Saturday, 28 April 2018

The Purge of the "Italian Vice"

That Louis XIV had always turned a blind eye to his brother's open homosexuality can easily be explained. Should Louis' own line fail, it would be almost impossible for Philippe to be accepted by the people and the court as king due to his reputation. Keeping Philippe away from power helped Louis consolidating his own absolutism. However, there is also another element that must be considered. Louis and Philippe had always had a close relationship and it is not unlikely that the king was willing to grant his brother the freedom to express his sexuality in lieu of actual influence. 

Naturally, Philippe d'Orléans was not the only homosexual at the court of Louis XIV. It was a well-known secret and equally well-understood that as long as you had a level of discretion - and the rank to protect you - you could do as you please. It was quite a different situation beyond the palace walls where homosexuality could very well result in a sentence of capital punishment.

Ever since the death of Anne of Austria both Philippe and Louis had been more indulgent in their love affairs. Louis took less pains to conceal his extramarital liaisons while Philippe openly flaunted his own lovers - male and female. So far, the status quo on this particular area was calm.

That was to change in the early 1680's when Louis XIV learned of a shocking degree of debauchery. His own son by Louise de La Vallière, the Comte de Vermandois, confessed that he knew of and had himself participated in a group (called "The Holy Fraternity of Glorious Pederasts") whose degree of self-indulgence and excesses had crossed all lines. 

Louis, Count of Vermandois.PNG
The Comte de Vermandois

What truly shocked the king was that the group concerned where young gentlemen at his court who were being "corrupted" by older nobles. According to the Comte de Vermandois those who had been amongst the foremost in seducing the young men were to be found in Philippe d'Orléans' closest circle: the Chevalier de Lorraine and the Marquis d'Effiat.

While Louis was furious he did not want a rupture with his brother. Instead of exiling what would have been the vast majority of Philippe's friends the king took out his wrath on the other aristocrats whose sexuality was deemed to be deviant in that era.
The result was a veritable purge from court of high-ranking gentlemen. The Prince de Turenne was amongst the first to be given his marching orders; he was soon joined by the Marquis de Créquy, the Marquis de Mailly and the Marquis de Saint-Maure.

The scandal spread higher and higher into the ranks of the court until it reached the Prince de La Roche-sur-Yon. This prince was the brother of the Prince de Conti and would eventually assume that title himself - he would even be dispatched off to Poland where the king had intended for him to ascend to the throne. That did not quite materialize and when he returned to court he was greeted warmly enough by the king but was never in his good graces.

Philippe d'Orléans dreaded another exile for his beloved Chevalier and sought out Madame de Maintenon to plead on his behalf. Either she did not or it did not work because by 1682 the Chevalier was sent packing once again.

Undated oil on canvas portrait of François Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Conti by a member of the École Française.jpg
Prince de La Roche-sur-Yon

As for the Comte de Vermandois - who had begun it all - he was looked on with concern by his august father. At the time it was widely considered that young people could be induced to commit (as it was a crime) indecent acts that would otherwise not have occurred to them. The problem was that Vermandois had admitted to having partaken in these unfortunate liaisons which must surely leave a stain on his reputation. Some sources claim that Louis XIV had the young man brought to his apartment where he was flogged for his transgressions. 
It was suggested that he was to marry but nothing came of that. In an attempt to make the court focus on something else the king sent him away to the army. Vermandois was to die the following year so he did not live with the stigma for long.

"The Holy Fraternity of Glorious Pederasts" managed to survive the purge and had also been noted to have been in full function during the reign of Louis Philippe.


  1. Hello, congratulations for a very informative blog. Could you tell, which prince de Turenne this concerns?

    1. thank you! I believe the person in question was Louis-Charles de La Tour d'Auvergne, son of Godefroy Maurice de La Tour d'Auvergne and Marie Anne Mancini

    2. I suspected the same. Of what I understand it was probably him, who, along with prince de La Roche-sur-Yon and the latter's older brother, prince de Conti, as well as some other noblemen, went in mid-1680s to Hungary to join famously homosexual prince Eugene of Savoy in his campaigns in the service of the Emperor. Another among their number was - in 1702 - "the son to the duke of Crequi" - could it be François-Joseph, then marquis de Créquy, and is he the same person you've mentioned? I have no certain information about another of prince Eugene's alleged fellow homosexuals - "marquis de Moussaye". This might have been the ex-Huguenot René Amaury de Montbourcher, whose mother - of what I understand, his mother was the heiress of the marquisat de la Moussaye; this would fall to him in 1688 (with the death of his father), or possibly no later than 1701 (the year of his mother's death) - I'm not sure. He was rather too young to fight in Hungary (15). Do you know something about any possible circumstances when he could meet prince Eugene (who of what I know didn't return to France after 1683)?