Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart Montespan.

Memoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete online

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a pusillanimous character, there will be no harm in his remaining among
the Church folk; he will be far better off there than elsewhere. The
essential thing for a parent is to study carefully and in good time the
proper vocation for his children; the essential thing for the ruler of an
Empire is to employ the right people to do the work in hand."

"Will my son, on receiving this abbey, have to wear the dress of his
office?" I asked. "Imagine the Comte de Vegin an abbe!"

"Do not feel the slightest repugnance on that score," added the King.
"The Electors of the German Empire are nearly all of them ecclesiastics;
our own history of France will show you that the sons of kings were
bishops or mere abbes; the grandson of the Duc de Savoie is a cardinal
and an archbishop, and King Charles X., my grandfather's paternal uncle,
nearly became King of France and cardinal at one and the same time."

At this moment Madame Scarron came in. "Madame, we will make you our
judge in the argument that we are now having," said his Majesty. "Do you
think there is any objection to our giving to little Vegin the dress of
an abbe?"

"On the contrary, Sire," replied the governess, smiling, "such a dress
will inspire him betimes with reserve and modesty, strengthening his
principles, and making far more profitable to him the excellent education
which he is now receiving."

"I am obliged to you for your opinion," said the King, "and I flatter
myself, madame, that you see things in the same light that I do."

When the King had gone, Madame Scarron asked me why I disapproved of this

"I do not wish to deny so rich a benefice to my son," I replied, "but it
seems to me that he might enjoy the revenues therefrom, without being
obliged to wear the livery. Is not the King powerful enough to effect

"You are hardly just, madame," replied the governess, in a serious tone.
"If our religion be a true one, God himself is at the head of it, and for
so supreme a Chief the sons of kings are but of small account."

With an argument such as this she closed my mouth, leaving me quite
amazed, and next day she smiled with delight when she presented the
little Comte de Vegin dressed as a little abbe.

She was careful to see that the crozier, mitre, and cross were painted on
the panels of his carriage, and let the post of vicar-general be given to
one of her pious friends who was presented to me.


Once a Queen, Always a Queen. - An Anonymous Letter. - The Queen's
Confidence. - She Has a Sermon Preached against Madame de Montespan. - Who
the Preacher was. - One Scandal May Avert Another.

I related how, near La Fere, at the time of the Flanders campaign, Madame
de la Valliere's coach, at the risk of offending the Queen, left the main
road and took a short cut across country, so as to get on ahead, and
arrive before anybody else. By this the Duchess thought to give her
royal friend a great mark of her attachment. On the contrary, it was the
first cause for that coolness which the King afterwards displayed.

"Fain would he be beloved, yet loved with tact."

The very next day his Majesty, prevailed upon La Valliere to say that
such a style of travelling was too fatiguing for her. She had the honour
of dining with the Queen, and then she returned to the little chateau of
Versailles, so as to be near her children.

The King arranged with Madame de Montausier, lady-in-waiting to the
Queen, that I should use her rooms to dress and write in, and that his
Majesty should be free to come there when he liked, and have a quiet chat
with me about matters of interest.

The Queen, whom I had managed to please by my amusing talk, always kept
me close to her side, both when taking long walks or playing cards. At a
given signal, a knock overhead, I used to leave the Queen, excusing
myself on the score of a headache, or arrears of correspondence; in
short, I managed to get away as best I could.

The King left us in order to capture Douai, then Tournay, and finally the
whole of Flanders; while the Queen continued to show me every sign of her
sincere and trustful friendship.

In August, on the Day of Our Lady, while the King was besieging Lille, a
letter came to the Queen, informing her that her husband had forsaken
Madame de la Valliere for her Majesty's lady-in-waiting, the Marquise de
Montespan. Moreover, the anonymous missive named "the prudent Duchesse
de Montausier" as confidante and accomplice.

"It is horrible - it is infamous!" cried the Queen, as she flung aside the
letter. "I shall never be persuaded that such is the case. My dear
little Montespan enjoys my friendship and my esteem; others are jealous
of her, but they shall not succeed. Perhaps the King may know the
handwriting; he shall see it at once!" And that same evening she
forwarded the letter to him.

