Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Pets of the Mistresses

A royal mistress was often the centre of the court's attention and nothing escaped the many watching eyes. This was also the case when it came to the pets of the royal favourite. This is a short post to take a look at what kind of pets preferred by some of the mistresses of Louis XIV and Louis XV.

See if you can point out Inés
Madame de Pompadour was very fond of animals - something she shared with her royal lover. She had a little dog that went with her where ever she went. Madame de Pompadour would even be portrayed with a dog or two of hers somewhere in the scene. Her most famous dogs were the two spaniels named Mimi and Inés - Inés is actually on the portrait to the left, sitting on the bench. There were rumours that the royal favourite let her dogs wear collars more precious than many of the courtiers!

It was a rather different type of animal that attracted Madame du Barry when she took over after Madame de Pompadour. This last favourite of Louis XV had always been fond of parrots! Her parrot's exquisite cage adorned with porcelain flowers is a testimony to how dear she held her feathered friend. Apparently, Madame du Barry had taught her parrot not only to recognize her but to loudly exclaim "there goes the lovely lady!" whenever she appeared. According to Joan Haslip in "Madame du Barry: the Wages of Beauty" the parrot had beautiful black feathers. After the death of Louis XV, Madame du Barry moved to her country residence of Louveciennes and took her parrot with her.

Madame de Maintenon brought a large Pyrenean Mountain dog with her back to Paris in 1675. It was the first time the French court had seen this dog breed before and the Sun King immediately liked it - he even gave it the flattering name of "royal dog".

Madame "How Much?"

Madame de Montespan was not just renowned for her beauty - apparently the maîtresse-en-titre was a very demanding woman with a taste for luxury.

Like all the other royal mistresses, Madame de Montespan occupied private apartments at Versailles during her affair with the King. These included her own personal gallery! Her apartments were always packed with flowers and her pets. As always, the courtiers knew that the King's favourite could be a way to gain favours from the King himself and consequently they swarmed around the favourite. Madame de Montespan had a fondness of jewels which she received plenty of. But Madame was not one to accept a jewel if she did not fancy it - actually she was known for her rude behaviour of returning gemstones if she did not think them of good enough quality!
The courtiers quickly gave her the nick-name "Quanto" which is Italian for "How Much?"

Madame de Montespan constantly had to flaunt her status in front of the Queen. The King's mistress demanded no less than twenty rooms to make up her set of apartments even though the Queen herself occupied ten. And it was custom that a page would carry the Queen's train through the gilded halls of Versailles; but Madame de Montespan wanted a wife of a Maréchal de France to do the same job.

The King decided to create a private château for Madame de Montespan when she was at the height of his affection. He decided on Clagny, a residence near Versailles, and called upon the young architect Mansart. When the King was presented with a plan for the small château he said "I can say nothing yet; I will first hear what Madame de Montespan thinks" - such were her power over him. In the end a magnificent little retreat was created and it was said to resemble Versailles itself. The total sum is estimated at about 17 million francs and it was finished in 1680. The Marquise was pleased but her time as royal mistress was running out.

Françoise-Athénaïs, Marquise de Montespan

Françoise-Athénaïs was born on October 5, 1640 as the daughter of Gabriel de Rochechouart de Mortemart and Diane de Grandseigne. Her parents belonged to two of the oldest noble families in France which meant that Françoise had a good social standing from the very beginning of her life. Thus, she spent her childhood either at the court (located at the Louvre at the time) or at her family's various estates. When she was twelve she was sent off to the convent of St. Mary at Saintes where she was to receive the standard education for a young woman of her social standing. To Françoise the time she spent at the convent was probably a nice time for her since she was very religious even from her adolescence.

Françoise left the convent to fulfil her position as maid-of-honour to Henrietta of England, the sister-in-law of Louis XIV. Françoise's mother had a good relationship with none other than Queen Anne of Austria which led to Françoise's appointment as lady-in-waiting to Louis XIV's wife, Marie Thérèse of Spain.
Françoise married Louis Henri de Pardaillan de Gondrin on January 28, 1663, which made her the Marquise de Montespan. The marriage soon resulted in the daughter Christine - just two weeks after the birth Françoise danced at a royal ballet! In total the couple would have two children.

