Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart Montespan.

Memoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete online

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afflicting circumstance which you have just recalled to me. Your
companions, for one fortnight, were at the pains to send to my little
brother and to me a portion of their food. Our relations; who enjoyed
all our property, had reduced us to indigence. But, as soon as my
position was ameliorated, I sent fifteen hundred francs to the Reverend
Father Superior of the Jesuits for his charities. That manner of
reimbursement has not acquitted me, and I could not see an unfortunate
man begging me for assistance without remembering what your house once
did for me. I do not remember your face, monsieur, but I believe your
simple assertion. If you are in holy orders I will recommend you to the
Archbishop of Rouen, who will find you a place suitable for you. Are you
in holy orders?"

"No, madame," replied the ex-Jesuit; "I was merely a lay brother."

"In that case," replied the Marquise, "we can offer you a position as
schoolmaster; and the Jesuit Fathers, if they have any esteem for you,
should have rendered you this service, for they have the power to do
that, and more."



The King Takes Luxembourg Because It Is His Will. - Devastation of the
Electorate of Treves. - The Marquis de Louvois. - His Portrait. - The
Marvels Which He Worked. - The Le Tellier and the Mortemart. - The King
Destines De Mortemart to a Colbert. - How One Manages Not to Bow. - The
Dragonades. - A Necessary Man. - Money Makes Fat. - Meudon. - The Horoscope.

This journey to Flanders did not keep the King long away from his
capital. And, withal, he made two fine and rich conquests, short as the
space of time was. The important town of Luxembourg was necessary to
him. He wanted it. The Marechal de Crequi invested this place with an
army of thirty thousand men, and made himself master of it at the end of
a week.

Immediately after the King marched to the Electorate of Treves, which had
belonged, he said, to the former kingdom of Austrasia. He had no trouble
in mastering it, almost all the imperial forces being in Hungary,
Austria, and in those cantons where the Ottomans had called for them. The
town of Treves humbly recognised the King of France as its lord and
suzerain. Its fine fortifications were levelled at once, and our
victories were, unhappily, responsible for the firing, pillage, and
devastation of almost the whole Electorate. For the Duke of Crequi,
faithful executor of the orders of Louvois, imagined that a sovereign is
only obeyed when he proves himself stern and inflexible.

In the first years of my favour, the Marquis de Louvois enjoyed my entire
confidence, and, I must admit, my highest esteem. Independently of his
manners, which are, when he wishes, those of the utmost amiability, I
remarked in him an industrious and indefatigable minister, an intelligent
man, as well instructed in the mass as in details; a mind fertile in
resources, means, and expedients; an administrator, a jurist, a
theologian, a man of letters and of affairs, an artist, an agriculturist,
a soldier.

Loving pleasure, yet knowing how to despise it in favour of the needs of
the State and the care of affairs, this minister concentrated in his own
person all the other ministries, which moved only by his impulse and
guiding hand.

Did the King, followed by his whole Court, arrive in fearful weather by
the side of some vast and swollen river, M. de Louvois, alighting from
his carriage, would sweep the horizon with a single glance. He would
designate on the spot the farms, granaries, mills, and chateaux necessary
to the passage of a fastidious king on his travels. A general repast,
appropriate and sufficient, issued at his voice as it had been from the
bowels of the earth. An abundance of mattresses received provisionally
the more or less delicate forms, stretched out in slumber or fatigue. And
in the depth of the night, by the light of a thousand flaring torches, a
vast bridge, constructed hastily, in spite of wind and rain, permitted
the royal carriage and the host of other vehicles to cross the stream,
and find on the further bank succulent dishes and voluptuous apartments.

This prodigious energy, which created results by pulverising obstacles,
had rendered the minister not only agreeable but precious to a young
sovereign, who, unable to tolerate delays and resistance, desired in all
things to attain and succeed. The King, without looking too closely at
the means, loved the results which were the consequences of such a
genius, and he rewarded with a limitless confidence the intrepid and
often culpable zeal of a minister who procured him hatred.

When the passions of the conqueror, owing to success, grew calm, he
studied more tranquilly both his own desires and his coadjutor's. The
King by nature is neither inhuman nor savage, and he knew that Louvois
was like Phalaris in these points. Then he was at as much pains to
repress this unpopular humour as he had shown indifference before in
allowing it to act.

