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Memoirs of Louis XIV and His Court and of the Regency — Volume 12 online

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The Abbe Alberoni, having risen by the means I have described, and
acquired power by following in the track of the Princesse des Ursins,
governed Spain like a master. He had the most ambitious projects. One
of his ideas was to drive all strangers, especially the French, out of
the West Indies; and he hoped to make use of the Dutch to attain this
end. But Holland was too much in the dependence of England.

At home Alberoni proposed many useful reforms, and endeavoured to
diminish the expenses of the royal household. He thought, with reason,
that a strong navy was the necessary basis of the power of Spain; and to
create one he endeavoured to economise the public money. He flattered
the King with the idea that next year he would arm forty vessels to
protect the commerce of the Spanish Indies. He had the address to boast
of his disinterestedness, in that whilst working at all manner of
business he had never received any grace from the King, and lived only
on fifty pistoles, which the Duke of Parma, his master, gave him every
month; and therefore he made gently some complaints against the
ingratitude of princes.

Alberoni had persuaded the Queen of Spain to keep her husband shut up,
as had the Princesse des Ursins. This was a certain means of governing a
prince whose temperament and whose conscience equally attached him to his
spouse. He was soon completely governed once more - under lock and key,
as it were, night and day. By this means the Queen was jailoress and
prisoner at the same time. As she was constantly with the King nobody
could come to her. Thus Alberoni kept them both shut up, with the key of
their prison in his pocket.

One of the chief objects of his ambition was the Cardinal's hat. It
would be too long to relate the schemes he set on foot to attain his end.
He was opposed by a violent party at Rome; but at last his inflexible
will and extreme cunning gained the day. The Pope, no longer able to
resist the menaces of the King of Spain, and dreading the vengeance of
the all-powerful minister, consented to grant the favour that minister
had so pertinaciously demanded. Alberoni was made Cardinal on the 12th
of July, 1717. Not a soul approved this promotion when it was announced
at the consistory. Not a single cardinal uttered a word in praise of the
new confrere, but many openly disapproved his nomination. Alberoni's
good fortune did not stop here. At the death, some little time after,
of the Bishop of Malaga, that rich see, worth thirty thousand ecus a
year, was given to him. He received it as the mere introduction to the
grandest and richest sees of Spain, when they should become vacant.
The King of Spain gave him also twenty thousand ducats, to be levied upon
property confiscated for political reasons. Shortly after, Cardinal
Arias, Archbishop of Seville, having died, Alberoni was named to this
rich archbishopric.

In the middle of his grandeur and good luck he met with an adventure that
must have strangely disconcerted him.

I have before explained how Madame des Ursins and the deceased Queen had
kept the King of Spain screened from all eyes, inaccessible to all his
Court, a very palace-hermit. Alberoni, as I have said, followed their
example. He kept the King even more closely imprisoned than before, and
allowed no one, except a few indispensable attendants, to approach him.
These attendants were a small number of valets and doctors, two gentlemen
of the chamber, one or two ladies, and the majordomo-major of the King.
This last post was filled by the Duc d'Escalone, always called Marquis de
Villena, in every way one of the greatest noblemen in Spain, and most
respected and revered of all, and justly so, for his virtue, his
appointment, and his services.

Now the King's doctors are entirely under the authority of the majordomo-
major. He ought to be present at all their consultations; the King
should take no remedy that he is not told of, or that he does not
approve, or that he does not see taken; an account of all the medicines
should be rendered to him. Just at this time the King was ill. Villena
wished to discharge the duties attached to his post of majordomo-major.
Alberoni caused it to be insinuated to him, that the King wished to be at
liberty, and that he would be better liked if he kept at home; or had the
discretion and civility not to enter the royal chamber, but to ask at the
door for news. This was language the Marquis would not understand.