Francoise was renowned for her beauty and was considered to be one of the most - if not the most - beautiful women at Louis XIV's court. But Francoise had many charms at her disposal; she was intelligent, cultured and even earned the praise of Saint-Simon - she was even up to date with political events. The gentlemen at court quickly noticed this attractive, young woman and Francoise soon found herself courted by the Comte de Frontenac and the Marquis de La Fare.
The Marquise de Montespan made no attempt at hiding her dislike of Queen Marie Thérèse which came as a shock to the court. Francoise had her eye on a specific place at court and there was just one problem with her getting it: it was already occupied. Louise de La Vallière was the King's maîtresse-en-titre at the time but the Marquise de Montespan was eager to replace her. During her attempts to charm her way into the King's bed she became good friends with the Dauphin whom she would remain on excellent terms with for the rest of her life. The King - however - and Louise de La Vallière already knew what Francoise was doing and amused themselves with watching her attempts to capture the King's attention.

Francoise managed to become friends with both Louise and Marie Thérèse who would both soon need Francoise's help. The two of them were pregnant (both by the King) and needed someone who could entertain Louis XIV at his private dinners; Francoise quickly gave into their pleas. But they had both underestimated Francoise because before long the King was enamoured by her - the King was not willing to openly discard of Louise and had Francoise move into the same apartment that conveniently had secret access to the King's apartments. Despite his efforts it was clear that Louise was now second-place and even had to help Francoise at her toilette - Louise moved to a convent which left Francoise as the only maîtresse-en-titre.

Francoise and Louis XIV would have seven children together. By 1673 the couple had three living children and Louis had made them all legitimate in an unusual way: the children were given the last name of de Bourbon but the legal documents did not mention Francoise's name since she was still legally married. All three of them received high-ranking titles at court: their eldest son would be the Duc du Maine, their second son was made the Comte de Vexin and their daughter was made Mademoiselle de Nantes. Francoise's position as the official maîtresse-en-titre took up almost all her time which meant that the children was brought up by Madame de Scarron.

Francoise was officially separated from her husband in 1674. However, Francoise was humiliated when the priest Lécuyer refused to give her Communion because of her position as the King's mistress. Despite the interference by her royal lover the Roman Catholic Church refused to grant Francoise the Communion unless she abandoned her lover. The couple spent some time apart but got back together and had two more children in 1677 and 1678 respectively. Madame de Montespan's downfall came with the Affair of the Poisons.
Francoise was so afraid to loose her royal lover that she allegedly resorted to poisoning and using magic as means of getting rid of her rivals. The accusations began after the King had noticed yet another beauty at court: the Duchesse de Fontagnes. But the Duchesse died unexpectedly in 1681 before she could involve herself with the King (today it is believed that she died of natural causes).

According to the accusations Madame de Montespan had worked with the infamous poisoner La Voison to create a special potion for the King that would keep his attention fixed on her. But the King kept visiting his favourite even after the scandal became common knowledge at court. By 1691 Francoise's romance with Louis had died out and she decided to leave on her own rather than be degraded like Louise de La Vallière. She went to the convent of Filles de Saint-Joseph and the grateful King gave her a pension of 500.000 francs and bestowed several titles on her relatives. She spent the last part of her life donating large sums of money to charity and indulged in deep repentance. Francoise died on May 27 1707.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Olympia Mancini

Olympia Mancini was born on July 11 1638 as the second eldest daughter of Baron Lorenzo Mancini and Geronima Mazzarini. She spent her childhood in Rome - where she had been born - until 1650 when her father died. Without a husband to insure a proper future for her children, Geronima went to Paris where her brother, Cardinal Mazarin, was already a prominent member at the French court. Olympia therefore travelled to the court of Louis XIV with her four other sisters.

Seven years after her arrival in Paris Olympia was married to Prince Eugène-Maurice of Savoy-Carignano on February 24. Olympia would have eight children by him; her most famous child was Prince Eugene of Savoy. At court she would be referred to merely as Madame la Comtesse due to her husband's title of Comte de Soissons. Her position at court would be elevated above all others - except the Princesses of the Blood - when she was made the Superintendent of the Queen's Household.

Olympia had a special gift for intrigues and quickly became involved in them. Olympia was not as beautiful as the other women at the French court but she made up for that with her exceptional charm and an ability to fascinate those around her. She found a friend in Princesse Henrietta of England who happened to be the sister-in-law of Louis XIV. The problem was that Henrietta and Louis had developed a relationship that deeply concerned Anne of Austria (Louis's mother). Despite that the relationship was not sexual something had to be done and here Olympia had an idea. If she presented Louise de La Vallière to the King it would seem as if he would merely visit his sister-in-law's chambers for his love of her lady-in-waiting.

But her plan went wrong when the King actually fell in love with Louise de La Vallière. Whether it was out of love for her dear friend Henrietta or sheer jealousy is unknown, Olympia became angry with Louise after the King fell in love. Olympia herself had briefly been the mistress of Louis XIV but their relationship was not long-lived nor particular strong. The next time her name appears is in a far more lethal context. Olympia was accused of having plotted to poison Louise de La Vallière with the help of the infamous poisoner La Voison - apparently her dislike went further than anyone had guessed. She was accused of this in 1679 during the Affair of the Poisons. What was almost worse for the Comtesse was that she was thought to have threatened none other than the King himself! She was allegedly supposed to have made it clear that if he did not return to her he would be sorry. As a result Olympia was sent into exile and went to the Spanish court.

