Saturday, 20 October 2018

The Search For A Husband For Mademoiselle

Philippe d'Orléans had had two daughters by Henrietta of England and both had made very good marriages. The eldest, Marie Louise d'Orléans, had married Charles II of Spain and thus became queen. The youngest, Anne Marie d'Orléans, had been shipped off to Savoy where she became the duchess of Savoy.

So, when Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate gave birth to another daughter in 1676 the race was on to find yet another suitable husband. The young girl was duly named after both her parents with the names Elisabeth Charlotte Philippine. As the only remaining daughter of the Duc d'Orléans she was known at court simply as Mademoiselle d'Orléans - and she was a very good match.

As could be expected there were very divided opinions on whom the eligible lady should wed. Even the Grande Dauphine (who otherwise never mingled in such matters) pitched in. She offered her younger brother Joseph of Bavaria. It was rather odd that the Grande Dauphine should even have suggested him. Joseph was the third son of the Elector of Bavaria and thus not expected to marry. In fact, he was intended for the church and he did eventually become Archbishop of Cologne. While the Grande Dauphine's suggestion does show considerations for her family connections it also shows that she was not quite realistic about such affairs.

The mother of Mademoiselle d'Orléans was the notoriously opinionated Elizabeth Charlotte or Madame. She had envisioned a match that would make her daughter a queen. William III of England had become a widower in 1694 and was therefore available. There was one matter that needed to be solved. William III was a Protestant and Mademoiselle d'Orléans was a Catholic. Usually, such matters were not considered to be of much importance since the bride was expected to convert to suit her prospective husband. In other instances they were even allowed to keep their own religion. This had been the case with the last French-born English queen but it had become a major problem  in the years up to the civil war. These recent religious turmoil in England meant that the English were adamant that the bride must convert - and this was rejected by the French.
It is possible that Elizabeth Charlotte had chosen William III with this particular point in mind. Besides the obvious prestige of becoming queen, Elizabeth Charlotte had herself been a Protestant before being obliged to convert for her marriage. At the court of Versailles the new Madame had not been overwhelmingly warm to her new faith; so, it is worth considering that she hoped her daughter would marry a Protestant. 

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William III of England

One of the most likely candidates was the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph I. This match would have been groundbreaking for the entire political scene. The French Bourbons and the Hapsburgs had been enemies for centuries and a match would thus have mended bridges - at least in theory. Also, if Mademoiselle d'Orléans had become the Holy Roman Empress it might have smoothed the way for Marie Antoinette. Perhaps if there had already been such a recent match between France and the Hapsburgs, the future doomed queen's nationality might not have been such an issue.
The match eventually fell through. It was not just the French who had their reservations when it came to a match with a long-standing enemy. The mother of Joseph, Eleonor Magdalene, was dead-set against uniting her son with a French-woman. Her animosity towards France went so far that when the final two candidates for her son's hand were determined on - two German princesses - it was the fact that one of them had a French grand-mother that decided against her.

Others were unwilling to search across the borders at all. The Grand Dauphin had become a widower in 1690 which would have poised Elisabeth Charlotte Philippine to become the next queen of France. This might also have been the case if she had married another French candidate: the son of the Grand Dauphin - the Duc de Bourgogne. He was six years younger than his cousin but still eligible. According to the Duc de Saint-Simon both Madame and Monsieur were willing to consider Bourgogne's younger brother, the Duc de Berri. However, considering the high hopes of Madame it seems unlikely that she would consent to a match to a younger son.

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Joseph I

What is interesting is that Saint-Simon refers to the reluctance of Louis XIV to unite his grandson with his niece. Ever since his childhood, Anne of Austria had installed the fear of a power-struggle between her sons in Louis XIV. It is not unlikely that Louis XIV was indeed worried that such a union would bring the Orléans-family too close to the throne. 

There were other matches that caused the proud heart of her mother to skip a beat. Louis XIV's legitimized sons were initially thought to be off-limits - their having been born bastards were simply considered too great a hindrance. However, Louis XIV was determined to have the best matches for his children by his mistresses and began marrying them into the best families in France. 
This naturally put Mademoiselle d'Orléans directly in the spotlight. She was undoubtedly one of the best matches and it was considered for a while to pair her with the Duc du Maine. Madame was horrified but knew that she could do nothing if the king decided on the match. It was therefore an immense relief when the Duc du Maine married Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon instead.

All these matches came to nothing and by the age of 20, Mademoiselle d'Orléans was still unmarried. The Treaty of Ryswick was to change that and the match became less grand than her mother had hoped. Rather than a king or an Emperor, the chosen man was Leopold de Lorraine, Duc de Lorraine. 

