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Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart Montespan.

Memoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete online

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double attack."

"What a misfortune!" resumed the King. "I thought them as united amongst
themselves as they are in my heart. Vermandois is quick, and as
explosive as saltpetre; but he has the best nature in the world. I will
reconcile them; they will obey me."

The scene took place in my apartment, owing to my Duc du Maine. "My
son," said his Majesty to the child of the Carmelite, "I have learned
with pain what has passed at Madame de Villeroi's and then in the Bois de
Marly. You will be pardoned for this imprudence because of your age; but
never forget that Monsieur le Dauphin is your superior in every respect,
and must succeed me some day."

"Sire," replied the Count, "I have never offended nor wished to offend
Monseigneur. Unhappily for me, he detests me, as though you had not the
right to love me."

At these words Monsieur le Dauphin blushed, and the King hastened to
declare that he loved all his children with a kindness perfectly alike;
that rank and distinctions of honour had been regulated, many centuries
ago, by the supreme law of the State; that he desired union and concord
in the heart of the royal family; and he commanded the two brothers to
sacrifice for him all their petty grievances, and to embrace in his
presence.

Hearing these words, the Comte de Vermandois, with a bow to his father,
ran in front of Monseigneur, and, spreading out his arms, would have
embraced him. Monsieur le Dauphin remained cold and dumb; he received
this mark of good-will without returning it, and very obviously
displeased his father thereby.

These little family events were hushed up, and Monseigneur was almost
explicitly forbidden to entertain any other sentiments for Madame de
Conti than those of due friendship and esteem.

Some time after that, Messieurs de Conti, great lovers of festivity,
pleasure, and costly delights, which are suited only for people of their
kind, dragged the Comte de Vermandois, as a young debutant, into one of
those licentious parties where a young man is compelled to see things
which excite horror.

His first scruples overcome, M. de Vermandois, naturally disposed to what
is out of the common, wished to give guarantees of his loyalty and
courage; from a simple spectator he became, it is said, an accomplice.

There is always some false friend in these forbidden assemblies. The
King heard the details of an orgy so unpardonable, and the precocious
misconduct of his cherished son gave him so much pain, that I saw his
tears fall. The assistant governor of the young criminal was dismissed;
his valet de chambre was sent to prison; only three of his servants were
retained, and he himself was subjected to a state of penitence which
included general confessions and the most severe discipline. He resigned
himself sincerely to all these heavy punishments. He promised to
associate only with his mother, his new governor, his English horses, and
his books; and this manner of life, carried out with a grandeur of soul,
made of him in a few months a perfect gentleman, in the honourable and
assured position to which his great heart destined him.

The King, satisfied with this trial, allowed him to go and prove his
valour at the sieges of Digmude and Courtrai. All the staff officers
recognised soon in his conversation, his zeal, his methods, a worthy
rival of the Vendomes. They wrote charming things of him to the Court. A
few days afterwards we learned at Versailles that M. de Vermandois was
dead, in consequence of an indisposition caught whilst bivouacking, which
at first had not seemed dangerous.

The King deplored this loss, as a statesman and a good father. I was a
witness of his affliction; it seemed to me extreme. One knew not whom to
approach to break the news to the poor Carmelite. The Bishop of Meaux,
sturdy personage, voluntarily undertook the mission, and went to it with
a tranquil brow, for he loved such tasks.

To his hoarse and funereal voice Soeur Louise only replied with groans
and tears. She fell upon the floor without consciousness, and M. Bossuet
went on obstinately preaching Christian resignation and stoicism to a
senseless mother who heard him not.

About a fortnight after the obsequies of the Prince (which I, too, had
celebrated in my church of Saint Joseph), the underprioress of that
little community begged me to come to Paris for a brief time and
consecrate half an hour to her. I responded to her invitation. This is
the important secret which the good nun had to confide to me: Before
expiring; the young Prince had found time to interview his faithful valet
de chambre behind his curtains. "After my death," said he, "you will
repair, not to the King, my father, but to Madame la Marquise de
Montespan, who has given me a thousand proofs of kindness in my behalf.
You will remit to her my casket, in which all my private papers are kept.
She will be kind enough to destroy all which ought not to survive me, and
to hand over the remainder, not to my good mother, who will have only too
much sorrow, but to Madame la Princesse de Conti, whose indulgence and
kindness are known to me."