Later she would also be accused of having poisoned her husband and Queen Maria Luisa of Spain who happened to be the daughter of her friend, Henrietta of England. The two of them had become friends after Olympia had settled down at the Spanish court. This led to another exile from a royal court and Olympia now went to Brussels. Olympia would die here on October 9 1708.

The Perfumed Court

Hygiene among the nobility was scarce and you can only imagine the smells that would come from hundreds of silk-clothed courtiers packed together at Versailles. One of the main reasons for this was the great fear of water; it was generally believed that diseases travelled through water so the less you bathed the less liable you were to catch a disease. It must have been obvious even to the courtiers themselves for during Louis XIV's reign the use of perfume was wide-spread. Actually the perfumed scent became so heavy in the airs of the gilded salons that the French court became known as "the Perfumed Court" (le cour perfumee). The Sun King himself was an eager consumer of the luxurious scents; he demanded that a different scent should fill his room each day.

Perfume burners from the time of
Louis XVI
But it was not just to hide a less pleasing scent that the French courtiers used perfume. Perfume was expensive and a sign of luxury; like clothing perfume was used as an indicator of one's wealth. Throughout the palace several bowls were placed filled with flower petals to sweeten the air; in the same manner perfume was sprayed onto furniture. Visitors could easily expect to be doused with perfume upon entry to the palace.
Even the fountain's water was scented with perfume! The constant exposure to perfume would have its effect on Louis XIV at the end of his life - he became excessively sensitive towards scents and the smallest mint of a flowered scent was known to give him a migraine.
The Prince de Condé even helped the King's perfumer Martial with scenting the King's tobacco! Madame de Pompadour was definitely not shy on perfume either. The distinctive scent of musk could still be found in her chamber's curtains 20 years after her departure.

Today we happen to know some of the fragrances used by different courtiers, so take a look - maybe they can inspire you:

The Duchesse d'Aumont used coriander, iris, cloves, sweet flag and nut grass. Her scent was known as "à la Maréchale" because she was married to the Marshal of France.

Madame du Barry's favourite scent was made by the Italian perfumer Gian Paola Ferninis. Its original name was Aqua Admirabilis but that would not quite do at the French court where it was renamed as "Eau de Cologne". It was scented with neroli oil, bergamot, lavender, grape spirit and rosemary.

Of course, Marie Antoinette, was a leading lady when it came to perfume. Especially two of her perfumed fragrances have survived: "Sillage de la Reine" (In the Wake of the Queen) and "Jardin Secret" (Secret Garden). Sillage de la Reine was made of tuberose, orange blossom, jasmine, sandalwood, iris and cedar.  
Jardin Secret was scented with bergamot, cardamom, jasmine, rose, incense, sandalwood, vanilla, patchouli, amber and tonka bean - of course some of these were a very, very small part of the perfume.

Louis XIV was fond of heavy scents when he was younger - his mother used a chocolate-inspired perfume - and the Sun King loved to experiment with new scents. At the end of his life he could only stand the soft scent of orange blossom.

The King's mistress, Madame de Montespan, used to bathe in water scented with vanilla.

Actually perfume became a problem between Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. The couple was heard arguing as they stepped into the royal carriage with the Queen. Apparently, the King could not stand Madame de Montespan's perfume which was definitely not something that pleased his mistress. It is even said that she used heavy amounts of perfume because she could not take the smell of her royal lover!

Louis XIV would get his orange blossom
from the orange trees at Versailles
But there was a dangerous twist to this perfume frenzy. During the infamous Affair of the Poisons perfume was often used to either disguise poison - or as a poison. There is a story of a Duchesse who died after having her gloves rubbed in a scented poison that would then slowly be absorbed into her skin! The idea with using perfumed gloves was widely spread as well - though not with the same lethal purpose!

The Flying Chair

It was a difficult task for the monarch to have the smallest amount of privacy even when he wanted to visit his mistress. To escape the tedious task of having to climb several stairs - something that might prove difficult with someone of the infamous Bourbon physique - Louis XV used a rather different mechanism. A so-called "flying chair" was installed in 1743 that allowed the royal mistress to secretly visit her lover without the prying eyes of the nosy court. It was originally created for Madame de Châteauroux and was later used by Madame de Pompadour as well.

