Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Sudden Death of Louvois

François-Michel Le Tellier was primarily known simply by the name of his marquisate of Louvois. He served Louis XIV as Minister of War and did so with unscrupulousness and ruthlessness. Naturally, this way of carrying on is bound to result in enemies - and Louvois certainly had his share.

Louvois died suddenly on 16 July 1691; the official cause of death was considered to be apoplexy but the suddenness caused immediate speculations of poisoning. It was well-known that the marquis always had a pitcher full in his office which only fueled suspicions. Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate was certain that he had indeed been poisoned and even named the culprit: his physician, Seron. According to Madame this particular doctor had confessed to poisoning his master on his own deathbed. 
Madame also mentions that some rumours had it that Madame de Maintenon were responsible. Despite the unwavering dislike of Madame for La Maintenon, she completely dismissed it. 

Others were not so quick to clear the king's mistress of the charge of murder. It was no secret that Madame de Maintenon and Louvois were hardly on good terms; on the contrary, the could easily be classed as enemies. One particular theory claimed that Louvois had convinced Louis XIV not to publicly announce his marriage to the rather low-born Maintenon. Madame de Maintenon was allegedly furious and not long after Louvois suspiciously died.


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Louvois

The Duc de Saint-Simon had an even more daring theory. While he agreed that the minister had definitely been poisoned he disagreed as to the culprit. Rather than pointing the finger at the deceased's doctor he pointed a great deal higher: to the king himself. Although poison was not truly the style of Louis XIV, the Sun King had been rapidly losing his regard for his former dear minister. Once he was informed of his death the king made no attempt at hiding that he did not consider it a great loss. He even counted Louvois amongst three that he had been fortunate enough to be rid of in that particular year.
However, it is unlikely that Louis XIV would actually have had him poisoned. The main reason is that he simply did not need to. As an absolute monarch the king could simply have dismissed him and exiled him further if he was completely tired of him. 

Another account has it that a Savoyard servant was arrested following Louvois' death but was quickly released on the king's express order. This particular theory was probably based more on political thought since Savoy and France's relationship was at a low.
Several reports mentions that Louis XIV cut his meeting with his minister short because the latter appeared to be quite ill. This is little help when it comes to deciding if poisoning had taken place. On one hand it could be the external signs of an already deadly disease but on the other it could be the first signs of the poison taking effect. 

There were those who contemplated if Louvois had committed suicide. His influence over the king was a shadow of what it had been and it was widely expected that the king would soon rid himself of his uncompromising minister. Perhaps the dread of becoming a virtual nobody was too much for Louvois?

As was customary, an autopsy was performed on the deceased. This took place on the 17th July and according to the Marquis de Dangeau all the doctors agreed that there was no sign of poisoning. However, not everyone agreed with this. The Duc de Saint-Simon, for one, remarked the exact opposite and affirmed that evidence of poisoning was certainly found.
Whether or not Louvois was actually poisoned will never be known for certain. It can only be remarked that it is quite ironic that the man who had control of the Chambre Ardente - which was in charge of persecuting courtiers on cases of poisoning - would himself die a suspicious death.

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