Monday, 28 November 2016

Marie Thérèse's Black Child

Louise Marie Thérèse was a nun of the Benedictine order who made quite a remarkable claim: she was convinced that she was the illegitimate daughter of Queen Marie Thérèse.

Illegitimate children were not uncommon for Kings but when it came to Queens there was a whole different issue. Since a Queen could give birth it was thought that any illegitimate offspring could potentially interfere in the line of succession - who was to know whether it was truly the King's child if the Queen was known to have lovers?

What really made the claim so scandalous was that Louise Marie Thérèse was black. The Spanish-born Queen was well-known to live in her own little world of Spanish attendants including several of African descend. Louise Marie was said to be the result of an affair between Marie Thérèse and a man named Nabo. After Louise Marie's claim became common gossip it was quickly suggested that perhaps the Queen had gotten depressed due to her husband's many affairs and had decided to have one of her own.

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Louise Marie as a Benedictine nun

There is little to deny that Louise Marie had connections to the royal court but whether these were founded on blood is not certain. That she was welcomed at Versailles was astonishing enough in itself considering the time's attitude towards dark-skinned people. Nevertheless, Louis XIV was so impressed with her that he settled 300 pounds on her for her keep at the nunnery.

A remarkable number of memoirs from the period mentions the Benedictine nun. Saint-Simon was outraged when he allegedly heard her address the Grand Dauphin as "brother" - something that surely must have raised many eyebrows. There is little doubt that Louise Marie herself was convinced of her heritage - even if few others were.

There is one thing that must be kept in mind when dealing with such rumours and resources. What must first be kept in mind is that a Queen of France gave birth in public. When she delivered her baby she was not screened from view and quite a large group of people had the right to be present. This was meant as a security primarily against the swap of infants - a female child for a male child, for example. Marie Thérèse did indeed have a baby in 1664 which is the year Louise Marie was born. However, there are a lot of evidence suggesting that the two births were not related.

The sources usually claimed by those who support Louise Marie are Voltaire, Cardinal Dubois, Saint-Simon, the Princesse de Montpensier and Madame de Montespan - all of whom mentions her in their memoirs. But how reliable are their statements on this particular subject?

First of all, neither Saint-Simon nor Voltaire were even born at the time of Louise Marie's birth in 1664. The former was born in 1675 while the latter not until 1694. Consequently, neither was present at the delivery of the Queen.

The Princesse de Montpellier was the only one actually present and she recorded that the Queen had given birth to a still-born child which had been very dark in colour. This darkness of colour could very well be the result of either lack of oxygen or that the infant died some time prior to the birth. What is certain is that the princesse actually saw the infant and testified that it was deceased.

The Duchesse d'Orléans does not mention that the child was of a dark hue but that it was excessively ugly and that "the whole court had witnessed it die".

Another aspect must be taken into consideration: Marie Thérèse's character. While it is perfectly plausible that she would have become lonely at court and it is just as plausible that she could have fallen in love with one of her "Moorish attendants" there are two things that must be remembered. First of all Marie Thérèse was deeply in love with her husband. Actually, her love for Louis was a frequent theme of mockery among the courtiers who thought it amusing that the Queen absolutely adored the King while the King had a series of mistresses.
Secondly, Marie Thérèse was an ardent Catholic. As such the idea of adultery - while excusable in her husband - would not be accepted for her. Added to this is the fact that as a royal princess of her time she was brought up with the knowledge that she belonged to her husband.

Also, the Queen had been ill in the months leading up to the birth; so ill, in fact, that she was offered the last rites several times. Added to that is also the fact that the child was born one month prematurely which gave the infant very poor odds of survival with the medical means of the day.

There is one theory that seems rather more reasonable given the circumstances. Louis XIV had a "Moorish page" in his service whose wife was known to be remarkably pretty. The two had a daughter around the same time that the Queen gave birth. Sadly, both parents died not long after and Louis XIV and Marie Thérèse - who were god-parents to the child - had her placed in a convent. It is quite likely that this child was Louise Marie which would also account for her warm welcome at Versailles in her adulthood. It seems unlikely that the King would allow her to openly visit if he knew that she was the illegitimate offspring of the Queen - and at court the King knew everything.


  1. Throwing ice water on an ancient scandal much?

  2. Replies
    1. The irony here is that he likely meant the opposite: A jostling and rude awakening on incredibly old drama.

      Your brain should think a bit before your prejudices speak.

  3. What a lot of sense in this post, instead of silly rumour! All you say makes sense in the historical context.