The flying chair was a small cabinet through which a rope hung - the occupant could pull the rope to either lower or raise the chair. The system depended on a number of counterweights and pulleys but it proved effective. Louis XV ordered the chair done by one of his favourite machinist Blaise-Henri Arnoult. The King could enter the chair from his balcony.

Louis XV had a fondness for this new technology. He had already had "flying" tables installed at the royal retreat of Choisy and was planning to do the same at the Petit Trianon - the tables would be located right above the kitchens and could be lowered down and raised again loaded with food; it allowed the King to enjoy a dinner without the constantly watching servants.

In 1754 the chair was moved to Fontainebleau.

Architectural drawing of the mechanism that still survives 

Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Duc, the Comtesse and the Abbé

The Duc de Choiseul (to the far left), his mistress the Comtesse de Brionne and the Abbé Barthélmy. It was painted around 1775 by Jacques Wilbaut. 

Monday, 22 April 2013

Claude de Vin des Oeillets

Claude de Vin des Oeillets was born in Provence in 1637 to Nicholas de Vin and Louise Faviot. Her parents were comedians to King Louis XIV and eventually opened their own theatre company. Madame de Montespan soon noticed the pretty little comedian and Claude was made her official companion in 1667. But the King had noticed Claude as well and their relationship resulted in at least one intimate evening because Claude gave birth to a girl, Louise de Maisonblanche. Louise was never acknowledged by her royal father and was raised by completely different parents than her biological ones - Claude could not raise a child while following Madame de Montespan on her tours with the King. Claude apparently enjoyed personal favour from the King - but nothing near that of Madame de Montespan - and Louis XIV granted Claude her own property.

However, Claude's name was tainted when the infamous Affair of the Poisons swept through the French court. She was accused of having attended a so-called Black Mass (as a replacement of Madame de Montespan) and visited known poisoners fifty times. Allegedly, Madame de Montespan had send Claude to La Voison for the powders that should keep the King's interest fixed on Madame de Montespan. Claude's friendly relationship with the King saved her from punishment but she still retired from court in 1678.

Anne de Rohan-Chabot

Anne de Rohan-Chabot was born in 1648 to Henri Chabot and Marguerite de Rohan; her parent's marriage had been a scandal from the beginning because Marguerite de Rohan was a foreign princess and that meant that Louis XIV had to make a special decree so Marguerite could hold her position at court.
On April 17 1663 Anne was married to François de Rohan - she was just 15 at the time. The marriage was advantageous to her new husband as well because Anne was a Dame de Soubise - a title that would pass to her husband. Anne and François was made the Prince and Princess de Soubise in 1667.

Anne was well-educated and renowned for her beauty. Despite her young age, she adored her husband. She was focused on maintaining her beauty by following a diet of chicken, salad, fruits, wine, dairy products and water. Of course, Louis XIV noticed her beauty when he stayed at Château de Chambord where Anne happened to be staying as well. Anne was not to be one of Louis' maîtresse-en-titres - instead she provided Louis with a pretty distraction while the King was wavering between Louise de La Vallière and Madame de Montespan. It is possible that Anne conceived the King's son who was made de Duc de Rohan-Rohan despite being a Prince de Soubise by birth.
By January 1764 the King had Anne installed as a lady-in-waiting to the Queen Marie-Thérèse. Everyone knew that Anne was the King's mistress when she gave birth to another son that Francois acknowledged as his own. But the child was almost certainly Louis XIV's. Not only did he look remarkably similar to the newborn son but François also received a large sum of money after publicly acknowledging his son.

Anne and Louis's affair ended in 1675 after six years - Anne had always been "the mistress in the shadow" behind Madame de Montespan. Anne convinced her husband (recently made wealthy by the generous pension from Louis XIV) to buy a hôtel that belonged to the late Duchesse de Guise. Francois complied and renamed it the Hôtel de Soubise. Anne stayed there until her death from a cold in 1709.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Lovely Ladies

Sometimes, the caricatures were not aimed at a specific person but at the entire court or a fraction within it. This particular caricature show the toilette of the "nymphs" of Versailles - nymphs with huge noses and legs as big as a tree trunk!

The caricature was printed in England in 1792 probably after Cruikshank's design.

Bracelets of a Restored Princess

The two bracelets belonged to Marie-Thérèse Charlotte de France who was the only surviving child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Originally, the bracelets were a part of a larger set consisting of coronet (with an eagle at the top), a tiara, a comb, a girandole earrings and a belt buckle!
This set was one of the only surviving pieces of the French crown jewels from the collection originally started by Francois I in 1530. The majority of the remaining crown jewels had disappeared during the revolution - they were probably broken down and sold.
Marie-Thérèse wore these on her wedding day. When Napoleon Bonaparte's empire collapsed and the Bourbon dynasty was restored the jewels became the property of the Bourbon princess. She was to be the last royalty of France to wear them - after the second revolution, the bracelets managed to survive and is now on display at the Louvre.

