," he said to us, "the first time Monsieur
le Cardinal desired to put me forward. It was a question of receiving an
ambassador, and of making a short reply to his ceremonial address. I
knew my reply by heart; it was not more than eight or ten lines at the
most. I was repeating it every minute while at play, for five or six
days. When it was necessary to perform in person before this throng, my
childish memory was confused. All my part was forgotten in my fear, and
I could only utter these words: 'Your address, Monsieur
Ambassadeur, - Monsieur l'Ambassadeur, your address.' My mother, the
Queen, grew very red, and was as confused as I was. But my godfather,
the Cardinal, finished this reply for me, which he had composed himself,
and was pleased to see me out of the difficulty."

This anecdote, evidently related to console the Marquise, filled her with
gratitude. They spoke of nothing else at Versailles for two days; after
which, Madame la Comtesse d'Aubigne became, in her turn, a woman of
experience, who judged the new debutantes severely, perhaps, every time
that the occasion arose.

The Comte d'Aubigne passed from an inferior government to a government of
some importance. He made himself beloved by endorsing a thousand
petitions destined for his sister, the monarch's friend; but his
immoderate expenditure caused him to contract debts that his sister would
only pay five or six times.

The Duc de Vivonne, my brother, laughed at him in society; he unceasingly
outraged by his clumsiness his sister's sense of discretion. One day, in
a gaming-house, seeing the table covered with gold, the Marshal exclaimed
at the door: "I will wager that D'Aubigne is here, and makes all this
display; it is a magnificence worthy of him."

"Yes, truly," said the brother of the favourite; "I have received my
silver staff, you see!" That was an uncouth impertinence, for assuredly
M. de Vivonne had not owed this dignity to my favour. The siege of
Candia, and a thousand other distinguished actions, in which he had
immortalised himself, called him to this exalted position, which I dare
to say he has even rendered illustrious.

The Comte d'Aubigne's saying was no less successful on that account, and
his sister, who did not approve at all of this scandalous scene, had the
good sense to condemn her most ridiculous gamester, and to make excuses
for him to my brother and me.


Political Intrigue in Hungary. - Dignity of the King of the Romans. - The
Good Appearance of a German Prince. - The Turks at Vienna. - The Duc de
Lorraine. - The King of Rome.

Whatever the conduct of the King may have been towards me, I do not write
out of resentment or to avenge myself. But in the midst of the peace
which the leisure that he has given me leaves me, I feel some
satisfaction in inditing the memoirs of my life, which was attached to
his so closely, and wish to relate with sincerity the things I have seen.
What would be the use of memoirs from which sincerity were absent? Whom
could they inspire with a desire of reading them?

The King was born profoundly ambitious. All the actions of his public
life bore witness to it. It would be useless for him to rebut the
charge; all his aims, all his political work, all his sieges, all his
battles, all his bloody exploits prove it. He had robbed the Emperor of
an immense quantity of towns and territories in succession. The
greatness of the House of Austria irritated him. He had begun by
weakening it in order to dominate it; and, in bringing it under his sway,
he hoped to draw to himself the respect and submission of the Germanic
Electoral body, and cause the Imperial Crown to pass to his house, as
soon as the occasion should present itself.

We had often heard him say: "Monseigneur has all the good appearance of a
German prince." This singular compliment, this praise, was not without
motive. The King wished that this opinion and this portrait should go
straight into Germany, and create there a kind of naturalisation and
adoption for his son.

He had resolved to have him elected and proclaimed King of the Romans, a
dignity which opens, as one knows, the road to the imperial greatness. To
attain this result, his Majesty, seconded perfectly by his minister,
Louvois, employed the following means.

By his order M. de Louvois sent the Comte de Nointel to Vienna, at the
moment when that Power was working to extend the twenty years' truce
concluded by Hungary with the Sultan. The French envoy promised secretly
his adhesion to the Turks; and the latter, delighted at the intervention
of the French, became so overbearing towards the Imperial Crown that that
Power was reduced to refusing too severe conditions.

Sustained by the insinuations and the promises of France, the Sultan
demanded that Hungary should be left in the state in which it was in
1655; that henceforward that kingdom should pay him an annual tribute of
fifty thousand florins; that the fortifications of Leopoldstadt and Gratz
should be destroyed; that the chief of the revolted towns - Nitria, Eckof,
the Island of Schutt, and the fort of Murann, at Tekelai - should be
ceded; that there should be a general amnesty and restitution of their
estates, dignities, offices, and privileges without restriction.

