Monday, 9 February 2015

The King's Selfishness: Might and Miscarriages

That Louis XIV's selfishness grew over the years is not questioned but there are some cases in which the King's stubbornness might have caused miscarriages.

The court travelled between the favourite residences which during Louis XIV included Versailles, Fontainebleau, Marly and Saint-Cloud. It was also believed by the doctors that a woman should not move around too much while pregnant. Unfortunately, while Louis XIV never questioned the authority of the court doctors he was determined not to let such trivialities get in his way.

Duchesse of Bourgogne

In April 1708 the Sun King declared that he wished to visit his beloved Marly. The Duchesse de Bourgogne was - as always - promptly invited but since the Duchesse was known to be pregnant, the court doctor Fagon advised either to postpone the trip or leave the Duchesse. It was not what the King wanted to hear even when Madame de Maintenon backed the doctor. Louis declared that since the Duchesse had already provided her husband with one living son, she could not be in a hurry to procure another one. At the most he would allow the trip to be delayed till the 18 April. Not long afterwards the Duchesse de Lude was seen hastening (unescorted) to the King who was enjoying a walk. The King listened to her without a word and his companions soon got the message that the Duchesse had miscarried. While his companions expressed their compassion and one even went so far as to hint that since it was not the Duchesse's first miscarriage she might not be able to carry another child, the King suddenly grew angry. To his shocked courtiers he said the following:
"And if it should be so what difference would that make to me? What does it signify to me who succeeds? Has she not already a son? And if he were to die then the Duc de Berry was old enough to marry and have one of his own. Thanks heavens, it has happened, since it was to be! And I shall not have my journeys and plans disarranged again by the representation of doctors [Fagon] and matrons [Madame de Maintenon]..."

Ironically, enough the Duc de Berry did marry but the King did not learn his lesson - nor was he to be left alone by "doctors and matrons":

The Duchesse de Berry
A similar incident occurred in July 1711 the court was preparing for another trip to Fontainebleau. The Duchesse de Berry was heavily pregnant at the time and was advised by the doctors to stay behind at Versailles. But Louis would have none of it and insisted that if she could not travel by carriage then she could go by barge. And so she did. However, before reaching the dock the barge hit a pier and sank with the Duchesse barely escaping. Even though the Duchesse survived her child was not so fortunate. A few hours after arriving at Fontainebleau she miscarried and the fault was laid at the King's door.

Not even in this court where the King was viewed with as much awe as the sun on his emblem could such instances be expected to simply pass over in silence.

1 comment:

  1. Married one year earlier, the Duchesse de Berry was only fifteen years old when she underwent this unhappy childbearing event. She died exactly eight years later, as the French historian Michelet put it, literally « exterminated » by her many pregnancies. The « fecund Berry » experienced some very hard deliveries. Once a widow she also further endangered her health by her eating disorders and heavy drinking during pregnancy. Later in her short life Berry was indeed known to go on drinking binges even when she was so heavily pregnant that she looked like she might just be about ready to go into labour !
    Becoming a widow when she was 19, the lustful and insatiable princes always had scores of lovers. However, she never managed to avoid the „shameful” consequences of her sexual freedom, becoming repeatedly pregnant and forced to bear the fruits of her amours. After her three „legitimate” births Berry thus had a further three „clandestine” births, and possibly some miscarriages in between, caused by her heavy drinking and sexual debauchery.