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Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart Montespan.

Memoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete online

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predecessors.

"The sentences and anathemas which surcharge the pyramid, as they say,
can in no way draw down upon them the anger of passers-by and the
populace, for these inscriptions, which I have read, are in bad Latin.
This monument, which is very rich and even elegant in itself, is placed
upon the site of the destroyed house of the assassin Chatel. The most
ignorant of your Parisians knows this circumstance, which he has learnt
from family traditions. It is good that the people see every day before
their eyes this solitary pyramid, which teaches how King's assassins are
punished and what is done with the houses in which they were born.

"King Henri IV., for all his gaiety, had wits enough for four; he left
the pyramid standing, like those indulgent people who compromise a great
lawsuit, but do not on that account destroy the evidence and documents.

"This monument, besides, is the work of the Parliament of Paris; that
illustrious assembly has raised it, and perhaps your Majesty might seem
to accuse justice by destroying what it has once done for a good cause."

The King smiled at the conclusions of the lady in waiting, and said to
both of us: "This is between us three, I pray you, ladies; I will keep
Pere de la Chaise amused with promises some day."

Madame de Maintenon, for a brief time in her first youth a Calvinist,
cherished always in the bottom of her heart a good share of those
suspicions that Calvin's doctrine is careful to inspire against the
Jesuits.

On the other hand, she retained amongst the Parliament a large number of
friends whom she had known formerly at M. Scarron's, the son of a
counsellor of the chamber. I understood that in those circumstances she
was well pleased to prove to the gentlemen of Parliament that the
interests of their house were kept in good hands, and that she would not
abandon her friends of the Place Royale and the Marais for all the
Jesuits and all the pyramids in the world.

The Parliament, which was informed of her conduct and fidelity, bore her
infinite good-will for it. The first president, decorated with his blue
riband, came; to express his formal thanks, and begged her to accept in
perpetuity a key of honour to the High Chamber.

[In famous and unusual causes, princes, ambassadors, and keys of honour
came and occupied the lanterns, that is to say, elegant and well
furnished tribunes, from which all that passed in the grand hall of the
Parliament could be seen.]

The Jesuits, for perseverance and tenacity, can be compared with spiders
who repair, or start again every instant at a damaged or broken thread.
When these good fathers knew that their petition had not triumphed
offhand, they struck out for some new road to reach the generous heart of
the monarch. Having learnt that an alderman, full of enthusiasm, had
just proposed in full assembly at the Hotel de Ville to raise a triumphal
monument to the Peacemaker of Europe, and to proclaim him Louis the Great
at a most brilliant fete, the Jesuit Fathers cleverly took the
initiative, and whilst the Hotel de Ville was deliberating to obtain his
Majesty's consent, the College of Clermont, in the Rue Saint Jacques,
brought out its annual thesis, and dedicated it to the King, - Louis the
Great (Ludovico Magno).

On the following day the masons raised scaffolding before the great door
of the college, erased the original inscription - which consisted of the
words: "College of Clermont" - to substitute for it, in letters of gold:
"Royal College of Louis the Great." These items of news reached
Versailles one after the other. The King received them with visible
satisfaction, and if only Pere de la Chaise had known how to profit at
the time by the emotion and sentiment of the prince, he would have
carried off the tall pyramid as an eagle does a sparrow. The confessor,
a man of great circumspection, dared not force his penitent's hand; he
was tactful with him in all things, and the society had the trouble of
its famous cajolery without gaining anything more at the game than
compliments and gold pieces in sufficient plenty.

Some days afterwards the monarch, of his own accord and without any
incentive, remembered the offensive and mortifying pyramid; but Madame de
Maintenon reminded him that it was desirable to wait, for scoffers would
not be wanting to say that this demolition was one of the essential
conditions of the bargain.

The King relished this advice. At the Court one must make haste to
obtain anything; but to be forgotten, a few minutes' delay is sufficient.

[This pyramid was taken down two or three years before the Revolution by
the wish of Louis XVI., after having stood for two hundred
years. - EDITOR'S NOTE.]




CHAPTER XLIII.