By this the infidels would have found themselves masters of the whole of
Hungary, and would have been able to come to the very gates of Vienna,
without fear of military commanders or of the Emperor. It was obvious
that they were only seeking a pretext for a quarrel, and that at the
suggestion of France, which was quite disposed to profit by the occasion.

The Sultan knew very little of our King. The latter had his army ready;
his plan was to enter, or rather to fall upon, the imperial territories,
when the consternation and the danger in them should be at their height;
and then he counted on turning to his advantage the good-will of the
German princes, who, to be extricated from their difficulty, would not
fail to offer to himself, as liberator, the Imperial Crown, or, at least,
the dignity of King of the Romans and Vicar of the Empire to his son,
Monseigneur le Dauphin.

In effect, hostilities had hardly commenced on the part of the Turks,
hardly had their first successes, struck terror into the heart of the
German Empire, when the King, the real political author of these
disasters, proposed to the German Emperor to intervene suddenly, as
auxiliary, and even to restore Lorraine to him, and his new conquests, on
condition that the dignity of the King of the Romans should be bestowed
on his son. France, this election once proclaimed, engaged herself to
bring an army of 60,000 men, nominally of the King of the Romans, into
Hungary, to drive out utterly the common enemy. German officers would be
admitted, like French, into this Roman army; and more, the King of France
and the new King of the Romans engaged themselves to set back the
imperial frontiers on that side as far as Belgrade, or Weissembourg in
Greece. A powerful fleet was to appear in the Mediterranean to support
these operations; and the King, wishing to crown his generosity, offered
to renounce forever the ancient possessions, and all the rights of
Charlemagne, his acknowledged forefather or ancestor.

Whilst these dreams of ambition were being seriously presented to the
unhappy Imperial Court of Vienna, the Turks, to the number of 300,000
men, had swept across Hungary like a torrent. They arrived before the
capital of the Empire of Germany just at the moment when the Court had
left it. They immediately invested this panic-stricken town, and the
inhabitants of Vienna believed themselves lost. But the young Duc de
Lorraine, our King's implacable enemy, had left the capital in the best
condition and pitched outside Vienna, in a position from which he could
severely harass the besieging Turks.

He tormented them, he raided them, while he waited for the saving
reinforcements which were to be brought up by the King of Poland, and the
natural allies of the Empire. This succour arrived at last, and after
four or five combats, well directed and most bloody, they threw the
Ottomans into disorder. The Duc de Lorraine immortalised himself during
this brilliant campaign, which he finished by annihilating the Turks near

France had remained in a state of inaction in the midst of all these
great events. I saw the discomfiture of our ministers and the King when
the success of the Imperialists reached them. But the time had passed
when my affections and those of my master were akin. Free from
henceforth to follow the impulses of my conscience and of my sense of
justice, I rejoiced sincerely at the great qualities of the poor Duc de
Lorraine, and at the humiliation of the cruel Turks, who had been so

The elective princes of the Germanic Empire once more rallied round their
august head, and disavowed almost all their secret communications with
the Cabinet of Versailles. The Emperor, having escaped from these great
perils, addressed some noble and touching complaints to our monarch; and
Monseigneur was not elected King of the Romans, - a disappointment which
he hardly noticed, and by which he was very little disturbed.


The Prince of Orange. - The Orange Coach. - The Bowls of Oranges. - The
Orange Blossoms. - The Town of Orange. - Jesuits of Orange. - Revocation of
the Edict of Nantes.

The King, by the last peace, signed at Nimegue, had engaged to restore
the Principality of Orange to William, Stadtholder and Generalissimo of
the Dutch. This article was one of those which he had found most
repugnant to him, for nothing can be compared with the profound aversion
which the mere name inspired in the monarch. He pushed this hatred so
far that, having one day noticed from the heights of his balcony a superb
new equipage, of which the body was painted with orange-coloured varnish,
he sent and asked the name of the owner; and, on their reporting to him
that this coach belonged to a provincial intendant, a relative
of the Chancellor, his Majesty said, the same evening, to the
magistrate-minister: "Your relative ought to show more discretion in the
choice of the colours he displays."

This coach appeared no more, and the silk and cloth mercers had their
stuffs redyed.

Another day, at the high table, the King, seeing four bowls of big
oranges brought in, said aloud before the public: "Take away that fruit,
which has nothing in its favour but its look. There is nothing more
dangerous or unhealthy."

