Sunday, 20 December 2015

Madame de Montespan: the Real Queen of France?

Even though Louis XIV never permitted his mistresses to openly insult his wife, the Queen, he himself did nothing to prevent his consort from feeling miserable. The most dominating of the King's mistresses was Madame de Montespan whose magnificence was never matched by any other mistress at Versailles.

But how differently was Marie Thérèse treated from Madame de Montespan?

The long-suffering Marie Thérèse

The King spent most of his time in the apartment of Madame de Montespan where he would do everything from meeting his ministers to dining with their children. Meanwhile the Queen had to be contend with seeing her husband when he decided to fulfil his conjugal duties.

Usually when travelling the Queen had once been reduced to sitting with both Madame de La Vallière and Madame de Montespan. This had been the case in 1673 when Louis XIV dragged the entire court to the front-line - at this time Madame de Montespan was heavily pregnant. But when Madame de Montespan had finally gained complete ascendancy she travelled with the King in his carriage. The Queen was from then on travelling alone or with her ladies in her carriage - behind the King's.

Once Versailles was finally completely finished the difference once again became painstakingly obvious. The Queen was given eleven rooms to make up her apartment on the second floor. Meanwhile, Madame de Montespan could dance around in no less than twenty rooms on the first floor.

Madame de Montespan

Whenever the Queen and the maitresse-en-titre was out promenading their elaborate gown made it necessary to have someone carry their trains. The Queen had to make due with a simple non-titled page but Madame de Montespan had the honour of having her's carried by the Duc de Noailles.

It did not take long before Madame de Montespan even to take control over the Queen's closest circle. Marie Thérèse had been allowed 12 ladies-in-waiting when she became Queen of France. Madame de Montespan worried that having 12 beautiful ladies swirling beneath the King's eyes would be too great a temptation. The ladies-in-waiting were transformed to 12 dames du palais and Athénaïs soon made it possible to dismiss all twelve of them if only one transgressed.

At one point Marie Thérèse was reduced to imploring the favourite to not send a Spanish attendant of the Queen's home to Spain. As it happens, it had been Athénaïs who had had the attendant dismissed in the first place since she had insulted the mistress. Madame de Montespan agreed to letting the Queen keep her friend but the signal was obvious: the mistress outranked the Queen.

Despite these obvious humiliations the Queen never complained to the King. Her complete submission to the King's infidelities resulted in an odd kind of respect from Louis. Although he never treated her with more respect than a Queen should deserve upon her death Louis remarked: "This is the only trouble she has ever caused me".

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