The Marquis de Louvois (who did not like me) had lavished his incense
upon me, in order that some fumes of it might float up to the prince. He
saw me beloved and, as it were, almost omnipotent; he sought my alliance
with ardour. The family of Le Tellier is good enough for a judicial and
legal family; but what bonds are there between the Louvois and the
Mortemart? No matter: ambition puts a thick bandage over the eyes of
those whom it inspires; the Marquis wished to marry his daughter to my
nephew, De Mortemart!!!

I communicated this proposition to the King. His Majesty said to me: "I
am delighted that he has committed the grave fault of approaching any one
else than me about this marriage. Answer him, if you please, that it is
my province alone to marry the daughters, and even the sons of my
ministers. Louvois has thus far helped me to spend enormous sums. M.
Colbert has assisted me to heap up treasure. It is for one of the
Colberts that I destine your nephew; for I have made up my mind that the
three sisters shall be duchesses."

In effect, his Majesty caused this marriage; and the Marquis de Louvois
had the jaundice over it for more than a fortnight.

Since that time his assiduities have been enlightened. He puts respect
into his reverences; and when our two coachmen carried our equipages past
each other on the same, road, he read some documents in order to avoid
saluting me.

In the affair of the Protestants, he caused what was at first only
anxiety, religious zeal, and distrust to turn into rebellion. In order
to make himself necessary, he proposed his universal and permanent
patrols and dragoons. He caused certain excesses to be committed in
order to raise a cry of disorder; and a measure which could have been
effective without ceasing to be paternal became, in his hands, an
instrument of dire persecution.

Madame de Maintenon, having learnt that Louvois, to exonerate himself,
was secretly designating her as the real author of these rigorous and
lamentable counsels, made complaint of it to the King, and publicly
censured his own brother, who, in order to make himself agreeable to the
Jesuits, to Bossuet, and to Louvois, had made himself a little hero in
his provincial government.

The great talents of M. de Louvois, and the difficulty of replacing him,
became his refuge and safeguard. But, from the moment that he no longer
received the intimate confidence of the King, and the esteem of the lady
in waiting who sits upon the steps of the throne, he can only look upon
himself at Versailles as a traveller with board and lodging.

His revenues are incalculable. The people, seeing his enormous
corpulence, maintain, or pretend, that he is stuffed with gold. His
general administration of posts alone is worth a million. His other
offices are in proportion.

His chateau of Meudon-Fleury, a magical and quite ideal site, is the
finest pleasure-house that ever yet the sun shone on. The park and the
gardens are in the form of an amphitheatre, and are, in my opinion,
sublime, in a far different way from those of Vaux. M. Fouquet,
condemned to death, in punishment for his superb chateau, died slowly in
prison; the Marquis de Louvois will not, perhaps, die in a stronghold;
but his horoscope has already warned that minister to be prepared for
some great adversity. He knows it; sometimes he is concerned about it;
and everything leads one to believe that he will come to a bad end. He
has done more harm than people believe.


The Reformed Religion and Painting on Enamel - Petitot and
Heliogabalus. - Theological Discussion with the Marquise. - The King's
Intervention. - Louis XIV. Renders His Account to the Christian and Most
Christian Painter. - The King's Word Is Not to Be Resisted. - Revocation of
the Edict of Nantes.

At the moment when the first edicts, were issued against the public
exercise of the Reformed Religion, the famous and incomparable Petitot,
refusing all the supplications of France and of Europe, executed for me,
in my chateau of Clagny, five infinitely precious portraits, upon which
it was his caprice only to work alternately, and which still demanded
from him a very great number of sittings. One of these five portraits
was that of the King, copied from that great and magnificent picture of
Mignard, where he was represented at the age of twenty, in the costume of
a Greek hero, in all the lustre of his youth. His Majesty had given me
this little commission for more than a year, and I desired, with all my
heart, to be able soon to fulfil his expectation. He destined this
miniature for the Emperor of China or the Sultan.

