Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart Montespan.

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his feet, or a sovereign overthrown?"

"How do you mean, Sire?" said my sister.

"Madame de Thianges," replied the King, "pray, let us be friends. I was
informed two days ago of the proposals of the Messieurs de Lorraine; it
is not, yet time to give them a definite reply. It behoves, me to give
your daughter in marriage, and I have destined her for the Duc de Nevers,
who is wealthy, and my friend."

"The Duc de Nevers!" cried my sister; "why, he's cracked for six months
in the year."

"Those who are cracked for a whole twelvemonth deserve far more pity,"
replied the King.

Then, turning to me, he observed, "You make no remark, madame? Does your
niece's coronation provide you also with illusions?"

I easily perceived that we had been cherishing an utterly fantastic
scheme, and I counselled Madame de Thianges to prefer to please the King;
and, as she was never able to control her feelings, she sharply replied,
"Madame la Marquise, good day or good night!"

The King, however, did not relax his persistence in giving us the Duc de
Nevers as son-in-law and nephew; and as this young gentleman's one fault
is to require perpetual amusement, partly derived from poetry and partly
from incessant travelling, my niece is as happy with him as a woman who
takes her husband's place well can be. As soon as he gets to Paris, he
wants to return to Rome, and hardly has he reached Rome, when he has the
horses put to for Paris.


Mademoiselle de Mortemart, Abbess of Fontevrault. - She Comes to
Court. - The Cloister. - Her Success at Court. - Her Opinion Respecting
Madame de Montespan's Intimacy with the King.

My second sister, Mademoiselle de Mortemart, was so unfortunate as to
fall in love with a young Knight of Malta, doomed from his birth and by
his family to celibacy. Having set out upon his caravans, - [Sea-fights
against the Turks and the pirates of the Mediterranean.] - he was killed
in combat by the Algerians.

Such was Mademoiselle de Mortemart's grief that life became unbearable to
her. Beautiful, witty, and accomplished, she quitted the world where she
was beloved, and, at the age of seventeen, took the veil at Fontevrault.

So severely had she blamed the conduct of Mademoiselle de la Valliere,
while often vehemently denouncing that which she termed the disorder at
Court, that, since the birth of the Duc du Maine, I had not gone to the
convent to see her. We were like unto persons both most anxious to break
off an intimacy and yet who had not done so.

The Duc de Lorraine was known to her. He wrote to her, begging her to
make it up with me, so as to further his own ends. To gratify him, and
mainly because of her attachment to Prince Charles, my sister actually
wrote to me, asking for my intervention and what she termed my support.

Nuns always profess to be, and think that they are, cut off from the
world. But the fact is, they care far more for mundane grandeur than we
do. Madame de Thianges and her sister would have given their very
heart's blood to see my niece the bride of a royal prince.

One day the King said to me, "The Marquise de Thianges complains that I
have as yet done nothing for your family; there is a wealthy abbey that
has just become vacant; I am going to give it to your sister, the nun;
since last night she is the Abbess of Fontevrault."

I thanked the King, as it behoved me to do, and he added, "Your brother
shall be made a duke at once. I am going to appoint him general of Royal
Galleys, and after one or two campaigns he will have a marshal's baton."

"And what about me, Sire?" said I. "What, may it please your Majesty,
shall I get from the distribution of all these favours and emoluments?" I
laughingly asked the question.

"You, madame?" he replied. "To you I made a present of my heart, which
is not altogether worthless; yet, as it is possible that, when this heart
shall have ceased to beat, you may have to maintain your rank, I will
give you the charming retreat of Petit-Bourg, near Fontainebleau."

Saying this, his face wore a sad look, and I was sorry that I asked him
for anything. He is fond of giving, and of giving generously, but of his
own accord, without the least prompting. Had I refrained from committing
this indiscretion, he might, possibly, have made me a duchess there and
then, renaming Petit-Bourg Royal-Bourg.

The new abbess of Fontevrault, caring less now for claustral seclusion,
equipped her new residence in very sumptuous style. In a splendid
carriage she came to thank the King and kiss hands. With much tact and
dignity she encountered the scrutiny of the royal family and of the
Court. Her manners showed her to have been a person brought up in the
great world, and possessed of all the tact and delicacy which her
position as well as mine required.