Little Opportune. - M. and Madame Bontems. - The Young Moor Weaned. - The
Good Cure. - The Blessed Virgin. - Opportune at the Augustinians of
Meaux. - Bossuet Director. - Mademoiselle Albanier and Leontine. - Flight of
Opportune. - Her Threats of Suicide. - Visit of the Marquise. - Prudence of
the Court.


The poor Queen had had several daughters, all divinely well made and
pretty as little Cupids. They kept in good health up to their third or
fourth year; they went no further. It was as though a fate was over
these charming creatures; so that the King and Queen trembled whenever
the accoucheurs announced a daughter instead of a son.

My readers remember the little negress who was born to the Queen in the
early days, - she whom no one wanted, who was dismissed, relegated,
disinherited, unacknowledged, deprived of her rank and name the very day
of her birth; and who, by a freak of destiny, enjoyed the finest health
in the world, and surmounted, without any precautions or care, all the
difficulties, perils, and ailments of infancy.

M. Bontems, first valet de chambre of the cabinets, served as her
guardian, or curator; even he acted only through the efforts and
movements of an intermediary. It was wished that this young Princess
should be ignorant of her birth, and in this I agree that, in the midst
of crying injustice, the King kept his natural humanity. This poor child
not being meant, and not being able, to appear at Court, it was better,
indeed, to keep her from all knowledge of her rights, in order to deprive
her, at one stroke, of the distress of her conformation, the hardship of
her repudiation, and the despair of captivity. The King destined her for
a convent when he saw her born, and M. Bontems promised that it should be
so.

At the age of three, she was withdrawn from the hands of her nurse, and
Madame Bontems put her to be weaned in her own part of the world.
Opportune, - [She was born on Sainte Opportune's Day.] - clothed and
nourished like the other children of the farmer, who was her new patron,
played with them in the barns or amongst the snow; she followed them into
the orchards and fields; she filled, like them, her little basket with
acorns that had been left after the crop was over, or ears of corn that
the gleaners had neglected, or withered branches and twigs left by the
wood-cutters for the poor. Her nude, or semi-nude, arms grew rough in
the burning sun, and more so still in the frosts. Her pretty feet, so
long as the fine season lasted, did not worry about being shod, and when
November arrived with its terrors, Opportune took her little heeled
sabots like the other country children. M. and Madame Bontems wrote
every six months to inquire if she were dead, and each time the answer
came that the little Moor was in wonderful health.

The pastor of the neighbouring hamlet felt pity for this poor child, who
was sometimes tormented by her companions on account of her colour. The
good cure even went so far as to declare, one day when there was a
sermon, that the Virgin Mary, if one was to believe respectable books,
was black from head to foot, which did not prevent her from being most
beautiful in the sight of God and of men.

This good cure taught the gentle little orphan to read and pray. He often
came to her farm to visit her, and probably he knew her birth; he was in
advanced age, and he died. Then Opportune was placed with the
Augustinian ladies of Meaux, where Bossuet charged himself with the task
of instructing her well in religion and of making her take the veil.

The lot of this young victim of pride and vain prejudices touched me in
spite of myself, and often I made a firm resolution to take her away from
her oppressors and adopt her in spite of everybody. The poor Queen,
forgetting our rivalry, had taken all my children into her affections.
Why should not I have shown a just recognition by protecting an innocent
little creature animated with her breath, life, and blood, - a child whom
she would have loved, I do not doubt, if she had been permitted to see
and recognise her? This idea grew so fixed in my mind, that I resolved
to see Opportune and do her some good, if I were able.

The interest of my position had led me once to assure myself of the
neighbourhood of the King by certain little measures, not of curiosity
but of surveillance. I had put with M. Bontems a young man of
intelligence and devotion, who, without passing due limits, kept me
informed of many things which it is as well to know.

When I knew, without any doubt, the new abiding-place of Opportune, I
secretly sent to the Augustinians of Meaux the young and intelligent
sister of my woman of the bedchamber, who presented herself as an
aspirant for the novitiate. They were ignorant in the house of the
relations of Mademoiselle Albanier with her sister Leontine Osselin, so
that they wrote to each other, but by means of a cipher, and under seal,
addressing their missives to a relative.

