Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Power Couple

During the minority of Louis XV one of the most significant players on the political scene was Louis Henri, Duc de Bourbon and - perhaps even more so - his mistress Jeanne Agnès Berthelot de Pléneuf, known as Madame de Prie or the Marquise de Prie. Luckily for the couple, the Marquis de Prie was employed as the Ambassador to Savoy which meant that there was plenty of time for the couple to scheme their way to the top.

In 1723 the Duc de Bourbon managed to get himself promoted to the post of Prime Minister but at court there was never any doubt that the real power lay with Madame de Prie. Louis Henri had little will to resist the manipulative nature of his mistress.
At this point in time the young King fell seriously ill and his life was nearly despaired of. With an engagement to the five-year old Infanta of Spain there was no hope of an heir to the throne for quite some time. Consequently, the engagement was broken off. This is where the Duc de Bourbon and Madame de Prie came into play.

Madame de Prie

Marie Leszczynska had long been intended as a bride for the Comte de Charolais who was the brother of Louis Henri. However, now that the King was to marry - and now - an opportunity presented itself to impose their own will on a vital matter. It was thanks to the Duc de Bourbon and Madame de Prie that Louis XV was eventually married to Marie Leszczynska.

Madame de Prie was not a well-liked figure at court. Her arrogance as well as her wild ambition meant that she made enemies pretty much everywhere. Her lover was not much better. Never having been a strong character, Louis Henri was the type of man who should never have been Prime Minister in the first place.

Louis IV Henri de Bourbon-Conde.jpg
Louis Henri
Still, they managed to hold on to just that position for another two years during which they enjoyed the full gratitude of Marie Leszczynska who was only too well aware as to whom she owed her position. But as it often is with very ambitious people, they simply did not know where to stop. It is quite likely that the idea originated with Madame de Prie. She had long been weary of her lover's rival, the Cardinal Fleury, and now decided that it was time for him to go.

Relying on the debt owed to them by the Queen they manipulated Marie Leszczynska into participating in the plot. Poor Queen! Marie was never a political being and it was easy for the couple to trick her. They convinced her that Louis XV really wanted to get rid of his tutor but was too timid to actually carry out the deed. But it all went wrong when Louis XV found out that his beloved tutor was about to be shipped off. Furious, Louis sent Madame de Prie and Louis Henri into exile and stripped the Duc of his office. It does not seem that the relationship survived the crisis.

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