Friday, 22 June 2018

Olympe Mancini vs. Louise de La Vallière

The dispute between Olympe Mancini, Comtesse de Soissons and Louise de La Vallière could be traced back to a plot on the former's behalf that happened to backfire. Olympe herself had been a mistress to Louis XIV but - to her great chagrin - had never managed to take the title of maîtresse-en-titre. Olympe had then allied herself with Henrietta of England, wife of Philippe, Duc d'Orléans. Rumour had to that the king and his sister-in-law were throwing glances at each other which deeply disturbed Anne of Austria. In a ploy to distract the queen mother from this relationship (which was likely not physical at all) Henrietta and Olympe placed three young women in the king's path: including La Vallière.

The plan was that one of these ladies would serve as a smoke-screen while Henrietta and Louis could continue their friendship. But something went wrong and Louis fell in love with the decoy. Olympe was furious; Louise had taken the very place that she had hoped to finally claim as her own. From the moment when Louise became the king's mistress she had made an enemy for life. 

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Louise de La Vallière

For Olympe it was a massive blow. She had always had a mind for intrigue and had quickly secured the prestigious post of superintendent of the queen's household for herself. This had given her considerable access to the king and it is not to be said what their relationship could have become if La Vallière had not "interrupted" them. 
Olympe set about finding new allies and did not have to search for long. The Comte de Guiche - a notorious womanizer (and "manizer") - had previously attempted to add Louise de La Vallière to his list of conquests but she had refused him. His ego was wounded and for this he sought revenge. Another was the Marquis de Vardes who - like Olympe - had a natural taste for intrigues.

The plan was to destroy the atmosphere of secrecy which had hitherto shielded the royal romance. The thing was that while the whole court knew about the king's first official mistress there was one very central person who did not: his queen. Marie Thérèse had lived a very sheltered life since she arrived at the court of France and was not included in her court's more private sphere. While she was not unaware of her husband's wandering eye per se she did not know that they had fixed themselves quite so steadfastly on another woman. 

Olympe and her clique hoped that by informed the queen of her husband's mistress it would create such discord that the affair would simply die out. The means of delivering such news was via an anonymous letter. H. Joel Williams claims that Olympe had gone so far as to steal a letter from the queen's mother in order to copy her handwriting. This would ensure that the letter reached the right recipient. Naturally, it was written in Spanish since the new queen of France did not master the French language. 
However, it failed. Rather than reaching the queen it ended up in the hands of one of her companions. Donna Molina had accompanied her mistress to France and was very close to the queen. She was also aware that the queen's father had been ill for some time and opened the letter to prepare her mistress for any ill tidings. When she read it she immediately sent it to the last person the conspirators could have wished to see it: the king. 

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Olympe Mancini

The plan had been a failure but Olympe was not one to be deterred. Instead, she came up with a new plan. If a new, beautiful woman could replace herself in the king's affection then surely another woman could do the same to La Valliére?

An ideal opportunity presented itself. Louise de La Vallière would be spending the summer at Chantilly whereas Louis XIV received the exiled-Queen of England at Saint-Germain and spent the time with Henrietta. It was a perfect chance since Louis was quickly looking for something to entertain himself with. 

Mademoiselle de La Motte-Houdancourt was a fille d'honneur to the queen and managed to catch the king's eye. What the king did not know was that the young mademoiselle was being used as a tool by Olympe Mancini. Olympe instructed the young woman to refrain from giving in to the king immediately and it worked. It should be said that Mademoiselle de La Motte-Houdancourt was not an innocent pawn; she had plenty of ambition and had dismissed a suitor in the shape of a Comte when the king came knocking. This plan seemed to work a great deal better than the previous one had. Mademoiselle de La Motte-Houdancourt was all but ready to give in when she delivered her one and only condition - as demanded by the Comtesse de Soissons: that Louise de La Vallière was to retire. 

At first the king was somewhat hesitant but Olympe Mancini realized that the strategy of denying the king his wishes had worked quite well so far. This prompted her to convince her protégée to hold on just a bit longer. It almost worked - almost.

Just when it seemed that the king was about to cave in and dismiss his mistress it all came crashing down. It would seem that neither the Comtesse de Soissons nor the Comte de Guiche or the Marquis de Vardes had taken the queen mother into account. Anne of Austria kept a close eye on her son and was not pleased with what was going on. She distrusted the young Mademoiselle de La Motte-Houdancourt and recognized her stark ambition; in contrast Louise de La Vallière was at least not greedy.

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The Comte de Guiche

Anne of Austria had her servants keep taps on the Comtesse de Soissons and her entourage and it paid off. A letter was apparently intercepted in which it became quite clear that the real architect behind the whole affair was Olympe. According to some sources the letters from Mademoiselle de La Motte-Houdancourt were not even written by her; they had been copied by a friend of Olympe's. The king was furious. He had been publicly led by the "nose" and immediately abandoned the would-be mistress, La Motte-Houdancourt.

Somehow, Olympe Mancini escaped the royal wrath in this round but she had lost all chance of ever getting the king back. As if that was not bad enough, just three years later the king found out that she as well as Vardes and Guiche had been behind the letter to the queen. As can well be imagined the king's perception of Olympe was not good. It was about to turn a great deal more dire for the Comtesse de Soissons.

By 1679 she faced a new challenge. The Chambre Ardente - the court set up to tackle the epidemic of poisoning at court - charged her with attempting to poison Louise de La Vallière. The result was an exile to Spain.

In the neither can really be said to have won. Louise de La Vallière had never had any personal grudge against Olympe but nevertheless found herself the target of a potentially lethal rivalry. While Olympe's attempts at dethroning La Vallière were unsuccessful, La Vallière's fate was not particularly good either. She would continue to struggle with her religious beliefs and how her behavior went directly against it. Further, she was soon to be replaced by Madame de Montespan whom she would be obliged to wait upon. 

1 comment:

  1. Olympe was an especially easy target for the accusations of poisoning (which was a long-lasting lrgal euphemism for sorcery too) not only because of her rivalry with La Vallière, but also because of her origins, both as an Italian (poisoning being considered the other "Italian vice" by the French), and especially as a daughter of Lorenzo Mancini, famed on the French court as an astrologer and necromancer. Which leads me to the question: Have you happened to encounter any details about this personage beyond mere mention of his interests?