I went to see M. Petitot at Clagny. When he saw me he came to me with a
wrathful air, and, presenting me his unfinished enamel, he said to me:
"Here, madame, is your Greek hero; his new edicts finish us, but, as for
me, I shall not finish him. With the best intentions in the world, and
all the respect that is due to him, my just resentment would pass into my
brush; I should give him the traits of Heliogabalus, which would probably
not delight him."

"Do you think so, monsieur?" said I to my artist. "Is it thus you speak
of the King, our master, - of a King who has affection for you, and has
proved it to: you so many times?"

"My memory, recalls to me all that his munificence: has done for my
talent in a thousand instances," went on the painter; "but his edicts,
his cruel decrees, have upset my heart, and the persecutor of the true
Christians no longer merits my consideration or good-will."

I had been ignorant hitherto of the faith which this able man professed;
he informed me that he worshipped God in another fashion than ours, and
made common cause with the Protestants.

"Well," said I to him then, "what have you to complain of in the new
edicts and decrees? They only concern, so far, your ministers, - I should
say, your priests; you are not one, and are never likely to be; what do
these new orders of the Council matter to you?"

"Madame," resumed Petitot, "our ministers, by preaching the holy gospel,
fulfil the first of their duties. The King forbids them to preach; then,
he persecutes them and us. In the thousand and one religions which
exist, the cause of the priests and the sanctuary becomes the cause of
the faithful. Our priests are not imbecile Trappists and Carthusians, to
be reduced to inaction and silence. Since their tongues are tied, they
are resolved to depart; and their departure becomes an exile which it is
our duty to share. If you will entrust me with your portraits which have
been commenced, with the exception of that of Heliogabalus, I will finish
them in a hospitable land, and shall have the honour of sending them to
you, already fired and in all their perfection."

Petitot, until this political crisis, had only exhibited himself to me
beneath an appearance of simplicity and good-nature. Now his whole face
was convulsed and almost threatening; when I looked at him he made me
afraid. I did not amuse myself by discussing with him matters upon which
we were, both of us, more or less ignorant. I did all that could be done
to introduce a little calm into his superstitious head, and to gain the
necessary time for the completion of my five portraits. I was careful
not to confide to the King this qualification of Heliogabalus; but as his
intervention was absolutely necessary to me, I persuaded him to come and
spend half an hour at this chateau of Clagny, which he had deserted for a
long time past.

"Your presence," I said to him, "will perhaps take the edge off the
theological irritation of your fanatical painter. A little royal
amenity, a little conversation and blandishment, a la Louis XIV., will
seduce his artistic vanity. At the cost of that, your portrait, Sire,
will be terminated. It would not be without."

The surprise of his Majesty was extreme when he had to learn and
comprehend that the prodigious talent of Petitot was joined to a Huguenot
conscience, and this talent spoke of expatriating itself. "I will go to
Clagny to-morrow," replied the prince to me; and he went there, in fact,
accompanied by the Marquise de Montchevreuil and Madame la Dauphine, in
an elaborate neglige.

"Good-day, Monsieur Petitot," said the monarch to our artist, who rose on
seeing him enter. "I come to contemplate your new masterpieces. Is my
little miniature near completion?"

"Sire," replied Petitot, "it will not be for another six weeks. All
these affairs and decrees have deprived me of many hours; my heart is
heavy over it!"

"And why do you busy yourself with these discussions, with which your
great talent has no concern?" said the King to him, gently.

"Sire, it is my religion that is more concerned than ever. I am a
Christian, and my law is dear to me."

"And I am Most Christian," answered his Majesty, smiling. "I profess the
religion, I keep the law that your ancestors and mine kept before the

"Sire, this reform has been adopted by a great number of monarchs, - a
proof that the Reformation is not the enemy of kings, as is said."

"Yes, in the case of wise and honest men like yourself, my good friend
Petitot; but just as all your brothers have not your talents, so they
have not your rectitude and loyalty, which are known to me."

"Sire, your Majesty overwhelms me; but I beg you to be persuaded that my
brothers have been calumniated."

"Yes, if one is to accuse them in the mass, my dear Petitot; but there
are spoil-alls amongst your theologians; intercepted correspondences
depose to it. The allied princes, having been unable to crush me by
their invasions and artillery, have recourse to internal and clandestine
manoeuvres. Having failed to corrupt my soldiers, they have essayed to
corrupt my clergy, as they did at Montauban and La Rochelle, in the days
of Cardinal Richelieu."

