Monday, 12 October 2015

Louise Francoise de Bourbon, Duchesse de Bourbon

The birth of Louise Françoise de Bourbon took place on 1 June 1673 but not at a royal residence or glittering château. Instead, Louise Françoise was born in Tournai where her parents were on a military tour. The little girl was not just any little noblewoman – she was the illegitimate daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan.
As such her very birth would have been scandalous had it not been for the current expectation that a King of France had a mistress – and children were an inevitable consequence. However, there was one aspect of the little new addition's birth or rather her baptism. She was promptly named after Louise de La Valliére whose complicated relationship with both the parents were well known.

Louise Françoise was placed in the care of the then rather unknown Madame Scarron (the later Madame de Maintenon). When she was just six months old her prospects were greatly improved when her father decided to legitimise his children by his mistress. With the stroke of a pen, she went from being a bastard who could not expect a prominent role at court to a legitimée who might very well marry a Prince. With this honour Louise Françoise became known as Mademoiselle de Nantes at court. To her parents, however, she was simply “Poupotte” - a nickname derived from her great resemblance to the doll she carried around with her.

During her early childhood Louise Françoise's closest friend was her younger sister, Mademoiselle de Tours, who was born the year after Louise Françoise herself. The two girls lived closely together with Madame Scarron and the ever-increasing flock of siblings. In 1681 Mademoiselle de Tours died which left Louise Françoise devastated. The loss was especially hard on her since she had never been close with her other sisters and never would be; their relationships were marred by an intense jealousy already from their childhood.

As she grew up it became clear that Louise Françoise was truly the child of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. Like her father, she was an eminent dancer and at the age of 9 had the honour of presenting Youth in ballet performed to the Dauphine herself. Likewise, the infamous Mortemart-wit that flowed through her mother was deeply rooted in the young girl. Also, she had the advantage of having a very pretty face and an ability to please everyone she met. 

Wedding of Louise Francoise and the
Duc de Bourbon
Certainly, such a young woman must be a catch especially with her connection to the King. At the age of 11 years old Louise Françoise was wed to Louis de Bourbon, Duc de Bourbon on 25 May 1685. With this new marriage the hitherto only title of Louise Françoise was replaced with that of Duchesse de Bourbon or simply Madame la Duchesse.

Now firmly established at court, Louise Françoise began her career as a noblewoman. One of her pursuits included writing verses which were often acidly directed at other courtiers. At one time she incurred the wrath of her august father who had learned of a verse she had written about himself. That might have gone further had not Louise Françoise contracted smallpox roughly a year after her wedding. Her husband chose not to stay with her but she was not completely abandoned and recovered.

Louise Françoise had maintained a close relationship with her mother even after she retired to a convent. Her mother's death in 1707 put Louise Françoise and her siblings in a dilemma: the King had expressly forbidden his courtiers to wear mourning at court events. As a silent protest the children simply did not appear at court events.
However, not every relationship had gone quite as well. Louise Françoise still harboured a gnawing jealousy of her younger sisters and that was about to take a turn for the worse. In 1692 her youngest sister – Françoise Marie – married the only son of Monsieur, the King's brother. This meant that Françoise Marie now outranked her elder sister. Louise Françoise was furious. Their open rivalry only worsened over the years especially when Françoise Marie became Madame la Princesse on the death of her father-in-law. Originally, it was Louise Françoise who should have inherited that title but on the death of Louise Françoise's father-in-law the title was transferred to the House of Orlèans. Louise Françoise once again felt cheated and did nothing to hide her displeasure.

Perhaps in response to these setbacks she began a hardly secret affair (just three years after her sister's wedding) with Françoise Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conti. As a matter of fact this might be seen more as an affront to her other half-sister (Marie Anne) whose brother-in-law the Prince de Conti was. Her husband was enraged but refrained from taking actions against his wife due to her being the King's daughter. She did find support in the Dauphin, though, and he would let the lovers use his estate of Meudon as a meeting place.

Meanwhile, Louise Françoise's marriage had produced three children when she became pregnant again. It was widely supposed that the daughter she gave birth to was fathered by the Prince de Conti. Her husband needed not worry about lacking heirs. Upon his death in 1710 the couple had had eight children. From that point on Louise Françoise chose to be known as Madame the Dowager Duchess.

Louise Françoise had become rather close friends with the Dauphin and as the King grew older and weaker, she eyed an opportunity to stay close to the throne. Those hopes were shattered shortly afterwards when the Dauphin died unexpectedly. Once again it would seem that fate was against Louise Françoise when the new heirs to the throne became the Duc and Duchesse de Bourgogne.

Louise Françoise and the new Dauphine were bitter enemies and the former shed no tears when the Dauphine died just two years later. When the King, her father, died another crisis arose: who were to be declared regent? One candidate was her brother and the other was her brother-in-law. As is well-known the Duc d'Orlèans (the brother-in-law) was chosen which fuelled the fire between Louise Françoise and Françoise Marie – the latter was now the highest-ranking lady in all of France.

The 1720's were an eventful time for Louise Françoise . She built the gorgeous Palais Bourbon in the heart of Paris where she spent the majority of her time. Around the same time she began an affair with the Marquis de Lassay; he even went so far as to built a hôtel of his own immediately across from his mistress'.

Apparently, Louise Françoise had maintained a grasp on influence with the royal family and when the Dauphin was born she was asked to stand god-mother. Louise Françoise never remarried and appeared to have enjoyed the freedom of her widowhood. She died at the age of 70 on 16 June 1743

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