As she embraced me, she sighed; yet, instantly recovering herself, she
made the excuse that so many ceremonious greetings and compliments had
fatigued her.

It was not long before the King joined us, who said, "Madame, I never
thought that there was much amusement to be got by wearing the veil. Now,
you must admit that days in a convent seem very long to any one who has
wit and intelligence."

"Sire," replied my sister, "the first fifteen or twenty months are
wearisome, I readily confess. Then comes discouragement; after that,
habit; and then one grows resigned to one's fetters from the mere
pleasure of existence."

"Did you meet with any good friends among your associates?"

"In such assemblies," rejoined the Abbess, "one can form no attachment or
durable friendship. The reason for this is simple. If the companion you
choose is religious in all sincerity, she is perforce a slave to every
little rule and regulation, and to her it would seem like defrauding the
Deity to give affection to any one but to Him. If, by mischance, you
meet with some one of sensitive temperament, with a bright intellect that
matches your own, you lay yourself open to be the mournful sharer of her
griefs, doubts, and regrets, and her depression reacts upon you; her
sorrow makes your melancholy return. Privation conjures up countless
illusions and every chimera imaginable, so that the peaceful retreat of
virgins of the Lord becomes a veritable hell, peopled by phantoms that
groan in torture!"

"Oh, madame!" exclaimed the King. "What a picture is this! What a
spectacle you present to our view!"

"Fortunately," continued Mademoiselle de Mortemart, "in convents girls of
intelligence are all too rare. The greater number of them are colourless
persons, devoid of imagination or fire. To exiles like these, any
country, any climate would seem good; to flaccid, crushed natures of this
type, every belief would seem authoritative, every religion holy and
divine. Fifteen hundred years ago these nuns would have made excellent
vestal virgins, watchful and resigned. What they need is abstinence,
prohibitions, thwartings, things contrary to nature. By conforming to
most rigorous rules, they consider themselves suffering beings who
deserve heavy recompense; and the Carmelite or Trappist sister, who
macerates herself by the hair-shirt or the cilex, would look upon God as
a false or wicked Being, if, after such cruel torment, He did not
promptly open to her the gates of Paradise.

"Sire," added the Abbess de Fontevrault, "I have three nuns in my convent
who take the Holy Communion every other day, and whom my predecessor
could never bring herself to absolve for some old piece of nonsense of
twenty years back."

"Do you think you will be able to manage them, madame?" asked the King,

"I am afraid not," replied my sister. "Those are three whom one could
never manage, and your Majesty on the throne may possibly have fewer
difficulties to deal with than the abbess or the prior of a convent."

The King was obliged to quit us to go and see one of the ministers, but
he honoured the Abbess by telling her that she was excellent company, of
which he could never have too much.

My sister wished to see Madame de Maintenon and the Duc du Maine; so we
visited that lady, who took a great liking to the Abbess, which was

When my sister saw the young Duc du Maine, she exclaimed, "How handsome
he is! Oh, sister, how fond I shall be of such a nephew!"

"Then," said I, "you will forgive me, won't you, for having given birth
to him?"

"When I reproached you," she answered, "I had not yet seen the King. When
one has seen him, everything is excusable and everything is right.
Embrace me, my dear sister, and do not let us forget that I owe my abbey
to you, as well as my independence, fortune, and liberty."



M. de Lauzun and Mademoiselle de Montpensier. - Marriage of the One and
Passion of the Other. - The King Settles a Match. - A Secret Union. - The
King Sends M. de Lauzun to Pignerol. - The Life He Leads
There. - Mademoiselle's Liberality. - Strange Way of Acknowledging It.

They are forever talking about the coquetry of women; men also have their
coquetry, but as they show less grace and finesse than we do, they do not
get half as much attention.

The Marquis de Lauzun, having one day, noticed a certain kindly feeling
for him in the glances of Mademoiselle, endeavoured to seem to her every
day more fascinating and agreeable. The foolish Princess completely fell
into the snare, and suddenly giving up her air of noble indifference,
which till then had made her life happy, she fell madly in love with a
schemer who despised and detested her.