Sydney, this valet de chambre, informed me that the Count was dead, not
through excessive brandy, as the Dauphin's people spread abroad, but from
a cerebral fever, which a copious bleeding would have dissipated at once.
All the soldiers wept for this young Prince, whose generous affability
had charmed them. Sydney had just accompanied his body to Arras, where,
by royal command, it had been laid in a vault of the cathedral. I opened
his pretty casket of citron wood, with locks of steel and silver. The
first object which met my eyes was a fine and charming portrait of Madame
de la Valliere. The face was smiling in the midst of this great tragedy,
and that upset me entirely, and made my tears flow again. Five or six
tales of M. la Fontaine had been imitated most elegantly by the young
Prince himself, and to these rather frivolous verses he had joined some
songs and madrigals. All these little relics of a youth so eager to live
betokened a mind that was agreeable, and not libertine. In any case the
sacrifice was accomplished; reflections were in vain. I burned these
papers, and all those which seemed to me without direct importance or
striking interest. That was not the case with a correspondence, full of
wit, tenderness, and fire, of whose origin the good Sydney pretended
ignorance, but which two or three anecdotes that were related
sufficiently revealed to me. The handsome Comte de Vermandois, barely
seventeen years old, had won the heart of a fair lady, of about his own
age, who expressed her passion for him with an energy, a delicacy, and a
talent far beyond all that we admire in books.

I knew her; the King loved her. Her husband, a most distinguished
field-officer, cherished her and believed her to be faithful. I burned
this dangerous correspondence, for M. de Vermandois, barely adolescent,
was already a father, and his mistress gloried in it.

On receiving this casket, in which she saw once more the portraits of her
mother, her brother, and her husband, Madame la Princesse de Conti felt
the most sorrowful emotion. I told her that I had acquitted myself, out
of kindness and respect, of a commission almost beyond my strength, and I
begged her never to mention it to the King, who, perhaps, would have
liked to see and judge himself all that I had destroyed.

M. le Comte de Vermandois left by his death the post of High Admiral
vacant. The King begged me to bring him my little Comte de Toulouse; and
passing round his neck a fine chain of coral mixed with pearls, to which
a diamond anchor was attached, he invested him with the dignity of High
Admiral of France. "Be ever prudent and good, my amiable child," he said
to him, raising his voice, which had grown weak; "be happier than your
predecessor, and never give me the grief of mourning your loss."

I thanked the King for my son, who looked at his decoration of brilliants
and did not feel its importance. I hope that he will feel that later,
and prove himself worthy of it.




CHAPTER XLVI.

The House of Saint Cyr. - Petition of the Monks of Saint Denis to the
King, against the Plan of Madame de Maintenon. - Madame de Maintenon
Summons Them and Sends Them Away with Small Consolation.


At the time when I founded my little community of Saint Joseph, Madame de
Maintenon had already collected near her chateau at Rueil a certain
number of well-born but poor young persons, to whom she was giving a good
education, proportioned to their present condition and their birth. She
had charged herself with the maintenance of two former nuns, noble and
well educated, who, at the fall of their community, had been recommended,
or had procured a recommendation, to her. Mesdames de Brinon and du
Basque were these two vagrant nuns. Madame de Maintenon, instinctively
attracted to this sort of persons, welcomed and protected them.

The little pension or community of Rueil, having soon become known,
several families who had fallen into distress or difficulty solicited the
kindness of the directress towards their daughters, and Madame de
Maintenon admitted more inmates than the space allowed. A more roomy
habitation was bought nearer Versailles, which was still only temporary
and the King, having been taken into confidence with regard to these
little girls, who mostly belonged to his own impoverished officers,
judged that the moment had come to found a fine and large educational
establishment for the young ladies of his nobility.