A King with a Tail

This is a depiction of Louis XVI - as a pig. It was "inspired" by the King's great appetite and it was drawn in 1791 when the royal family had already been forced out of Versailles.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Madame de Pompadour is Ridiculed

Madame de Pompadour was the first royal maîtresse-en-titre that came from a bourgeois background - that is from the middle class. Up until then the King had always chosen his mistress among the countless young ladies from noble families. Her background was cause for much ridicule and also the reason for why many courtiers refused to recognize her until they realized that she was there to stay. 
But the public did not have to adapt to the power structure of the court at Versailles and many, humiliating pamphlets and verses started circulating about the royal favourite. Recently, a new book has been discovered with the title of "Livre de Caricatures tant Bonnes que Mauvaises" ("The Book of Caricatures both Good and Bad"). It took thirty years to complete this book which is written by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin and contains several caricatures of Madame de Pompadour. So take a look at some of the ridicules the new "Madame" had to put up with:  

This caricature is supposed to depict Madame de Pompadour as a monkey at her toilette. The monkey is wearing a cape with pink trimmed edges that reminds a bit of what the actual mistress wore in one of her portraits. It is a part However, the drawing clearly shows how the "artist" thought of her - just look at where the monkey's finger is pointing! 

Madame de Pompadour and the Abbe (shortly after Cardinal) Bernis. The original capture reads "les biens viennent tous ensemble" or "all good things come along together". The white dove is bringing a Cardinal's hat to the Abbe who apparently is willing to take whatever the mistress has to offer him!

A less disgusting caricature is this one where the Abbe Bernis is holding on to a giant carp - Madame de Pompadour's real name was Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson and Poisson is French for "fish". This dates back to 1758.

Madame de Pompadour is the lady whose "bottom" is sticking out of the well - apparently she is digging a tunnel under the foundation of the well. Surrounding the well are eager patriots who are willingly giving up their silver to melt it down to help the failing French economy. 

This time we have Madame de Pompadour climbing stairs to kiss the mouth of the Austrian diplomat, Count von Starhemberg. Her dress reminds very much of one she is wearing in one of the most famous portraits of her. She was often accused of meddling in the affairs between France and Austria - which was actually true!

One Beast - Two Heads

All through the l'ancien régieme pamphlets appeared depicting gentlemen and ladies of the court in disgracing ways - sometimes they were downright vicious. Of course, these pamphlets were based on rumours and as everyone knows, rumours are almost always untrue and always exaggerated. This one is a pamphlet about Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette:

Obviously, this is made to ridicule the couple and to show how the people thought of especially the Queen's role - the French people was convinced that the Queen possessed a massive political influence over her husband - which was completely untrue - and in this way they were "one beast with two heads".

The Storming of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles was stormed during what is also known as "the Women's March". In Paris the high bread prices and general shortage of bread had culminated with the already strained tension and the increasing unpopularity of the monarchy. On October 5 1789 women had gathered at the market place and the tension manifested in a march on the royal palace itself. The women wanted to demand bread from their sovereign and began the 21 kilometres walk to Versailles. The riot began at the marketplace known as Faubourg Saint-Antoine but as when the women made their way through Paris other women from different marketplaces joined the march. They were armed with normal kitchen tools such as kitchen blades and forced several churches to ring their bells. The mob entered the Hotel de Ville where they demanded bread and arms. When the crowd reached the outskirts of Pairs it had grown to almost 10.000 people - many men had joined the movement as well. The Hotel de Ville was ransacked before the crowed moved on.

Several National Guardsmen who had heard of the march assembled at the Place de Grève where they were met by their commander, the Marquis de Lafayette. But the Marquis soon discovered that the majority of the guardsmen supported the rioters cause and soon began to threat with desertion. Lafayette was commanded to lead the troops - it was better to have reluctant soldiers who still followed command than to face a heavily armed group of soldiers who knew how to fight. Lafayette quickly dispatched a messenger to Versailles with a warning of the awaiting crowd and the advice to the King that he should voluntarily go to Paris to calm down his people. At four o'clock 15.000 armed guardsmen and 7.000 latecomers headed for Versailles led by a nervous Lafayette.

