Tuesday, 30 April 2013

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.

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