Albanier lost no time in informing us that the little Opportune had begun
to give her her confidence, and that the nuns took it in very good part,
believing them both equally called to take the veil in their convent.
Opportune knew, though in a somewhat vague way, to what great personage
she owed her life, and it appeared that the good cure had informed her,
out of compassion, before he left this world. Albanier wrote to
Leontine:

"Tell Madame la Marquise that Opportune is full of wit; she resembles M.
le Duc du Maine as though she were his twin; her carriage is exactly that
of the King; her body is built to perfection, and were it not for her
colour, the black of which diminishes day by day, she would be one of the
loveliest persons in France; she is sad and melancholy by temperament,
but as I have succeeded in attracting her confidence, and diverting her
as much as one can do in a purgatory like this, we dance sometimes in
secret, and then you would think you saw Mademoiselle de Nantes dance and
pirouette.

"When any one pronounces the name of the King, she trembles. She asked
me to-day whether I had seen the King, if he were handsome, if he were
courteous and affable. It seemed to me as though she was already
revolving some great project in her brain, and if I am not mistaken, she
has quite decided to scale the fruit-trees against our garden wall and
escape across country.

"M. Bossuet, in his quality of Bishop of Meaux, has the right of entry
into this house; he has come here three times since my arrival; he has
given me each time a little tap on my check in token of goodwill, and
such as one gets at confirmation; he told me that he longs to see me take
the veil of the Ursulines, as well as my little scholar; it is by that
name he likes to call her.

"Opportune answers him with a stately air which would astound you; she
only calls him monsieur, and when told that she has made an error, and
that she should say monseigneur, she replies with great seriousness, 'I
had forgotten it.'"

Mademoiselle Albanier, out of kindness to me, passed nearly two years in
this house, which she always called her purgatory, but the endeavours of
the superior and of M. Bossuet becoming daily more pressing, and her
health, which had suffered, being unable to support the seclusion longer,
she made up her mind to retire.

Her departure was a terrible blow to the daughter of the Queen. This
young person, who was by nature affectionate, almost died of grief at the
separation. We learnt that, after having been ill and then ailing for
several weeks, she found the means of escaping from the convent, and of
taking refuge with some lordly chatelaine. M. de Meaux had her pursued,
but as she threatened to kill herself if she were taken back to the Abbey
of Notre Dame, the prelate wrote to M. Bontems, that is to say, to the
real father, and poor Opportune was taken to Moret, a convent of
Benedictines, in the forest of Fontainebleau. There they took the course
of lavishing care, and kindness, and attentions on her. But as her
destiny, written in her cradle, was an irrevocable sentence, she was
finally made to take the veil, which suited her admirably, and which she
wears with an infinite despair.

I disguised myself one day as a lady suitor who sought a lodging in the
house. I established myself there for a week, under the name of the
Comtesse de Clagny, and I saw, with my own eyes, a King's daughter
reduced to singing matins. Her air of nobility and dignity struck me
with admiration and moved me to tears. I thought of her four sisters,
dead at such an early age, and deplored the cruelty of Fate, which had
spared her in her childhood to kill her slowly and by degrees.

I would have accosted her in the gardens, and insinuated myself into her
confidence, but the danger of these interviews, both for her and me,
restrained what had been an ill-judged kindness. We should both have
gone too far, and the monarch would have been able to think that I was
opposing him out of revenge, and to give him pain.

This consideration came and crushed all my projects of compassion and
kindness. There are situations in life where we are condemned to see
evil done in all liberty, without being able to call for succour or
complain.




CHAPTER XLIV.

The Aristocratic Republic of Genoa Offends the King. - Its
Punishment. - Reception of the Doge at Paris and Versailles.


M. de Louvois - by nature, as I have said, hard and despotic - was quite
satisfied to gain the same reputation for the King, in order to cover his
own violence and rigour beneath the authority of the monarch.

The King, I admit, did not like to be contradicted or opposed. He became
irritated if one was unfortunate enough to do so; but I know from long
experience that he readily accepted a good excuse, and by inclination
liked neither to punish nor blame. The Marquis de Louvois was
unceasingly occupied in exciting him against one Power and then another,
and his policy was to keep the prince in constant alarm of distrust in
order to perpetuate wars and dissensions. This order of things pleased
that minister, who dreaded intervals of calm and peace, when the King
came to examine expenses and to take account of the good or bad
employment of millions.