Marquis de La Fayette
It took six hours for the crowd to reach Versailles in pouring rain. The crowd loudly spoke of Marie Antoinette but not in the most affectionate way; expressions such as "whore" and "bitch" was connected with her name - many even called for the Austrian's head. The King was spoken of with more enthusiasm. When they arrived at Versailles the crowd was met by members of the Assembly who invited the exhausted Parisians into a nearby hall. Speeches was made from Maillard, Robespierre (still a rather obscure politician) and Mirabeau.
The President of the Assembly (Jean Joseph Mounier) went to the King's apartments alongside a few of the marketplace women. The King received them and the women were impressed by his charm; an agreement was made that food from the royal stores would be distributed and more would come later on. Maillard and some of the women from the crowd felt that their demands had been met and returned to Paris.

But the majority of the rioters remained. The atmosphere was becoming more and more negative and rumours began circulating that the Queen would use her massive influence (that she did not have in reality) to influence the King. At six o'clock in the evening the King himself appeared and proclaimed that he would accept the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the August degrees. But the palace was not prepared for what was coming next. Most of the royal guards were tired and placed at the far end of Versailles. Only 61 Gardes du Corps remained scattered through the royal palace. Lafayette arrived, hurried to the King and his troops joined the Parisians already located in front of the palace. But the women and troops shared opinions and when dawn broke on October 6 an agreement had been made and the tempers were once again flying high.

At six o'clock in the morning a small group of rioters discovered an unguarded entrance to the palace. The hastily went inside, looking for the Queen's bedchamber. The palace guards ran through the palace while bolting every entrance they could - the guardsmen outside was caught off-guard and fired at the crowd killing a young man. His death caused the rioters to storm the palace, overrunning the outnumbered guards. Miomandre and Tardivet (two guardsmen) were brutally murdered and Tardivet's head was placed on a spike. A guard succeeded in reaching the Queen's chamber where he warned her maid that the rioters were coming for the Queen's head. Marie Antoinette escaped through the secret back-door of her bedchamber and ran barefoot to the King's chamber.
Lafayette managed to calm the main core of the National Guardsmen down and reconcile them with the surviving palace guards - he had always enjoyed a great respect by both and restored order to the palace.

The King was convinced that his appearance would help stabilize the tension among the crowds still occupying the main court. As he stepped out on the balcony cries of "Vive le Roi!" sounded all through the Cour de Marbre. The King - relieved no doubt - proclaimed his intention to travel back to Paris. When the King went inside again the crowd soon demanded "the Queen on the balcony!". Marie Antoinette received a less enthusiastic welcome - she had taken her son and daughter with her but the crowd demanded that they be removed. The hostile crowd - some among them was armed and pointed their weapons at her - was deeply impressed with her dignified appearance as she stood alone on the balcony with her arms serenely crossed over her chest. The atmosphere soon calmed down and Lafayette used the moment to kneel before the Queen and kissed her hand. The rioters even began shouting "Vive la Reine!".

But the King was still to come back to Paris. At one o'clock in the afternoon an enormous cortège escorted the royal family to Paris in their carriage. The crowd had now reached a staggering 60.000 and the journey was nine hours long! There was an almost cheerful atmosphere from the National Guardsmen who carried bread on their bayonets and marketplace women who sang alongside the route. But something darker lurked just beneath the surface. The heads of the guardsmen was carried on spikes and there was an undoubted feeling that the royal family was now prisoners. As the carriage drove towards Paris, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette must have looked back at Versailles - they would never return and just three years later, they would both be dead.

Illustrations of the Storming of Versailles:

"The Queen on the balcony!" Lafayette kisses the hand of
Marie Antoinette in front of a cheering crowd
The royal family during the storm of Versailles: Louis XVI (sitting) issurrounded by his family and in the background four guards try to bolter the door

Women's March on Versailles
Infuriated women on the Faubourg Saint-Antoine market place in Paris
Another depiction of the Women's March -
the Versailles Palace can be seen in the background
Secret door of Marie Antoinette's bedroom - she escaped through it when the
rioters came for "the Austrian's head"
Depiction of Marie Antoinette fleeing into her husband arms. The text reads:
"Oh dear husband, save me from their rage, in your arms I will fear no outrage."

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Affair of the Poisons

During Louis XIV's reign the infamous Affair of the Poisons was played out. The court was a tense place and
the competition for influence, titles and privileges escalated when courtiers suddenly died and the fear of poisoning was ever present. It would cost several people their lives and there are still many whose deaths seem just a little to sudden to be by natural causes ..

Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie - head of
police in Paris
The Affair of the Poisons lasted from 1677 to 1682 when Louis XIV was presiding over the French court. It all began with the trial of Madame de Brinvilliers. She was charged with having poisoned her father and two brothers - this conspiracy was allegedly planned with her lover, Godin de Saint-Croix. The crime was aimed at insuring the estates that would inevitably pass on to Madame de Brinvilliers after the death of her male relatives. Madame de Brinvilliers knew that she had little chance of being found not-guilty, so she fled but was captured at Liège. It turned out that she was right - she was found guilty and sentenced to death for witchcraft and poisoning. On July 17, she was tortured, beheaded and her remains were burnt at the stake.