The Comte de Vegin had been born, and the Queen was absolutely ignorant
of his existence. My pregnancy with the Duc du Maine had likewise
escaped her notice, owing to the large paniers which I took to wearing,
and thus made the fashion. But the Court is a place where the best of
friends are traitors. The Queen was at length convinced, after long
refusing to be so, and from that day forward she cordially detested me.

While the King was conquering Holland, she instructed her chief almoner
to have a sermon of a scandalous sort to be preached, which, delivered
with all due solemnity in her presence, should grieve and wound me as
much as possible.

On the day appointed, a preacher, totally unknown to us, gets into the
pulpit, makes a long prayer for the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and then,
rising gracefully, bows low to the Queen. Raising his eyes to heaven, he
makes the sign of the cross and gives out the following text: "Woman,
arise and sin no more. Go hence; I forgive thee."

As he uttered these words, he looked hard at my pew, and soon made me
understand by his egordium how interesting his discourse would be to me.
Written with rare grace of style, it was merely a piece of satire from
beginning to end, - of satire so audacious that it was constantly levelled
at the King.

The orator brought before us in succession lifelike portraits of the
Queen, of her august spouse, of my children, of M. de Montespan, and of
myself. Upon some he lavished praise; others he vehemently rebuked;
while to others he gave tender pity. Anon he caused the lips of his
hearers to curl in irony, and again, roused their indignation or touched
them to tears.

Any one else would have been bored by such a rigmarole; it rather amused

That evening, and for a week afterwards, nothing else but this sermon was
talked of at Versailles. The Queen had received complete satisfaction.
Before me she was at pains not to laugh, and I was pleased to see that
her resentment had almost disappeared.

Upon his return, the King was for punishing such an offence as this.
Things are not easily hidden from him; his Majesty desired to know the
name and rank of the ecclesiastic. The entire Court replied that he was
a good-looking young Franciscan.

The chief almoner, being forced to state the monastery from which the
preacher came, mentioned the Cordeliers of Paris. There it transpired
that the monk told off by the prior for this enterprise had been too
frightened to execute it, and had sent, as his deputy, a young actor from
Orleans, - a brother of his, who thus could not say no.

So, as it happened, Queen Maria Theresa and her chief almoner (an
exemplary person) had caused virtue to be preached to me by a young
play-actor! The King dared not take further proceedings in so strange a
matter, for fear lest one scandal might beget a far greater one. It was
this that caused Madame Cornuel to remark, "The pulpit is in want of
comedians; they work wonders there!"


The King Alters His Opinion about Madame Scarron. - He Wants Her to Assume
Another Name. - He Gives Her the Maintenon Estates. - She and Madame de
Montespan Visit These. - A Strange Story.

At first the King used to feel afraid of Madame Scarron, and seemingly
laughed at me when I endeavoured to persuade him that there was nothing
affected or singular about her. The Marquis de Beringhen, for some
reason or other, had prejudiced his Majesty against her, so that very
often, when the King heard that she was visiting me, he never got beyond
the vestibule, but at once withdrew. One day she was telling me, in her
pleasant, original way, a funny tale about the famous Brancas, and I
laughed till I cried again, - in fact, until I nearly made myself quite

The King, who was listening at the door, was greatly tickled by the
story. He came in smiling and thoroughly self-possessed. Then,
addressing the governess, he said, "Madame, allow me to compliment you
and to thank you at the same time. I thought you were of a serious,
melancholy disposition, but as I listened to you through the keyhole, I
am no longer surprised that you have such long talks with the Marquise.
Will you do me the favour of being as amusing some other time, if I
venture to make one of the party?"

The governess, courtesying, blushed somewhat; and the King continued,
"Madame, I am aware of your affection for my children; that is a great
recommendation to me; banish all restraint; I take the greatest pleasure
in your company."

She replied, "It was the fear of displeasing you which, despite myself,
caused me to incur your displeasure."

The King continued, "Madame, I know that the late M. de Scarron was a man
of much wit and also of agreeable manners. My cousin, De Beaufort, used
to rave about him, but on account of his somewhat free poems, his name
lacks weight and dignity. In fact, his name in no way fits so charming a
personality as yours; would it grieve you to change it?"