On the morrow these words spread through the capital, and the courtiers
dared eat oranges only privately and in secret.

As for me, with my love for the scent of orange blossoms, the monarch's
petulance once more affected me extremely. I was obliged for some time
to give it up, like the others, and take to amber, the favourite scent of
my master, which my nerves could not endure.

Before surrendering the town of Orange to the commissioners of the
kinglet of the Dutch, the King of France had the walls thrown down, all
the fortifications razed, and the public buildings, certain convents, and
the library of the town stripped of their works of art. These measures
irritated Prince William, who, on that account alone, wished to
recommence the war; but the Emperor and the allies heard his complaints
with little attention. They even besought him to leave things as they
were. M. d'Orange is a real firebrand; he could not endure the
severities of the King without reprisals, and no sooner was he once more
in possession of his little isolated sovereignty than he annoyed the
Catholics in it, caused all possible alarms to the sisters of mercy and
nuns, imposed enormous taxes on the monks, and drove out the Jesuits with
unheard-of insults.

The King received hospitably all these humiliated or persecuted folk; and
as he was given to understand that the Orange Protestants were secretly
sowing discontent amongst his Calvinists and French Lutherans, he
prepared the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the famous political
measure the abrogation of which took place a short time afterwards.

I saw, in the hands of the King, a document of sixty pages, printed at
Orange, after its restitution, in which it was clearly specified that
Hugh Capet had set himself on the throne irregularly, and in which the
author went to the point of saying that the Catholic religion was only an
idolatry, and that the peoples would only be happy and free after the
general introduction of the Reformation. The Marechal de Vivonne came
and told me, in strict confidence, that the Jesuits, out of resentment,
had forged this document, and printed the pamphlet themselves; but M. de
Louvois, who, through his father, the Chancellor, and his brother, the
Archbishop of Rheims, was associated with them, maintained that the
incendiary libel was really the work of the Protestants.

My residence at the Court having opened my eyes sufficiently to the
wickedness of men, I will not give my opinion, amid these angry charges
and recriminations. I confine myself to relating what I have seen.


Sickness. - Death of the Queen. - Her Last Words. - The King's
Affliction. - His Saying. - Second Anonymous Letter. - Conversation with La
Dauphine. - Madame de Maintenon Intervenes.

While the Turks and the Imperialists were fighting in the plains of
Hungary, the King, followed by all his Court, had made his way towards
the frontiers of Alsace. He reviewed countless battalions, he made
promotions, and gave brilliant repasts and fetes.

The season was a little trying, and the Queen, though born in Spain, did
not accommodate herself to the June heat. As soon as business permitted
they took the road to the capital, and returned to Versailles with some

Scarcely had they arrived, when the Queen fell ill; it did not deserve
the name of sickness. It was only an indisposition, pure and simple, - an
abscess in the armpit; that was all. Fagon, the boldest and most
audacious of all who ever exercised the art of AEsculapius, decided that,
to lessen the running, it was necessary to draw the blood to another
quarter. In spite of the opinion of his colleagues, he ordered her to be
bled, and all her blood rushed to her heart. In a short time the
princess grew worse in an alarming fashion, and in a few moments we heard
that she was in her death-agony; in a few moments more we heard of her

The King wept bitterly at first, as we had seen him weep for Marie de
Mancini, Louise de la Valliere, Henrietta of England, and the Duchesse de
Fontanges, - dead of his excesses. He set out at once for the Chateau of
Saint Cloud, which belonged to his brother; and Monsieur, wishing to
leave the field clear for him, went away to the Palais Royal with his
disagreeable wife and their numerous children.

His Majesty returned two days afterwards to the Chateau of Versailles,
where he, his son, and all the family sprinkled holy water over the
deceased; and this little ceremony being finished, they regained in
silence the Chateau of Saint Cloud.

The aspect of that gloomy Salon of Peace, converted into a catafalque;
the sight of that small bier, on which a beautiful, good, and indulgent
wife was reposing; those silent images, so full of speech, awoke the just
remorse of the King. His tears began once more to flow abundantly, and
he was heard to say these words:

"Dear, kind friend, this is the first grief you have caused me in twenty

The Infanta, as I have already related, had granted in these latter days
her entire confidence and affection to her daughter-in-law's lady in
waiting. Finding herself sick and in danger, she summoned Madame de
Maintenon; and understanding soon that those famous Court physicians did
not know how ill she was, and that she was drawing near her last hour,
she begged this woman, so ready in all things, to leave her no more, and
to be good enough to prepare her for death.