Following the arrest of Magdelaine de La Grange, the situation quickly reached the very centre of power at court. Magdelaine had appealed to the Marquis de Louvois and insisted that she knew of other cases that would surely be of his interest. Louvois immediately went to the highest authority he could think of: the King. Alarmed, Louis XIV quickly contacted Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie who was the top of Parisian police and demanded that Gabriel were to catch all the poisoners - suck out the poison.

Consequently, the Parisian police began an investigation that would start with the interrogation of obvious suspects such as fortune tellers and alchemists. It was suspected that they had provided the poisoners with so-called "inheritance powders" - or poison. Some of the accused were tortured and promptly gave up several names of high-ranking people who had wanted to rid themselves of their rivals.
The affair escalated when the midwife Catherine Deshayes Monvoison (also known as La Voison) had been named by the poisoner Marie Bosse.

La Voison herself
La Voison raised the affair to the highest level of society when she mentioned Olympe Mancini (the King's former mistress), Marie Anne Mancini (her sister) and the Duc de Luxembourg. But the scandal lay in the last name: Madame de Montespan. La Voison explained that Madame de Montespan had ordered aphrodisiacs and even black masses in order to keep the King's interest on her alone - it should be stated La Voison allegedly was drunk when she told this. Madame de Montespan should even had lend her own body to the Devil in exchange for securing her position. Her condition when she revealed this meant that there was no other evidence and despite never being convicted of the crime the rumour would cling to Madame de Montespan's name. La Voison was not so lucky - she was burned at the stake for witchcraft in 1680.

The entire affair implicated no less than 442 people - 36 of these were executed and 218 were arrested. You can almost imagine the fear of being poisoned spreading through Paris. Some of the accused never saw the inside of a court room but was found guilty by a lettre de cachet and sentenced to life in prison. It was considered that the King's safety was in danger which escalated the situation further and is most likely the
Madame de Montespan -
accused but never tried
reason for why the number of accused and convicted rose to such high numbers - after all the threat was not as great as it was made out to be.
At court the affair meant the immediate departure of Madame de Soissons (Olympe Mancini) who went into exile.

The court during the affair was an extremely uncomfortable place. Paranoia seized most people and every time a person suddenly died the situation got worse.
This infamous affair implicated many courtiers - whether they were actually guilty or not is lost to history. Here are some of the names that popped up during the trial (some of which are already mentioned in this post); you might be amazed at how high the scandal actually went in French society:

Madame de Soissons - former mistress of the King and thought to be a client of La Voison

Marquise de Montespan - the King's present maîtresse-en-titre. She was never tried.

Marquis de Cessac - allegedly client of the poisoner Lesage. He fled France to avoid a trial

Vicomtesse de Polignac - accused of being the client of La Voison but fled the country

Marie Anne Mancini - Banished to the provinses

Princesse de Tingry - discharged

Duchess de Vivonne - discharged

Marquis de Feuquieres - never tried

For further reading take a look at the "Reading Versailles" section.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Louise de La Vallière

Louise de La Vallière was born on August 6 1644 to the officer Laurent de La Baume Le Blanc (he changed his name to La Vallière) and Françoise Le Provost. When Louise's father died, her mother remarried this time to the Marquis de Saint-Rémy. This meant that Louise's family now became a part of the Duc d'Orlèans' court at Blois. Consequently, Louise spent her childhood with young girls that would become great ladies - including the Grand Duchess of Tuscany and the Duchess of Savoy. However, when the Duc d'Orlèans died, Louise moved to the Luxembourg Palace in Paris with her mother.

Louise's family was well-connected and through the distant relative Madame de Choisy, Louise was made a Maid of Honour to the Princess Henrietta who had recently married Philippe, Duc d'Orlèans - the King's brother. When rumours began circulating that Henrietta was having a romantic relationship with the King, she planned to kill off the rumours by setting three of her ladies in the King's way - one of whom was Louise. Louise was beautiful with her blond hair, blue eyes and soft complexion but one of her legs was shorter than the other which meant that she had to wear specially-made heels to avoid limping through the great halls of Versailles.