The governess cleverly replied that all that she owed to the memory of
her defunct husband was gratitude and esteem.

"Allow me, then, to arrange matters," added the King. "I am fond of
sonorous names; in this I agree with Boileau."

A few days afterwards we heard that the splendid Maintenon estates were
for sale. The King himself came to inform the widow of this, and, giving
her in advance the fee for education, he counted out a hundred thousand
crowns wherewith instantly to purchase the property.

Forthwith the King compelled her to discard this truly ridiculous
author's name, and styled her before everybody Madame de Maintenon.

I must do her the justice to state that her gratitude for the King's
liberality was well-nigh exaggerated, while no change was perceptible in
her manners and bearing. She had, naturally, a grand, dignified air,
which was in strange contrast to the grotesque buffoonery of her
poet-husband. Now she is exactly in her proper place, representing to
perfection the governess of a king's children.

Spiteful persons were wont to say that I appeared jealous on seeing her
made a marquise like myself. Good gracious, no! On the contrary, I was
delighted; her parentage was well known to me. The Duchesse de
Navailles, my protectress, was a near relative of hers, and M. d'Aubigne,
her grandfather, was one of King Henri's two Chief Gentlemen of the

Madame de Maintenon's father was, in many respects, greatly to blame.
Without being actually dishonest, he squandered a good deal of his
fortune, the greater part being pounced upon by his family; and had the
King forced these harpies to disgorge, Madame de Maintenon could have
lived in opulence, eclipsing several of the personages at Court.

I am glad to be able to do her justice in these Memoirs, to the
satisfaction of my own self-respect. I look upon her as my own
handiwork, and everything assures me that this is her conviction also,
and that she will always bear it in mind.

The King said to us, "Go and see the Chateau de Maintenon, and then you
can tell me all about it. According to an old book, I find that it was
built in the reign of Henri II. by Nicolas de Cointerot, the King's
minister of finance; a 'surintendant's' castle ought to form a noteworthy
feature of the landscape."

Madame de Maintenon hereupon told us a most extraordinary story. The
lady who sold this marquisate had retired two years previously to the
island of Martinique, where she, at the present moment, owned the
residence of Constant d'Aubigne, the same house where the new Marquise de
Maintenon had spent her childhood with her parents, so that while one of
these ladies had quitted the Chateau de Maintenon in order to live in
Martinique, the other had come from Martinique in order to reside at the
Chateau de Maintenon. Truly, the destinies of some are strange in this

The chateau appeared to be large, of solid proportions, and built in a
grandly simple style, befitting a minister of dignity and position. The
governess shed tears of emotion when setting foot there for the first
time. The six priests, whom the surintendant had appointed, officiated
in the large chapel or little church attached to the castle.

They approached us in regular procession, presenting holy water, baskets
of flowers and fruit, an old man, a child, and two little lambs to the
Marquise. The villagers, dressed out with flowers and ribbons, also came
to pay, their respects to her. They danced in the castle courtyard,
under our balcony, to the sound of hautbois and bagpipes.

We gave them money, said pleasant things to everybody, and invited all
the six clerics to sup with us. These gentry spoke with great respect of
the other Madame de Maintenon, who had become disgusted with her
property, and with France generally, because, for two winters running,
her orange-groves and fig-trees had been frost-bitten. She herself,
being a most chilly, person, never left off her furs until August, and in
order to avoid looking at or walking upon snow and ice, she fled to the
other end of the world.

"The other extreme will bring her back to us," observed Madame de
Maintenon to the priests. "Though his Majesty were to give me Martinique
or Saint Domingo, I certainly would never go and live there myself."

When we returned, all these little details greatly amused the King. He,
too, wanted to go and see the castle of another Fouquet, but, as we
complained of the bad roads, he ordered these to be mended along the
entire route.


The Second Comte de Vexin. - He is made Abbe of Saint Denis. - Priests or
Devils? - The Coronation Diadem. - Royalty Jokes with the Monks.

My poor little Comte de Vegin died. We all mourned for him as he
deserved; his pretty face would have made every one love him; his extreme
gentleness had nothing of the savage warrior about it, but at any rate,
he was the best-looking cardinal in Christendom. He made such funny
speeches that one could not help recollecting them. He was more of a
Mortemart than a Bourbon, but that did not prevent the King from
idolising him.