The Marquise wept bitterly, and perhaps even sincerely; for being unable
to foresee, at that period, all that was to befall her in the issue, she
probably entertained the hope of attaching herself for good to this
excellent princess. In losing her, she foresaw, or feared, if not
adversity, at least a decline.

The King was courting her, it is true, and favouring her already with
marked respect; but Francoise d'Aubigne, - thoughtful and meditative as I
knew her to be, could certainly not have failed to appreciate the
voluptuous and inconstant character of the monarch. She had seen several
notorious friendships collapse in succession; and it is not at the age of
forty-six or forty-seven that one can build castles in Spain to dwell in
with young love.

The Queen, before the beginning of her death agony, herself drew a
splendid ring from her finger, and would pass it over the finger of the
Marquise, to whom, some months before, she had already given her
portrait. It was asserted that her last words were these: "Adieu, my
dearest Marquise; to you I recommend and confide the King."

In accordance with a recommendation so binding and so precise, Madame de
Maintenon followed the monarch to Saint Cloud; and as great afflictions
are fain to be understood and shared, these two desolate hearts shut
themselves up in one room, in order to groan in concert.

The Queen having been taken to Saint Denis, the King, Madame de
Maintenon, and the Court returned to Versailles, where the royal family
went into mourning for the period prescribed by law and custom.

The Queen's large and small apartments, so handsome, new, splendid, and
magnificent, became the habitation of Madame la Dauphine; so that the
lady in waiting, in virtue of her office, returned in the most natural
manner to those apartments where she had held authority.

The Queen, without having the genius of conversation and discussion,
lacked neither aplomb nor a taste for the proprieties; she knew how to
support, or, at least, to preside over a circle. The young Dauphine had
neither the desire, nor the patience, nor, the tact.

The prince charged the lady in waiting to do these things for her. We
repaired in full dress to the Princess, - to present our homages to Madame
de Maintenon. One must admit she threw her heart into it; that is to
say, she drew out, as far as possible, the monarch's daughter-in-law,
inspiring into her every moment amiable questions or answers, which she
had taken pains to embellish and adorn in her best manner.

The King arrived; I then had the pleasure of seeing him, not two paces
from me, before my very eyes, saying witty and agreeable things to the
Marquise; while he talked to me only of the rain and the weather, always

It was then that I received a second anonymous letter, in the same
handwriting, the same style, the same tone as that of which mention has
been made. I transcribe it; it is curious.


MADAME: - You have not followed my former advice. The opportunity has
gone by; it is too late. Your superintendence is left with you, and
there are four or five hundred thousand livres lying idle; for you will
not be able to sell the superintendence of a household, and of a council,
which are in a tomb at Saint Denis! Happily you are rich, and what would
be a disaster to another fortune is scarcely more than a slight
disappointment to you. I take the respectful liberty of talking once
more with the prettiest and wittiest woman of her century, in order to
submit to her certain ideas, and to offer her a fresh piece of advice,
which I believe important.

The Queen, moved by a generosity seldom found in her peers, pardoned you
to some degree your theft of her spouse; she pardoned you in order to be
agreeable to him, and to prove to him that, being his most sincere
friend, she could not bring herself to contest his affections and his
pastimes. But this sublime philosophy is at an end; the excellent heart
of this Queen is at Val-de-Grace; it will beat no more, neither for her
volatile husband, nor for any one whatsoever.

Madame la Dauphine, brought up in German severity, and hardly accustomed
to the atmosphere of her new country, neither likes nor respects you, nor
has any indulgence for you. She barely suffers the presence of your
children, although brothers of her husband. How should she tolerate
yours? It appears, it is plain, Madame la Marquise, that your name has
found no place or footing on her list, and that she would rather not meet
you often in her salons. If one may even speak to you confidentially,
she has thus expressed herself; it would be cruel for you to hear of it
from any other being but me.

Believe me, believe a man as noted for his good qualities as for his
weaknesses. He will never drive you away, for you are the mother of his
beloved children, and he has loved you himself tenderly. However, his
coldness is going to increase. Will you be sufficiently light-hearted,
or sufficiently imprudent, to await on a counterscarp the rigours of
December and January?

Keep your wit always, Madame la Marquise, and with this wit, which is
such a charming resource, do not divest yourself of your noble pride.

I am, always, your respectful and devoted servant,


At the time of the first letter, when I had hesitated some time, doubtful

Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 22 of 30)