Friday, 27 January 2017

The Unfortunate Marie Anne Victoire of Bavaria

When the marriage of the Grand Dauphin was being decided there was really only two conditions that were raised: she had to be fertile and she had to be of suitable rank. Eventually, Louis XIV decided to strengthen the ties with Bavaria and had his son betrothed to the daughter of the Elector of Bavaria. As was the case with political marriages neither the groom nor the bride were asked if they wanted the match; both parties grew up in a world where they knew they would not marry for love.

The Abbé de Nion attempted to flatter his future mistress by sending back word that she was "really a pretty creature" although he hurriedly went on to describe her other charming qualities.
The King was well aware that most members of his court would attempt to flatter him by sending a positive impression of the future Dauphine. Therefore, the King sent his ambassador to Bavaria, Croissy, with explicit orders to give an accurate description. The answer was overall favourable. The ambassador wrote back that she appeared to have no obvious deformities except for "brown stains on the forehead, sallow skin, red hands, rotten teeth and a very large fat nose"!
On top of that she was a brunette in a time when blonde hair was all the rage but that could be overlooked since many great beauties of the time had dark hair - look for example at Louis XIV's first love, Marie Mancini whose hair was very dark.

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A more flattering portrait - compared to the one below notice how much
smaller the infamous nose is made in this one

Once the marriage was settled upon a miniature was sent to Versailles but it did bode well for the future. Louis XIV had given the artist clear instructions to tone down the flattery but a warning letter from Croissy told that the artist had been carried away nevertheless. Although the portrait was - obviously - flattering to the sitter it was nonetheless not depicting a great beauty. Sunken eyes peered out at the Sun King and the groom-to-be. Once the King was informed of Croissy's letter he would have the match cancelled but here the Grand Dauphin showed a rare instance of personal interference. As has been suggested by some historians the Grand Dauphin had a particular taste for "ugly women"; to him the lack of traditional beauty in his future wife was not an issue. He merely inquired whether she had any deformities and when being told that she did not he was satisfied.

Other reports described the Bavarian princess' character but mentioned little of her appearance - and for a reason. That reason became all too apparent when Marie Anne Victoire arrived at Versailles. Whereas a diplomat may refer to her as homely the courtiers of Versailles were far less subtle: to them she was downright ugly.
Even the tactful Louis XIV had to swallow twice when he saw his daughter-in-law in person. Especially Croissy's comment on her nose turned out to be all too true. But the Grand Dauphin was pleased with what he saw and proudly welcomed her.

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The Grande Dauphine in 1680

All in all the match was made for one reason: to produce an heir. With assurance that his son was not so put off by his new wife as might be expected the King was willing to let the wedding proceed. From that moment on the King made it clear that the Dauphine was to be admired - no matter her actual appearance.

Later Madame would describe the Grande Dauphine in these terms: "She was ugly but her extreme politeness made her very agreeable". Although her husband never complained of her appearance the courtiers could be less discreet. Although the King's orders were being heeded and nothing was said of the Grande Dauphine's looks she was nevertheless condemned to a rather isolated life despite her status. After all, being unattractive in a court obsessed with beauty could be lonely.

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