At the end of the grand cabinet of the mirrors was placed a bed, in which
the King was laid, in front of the door; and as the room is vast and
long, it is a good distance from the door (which leads to the interior)
to the place where the bed was. Alberoni again caused the Marquis to be
informed that his attentions were troublesome, but the Marquis did not
fail to enter as before. At last, in concert with the Queen, the
Cardinal resolved to refuse him admission. The Marquis, presenting
himself one afternoon, a valet partly opened the door and said, with much
confusion, that he was forbidden to let him enter.

"Insolent fellow," replied the Marquis, "stand aside," and he pushed the
door against the valet and entered. In front of him was the Queen,
seated at the King's pillow; the Cardinal standing by her side, and the
privileged few, and not all of them, far away from the bed. The Marquis,
who, though full of pride, was but weak upon his legs, leisurely
advanced, supported upon his little stick. The Queen and the Cardinal
saw him and looked at each other. The King was too ill to notice
anything, and his curtains were closed except at the side where the Queen
was. Seeing the Marquis approach, the Cardinal made signs, with
impatience, to one of the valets to tell him to go away, and immediately
after, observing that the Marquis, without replying, still advanced, he
went to him, explained to him that the King wished to be alone, and
begged him to leave.

"That is not true," said the Marquis; "I have watched you; you have not
approached the bed, and the King has said nothing to you."

The Cardinal insisting, and without success, took him by the arm to make
him go. The Marquis said he was very insolent to wish to hinder him from
seeing the King, and perform his duties. The Cardinal, stronger than his
adversary, turned the Marquis round, hurried him towards the door, both
talking the while, the Cardinal with measure, the Marquis in no way
mincing his words. Tired of being hauled out in this manner, the Marquis
struggled, called Alberoni a "little scoundrel," to whom he would teach
manners; and in this heat and dust the Marquis, who was weak, fortunately
fell into an armchair hard by. Angry at his fall, he raised his little
stick and let it fall with all his force upon the ears and the shoulders
of the Cardinal, calling him a little scoundrel - a little rascal -
a little blackguard, deserving a horsewhipping.

The Cardinal, whom he held with one hand, escaped as well as he could,
the Marquis continuing to abuse him, and shaking the stick at him. One
of the valets came and assisted him to rise from his armchair, and gain
the door; for after this accident his only thought was to leave the room.

The Queen looked on from her chair during all this scene, without
stirring or saying a word; and the privileged few in the chamber did not
dare to move. I learned all this from every one in Spain; and moreover I
asked the Marquis de Villena himself to give me the full details; and he,
who was all uprightness and truth, and who had conceived some little
friendship for me, related with pleasure all I have written. The two
gentlemen of the chamber present also did the same, laughing in their
sleeves. One had refused to tell the Marquis to leave the room, and the
other had accompanied him to the door. The most singular thing is, that
the Cardinal, furious, but surprised beyond measure at the blows he had
received, thought only of getting out of reach. The Marquis cried to him
from a distance, that but for the respect he owed to the King, and to the
state in which he was, he would give him a hundred kicks in the stomach,
and haul him out by the ears. I was going to forget this. The King was
so ill that he saw nothing.

A quarter of an hour after the Marquis had returned home, he received an
order to retire to one of his estates at thirty leagues from Madrid. The
rest of the day his house was filled with the most considerable people of
Madrid, arriving as they learned the news, which made a furious sensation
through the city. He departed the next day with his children. The
Cardinal, nevertheless, remained so terrified, that, content with the
exile of the Marquis, and with having got rid of him, he did not dare to
pass any censure upon him for the blows he had received. Five or six
months afterwards he sent him an order of recall, though the Marquis had
not taken the slightest steps to obtain it. What is incredible is, that
the adventure, the exile, the return, remained unknown to the King until
the fall of the Cardinal! The Marquis would never consent to see him, or
to hear him talked of, on any account, after returning, though the
Cardinal was the absolute master. His pride was much humiliated by this
worthy and just haughtiness; and he was all the more piqued because he
left nothing undone in order to bring about a reconciliation, without any
other success than that of obtaining fresh disdain, which much increased
the public estimation in which this wise and virtuous nobleman was held.