Held back for some months by her pride, as also by the exigencies of
etiquette, she only disclosed her sentimental passion by glances and a
mutual exchange of signs of approval; but at last she was tired of
self-restraint and martyrdom, and, detaining M. de Lauzun one day in a
recess, she placed her written offer of marriage in his hand.

The cunning Marquis feigned astonishment, pretending humbly to renounce
such honour, while increasing his wiles and fascinations; he even went so
far as to shed tears, his most difficult feat of all.

Mademoiselle de Montpensier, older than he by twelve or fourteen years,
never suspected that such a disparity of years was visible in her face.
When one has been pretty, one imagines that one is still so, and will
forever remain so. Plastered up and powdered, consumed by passion, and
above all, blinded by vanity, she fancied that Nature had to obey
princes, and that, to favour her, Time would stay his flight.

Though tired and bored with everything, Lauzun, the better to excite her
passion, put on timid, languid airs, like those of some lad fresh from
school. Quitting the embraces of some other woman, he played the lonely,
pensive, melancholy bachelor, the man absorbed by this sweet, new mystery
of love.

Having made mutual avowal of their passion, which was fill of esteem,
Lauzun inquired, merely from motives of caution, as to the Princess's
fortune; and she did not fail to tell him everything, even about her
plate and jewels. Lauzun's love grew even more ardent now, for she had
at least forty millions, not counting her palace.

He asked if, by the marriage, he would become a prince, and she replied
that she, herself, had not sufficient power to do this; that she was most
anxious to arrange this, if she could; but anyhow, that she could make
him Duc de Montpensier, with a private uncontrolled income of five
hundred thousand livres.

He asked if, on the family coat-of-arms, the husband's coronet was to
figure, or the wife's; but, as she would not change her name, her arms,
she decided, could remain as heretofore, - the crown, the fleur-de-lis,
and so forth.

He inquired if the children of the marriage would rank as princes, and
she said that she saw nothing to prevent this. He also asked if he would
be raised higher in the peerage, and might look to being made a prince at
last, and styled Highness as soon as the contract had been signed.

This caused some doubt and reflection. "The King, my cousin," said
Mademoiselle, "is somewhat strict in matters of this sort. He seems to
think that the royal family is a new arch-saint, at whom one may look
only when prostrate in adoration; all contract therewith is absolutely
forbidden. I begin to feel uneasy about this; yes, Lauzun, I have fears
for our love and marriage."

"Are you, then, afraid?" asked Lauzun, quite crestfallen.

"I knew how to point the Bastille cannon at the troops of the King," she
replied; "but he was very young then. No matter, I will go and see him;
if he is my King, I am his cousin; if he has his crotchets, I have my
love and my will. He can't do anything, my dear Lauzun; I love you as
once he loved La Valliere, as to-day he loves Montespan; I am not afraid
of him. As for the permission, I know our history by heart, and I will
prove to him by a hundred examples that, from the time of Charlemagne up
to the present time, widows and daughters of kings have married mere
noblemen. These nobleman may have been most meritorious, - I only know
them from history, - but not one of them was as worthy as you."

So saying, she asked for her fan, her gloves, and her horses, and
attended by her grooms-in-waiting, she went to the King in person.

The King listened to her from beginning to end, and then remarked, "You
refused the Kings of Denmark, Portugal, Spain, and England, and you wish
to marry my captain of the guard, the Marquis de Lauzun?"

"Yes, Sire, for I place him above all monarchs, - yourself alone

"Do you love him immensely?"

"More than I can possibly say; a thousand, a hundred thousand times more
than myself."

"Do you think he is equally devoted to you?" - "That would be impossible,"
she tranquilly answered; "but his love for me is delicate, tender; and
such friendship suffices me."

"My cousin, in all that there is self-interest. I entreat you to
reflect. The world, as you know, is a mocking world; you want to excite
universal derision and injure the respect which is due to the place that
I fill."

"Ah, Sire, do not wound me! I fling myself at your feet. Have
compassion upon M. de Lauzun, and pity my tears. Do not exercise your
power; let him be the consolation of my life; let me marry him."

The King, no longer able to hide his disgust and impatience, said,
"Cousin, you are now a good forty-four years old; at that age you ought
to be able to take care of yourself. Spare me all your grievances, and
do what pleases you."