He bought, at the entrance to the village of Saint Cyr, in close
proximity to Versailles, a large old chateau, belonging to M. Seguier;
and on the site of this chateau, which he pulled down, the royal house of
Saint Cyr was speedily erected. I will not go into the nature and aim of
a foundation which is known nowadays through the whole of Europe. I will
content myself with observing that if Madame de Maintenon conceived the
first idea of it, it is the great benefactions of the monarch and the
profound recognition of the nobility which have given stability and
renown to this house.

Madame de Maintenon received much praise and incense as the foundress of
this community. It has been quite easy for her to found so vast an
establishment with the treasures of France, since she herself had
remained poor, by her own confession, and had neither to sell nor
encumber Maintenon, her sole property.

In founding my community of Saint Joseph, I was neither seconded nor
aided by anybody. Saint Joseph springs entirely from myself, from good
intentions, without noise or display. Saint Joseph is one of my good
actions, and although it makes no great noise in the world, I would
rather have founded it than Saint Cyr, where the most exalted houses
procure admission for their children with false certificates of poverty.

The buildings of Saint Cyr, in spite of all the sums they have absorbed,
have no external nobility or grandeur. The foundress put upon it the
seal of her parsimony, or, rather, of her general timidity. She is like
Moliere's Harpagon, who would like to do great things for little money.

[Here Madame de Montespan forgets what she has just said, that Saint-Cyr
cost "immense sums," - an ordinary effect of passion. - ED. NOTE]

The only beauty about the house is in the laundry and gardens. All the
rest reminds you of a convent of Capuchins. The chapel has not even
necessary and indispensable dignity; it is a long, narrow barn, without
arches, pillars, or decorations. The King, having wished to know
beforehand what revenue would be needed for a community of four hundred
persons, consulted M. de Louvois. That minister, accustomed to calculate
open-handedly, put in an estimate of five hundred thousand livres a year.
The foundress presented hers, which came to no more than twenty-five
thousand crowns. His Majesty adopted a middle course, and assigned a
revenue of three hundred thousand livres to his Royal House of Saint Cyr.

The foundress, foreseeing the financial embarrassments which have
supervened later, conceived the idea of making the clergy (who are
childless) support the education of these three hundred and fifty young
ladies. In consequence, she cast her eyes upon the rich abbey of Saint
Denis, then vacant, and suggested it to the King, as being almost
sufficient to provide for the new establishment.

This idea astonished the prince. He found it, at first, audacious, not
to say perilous; but, on further reflection, considering that the monks
of Saint Denis live under the rule of a prior, and never see their abbot,
who is almost always a great noble and a man of the world, his Majesty
consented to suppress the said abbey in order to provide for the
children.

The monks of Saint Denis, alarmed at such an innovation (which did not,
however, affect their own goods and revenues), composed a petition in the
form of the factum that our advocates draw up in a suit. They exclaimed
in this document "on the disrepute which this innovation would bring upon
their ancient, respectable, and illustrious community. In suppressing
the title of Abbot of Saint Denis," they said further, "your Majesty, in
reality, suppresses our abbey; and if our abbey is reduced to nothing,
our basilica, where the Kings, your ancestors, lie, will be no more than
a royal church, and will cease to be abbatial."

Further on, this petition said: "Sire, may it please your Majesty, whose
eyes can see so far, to appreciate this innovation in all its terrible
consequences. By striking to-day dissolution and death into the first
abbey of your kingdom, do you not fear to leave behind you a great and
sinister precedent? . . . What Louis the Great has looked upon as
possible will seem righteous and necessary to your successors; and it
will happen, maybe, before long, that the thirst for conquests and the
needs of the State (those constant and familiar pretexts of ministers)
will authorise some political Attila to extend your work, and wreak
destruction upon the tabernacle by depriving it of the splendour which is
its due, and which sustains it."

Madame de Maintenon, to whom this affair was entrusted, summoned the
administrative monks of Saint Denis to Versailles. She received them
with her agreeable and seductive courtesy, and, putting on her dulcet and
fluted voice, said to them that their alarm was without foundation; that
his Majesty did not suppress their abbey; that he simply took it from the
male sex to give it to the female, seeing that the Salic law never
included the dignities of the Church nor her revenues.