"Sire, do not believe in any such manoeuvres; all your subjects love and
admire you, whatever be their faith and communion."

"Petitot, you are an admirable painter and a most worthy man. Do not
answer me, I beg you. If I believed you had as much genius and aptitude
for great affairs as for the wonders of the brush, I would make you a
Counsellor of State on the instant, and a half-hour spent with me and my
documents and papers of importance would be sufficient to make you
believe and think as I do touching what has been discussed between us.
Madame de Montespan, in great alarm, has told me that you wished to leave
me. You leave me, my good friend! Where will you find a sky so pure and
soft as the sky of France? Where will you find a King more tenderly
attached to men of merit, more particularly, to my dear and illustrious

At these words, pronounced with emotion, the artist felt the tears come
into his eyes. He bent one knee to the ground, respectfully kissed the
hand of the monarch, and promised to complete his portrait immediately.

He kept his word to us. The King's miniature and my four portraits were
finished without hesitation or postponement; and Petitot also consented
to copy, for his Majesty, a superb Christine of Sweden, a full-length
picture, painted by Le Bourdon. But at the final revocation of the Edict
of Nantes, he thought his conscience, or rather his vanity, compromised,
and quitted France, although the King offered to allow him a chaplain of
his communion, and a dispensation from all the oaths, to Petitot himself,
to Boyer, his brother-in-law, and the chaplain whom they had retained
with them.


Lovers' Vows. - The Body-guards. - Racine's Phedre. - The
Pit. - Allusions. - The Duel. - M. de Monclar. - The Cowled Spy. - He Escapes
with a Fright. - M. de Monclar in Jersey. - Gratitude of the
Marquise. - Happy Memory.

Lovers, in the effervescence of their passion, exaggerate to themselves
the strength and intensity of their sentiments. The momentary, pleasure
that this agreeable weakness causes them to feel, brings them, in spite
of themselves, to promise a long duration of it, so that they swear
eternal fidelity, a constancy, proof against all, two days after that one
which shone on their most recent infidelity. I had seen the King neglect
and abandon the amiable La Valliere, and I listened to him none the less
credulously and confidently when he said to me: "Athenais, we have been
created for each other: if Heaven were suddenly to deprive me of the
Queen, I would have your marriage dissolved, and, before the altar and
the world, join your destiny, to mine."

Full of these fantastic ideas, in which my hope and desire and credulity
were centred, I had accepted those body-guards of state who never left my
carriage. The poor Queen had murmured: I had disdained her murmurs. The
public had manifested its disapproval: I had hardened myself and fought
against the insolent opinion of that public. I could not renounce my
chimera of royalty, based on innumerable probabilities, and I used my
guards in anticipation, and as a preliminary.

One of them, one day, almost lost his life in following my carriage,
which went along like a whirlwind. His horse fell on the high road to
Versailles; his thigh was broken, and his body horribly bruised. I
descended from my carriage to see after him. I confided him, with the
most impressive recommendations, to the physician or surgeon of Viroflai,
who lavished on him his attentions, his skill and zeal, and who sent him
back quite sound after a whole month of affectionate care.

The young Baron de Monclar (such was the name of this guard) thought
himself happy in having merited my favour by this accident, and he
remained sincerely and finally attached to me.

At the time of the temporary triumph of Mademoiselle de Fontanges, the
spell which was over my eyes was dissipated. The illusions of my youth
were lost, and I saw, at last, the real distance which divided me from
the steps of the throne. The health of a still youthful Queen seemed to
me as firm and unalterable then as it appeared to me weak and uncertain
before. The inconstancy of the monarch warned me of what might be still
in store for me, and I resolved to withdraw myself, voluntarily and with
prudence, within the just limits of my power.

M. le Prince de Luxembourg was one of my friends, and in command; I
begged him to send me his guards no longer, but to reserve them for the
reigning divinity, who had already more than once obtained them.

In these latter days, that is to say, since the eminent favour of the
lady in waiting, having become the friend, and no longer the spouse of
the prince, I frequently retired from this sight, so repugnant to me, and
went and passed entire weeks at Paris, where the works on my large hotel,
that had been suspended for divers reasons, were being resumed.