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Dark, Delicious Chocolate

Chocolate became a part of French court life before Louis XIV was even born; his mother - Anne of Austria - hailed from Spain whose colonies in South America had already introduced Europe to chocolate. 

Like her mother-in-law, Queen Marie Thérèse was also passionately fond of chocolate. She drank it as often as possible; Elizabeth-Charlotte of the Palatinate wondered whether the queen's bad teeth were due to her excessive use of chocolate. Madame herself never indulged in the same taste since she claimed that her system did not digest "these exotic drugs" (including coffee) very well.
The very exotic nature of chocolate also led to it getting a somewhat mixed reputation. On one side it was said to be beneficial to one's health but others claimed it to be a major health risk. While Madame de Sévigné acknowledged that chocolate was in fashion in the 1670's she certainly had her reservations. In a rather memorable moment she relayed the story of the Marquise de Coëtlogon who gave birth to a black baby - the cause was based on chocolate. Despite the more obvious reasons for why the infant may not resemble to husband it was noted that the poor child died shortly afterwards - perhaps it was ill or had not gotten enough oxygen.

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A chocolatière from 1707

One of the other risks associated with chocolate related to the theory of the bodily humours. This well-known theory (that I will not go into further depth in here) led the doctors to fear that excessive intake of chocolate could change a person's natural "humour". To those born with a "hot humour" this could be dangerous but some born with a "cold humour" could use it to their benefit. Madame de Pompadour's libido was notoriously low and she used chocolate in an attempt to seem more passionate - not necessarily in a sexual manner. This led her companion - Madame du Hausset - to remonstrate with her mistress that it might be dangerous to her health. 

Louis XV certainly did not need encouraging when it came to drinking chocolate. He loved the drink and would often enjoy making it for himself in his private apartments.

The chocolate of Louis XIV's reign was much richer and heavier than the store-bought products we are used to today. Louis XIV quickly noticed that it had the ability to "trick" the appetite and the Sun King was not the only one who took note of this. Philippe II d'Orléans would - according to his mother - often drink a cup of chocolate rather than having a meal since he believed that one vast meal a day was sufficient. 
The Spanish tradition had it that chocolate could be mixed with chili and as the 18th century went on other spices were added too. Vanilla, cinnamon and even cloves were favourites; others added orange blossom, sugar or sweet almonds.

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One of the more famous paintings of the time including chocolate
- the Duc de Penthièvre and his family.
In the very centre is the Princesse de Lamballe who married Penthièvre's
only son.

Despite that chocolate was not a completely new concept at Versailles it was nevertheless popular - and exotic. As such it was dutifully served at the appartements thrice a week along with pineapples, peaches and other exotic wares. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that chocolate was a privilege reserved for the upperclass. This did not change throughout the remnants of the French ancien regime - in comparison it was available to those of fewer means in London.

As an exotic ware it did not take long before the rich beverage was linked to life's more sensual pleasures. Plenty of rumours and gossip has arisen when it comes to the use of chocolate in this manner. Both Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry were said to use chocolate in their intimate life with Louis XV; the former because she was said to have been a "cold fish" and the other because she allegedly had an "insatiable lust". Neither are exactly to the women's credit and whether they are true can only be guessed at. It is, however, typical of the slander at the time to target women's sexuality and especially the king's mistresses (for obvious reasons).

When Marie Antoinette set sails towards France she brought her own chocolate-maker with her; he was duly given the official title of "Chocolate-maker to the Queen" with an annual wage. The Austrian-born queen had grown up in a court where chocolate was often consumed for breakfast. This trend had spread across the courts of Europe and she could continue the habit there.

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The chocolatière from the set  given to Marie
Leszczynska by her husband

As chocolate was embraced in the higher echelons of society it gave rise to a new line of luxury items. One of the best preserved from the age of Versailles was Louis XV's gift to Marie Leszczynska following the birth of their son. She received a full service which accommodated all the "exotic drugs": coffee, tea - and chocolate. In the previous century, Louis XIV, Marie Thérèse and the Grand Dauphin had each received "chocolatières" from the king of Siam. According to the Mercure Galante Philip d'Orléans had entered two chocolatières in the prizes for a lottery he held in July 1689. One was of porcelain and the other of silver - the pair was won by a Madame de Maré.