On leaving Mademoiselle, he came to my apartment and told me about all
this nonsense. I then informed him of what I had heard by letter the day
before. Lauzun, while still carrying on with the fastest ladies of the
Court and the town, had just wheedled the Princess into making him a
present of twenty millions, - a most extravagant gift.

"This is too much!" exclaimed the King; and he at once caused a letter to
be despatched to Mademoiselle and her lover, telling them that their
intimacy must cease, and that things must go no farther.

But the audacious Lauzun found means to suborn a well-meaning simpleton
of a priest, who married them secretly the very same day.

The King's indignation and resentment may well be imagined. He had his
captain of the guard arrested and sent as a prisoner to Pignerol.

On this occasion, M. de Lauzun complained bitterly of me; he invented the
most absurd tales about me, even saying that he had struck me in my own
apartments, after taunting me to my face with "our old intimacy."

That is false; he reproached me with nothing, for there was nothing to
reproach. Shortly after the Princess's grand scene, he came and begged
me to intercede on his behalf. I only made a sort of vague promise, and
he knew well enough that, in the great world, a vague promise is the same
as a refusal.

For more than six months I had to stanch the tears and assuage the grief
of Mademoiselle. So tiresome to me did this prove, that she alone
well-nigh sufficed to make me quit the Court.

Such sorrowing and chagrin made her lose the little beauty that still
remained to her; nothing seemed more incongruous and ridiculous than to
hear this elderly grand lady talking perpetually about "her dearest
darling, the prisoner."

At the time I write he is at Pignerol; his bad disposition is forever
getting him into trouble. She sends him lots of money unknown to the
King, who generally knows everything. All this money he squanders or
gambles away, and when funds are low, says, "The old lady will send us


Hyde, the Chancellor. - Misfortune Not Always Misfortune. - Prince
Comnenus. - The King at Petit-Bourg. - His Incognito. - Who M. de Vivonne
Really Was.

The castle of Petit-Bourg, of which the King made me a present, is
situate on a height overlooking the Seine, whence one may get the
loveliest of views. So pleasant did I find this charming abode, that I
repaired thither as often as possible, and stayed for five or six days.
One balmy summer night, I sat in my dressing-gown at the central balcony,
watching the stars, as was my wont, asking myself whether I should not be
a thousand times happier if I should pass my life in a retreat like this,
and so have time to contemplate the glorious works of Nature, and to
prepare myself for that separation which sooner or later awaited me.
Reason bade me encourage such thoughts, yet my heart offered opposition
thereto, urging that there was something terrifying in solitude, most of
all here, amid vast fields and meadows, and that, away from the Court and
all my friends, I should grow old, and death would take me before my
time. While plunged in such thoughts, I suddenly heard the sound of a
tocsin, and scanning the horizon, I saw flames and smoke rising from some
hamlet or country-house. I rang for my servants, and told them instantly
to despatch horsemen to the scene of the catastrophe, and bring back

The messengers started off, and soon came back to say that the fire had
broken out at the residence of my lord Hyde, Chancellor of England, who
was but lately convalescent. They had seen him lying upon a rug on the
grass, some little distance from the burning mansion. I forthwith
ordered my carriage to be sent for him, and charged my surgeon and
secretary to invite him to take shelter at my castle.

My lord gratefully accepted the invitation; he entered my room as the
clock struck twelve. As yet he could not tell the cause of the disaster,
and in a calm, patriarchal manner observed, "I am a man marked out for
great misfortune. God forbid, madame, that the mischance which dogs my
footsteps touch you also!"

"I cannot bear to see a fire," said I, in reply to the English nobleman,
"for some dreadful accident always results therefrom. Yet, on the whole,
they are of good augury, and I am sure, my lord, that your health or your
affairs will benefit by this accident."

Hearing me talk thus, my lord smiled. He only took some slight
refreshment, - a little soup, - and heard me give orders for all my
available servants to be sent to the scene of disaster, in order to save
all his furniture, and protect it as well.

After repeated expressions of his gratitude, he desired to withdraw, and
retired to rest. Next day we learnt that the fire had been got under
about one o'clock in the morning; one wing only of the chateau had been
destroyed, and the library, together with all the linen and plate, was
well-nigh intact. Lord Hyde was very glad to hear the news. They told
him that all the labourers living near had gladly come to the help of his
servants and mine. As his private cashbox had been saved, owing to their
vigilance and honesty, he promised to distribute its contents among them
when he returned.