The King thought of conferring the Abbey of Saint Germain des Pres upon
his younger brother; to this I was opposed, imagining, perhaps without
reason, that such succession would bring bad luck. So the King presented
him to the Abbey of Saint Denis, the revenue of which was equally
considerable, and he conferred upon him the title of Comte de Vexin,
caring nothing for the remarks I made concerning the similarities of such
names and distinctions.

The second Comte de Vegin bid fair to be a man of reflection and of
genius. He obviously disliked his little abbe's dress, and we always
kept saying, "It's only for the time being, my little fellow."

When, after his nomination, the monks of Saint Denis came to make their
obeisance to him, he asked if they were devils, and continually covered
his face so as not to see them.

The King arrived, and with a few flattering words managed to soothe the
priests' outraged dignity, and when they asked the little prince if he
would honour them by a visit of inspection to Suger's room, which had
just been restored, he replied with a sulky smile, "I'll come and see
you, but with my eyes shut."

[Suger was Abbe of Saint Denis, and a famous minister of Queen Blanche.
Editor's Note.]

Then the priests mildly remonstrated because the coronation diadem had
not been brought back to their store of treasures, but was still missing.

"So, in your treasure-house at Saint Denis you keep all the crowns of all
the reigns?" asked the prince.

"Yes, Sire, and where could they be better guarded than with us? Who has
most may have least."

"With all their rubies, diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds?"

"Yes, Sire; and hence the name treasure."

The King replied, "If this be the case, I will send you my coronation
crown. At that time my brow was not so big; you will find the crown
small, I tell you."

Then one of the monks, in the most serious manner, said, "It's not as
small as it was; your Majesty has enlarged it a good deal."

Madame de Maintenon burst out laughing, and I was not slow to follow her
example; we saw that the King could hardly maintain his gravity. He said
to the priest, "My father, you turn a pretty compliment in a most
praiseworthy manner; you ought to have belonged to the Jesuits, not to
the Benedictines."

We burst out laughing anew, and this convent-deputation, the
gloomiest-looking, most funereal one in the world, managed to cause us
some diversion, after all.

To make amends for our apparent frivolity, his Majesty himself took them
to see his splendid cabinet of medals and coins, and sent them back to
their abbey in Court carriages.


M. de Lauzun Proposes for the Hand of Mademoiselle de Thianges. - Letter
from the Duc de Lorraine. - Madame de Thianges Thinks that Her Daughter
Has Married a Reigning Prince. - The King Disposes Otherwise. - The Duc de

The brilliant Marquis de Lauzun, after paying court to myself, suddenly,
turned his attention to Mademoiselle de Thianges, - my sister's child. If
a fine figure and a handsome face, as well as the polished manners of a
great gentleman, constitute a good match, M. de Lauzun was, in all
respects, worthy of my niece. But this presumptuous nobleman had but a
slender fortune. Extravagant, without the means to be so, his debts grew
daily greater, and in society one talked of nothing but his lavish
expenditure and his creditors. I know that the purses of forty women
were at his disposal. I know, moreover, that he used to gamble like a
prince, and I would never marry my waiting-maid to a gambler and a rake.

Both Madame de Thianges and myself rejected his proposals, and though
resolved to let him have continued proofs of our good-will, we were
equally determined never to accept such a man as son-in-law and nephew.

Hereupon the letter which I am about to transcribe was sent to me by a


MADAME: - My unfortunate uncle and I have always loved France, but France
has forced us both to break off all relations with her and to become
exiles!!! Despite the kindness and generosity wherewith the Imperial
Court seeks to comfort us in our misfortune, the perpetual cry of our
hearts calls us back to our fatherland, - to that matchless land where my
ancestors have ever been beloved.

My uncle is guilty of no crime but that of having formerly received in
his palace a son of good King Henri IV., after his humiliation by a
shameless minister. My dear uncle proposed to resign all his property in
my favour, and to meet the wishes of his Majesty as to the wife that
should be mine.

When my uncle asked for the hand of Mademoiselle de Montpensier, on my
behalf, my cousin replied that a ruined and dismantled throne did not
augur well for a dowry, and she further remarked that we were not on good
terms with the King.

