Wednesday, 15 January 2014

A Final Apology

That Louis XIV had his share of mistresses is no secret but how they all felt about this elevated position is hardly ever talked of. Louise de La Vallière was the one who had the hardest time reconciling herself with being a royal maîtresse en titre due to her deep piety and consequently the fear for the King's and her own salvation. So, in the end when Louis XIV had already installed Madame de Montespan and Louise de La Vallière in a strange menage à trois Louise had had enough. She had long desired to become a nun and when her wish was finally granted in 1674 - the King had been unwilling to let her go - Louise made sure to make a proper departure.

Louise de La Vallière
Heading for the Queen's apartments Louise resisted the attempts to stop her entrance to the Queen's presence. Here she proceeded to kneel before the woman whose husband everyone knew she had been the mistress of and fervently begged the Queen for her forgiveness. Then another attempt was made to interrupt what was seen as quite a scandalous performance but Louise cut the Queen's attendants off with the words: "Since my crimes were public, so should my penance be."
The Queen had always known that Louise de La Vallière had not sought the King's attentions on her own behalf and promptly raised the still kneeling Louise up. The Queen kissed her on the forehead and assured her that she had forgiven her a long time ago.

The courtiers eternally at the Queen's side was shocked and soon the story of this very public apology ran through Versailles like a bushfire. Imagine that! Especially considering how Madame de Montespan behaved a scene such as this would never been again at Versailles.
"Do not hope for perfect happiness from marriage"

"Truly, court life provides the funniest scenes imaginable"

"We have no more time for flattery"

(on his mother's deathbed)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

"We all have strength enough to endure the misfortunes of others"

"I could sooner reconcile all of Europe than two women"

"Secrecy is the first essential in affairs of state"

"Memory lives in the heart"


Claudine Alexandrine Guerin de Tencin, Baronne de Saint-Martin-de-Ré

Claudine Alexandrine Guerin de Tencin 1682-1749 by ? (Musee Dauphinois - Grenoble France)Claudine Alexandrine was born in Grenoble on 27 April 1682 as the daughter of the Parlement's president. She spent her childhood in a convent - like most other of the upper class' ladies - and her parents wished for her to become a nun. After a while though Claudine Alexandrine tired of life at the convent and gained permission from Pope Clement XI to put down the veil again. Already, at this time she had been the source of gossip and it was said that she had had an affair with an Irish soldier.

Jewel-Cabinets of the Royal Ladies

Marie Antoinette's jewel cabinet from around 1787 and is now placed in the Queen's bedchamber at Versailles right next to the hidden door she escaped through. Like the cabinet below the gorgeous piece of furniture is made from mahogany.

This jewel-cabinet belonged to the Comtesse de Provence and was procured for her around 1787. Produced by Jean-Henri Riesener but was confiscated during the French revolution in 1793 and consequently sold three years later. Surprisingly enough this piece of furniture does not have the royal mark on it which was otherwise customary.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Wonderfully Preserved

The Duchesse de Choiseul once wore this exact dress sometime during the 1780's probably at the court of Louis XVI. The dress is a robe a l'Anglaise and is in stunningly good condition; only minor cleaning was needed. Not that long ago the gown was acquired by the Wheaton College where the dress was carefully restored.

c1780 robe a l'anglaise of the Duchess de Choiseul

The dress consists of a silk base, chenille hems and lots of lace used for ruffles. The use of discreet and delicate flowers is a great example of the style favoured by Marie Antoinette and consequently became the fashion style to follow for every woman at court.

c1780 robe a l'anglaise of the Duchess de Choiseul

The Royals as Animals

This time it is not the reigning monarch or their spouse who is the target of the libelles as the French pamphleteers were called. Raising it's tail with an arched back is the Comte de Provence, brother of Louis XVI who is here a cat. A cat might seems like a harmless animal but it is the mere comparison to an animal that is the insult here.
Etching, Comte de Provence as a Cat, French ca. 18th C.

Of course his crowned brother did not escape the dehumanization and his head is here crowning the body of a ram.

Caricature Showing Louis XVI as a Ram

But - typically of the time - Marie Antoinette was not spared the humiliation either. In fact she had two engravings "dedicated" to her depicting her as a dragon and a leopard. The design suggests that these anonymous drawings were made at the same time and almost certainly in the later half of the 1780's or the beginning of the 1790's.

Caricature Showing Marie Antoinette as a Dragon

Caricature Showing Marie Antoinette as a Leopard

A Thoughtful Gift

Diamond Aigrette  Gift of Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette.  He hoped to lower the cost of the huge feathers that she used in her hairdos.  "I beg you to limit yourself to this ornament. This present should please you more that it has not increased my expenditure, since it is composed of diamonds I possessed when I was Dauphin"    Frugal fellow!

Louis XVI gave this as a gift to his wife, Marie Antoinette. It was no new expense to the already strained royal treasury since all the diamonds had been in the King's possession since he held the title of Dauphin. Actually, by giving this gift Louis XVI hoped that he could stop Marie Antoinette's expensive habit of wearing costly feathers in her hair with the words: "I beg you to limit yourself to this ornament. This present should please you more that it has not increased my expenditure, since it is composed of diamonds I possessed when I was Dauphin."

Saturday, 4 January 2014

"You speak of throwing off a passion as if it was as easy as changing a chemise"

(to Françoise de Maintenon)
"You see what becomes of the grandeurs of the world, we shall come to that, you and I"

(to the Dauphin, 1690)
"Everyone at court is becoming a child again"


The Royal Enemas ...

Louis XIV was a man who was more than fond of using enemas on a regular basis - in his defence it was a wide-spread fashion among the royals and nobles of Europe since it was thought to be very good for your health. Rumour has it that the Sun King had thousands of enemas performed on his poor behind through-out his lifetime. It was not uncommon that the King excused himself after having had his supper and went into his private apartments, had an enema performed and then rejoined his courtiers! As for Louis XIV himself he was a fervent believer that the regular enemas was the reason behind his good health and his long life.

These buttons are a satirical depiction of
Louis XIV during and after an enema
Of course the very elite of France was not satisfied with using common water for this delicate "operation". Instead the fluids were perfumed with rose, orange and angelica and was even slightly coloured by the request of the users. Louis XIV's father and predecessor, Louis XIII, had been fond of enemas too but he preferred his with almond milk; during one (!) year he had 212 enemas performed.
One little anecdote created quite a sensation but is a perfect example of how common a phenomenon this was. During a court ball the Duchesse de Bourgogne was engaged in a conversation with Louis XIV himself when a maid of hers snug in under the Duchesse's elaborate ball gown and performed an enema right on the spot!
These are the kind of instruments used
at the time
It was not just the high and mighty who were expected to have this peculiar habit. During the enema-fanatic Louis XIV's reign every maid who served at court - especially the ones who performed a duty close to a member of the nobility - was expected to have an enema performed daily so that her work would not be interrupted by visits to the toilet! Thus it became customary for the nobles to ask their maids whether they had performed their "toilet" upon their arrival. Also, young ladies of wealthier families who were not at court nor even of the nobility followed the trend because it was believed to be good for the complexion.