The Republic of Genoa, accustomed to build vessels for all nations, built
some of them, unfortunately, for the King's enemies. These constructions
were paid for in advance. M. de Louvois, well-informed of what passed in
Genoa, waited till the last moment to oppose the departure of the four or
five new ships. The Genoese, promising to respect the King's will in the
future, sent these vessels to their destination.

On the report and conclusions of M. de Louvois, his Majesty commanded the
senators of Genoa to hand over to his Minister of War the sums arising
from the sale of these, and to send their Doge and four of the most
distinguished senators to beg the King's pardon in his palace at
Versailles.

The senate having replied that, by a fundamental law, a Doge could not
leave the city without instantly losing his power and dignity, the King
answered this message to the effect that the Doge would obey as an
extraordinary circumstance, that in this solitary case he would derogate
from the laws of the Genoese Republic, and that, the King's will being
explicit and unalterable, the Doge would none the less maintain his
authority.

Whilst waiting, his Majesty sent a fleet into Italian waters, and the
city of Genoa immediately sustained the most terrible bombardment.

The flag of distress and submission having been flown from all the
towers, our admirals ceased, and the Doge set out for Versailles,
accompanied by the four oldest senators.

At the news of their approach, all Paris echoed the songs of triumph that
M. de Louvois had had composed. A spacious hotel was prepared to receive
these representatives of a noble, aristocratic republic; and, to withdraw
them from the insults of the populace, they were given guards and
archers.

Although the chateau of Versailles was in all the lustre of its novelty,
since it had been inhabited for only two years, I perceived that they had
even been adding to its magnificence, and that everywhere were new
curtains, new candelabra, new carpets. The throne on which the monarch
was to sit surpassed all that we had ever seen.

On the eve of the solemn presentation the astonished ambassadors appeared
incognito before the minister, who dictated to them their costumes, their
reverences, and all the substance of their address. The influx of
strangers and Parisians to Versailles, to be witnesses of such a
spectacle, was so extraordinary and prodigious that the hostels and other
public inns were insufficient, and they were obliged to light fires of
yew in all the gardens.

In the great apartments there were persons of the highest rank who sought
permission to pass the night on benches, so that they might be all there
and prepared on the following day. On the two sides of the great gallery
they had raised tribunes in steps, draped in 'Cramoisi' velvet. It was
on these steps, which were entirely new, that all the ladies were placed.
The lords stood upright below them, and formed a double hedge on each
side.

When his Majesty appeared on his throne, the fire of the diamonds with
which he was covered for a moment dazzled all eyes. The King seemed to
me less animated than was his wont; but his fine appearance, which never
quits him, rendered him sufficiently fit for such a representation and
his part in it.

The Doge of the humiliated Republic exhibited neither obsequiousness nor
pride. We found his demeanour that of a philosopher prepared for all
human events. His colleagues walked after him, but at a little distance.
When the Doge Lescaro had asked for pardon, as he had submitted to do,
two of his senators fell to weeping. The King, who noticed the general
emotion, descended from his throne and spoke for some minutes with the
five personages, and, smiling on them with his most seductive grace, he
once more drew all hearts to him.

I was placed at two paces from Madame de Maintenon. The Doge, - who was
never left by a master of ceremonies, who named the ladies to him, - in
passing before me, made a profound reverence. He then drew near Madame
de Maintenon, who heard all his compliments, said to him, in Italian, all
that could be said, and did him the honour to lean on his hand when
descending from her tribune to return to the King's.

On the next day the Doge and senators came to present their homage to my
children, and did not forget me in their visits of ceremony.




CHAPTER XLV.

The Comte de Vermandois. - His Entrance into the World. - Quarrels with the
Dauphin. - Duel. - Siege of Courtrai. - The Cathedral of Arras.