I must not omit to mention an incident which occurred during the early
part of the year 1718, and which will give some idea of the character of
M. le Duc d'Orleans, already pretty amply described by me.

One day (when Madame la Duchesse d'Orleans had gone to Montmartre, which
she quitted soon after) I was walking alone with M. le Duc d'Orleans in
the little garden of the Palais Royal, chatting upon various affairs,
when he suddenly interrupted me, and turning towards me; said, "I am
going to tell you something that will please you."

Thereupon he related to me that he was tired of the life he led, which
was no longer in harmony with his age or his desires, and many similar
things; that he was resolved to give up his gay parties, pass his
evenings more soberly and decently, sometimes at home, often with Madame
la Duchesse d'Orleans; that his health would gain thereby, and he should
have more time for business; that in a little while I might rely upon it
- there would be no more suppers of "roues and harlots" (these were his
own terms), and that he was going to lead a prudent and reasonable life
adapted to his age and state.

I admit that in my extreme surprise I was ravished, so great was the
interest I took in him. I testified this to him with overflowing heart,
thanking him for his confidence. I said to him that he knew I for a long
time had not spoken to him of the indecency of his life, or of the time
he lost, because I saw that in so doing I lost my own; that I had long
since despaired of his conduct changing; that this had much grieved me;
that he could not be ignorant from all that had passed between us at
various times, how much I desired a change, and that he might judge of
the surprise and joy his announcement gave me. He assured me more and
more that his resolution was fixed, and thereupon I took leave of him,
the hour for his soiree having arrived.

The next day I learned from people to whom the roues had just related it,
that M. le Duc d'Orleans was no sooner at table than he burst out
laughing, and applauded his cleverness, saying that he had just laid a
trap for me into which I had fallen full length. He recited to them our
conversation, at which the joy and applause were marvellous. It is the
only time he ever diverted himself at my expense (not to say at his own)
in a matter in which the fib he told me, and which I was foolish enough
to swallow, surprised by a sudden joy that took from me reflection, did
honour to me, though but little to him. I would not gratify him by
telling him I knew of his joke, or call to his mind what he had said to
me; accordingly he never dared to speak of it.

I never could unravel what fantasy had seized him to lead him to hoax me
in this manner, since for many years I had never opened my mouth
concerning the life he led, whilst he, on his side, had said not a word
to me relating to it. Yet it is true that sometimes being alone with
confidential valets, some complaints have escaped him (but never before
others) that I ill-treated him, and spoke hastily to him, but all was
said in two words, without bitterness, and without accusing me of
treating him wrongfully. He spoke truly also; sometimes, when I was
exasperated with stupidity or error in important matters which affected
him or the State, or when he had agreed (having been persuaded and
convinced by good reasons) to do or not to do some essential thing, and
was completely turned from it by his feebleness, his easy-going nature
(which he appreciated as well as I) - cruelly did I let out against him.
But the trick he most frequently played me before others, one of which my
warmth was always dupe, was suddenly to interrupt an important argument
by a 'sproposito' of buffoonery. I could not stand it; sometimes being
so angry that I wished to leave the room. I used to say to him that if
he wished to joke I would joke as much as he liked, but to mix the most
serious matters with tomfoolery was insupportable. He laughed heartily,
and all the more because, as the thing often happened, I ought to have
been on my guard; but never was, and was vexed both at the joke and at
being surprised; then he returned to business. But princes must
sometimes banter and amuse themselves with those whom they treat as
friends. Nevertheless, in spite of his occasional banter, he entertained
really sincere esteem and friendship for me.

