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.

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