When Madame de la Valliere (led by suggestions coming from the Most High)
left the Court and the world to shut herself up in a cloister, she
committed a great imprudence; I should not know how to repeat it: The
Carmelites in the Rue Saint Jacques could easily do without her; her two
poor little children could not. The King confided them, I am well aware,
to governors and governesses who were prudent, attentive, and capable;
but all the governors and preceptors in the world will never replace a
mother, - above all, in a place of dissipation, tumult, and carelessness
like the Court.

M. le Comte de Vermandois was only seven years old when exaggerated
scruples and bad advice deprived him of his mother. This amiable child,
who loved her, at first suffered much from her absence and departure. He
had to be taken to the Carmelites, where the sad metamorphosis of his
mother, whom he had seen so brilliant and alluring, made him start back
in fright.

He loved her always as much as he was loved by her, and in virtue of the
permission formally given by the Pope, he went every week to pass an hour
or two with her in the parlour. He regularly took there his singing and
flute lessons; these were two amiable talents in which he excelled.

About his twelfth year he was taken with the measles, and passed through
them fairly well. The smallpox came afterwards, but respected his
charming brown face. A severe shower of rain, which caught him in some
forest, made him take rheumatism; the waters of Vichy cured him; he
returned beaming with health and grace.

The King loved him tenderly, and everybody at Court shared this
predilection of the monarch. M. de Vermandois, of a stature less than
his father, was none the less one of the handsomest cavaliers at the
Court. To all the graces of his amiable mother he joined an ease of
manner, a mixture of nobility and modesty, which made him noticeable in
the midst of the most handsome and well made. I loved him with a
mother's fondness, and, from all his ingenuous and gallant caresses, it
was easy to see that he made me a sincere return.

This poor Comte de Vermandois, about a year before the death of the
Queen, had a great and famous dispute with Monsieur le Dauphin, a jealous
prince, which brought him his first troubles, and deprived him suddenly
of the protecting favour of the Infanta-queen.

At a ball, at the Duchesse de Villeroi's, all the Princes of the Blood
appeared. Monseigneur, who from childhood had had a fancy for
Mademoiselle de Blois, his legitimised sister, loved her far more
definitely since her marriage with M. le Prince de Conti. Monseigneur is
lacking in tact. At this ball he thought he could parade his sentiments,
which were visibly unpleasant, both to the young husband and to the
Princess herself. He danced, nevertheless, for some minutes with her;
but, suddenly, she feigned to be seized with a sharp pain in the spleen,
and was conducted to a sofa. The young Comte de Vermandois came and sat
there near her. They were both exhibiting signs of gaiety; their chatter
amused them, and they were seen to laugh with great freedom. Although
Monsieur le Dauphin was assuredly not in their thoughts, he thought they
were making merry at his expense. He came and sat at the right of the
Princess and said to her:

"Your brother is very ill-bred!"

"Do you think so?" the Princess answered immediately. "My brother is the
most amiable boy in the world. He is laughing at my talking to myself.
He assures me that my pain is in my knee instead of being in the spleen,
and that is what we were amusing ourselves at, quite innocently."

"Your brother thinks himself my equal," added the Prince; "in which he
certainly makes a mistake. All his diamonds prove nothing; I shall have,
when I like, those of the crown."

"So much the worse, monsieur," replied the Comte de Vermandois, quickly.
"Those diamonds should never change hands, - at least, for a very long
time."

These words degenerating into an actual provocation, Monseigneur dared to
say to his young brother that, were it not for his affection for the
Princess, he would make him feel that he was - -

"My elder brother," resumed the Comte de Vermandois, "and nothing more, I
assure you."

Before the ball was over, they met in an alcove and gave each other a
rendezvous not far from Marly. Both of them were punctual; but Monsieur
le Dauphin had given his orders, so that they were followed in order to
be separated.

The King was informed of this adventure; he immediately gave expression
to his extreme dissatisfaction, and said:

"What! is there hatred and discord already amongst my children?"

I spoke next to elucidate the facts, for I had learnt everything, and I
represented M. de Vermandois as unjustly provoked by his brother. His
Majesty replied that Monsieur le Dauphin was the second personage in the
Empire, and that all his brothers owed him respect up to a certain point.

"It was out of deference and respect that the Count accepted the
challenge," said I to the King; "and here the offending party made the



Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 28 of 30)