"The King leaves you," she added, "those immense and prodigious treasures
of Saint Denis, more ancient, perhaps, than the Oriflamme. That is your
finest property, your true and illustrious glory. In general, your
abbots have been, to this very day, unknown to you. Do you find,
gentlemen, that religion was more honoured and respected when men of
battle, covered with murders and other crimes, were called Abbots of
Saint Denis? Beneath the government of the King such nominations would
never have affected the Church; and after the present M. le Chevalier de
Lorraine, we shall hear no more of nominating an abbot-commandant on the
steps of the Opera.

"Our little girls are cherubim and seraphim, occupied unceasingly with
the praise of the Lord. I recommend them to your holy prayers, and you
can count on theirs."

With this compliment she dismissed the monks, and what she had resolved
on was carried out.

The King, who all his life had loved children greatly, did not take long
to contract an affection for this budding colony. He liked to assist
sometimes at their recreations and exercises, and, as though Versailles
had been at the other end of the world, he had a magnificent apartment
built at Saint Cyr. This fine armorial pavilion decorates the first long
court in the centre. The mere buildings announce a king; the royal crown
surmounts them.

At first the education of Saint Cyr had been entrusted to canonesses; but
a canoness only takes annual vows; that term expired, she is at liberty
to retire and marry. Several of these ladies having proved thus
irresolute as to their estate, and the house being afraid that a greater
number would follow, the Abbe de Fenelon, who cannot endure limited or
temporary devotion, thought fit to introduce fixed and perpetual vows
into Saint Cyr, and that willynilly.

This elegant abbe says all that he means, and resolutely means all that
he can say. By means of his lectures, a mixed and facile form of
eloquence, which is his glory, he easily proved to these poor canonesses
that streams and rivers flow ever since the world began, and never think
of suspending their current or abandoning their direction. He reminded
them that the sun, which is always in its place and always active, never
dreams of abandoning its functions, either from inconstancy or caprice.
He told them that wise kings are never seized with the idea or temptation
of abdicating their crown, and that God, who serves them as a model and
example, is ceaselessly occupied, with relation to the world, in
preserving, reanimating, and maintaining it. Starting from there, the
ingenious man made them confess that they ought to remain at their post
and bind themselves to it by a perpetual vow.

The first effect of this fine oration having been a little dissipated,
objections broke out. One young and lovely canoness dared to maintain
the rights of her freedom, even in the face of her most amiable enemy.
Madame de Maintenon rushed to the succour of the Abbe of Saint Sulpice,
and half by wheedling, half by tyranny, obtained the cloister and
perpetual vows.

I must render this justice to the King; he never would pronounce or
intervene in this pathetic struggle. His royal hand profited, no doubt,
by a submission which the Abbe de Fenelon imposed upon timidity,
credulity, and obedience. The House of Saint Cyr profited thereby; but
the King only regretted a new religious convent, for, as a rule, he liked
them not. How many times has he unburdened himself before me on the
subject.




CHAPTER XLVII.

Final Rupture. - Terrible Scene. - Madame de Maintenon in the Brocaded
Chair.


To-day, when time and reflection, and, perhaps, that fund of contempt
which is so useful, have finally revealed to me the insurmountable
necessities of life, I can look with a certain amount of composure at
the injury which the King did me. I had at first resolved to conclude,
with the chapter which you have just read, my narrative of the more or
less important things which have passed or been unfolded before my eyes.
For long I did not feel myself strong enough to approach a narrative
which might open up all my old wounds and make my blood boil again; but I
finished by considering that our monarch's reign will be necessarily the
subject of a multitude of commentaries, journals, and memoirs. All these
confidential writings will speak of me to the generations to be; some
will paint me as one paints an object whom one loves; others, as the
object one detests. The latter, to render me more odious, will probably
revile my character, and, perhaps, represent me as a cowardly and
despairing mistress, who has descended even to supplications!! It is my
part, therefore, to retrace with a firm and vigorous hand this important
epoch of my life, where my destiny, at once kind and cruel, reduced me to
treat the greatest of all Kings both as my equal and as an inconstant
friend, as a treacherous enemy, and as my inferior or subject. He had,
at first, the intention of putting me to death, - of that I am
persuaded, - but soon his natural gentleness got the better of his pride.
He grasped the wounds in my heart from the deplorable commotion of my
face. If his former friend was guilty in her speech, he was far more
guilty by his actions. Like an equitable judge he pardoned neither of
us; he did not forgive himself and he dared not condemn me.