A debutante, as beautiful as she was clever, was drawing the entire
capital to the Comedie Francaise. She obtained especial applause in the
difficult part of Phedre. My friends spoke marvels of it, and wished to
take me there with them. Their box was engaged. We arrived as the
curtain was going up. As I took my seat I noticed a certain stir in the
orchestra and pit. The majority of glances were directed at my box, in
which my apparition had attracted curiosity. I carried my fan to my
face, under the pretext of the excessive glow of the lights. Immediately
several voices were to be heard: "Take away the fan, if you please." The
young and foolish applauded this audacity; but all the better part

The actress mentioned came on the scene and brought the incident to an
end. Although deeply moved by what had occurred, I paid great attention
to the magnificent part of Phedre, which often excited my admiration and
profound pity. At some passages, which every one knows by heart, two or
three insolent persons abandoned themselves to a petty war of allusions,
and accenting these aggressive phrases with their applause, succeeded in
directing general attention to me. Officers of the service noticed this
beginning of disorder, and probably were concerned at my embarrassment.
Some Gardes Francais were called within the barrier of the parterre in
order to restrain the disturbers. Suddenly a very lively quarrel broke
out in the centre. Two young men with great excitement had come to
blows, and soon we saw them sally forth with the openly expressed
intention of settling their quarrel on the field.

Was it my name, or a contest as to the talent of the actress, which
caused this commotion? My nephew, De Mortemart, was concerned for me,
and the Comte de Marcilly assured us that all these wrangles were solely
with regard to the wife of Theseus.

Between the two pieces our company learnt that a gentleman from the
provinces had insulted my name, and a body-guard, out of uniform, had
taken this insult for himself; they had gone out to have an explanation.

The following day a religious minim of the House of Chaillot came to
inform me of the state of affairs. The Baron de Monclar, of the
body-guards of the King, had taken sanctuary in their monastery, after
having killed, in lawful duel, beneath the outer walls of the Bois du
Boulogne, the imprudent young man who, the night before, at the play, had
exposed me to the censure of the public. M. de Monclar was quite
prepared for the inflexible severity of the King, as well as for the
uselessness of my efforts. He only begged me to procure him a disguise
of a common sort, so that he might immediately embark from the
neighbourhood of Gainville or Bordeaux, and make for England or Spain;
every moment was precious.

The sad position in which M. de Monclar had put himself in my behalf
filled me with sorrow. I gave a long sigh, and dried my first tears. I
racked my sick and agitated head for the reply I ought to make to the
good monk, and, to my great astonishment, my mind, ordinarily so prompt
and active, suggested and offered me no suitable plan. This indecision,
perhaps, rendered the worthy ambassador impatient and humiliated me;
when, to end it, I made up my mind to request that M. de Monclar be
secretly transferred from the House of Chaillot to my dwelling, where I
should have time and all possible facilities to take concert with him as
to the best means of action.

Suddenly raising my eyes to the monk of Chaillot, I surprised in his a
ferocious look of expectation. This horrible discovery unnerved me, - I
gave a cry of terror; all my lackeys rushed in. I ordered the traitor to
be seized and precipitated from the height of my balcony into the
gardens. His arms were already bound ruthlessly, and my people were
lifting him to throw him down, when he eluded their grasp, threw himself
at my feet, and confessed that his disguise was assumed with the intent
to discover the sanctuary of the Baron de Monclar, the assassin of his
beloved brother. "It is asserted, madame," added this man, rising, "that
the Baron is confided to the Minim Fathers of Chaillot. I imagined that
you were informed of it, and that by this means my family would succeed
in reaching him."

"If he has killed the nobody who yesterday insulted me so unjustly," I
said then to this villain who was ready for death, "he has done a
virtuous act, but one which I condemn. I condemn it because of the law
of the Prince, which is formal, and because of the dire peril into which
he has run; for that my heart could almost praise and thank him. I was
ignorant of his offence; I am ignorant of his place of refuge. Whoever
you may be, - the agent of a family in mourning, or of a magistrate who
forgets what is due to me, - leave my house before my wrath is rekindled.

Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 26 of 30)