Thursday, 2 February 2017

Cardinal Fleury and Madame de Prie

The rivalry between Cardinal Fleury and Madame de Prie took place within the uppermost halls of power. It could be argued that Cardinal Fleury's actual rival was Madame d Prie's lover, the Duc de Bourbon, since it was he who took the official beating. However, the Duc de Bourbon was completely under the sway of his mistress during his tenure as Prime Minister and from the memoirs of the time it would seem that the Cardinal had no real issue with the Duc. Madame de Prie, though, was another matter.

Cardinal Fleury was appointed as tutor to Louis XV when he was still only a child in 1715. Throughout the regency the relationship between the boy-king and his tutor grew stronger and the Cardinal was widely known to exercise a great deal of influence over his protege. When the Regent died in 1723 Louis XV was technically of age and as such could rule by himself had he wished so. However, since the King was still young and inexperienced it was thought better to appoint a Prime Minister - this had been the case before Louis XIV began his absolute rule.

Cardinal de Fleury by Rigaud.jpg
Cardinal Fleury

At first it was generally anticipated that Cardinal Fleury would take advantage of his close relationship with the King but the court was soon to learn of its mistake. Being already an elderly man of seventy years the Cardinal declined the position for himself but he was eager to preserve his influence with the King. He appointed Louis Henri de Bourbon-Condé, Duc de Bourbon but the appointment was rather more due to habit than personal preferment. It was traditionally a Prince of the Blood - or a Cardinal - who held the position and as the eldest Prince of the Blood the Duc was appointed.

As the Duc de Bourbon's official mistress Madame de Prie suddenly found herself in a position where she could have immense power. She certainly did not intend to let the opportunity pass her by and over the next months it was a widely known fact that she was mistress. It should be noted that she was not completely blind to the influence exerted by the Cardinal over his pupil. She especially resented that the Cardinal had conditioned granting the post of Prime Minister to the Duc de Bourbon on that he would never discuss state affairs with Louis XV without the Cardinal's being there. To effectively lessen the influence wielded by the Cardinal she attempted to remove this condition.

In December 1725 she attempted to cut the bond between them by staging a coup. To achieve her end Madame de Prie ruthlessly played upon the new Queen Marie Leszczynska. The Queen was tricked into playing a part (Louis XV felt immensely betrayed and never let her into politics again); the Duc de Bourbon would entreat the Queen to call for the King - who was with Fleury at the time. Louis XV duly arrived at his wife's apartment where he found the Duc de Bourbon. In this manner Madame de Prie managed to keep the three closeted together without the Cardinal.
However, Fleury knew well how to manage such an attack on his power. Previously he had found that Louis XV needed him by his side and by depriving him of that the Cardinal could avoid being barred from power. Writing a note stating that he would never return to court he left for the convent of Issy; it was only the next night that the note was actually given to the King who immediately became distraught.

Madame de Prie

In the end the Duc de Bourbon could not convince the King that he could indeed do without the Cardinal and the victorious Fleury could return. Now that he was back and as much in power as ever Cardinal Fleury set out to remove Madame de Prie.
The only way that Madame de Prie could be removed was to sack her lover. This was not something that Fleury was eager to do, though, and he repeatedly asked the Prime Minister to leave his mistress. This never worked. Madame de Prie herself was actually not at Versailles at the point - having chosen to spent some time in the country when Fleury returned - but she sensed the danger and returned like a whirlwind. Louis XV was not ready to formally dismiss the formidable Madame de Prie and she remained at court longer than Fleury would have liked. Feeling confident since she had not been sent away by the King Madame de Prie retook her place as uncrowned Prime Minister. Fleury urged the King to act upon this encroachment of power and he finally consented.

Consequently, the Duc de Bourbon would receive a frosty note from his master that he was deprived of his post and was to go into exile immediately. Likewise, Madame de Prie was sent from court to spend her exile in northern France. This would be the last Versailles would see of her; Madame de Prie committed suicide the next year.

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