By chance I learnt one day what he really thought of me. I will say it
now, so as to leave at once all these trifles. M. le Duc d'Orleans
returning one afternoon from the Regency Council at the Tuileries to the
Palais Royal with M. le Duc de Chartres (his son) and the Bailli de
Conflans (then first gentleman of his chamber) began to talk of me,
passing an eulogium upon me I hardly dare to repeat. I know not what had
occurred at the Council to occasion it. All that I can say is that he
insisted upon his happiness in having a friend so faithful, so unchanging
at all times, so useful to him as I was, and always had been; so sure, so
true, so disinterested, so firm, such as he could meet with in no one
else, and upon whom he could always count. This eulogy lasted from the
Tuileries to the Palais Royal, the Regent saying to his son that he
wished to teach him how to make my acquaintance, as a support and a
source of happiness (all that I relate here is in his own words); such as
he had always found in my friendship and counsel. The Bailli de
Conflans, astonished at this abundant eloquence, repeated it to me two
days after, and I admit that I never have forgotten it. And here I will
say that whatever others might do, whatever I myself (from disgust and
vexation at what I saw ill done) might do, the Regent always sought
reconciliation with me with shame, confidence, confusion, and he has
never found himself in any perplexity that he has not opened his heart to
me, and consulted me, without however always following my advice, for he
was frequently turned from it by others.

He would never content himself with one mistress. He needed a variety in
order to stimulate his taste. I had no more intercourse with them than
with his roues. He never spoke of them to me, nor I to him. I scarcely
ever knew anything of their adventures. His roues and valets were always
eager to present fresh mistresses to him, from which he generally
selected one. Amongst these was Madame de Sabran, who had married a man
of high rank, but without wealth or merit, in order to be at liberty.
There never was a woman so beautiful as she, or of a beauty more regular,
more agreeable, more touching, or of a grander or nobler bearing, and yet
without affectation. Her air and her manners were simple and natural,
making you think she was ignorant of her beauty and of her figure (this
last the finest in the world), and when it pleased her she was
deceitfully modest. With much intellect she was insinuating, merry,
overflowing, dissipated, not bad-hearted, charming, especially at table.
In a word, she was all M. le Duc d'Orleans wanted, and soon became his
mistress without prejudice to the rest.

As neither she nor her husband had a rap, they were ready for anything,
and yet they did not make a large fortune. One of the chamberlains of
the Regent, with an annual salary of six thousand livres, having received
another appointment, Madame de Sabran thought six thousand livres a year
too good to be lost, and asked for the post for her husband. She cared
so little for him, by the way, that she called him her "mastiff." It was
she, who, supping with M. le Duc d'Orleans and his roues, wittily said,
that princes and lackeys had been made of one material, separated by
Providence at the creation from that out of which all other men had been

All the Regent's mistresses had one by one their turn. Fortunately they
had little power, were not initiated into any state secrets, and received
but little money.

The Regent amused himself with them, and treated them in other respects
exactly as they deserved to be treated.


It is time now that I should speak of matters of very great importance,
which led to changes that filled my heart with excessive joy, such as it
had never known before.

For a long time past the Parliament had made many encroachments upon the
privileges belonging to the Dukes. Even under the late King it had begun
these impudent enterprises, and no word was said against it; for nothing
gave the King greater pleasure than to mix all ranks together in a
caldron of confusion. He hated and feared the nobility, was jealous of
their power, which in former reigns had often so successfully balanced
that of the crown; he was glad therefore of any opportunity which
presented itself that enabled him to see our order weakened and robbed of
its dignity.

The Parliament grew bolder as its encroachments one by one succeeded.
It began to fancy itself armed with powers of the highest kind. It began
to imagine that it possessed all the authority of the English Parliament,
forgetting that that assembly is charged with the legislative
administration of the country, that it has the right to make laws and
repeat laws, and that the monarch can do but little, comparatively
speaking, without the support and sanction of this representative
chamber; whereas, our own Parliament is but a tribunal of justice, with
no control or influence over the royal authority or state affairs.

But, as I have said, success gave it new impudence. Now that the King
was dead, at whose name alone it trembled, this assembly thought that a
fine opportunity had come to give its power the rein. It had to do with
a Regent, notorious for his easy-going disposition, his indifference to
form and rule, his dislike to all vigorous measures. It fancied that
victory over such an opponent would be easy; that it could successfully
overcome all the opposition he could put in action, and in due time make
his authority secondary to its own. The Chief-President of the
Parliament, I should observe, was the principal promoter of these
sentiments. He was the bosom friend of M. and Madame du Maine, and by
them was encouraged in his views. Incited by his encouragement, he
seized an opportunity which presented itself now, to throw down the glove
to M. le Duc d'Orleans, in the name of the Parliament, and to prepare for
something like a struggle. The Parliament of Brittany had recently
manifested a very turbulent spirit, and this was an additional
encouragement to that of Paris.