After a mere two months at Fontainebleu with the King, Louise and Louis fell in love. This was the first time that Louise had ever been in a romantic relationship which meant that she did not exhibit the same open flirtatiousness that other royal mistresses did. In February 1662 the couple faced the first complication in their relationship when Louise refused to tell Louis about the affair between Princess Henrietta and the Comte de Guiche. Louise had always been a religious woman and when Jacques-Benigne Bosseut openly compared the King's relationship with her as that of the biblical King David's adultery, she was horrified. To escape she ran away to the convent of Chaillot but Louis did not want to let her go - he eventually convinced her to return to court with him.

The couple had four children in total but only their two youngest children would survive. When Louise found out that she was pregnant for the first time, she was released from her service to Henrietta. The birth of their first child - a son named Charles - caused the people of Paris to openly show their discontent during a Mass on Christmas Eve. When Louise returned to court everyone knew why she had been absent. Louise's relationship with the Queen was difficult. Louise herself felt ashamed around her Queen and tried to behave with as much humility as possible but the Queen responded with cold dignity - understandable in her position.

Louise and Louis had been a couple for five years but their time was running out. At this point their two children had already died when Louise gave birth to a daughter whom Louis legitimised. Louise was rewarded with the title of Duchesse de Vaujours - this was not a sign of a rising affection but a goodbye present. Louise was pregnant with their fourth child when it became obvious that the King had found a new mistress, Francoise-Athénais or the Marquise de Montespan. Louise was sent to Versailles while the King went with the court to a battlefield; but Louise disobeyed the Kings orders and followed him. When she reached him she threw herself at his feet sobbing.
Once again, Louise was given the role of a decoy. The King was facing some problems with installing his new mistress since the Marquis de Montespan was not interested in giving his wife up for the King and wanted her back. To avoid a potential scandal, Louis had the Marquise de Montespan and Louise de La Vallière share apartments at the Tuileries. But Madame de Montespan wanted to make her new position as the King's maîtresse-en-titre public and demanded that Louise should serve her during her toilette - Louise herself made no complaint.

Whenever Louis travelled he made both Madame de Montespan and Louise de La Vallière share a carriage as his wife! Louise was even made the god-mother of Louis and Madame de Montespan's first child - but she was tired and hated being a decoy. Louise often begged the King to send her to a convent and even began wearing a hair-shirt. She actually fled once in 1671 to the convent of Marie de Chaillot but the King immediately ordered her to return to court - and the King's command could not be ignored. It was not until three years later that she was finally allowed to leave court and then became a nun at the Faubourg Saint-Jacques convent in Paris.

Life at convent meant that Louise was no longer allowed to wear the special shoes that she needed to avoid limping. When Madame de Montespan asked her if she had not considered how uncomfortable a convent life would be, Louise simply replied that the discomfort of the convent would be nothing compared to court. But Louise - ever with a guilty conscience - wanted to make amends with the Queen. The day she left Louise threw herself at the Queen's feet and asked for her forgiveness - as she said: "My crimes were public, my repentance must be public too." The Queen forgave her and even presented her with her long-longed for black veil. Some years later, Madame de Montespan came to visit Louise to ask for advise as how to live a pious life - Louise forgave her for her offences against her.
Louise de La Vallière died on June 7 1710.

King's First Antechamber

The King's First Antechamber was expanded alongside the Guards' Room of the King in 1684. The large paintings depicts different Battles of the Antiquity - all painted by Joseph Parrocel. Louis XIV would dine here at ten o'clock in the evening especially when he was seeing Madame de Maintenon. The King would be entertained by musicians who played the symphonies of Michel de La Lande.
Normally the table placed before the King would have a green velvet tablecloth. The ceiling is remarkable when one consider that it belongs to the King's apartments - there are no decorations, no paintings whatsoever. The entire ceiling is kept white and only the cornice is decorated with a golden pattern. The chimney is made from red marble.

Look to the Sky

Ceiling of the Peace Salon


               Goddess Diana surrounded by her hunting dogs
Another statue of Diana
Statue of Louis XV

Madame Victoire's Library

Madame Victoires' library was previously a part the salon next to it. The books in the cupboards are engraved with Madame Victoire's crest. The cupboards also contains the geographical maps of Madame Elisabeth and parts of a china set made by the court-favourite Sèvres that was originally made for Madame Adélaïde but is now on display in her sister's library.
However, it is a certainty that the vermeil table was made for Madame Victoire - it has her coat of arms engraved in it. The chairs were delivered to Madame de Pompadour in between 1755-60 and was later used by Madame Victoire as a part of her furniture at Bellevue - they were created by Nicolas Quinibert Foliot. The desk was created for either Madame Sophie or Madame Louise in 1760 and was originally housed in the south wing of the château. The top of the cupboards are painted in a pale moss-green surrounding a golden medallion.
A painting of the Battle of Fontenoy is placed in one of the cupboards.

Madame Victories cabinet

Detail of one of the doors