Saturday, 9 April 2016

Adversaries of Madame de Maintenon

A royal favourite would always be an object of equal admiration and jealousy. Madame de Maintenon was no different despite her less showy way of life than her predecessor. Many attributed the gloomy atmosphere at court to the influence of the austere new favourite which is not far off point. The days of splendid fêtes and lively balls were long over and the courtiers were left to amuse themselves however they could. That proved to be a harder task than one could imagine since no one wanted to get on the King's bad side.

Madame de Maintenon

Some were open about their dislike of Madame de Maintenon or at least as open as it is possible to be without attracting the royal wrath. One who was particularly set against Madame de Maintenon was Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate or simply Madame as was her court title as Duchesse d'Orléans. In her letters and subsequent memoirs the Duchesse d'Orléans refers to Madame de Maintenon as "the old woman" or even as "that piece of filth". Madame had a keen way of expressing herself which proves to be quite interesting reading. Another phrase of hers regarding "the old woman" dates to 1692 when the favourite is described "old ripopée" which is a term used for wine that has become so old that it borders on vinegar.
Madame de Maintenon was not fond of the Duchesse d'Orléans either. Whenever the royal family went to Marly she made sure to exclude the King's sister-in-law from walks around the grounds.

Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate -
one of Mme de Maintenon's fiercest enemies

The Duc de Saint-Simon was another of Madame de Maintenon's enemy. Like Madame he found her to be too old which becomes clear in his memoirs where she is referred to as the "old hag". When rumours spread that she had become the King's morganatic wife, he declared that if it was true it was a great dishonour to the throne of France.

Occasionally, opposition to the favourite was more openly demonstrated. An Italian troupe of actors had enjoyed some success at Versailles right until they performed a play named "The False Prude". The play features a certain character which is obviously meant to be Madame de Maintenon. The court rushed to see the play - a demonstration of her unpopularity? - but the King was furious. He immediately closed down the performance and sent the troupe into exile for a year.

Abbé Fénelon

The Abbé de Fénelon was an enemy whom Madame de Maintenon did her best to get rid of. It was well known that Madame de Maintenon had more than once attempted to set the King against Fénelon and she rarely missed an opportunity of "bad-mouthing" him. Apparently, the King - who himself had become somewhat estranged from him - followed the advice of his favourite and appeared to be publicly displeased with the Abbé. Originally, Madame de Maintenon and Fénelon had actually been on pretty good terms; united by piety that same aspect was to tear them apart. Madame de Maintenon found that Fénelon's beliefs leant towards quietism which she would not accept.

For the majority of courtiers who disliked Madame de Maintenon their dislike was far more bounded in their boredom. It seemed a bit too coincidental that life at court would become so much more boring after "the old hag" came into power.

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