Sunday, 24 June 2018

The "Horrible" Duc de Ventadour

The court of Versailles was obsessed with beauty and appearances; consequently, it could be very unforgiving towards those who had not been blessed by nature. One of these was Louis-Charles de Lévis, Duc de Ventadour.

According to the Duc de Saint-Simon Louis-Charles was not only ugly and deformed by debauched; the critical Saint-Simon claimed he had lived "the darkest life". Rather unflatteringly, the Duc de Ventadour was likened to a gnome on more than occasion. He is said to have been both hunchbacked and lame as well as suffering from stuttering. 

In contrast to his ugliness, his wife, Charlotte de La Motte Houdancourt, was considered to be very beautiful. One particular incident is related by Madame de Sévigné. The court was sojourning at Saint-Germain where the newly wedded Madame de Ventadour entered the queen's presence. As a duchesse she had the right to a tabouret but there were none available. It cause quite a disturbance until Madame de Sévigné turned to the Grand Master and exclaimed: "Oh, just give it to her. It has cost her enough."
No one argued or even raised an eyebrow which goes a long way to demonstrate the unattractiveness of the Duc de Ventadour. However, there were those who considered matters in a far more mercenary manner. The Comte de Bussy-Rabutin speculated in a letter prior to their marriage that even if the young Charlotte was so much handsomer than her prospective husband then he was still a far better match than many others. 

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Louis-Charles de Lévis

It would seem that nature had failed the Duc de Ventadour in more than one sense. His ungainly appearance may have been somewhat tolerated if he had at least behaved like a gentleman. Alas, he did not. His behaviour - especially to his wife - was noted to be coarse at best. At one instance he had invited his wife and a circle of gentlemen and ladies to his estate of La Motte when he was rejected. Apparently, this set him off so much that Louis XIV thought it necessary to have the poor Duchesse de Ventadour protected by guards.
It was hardly a surprise that the marriage turned sour and few people were astonished to find that the couple eventually separated. 

Despite his flaws in manners and appearance, his mind seems to have been solid. Even Saint-Simon acknowledges that he possessed great wit. At least on this front he was not lacking but it did nothing to alleviate the impression he left on those around him. He was certainly aware that his appearance left something to be desired. But as he put it to Louis XIV: "If I am ugly, Sire, is it my fault?"

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