When I begged Cardinal Mazarin to grant me the hand of the present Madame
de Mazarin, his Eminence replied, "Would you like to be a cardinal? I
can manage that; but as regards my niece, the Queen is going to get her
married immediately."

When, before God and man, I wedded Mademoiselle de Nemours, whose worthy
mother led her to the altar, his Majesty refused to sign the marriage
contract, and told Madame de Nemours that it would never be considered

Soon afterwards the Bishop of Laon, who has complete influence over
Madame de Vendome, declared as null and void - a marriage negotiated and
consecrated by himself, and thus a bond made in heaven has been broken on

Such treatment as this, I confess, seemed to us to exceed the bounds of
humanity and of justice. My uncle and I quitted France, - the France that
persecutes and harasses us, that desires the destruction of our family
and the forcible union of our territory with her own.

The late Queen, of illustrious and glorious memory, disapproved of
Richelieu's injustice towards us. Under the ministry of the Cardinal,
his successor, she often, in noble fashion, held out to us a helping
hand. How comes it that the King, who in face is her living image, does
not desire to be like her in heart?

I address myself to you, madame, who by your beauty and Spiritual charm
hold such imperious sway over his decisions, and I implore you to
undertake our defence. My uncle and I, his rightful and duteous heir,
offer the King devoted homage and unswerving fealty. We offer to forget
the past, to put our hearts and our swords at his service. Let him
withdraw his troops and those standards of his that have brought terror
and grief to our unhappy Lorraine. I offer to marry Mademoiselle de
Thianges, your beautiful and charming niece, and to make her happy, and
to surrender all any estates to the King of France, if I die without male
issue or heirs of any sort.

I know your kind-heartedness, madame, by a niece who is your picture. In
your hands I place her interests and my fate. I await your message with
impatience, and I shall receive it with courage if you fail to obtain
that which you ought to obtain.

Be assured, madame, of my unbounded admiration and respect.


I at once went to my house at Clagny, whither I privately summoned Madame
de Thianges. On reading this letter, my sister was moved to tears, for
she had always deeply felt how unjustly this family had been treated. She
was also personally attached to this same Prince Charles, whom to see was
to love.

We read this letter through thrice, and each time we found it more
admirable; the embarrassing thing was how to dare to let his Majesty know
its contents. However temperate the allusions to himself, there was
still the reproach of injustice and barbarity, set against the clemency
of Anne of Austria, and her generous compassion.

My sister said to me, "Go boldly to work in the matter. Despite your
three children, the King leaves you merely a marquise; and for my own
part, if my daughter becomes Duchesse do Lorraine, I promise you the
Principality of Vaudemont."

"It is quite true," I replied; "his conduct is inexplicable. To Madame
Scarron, who was only the governess of his children, he gives one of the
first marquisates of France, while to me, who have borne these three
children (with infinite pain), I admit he has only given some jewelry,
some money, and this pretty castle of Clagny."

"You are as clever as can be, my dear Athenais," said Madame de Thianges,
"but, as a matter of fact, your cleverness is not of a business kind. You
don't look after yourself, but let yourself be neglected; you don't push
yourself forward enough, nor stand upon your dignity as you ought to do.

"The little lame woman had hardly been brought to bed of Mademoiselle de
Blois, when she was made Duchesse de Vaujours and de la Valliere.

"Gabrielle d'Estrees, directly she appeared, was proclaimed Duchesse de

"Diane de Poitiers was Duchesse de Valentinois and a princess. It's only
you who are nobody, and your relations also are about the same! Make the
most of this grand opportunity; help the Prince of Lorraine, and the
Prince of Lorraine will help you."

On our return from the chateau, while our resolution was yet firm, we
went laughing to the King. He asked the reason of our gaiety. My sister
said with her wonted ease, "Sire, I have come to invite you to my
daughter's wedding."

"Your daughter? Don't you think I am able to get her properly married?"
cried the King.

"Sire, you cannot do it better than I can myself. I am giving her a
sovereign as husband, a sovereign in every sense of the term."

It seemed to me the King flushed slightly as he rejoined, "A sovereign on

Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 7 of 30)