At first the Parliament men scarcely knew what to lay hold of and bring
forward, as an excuse for the battle. They wished of course to gain the
applause of the people as protectors of their interests - likewise those
who for their private ends try to trouble and embroil the State - but
could not at first see their way clear. They sent for Trudaine, Prevot
des Marchand, Councillor of State, to give an account to them of the
state of the Hotel de Ville funds. He declared that they had never been
so well paid, and that there was no cause of complaint against the
government. Baffled upon this point, they fastened upon a edict,
recently rendered, respecting the money of the realm. They deliberated
thereon, deputed a commission to examine the matter, made a great fuss,
and came to the conclusion that the edict would, if acted upon, be very
prejudicial to the country.

Thus much done, the Parliament assembled anew on Friday morning, the 17th
of June, 1718, and again in the afternoon. At the end they decided upon
sending a deputation to the Regent, asking him to suspend the operation
of the edict, introduce into it the changes suggested by their body, and
then send it to them to be registered. The deputation was sent, and said
all it had to say.

On the morrow the Parliament again assembled, morning and afternoon, and
sent a message to the Regent, saying, it would not separate until it had
received his reply. That reply was very short and simple. The Regent
sent word that he was tired of the meddling interference of the
Parliament (this was not the first time, let me add, that he experienced
it), that he had ordered all the troops in Paris, and round about, to
hold themselves ready to march, and that the King must be obeyed. Such
was in fact true. He had really ordered the soldiers to keep under arms
and to be supplied with powder and shot.

The message did not intimidate the Parliament. The next day, Sunday, the
Chief-President, accompanied by all the other presidents, and by several
councillors, came to the Palais Royal. Although, as I have said, the
leader of his company, and the right-hand man of M. and Madame du Maine,
he wished for his own sake to keep on good terms with the Regent, and at
the same time to preserve all authority over his brethren, so as to have
them under his thumb. His discourse then to the Regent commenced with
many praises and much flattery, in order to smooth the way for the three
fine requests he wound up with. The first of these was that the edict
should be sent to the Parliament to be examined, and to suffer such
changes as the members should think fit to introduce, and then be
registered; the second, that the King should pay attention to their
remonstrances in an affair of this importance, which they believed
prejudicial to the State; the third, that the works recently undertaken
at the mint for recasting the specie should be suspended!

To these modest requests the Regent replied that the edict had been
registered at the Cour des Monnaies, which is a superior court, and
consequently sufficient for such registration; that there was only a
single instance of an edict respecting the money of the realm having been
sent before the Parliament, and then out of pure civility; that the
matter had been well sifted, and all its inconveniences weighed; that it
was to the advantage of the State to put in force this edict; that the
works of the Mint could not be interfered with in any way; finally, that
the King must be obeyed! It was quite true that the edict had been sent
to the Parliament out of courtesy, but at the suggestion of the Regent's
false and treacherous confidants, valets of the Parliament, such as the
Marechals de Villeroy, and Huxelles, and Besons, Canillac, Effiat, and

Notwithstanding the decisive answer they had received, the Parliament met
the very next day, and passed a decree against the edict. The council of
the regency, at its sitting on the afternoon of the same day, abrogated
this decree. Thus, since war was in a measure declared between the
Regent's authority and that of the Parliament, the orders emanating from
the one were disputed by the other, and vice versa. A nice game of
shuttlecock this, which it was scarce likely could last long!

The Regent was determined to be obeyed. He prohibited, therefore, the

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Online LibraryLouis de Rouvroy Saint-SimonMemoirs of Louis XIV and His Court and of the Regency — Volume 12 → online text (page 1 of 7)