Hardly had he got the words out, when they came to tell me that, on the
highroad, just in front of my gates, a carriage, bound for Paris, had the
traces broken, and the travellers persons of distinction begged the
favour of my hospitality for a short while. I consented with pleasure,
and they went back to take the travellers my answer.

"You see, madame," said the Chancellor, "my bad luck is contagious; no
sooner have I set foot in this enchanting abode than its atmosphere
deteriorates. A travelling-carriage passes rapidly by in front of the
gates, when lo! some invisible hand breaks it to pieces, and stops it
from proceeding any further."

Then I replied, "But how do you know, monsieur, that this mishap may not
prove a most agreeable adventure for the travellers to whom we are about
to give shelter? To begin with, they will have the honour of making your
acquaintance, and to meet with an illustrious person is no common or
frivolous event."

The servants announced the Princes Comnenus, who immediately entered the
salon. Though dressed in travelling-costume, with embroidered gaiters,
in the Greek fashion, it was easy to see what they were. The son, a lad
of fourteen, was presented to me by his father, and when both were
seated, I introduced them to the Chancellor.

"The name is well known," observed the Prince, "even in Greece. My lord
married his daughter to the heir-presumptive to the English throne, and
England, being by nature ungrateful, has distressed this worthy parent,
while robbing him of all his possessions."

At these words Lord Hyde became greatly affected; he could not restrain
his tears, and fearing at first to compromise himself, he told us that
his exile was voluntary and self-imposed, or very nearly so.

After complimenting the Chancellor of a great kingdom, Prince Comnenus
thought that he ought to say something courteous and flattering to

"Madame," quoth he, "it is only now, after asking for hospitality and
generously obtaining it, that I and my son have learnt the name of the
lady who has so graciously granted us admission to this most lovely
place. For a moment we hesitated in awe. But now our eyes behold her
whom all Europe admires, whom a great King favours with his friendship
and confidence. What strange chances befall one in life! Could I ever
have foreseen so fortunate a mishap!"

I briefly replied to this amiable speech, and invited the travellers to
spend, at least, one day with us. They gladly accepted, and each retired
to his apartment until the time came for driving out. Dinner was laid,
and on the point of being served, when the King, who was on his way from
Fontainebleau, suddenly entered my room. He had heard something about a
fire, and came to see what had happened. I at once informed him, telling
him, moreover, that I had the Duke of York's father-in-law staying with
me at the moment.

"Lord Hyde, the Chancellor?" exclaimed the King. "I have never seen
him, and have always been desirous to make his acquaintance. The
opportunity is an easy and favourable one."

"But that is not all, Sire; I have other guests to meet you," said I.

"And who may they be?" inquired the King, smiling. "Just because I have
come in rough-and-ready plight, your house is full of people."

"But they are in rough-and-ready plight as well," I answered; "so your
Majesties must mutually excuse each other."

"Are you in fun or in earnest?" asked his Majesty. "Have you really got
some king stowed away in one of your rooms?"

"Not a king, Sire, but an emperor, - the Emperor of Constantinople and
Trebizond, accompanied by the Prince Imperial, his son. You shall see
two Greek profiles of the best sort, two finely cut noses, albeit hooked,
and almond-shaped eyes, like those of Achilles and Agamemnon."

Then the King said, "Send for your groom of the chambers at once, and
tell him to give orders that my incognito be strictly observed. You must
introduce me to these dignitaries as your brother, M. de Vivonne. Under
these conditions, I will join your party at table; otherwise, I should be
obliged to leave the castle immediately."

The King's wishes were promptly complied with; the footmen were let into
the secret, and I introduced "Monsieur de Vivonne" to my guests.

The talk, without being sparkling, was pleasant enough until dessert.
When the men-servants left us, it assumed a very different character. The
King induced the Chancellor to converse, and asked him if his exile were
owing to the English monarch personally, or to some parliamentary

"King Charles," replied his lordship, "is a prince to gauge whose
character requires long study. Apparently, he is the very soul of
candour, but no one is more deceitful than he. He fawns and smiles upon
you when in his heart of hearts he despises and loathe you. When the

Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 8 of 30)