Since this sad time of desertion and sorrow, into which the new state of
things had brought me, MM. de Mortemart, de Nevers, and de Vivonne had
been glad to avoid me. They found my humour altered, and I admit that a
woman who sulks, scolds, or complains is not very attractive company.

One day the poor Marechal de Vivonne came to see me; he opened my
shutters to call my attention to the beauty of the sky, and, my health
seeming to him a trifle poor, he suggested to me to embark at once in his
carriage and to go and dine at Clagny. I had no will left that day, so I
accompanied my brother.

Being come to Clagny, the Marshal, having shut himself up with me in his
closet, said to me the words which follow:

"You know, my sister, how all along you have been dear to me; the grief
which is wearing you out does me almost as much harm as you. To-day I
wish to hurt you for your own good; and get you away from this locality
in spite of yourself. Kings are not to be opposed as we oppose our
equals; our King, whom you know by heart, has never suffered
contradiction. He has had you asked, two or three times already, to
leave his palace and to go and live on your estates. Why do you delay to
satisfy him, and to withdraw from so many eyes which watch you with
pity?"

"The King, I am very sure, would like to see me away," I replied to the
Marshal, "but he has never formally expressed himself, and it is untrue
that any such wish has been intimated or insinuated to me."

"What! you did not receive two letters last year, which invited you to
make up your mind and retire!"

"I received two anonymous letters; nothing is more true. Could those two
letters have been sent to me by the King himself?"

"The Marquis de Chamarante wrote them to you, but beneath the eyes, and
at the dictation, of his Majesty."

"All, God! What is it you tell me? What! the Marquis de Chamarante,
whom I thought one of my friends, has lent himself to such an embassy!"

"The Marquis is a good man, a man of honour; and his essential duty is to
please his sovereign, his master. Moreover, at the time when the letters
were sent you, time remained to you for deliberation. To-day, all time
for delay has expired; you must go away of your own free will, or receive
the affront of a command, and a 'lettre de cachet' in form."

"A 'lettre de cachet' for me! for the mother of the Duc du Maine and the
Comte de Toulouse! We shall see that, my brother! We shall see!"

"There is nothing to see or do but to summon here all your people, and
leave to-morrow, either for my chateau of Roissy, or for your palace at
Petit-Bourg; things are pressing, and the day after to-morrow I will
explain all without any secrecy."

"Explain it to me at once, my brother, and I promise to satisfy you."

"Do you give me your word?"

"I give it you, my good and dear friend, with pleasure. Inform me of
what is in progress."

"Madame de Maintenon, whom, having loved once greatly, you no longer
love, had the kindness to have me summoned to her this morning."

"The kindness!"

"Do not interrupt me - yes, the kindness. From the moment that she is in
favour, all that comes from her requires consideration. She had me taken
into her small salon, and there she charged me to tell you that she has
always loved you, that she always will; that your rupture with her has
displeased the King; that for a long time, and on a thousand occasions,
she has excused you to his Majesty, but that things are now hopeless;
that your retreat is required at all costs, and that it will be joined
with an annual pension of six hundred thousand livres."

"And you advise me - ?" I said to my brother.

"I advise you, I implore you, I conjure you, to accept these propositions
which save everything."

My course was clear to me on the instant. Wishing to be relieved of the
importunities of the Marshal (a courtier, if ever there was one), I
embraced him with tears in my eyes. I assured him that, for the honour
of the family and out of complacence, I accepted his propositions. I
begged him to take me back to Versailles, where I had to gather together
my money, jewels, and papers.

The Duc de Vivonne, well as he knew me, did not suspect my trickery; he
applied a score of kisses to my "pretty little white hands," and his
postilions, giving free play to their reins, speedily brought us back to
the chateau.

All beaming with joy and satisfaction, he went to convey his reply to
Madame de Maintenon, who was probably expecting him. Twenty minutes
hardly elapsed. The King himself entered my apartment.



Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 29 of 30)