Monday, 15 January 2018

The Bad Leg of the Duc du Maine

Louis-Auguste de Bourbon was the legitimized son of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. Soon after his birth it became apparent that something was amiss with the little boy's legs. One appeared to be shorter than the other causing him to walk with a limp. Besides, he had a clubfoot which was clearly described by Father Tixier who examined the boy: "... he has the heel detached from the foot."

Several sources claimed that the handicap had come about after a particularly violent fit of convulsions but it is could be more likely that he was born in this manner and it simply just became more apparent as he grew. Unfortunately, for the poor boy, he was dragged along to various physicians and healers in an attempt to remedy the situation.

Louis Auguste de Bourbon, Légitimé de France, duc du Maine, Mignard.jpg

At first, Madame de Maintenon (his governess) took him to take the waters at Barège when he was seven years old. Once the journey of 52 days had been completed the little Duc du Maine was taken to the springs. The treatment was primitive at best consisting of showering the boy in the waters. When he was carried out of the water again he was taken to a small shed; sulfurous gases filled the room. Originally, the plan had been to place him on a mattress and wait for him to dry off; instead, Madame de Maintenon carried him back to his bed and wrapped him in blankets.

While he was there he experienced a small improvement. When a month had passed, the governess could report that he had begun walking by himself again - although slowly, and wobbly. On 8 July the pair returned to Versailles where the court marveled at the improvement. However, it turned out to be short-lived.

It was suggested that a man in Antwerp might be able to help. So, the two of them travelled to Flanders in April 1674; Madame de Maintenon used the alias of Marquise de Surgères. Sadly, he turned out to be somewhat of a crook who had no actual medical knowledge.

One of the methods tried was to stretch the shorter limb by force. Naturally, this caused tremendous pain for the little boy; one account claims that Madame de Maintenon fainted during one of these sessions. The result was that the previously shorter leg became longer than the other but gained nothing in strength. In short, he was just was bad off as before but having gone through considerable pain for nothing.

Duc du Maine2.jpg
As could be expected the painters of
the time tactfully omitted the physical

However, the actual doctors were not better. An English doctor tried to render his services but to no avail. There would be no cure for the Duc du Maine who would continue to struggle with his leg throughout his life.

While he was at court the young Duc found that his disability gave him the honour of being granted permission to sit on a stool when his father, the king, was there. It probably helped that Louis XIV preferred him to his other sons.

250 years later two doctors would offer a diagnosis. While it was obvious that the boy had a clubfoot they suggested that he had also suffered from infantile paralysis and possibly polio.

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