Initially, the sale of chocolate was monopolized. Louis XIV gave David Chaliou the right to sell chocolate in France. During the 18th century the increase of production in colonies - as a result of the slave trade - meant that cocoa beans were more available. However, this did not mean that the French commoners suddenly had free access to the delicious drink. It remained a reserve for the wealthy. According to Massimo Montanari it was not until the 1770's that chocolate became a part of a downright industry.
Wendy Sutherland reports that the first chocolate house in France was opened in 1675. Presumably, this café was linked to Chaliou since his monopoly only ran out in 1693. After that the chocolate market opened up for other entrepreneurs.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

The Demands of Madame de Châteauroux

Before Marie Anne and Louis XV even became an item Madame de Châteauroux had her reservations about jumping into the royal bed. This is hardly surprising given that royal mistresses tended to be discarded literally on a whim. Therefore, she drew up a list of demands to be met before she gave in to the king's advances.  The court was absolutely scandalized; Versailles had never witnessed so brazen an approach from a woman who had not even been formerly recognized. Madame de Montespan's greed had been infamous but she was already established and had given Louis XIV seven children.

Her demands were as follows: 

A duchy
The demands posed by Marie Anne were significant and extensive. First, she wanted to be granted the title of duchesse with all its privileges and splendour. This was possible due to the fact that she had been widowed prior to meeting the king; thus, the monarch could bestow the honour on her without risking making a potentially problematic husband a peer (which was exactly what prevented Louis XIV from doing the same to Madame de Montespan). This wish was fulfilled on 22 October 1743 when she was given the title of Duchesse de Châteauroux - the duchy came with an annual income of 80.000-85.000 livres.

At court the title gave her the right to sit on a tabouret - a stool without a back - in the presence of the royal family. Hitherto, she had been obliged to stand since her married title was the Marquise de La Tournelle. The annual income alone gave her a far greater freedom than before since the only way women at court could earn money was through official posts.

A château
According Louis Thérèse Latour her exact demand was for a house "as sumptuous as Madame de Montespan's had been". This was some demand indeed. The Château de Clagny had been truly grand and was greatly admired at the time. It might eventually have become reality but for the time being she was instead presented with the apartment of the royal favourite. Perhaps, if she had lived for longer she would have been granted her own domain.

Dismissal of her sister
Louise Julie de Mailly had been the king's official mistress before Marie Anne supplanted her. Not unsurprisingly, Marie Anne feared that Louis XV might be tempted to go back to his former lover if she remained at court. The would-be favourite therefore acted in a rather ruthless manner considering that she was dealing with her sister. Marie Anne demanded that Louise Julie was sent from court into exile and that Louis XV broke contact with her. This Louis XV agreed to but granted Louise Julie one final dinner before they parted.

Marie Anne further stated that if the king ever resumed his contact with his former mistress then he would forego Marie Anne's company. At this point her influence over the king appeared to have been very strong; he agreed and never admitted Louise Julie into his confidence again - not even after Marie Anne's untimely death.

Recognition of children
Louis XIV's children by Louise de La Vallière and Françoise-Athénais de Montespan were famously legitimized and given both prestigious marriages and key positions at court. However, the sun king's successor was less enthusiastic about acknowledging the fruits of his extra-marital affairs. Therefore, Marie Anne stipulated that should she bear the king any children they would be formally legitimized. This was particularly important since Marie Anne was unmarried; thus any children by the king could not fall back on the paternity claim of her husband.

Nevertheless, the two never had any children. This might have been due to the fact that their union was cut short by her death but it is also possible that Marie Anne could not become pregnant. She had  no children by her late husband and there is no evidence that she ever conceived at all.

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Madame de Châteauroux

Due to the advantages connected with the title of maîtresse-en-titre there was no particular need for the king to woo his mistresses. However, Marie Anne had no intention of merely slipping into the king's bed and risking becoming a "one-night stand". Rather she would be courted - and publicly, too.  There were those who thought it beneath the king to put himself in such a position.

Formal recognition 
Finally, Marie Anne wanted formal recognition of her status as maîtresse-en-titre. This would serve as another shield against public humiliation; after all, it was better to become the king's official mistress than to be counted as another woman who failed to interest the king for more than one night.

This was a minor claim but one nonetheless. Marie Anne had no carriages of her own and was apparently loath to use those of the king. In itself this was not an extravagant demand since most high-ranking courtiers had their own carriages emblazoned with their coat-of-arms. Louis XV was happy to oblige and did so promptly. Being himself a great horseman he immediately sent her six magnificent horses as well as a berlin for them to pull.

The Suspicious Death of Madame de Châteauroux

Marie Anne de Mailly, Duchesse de Châteaueoux's reign as Louis XV's mistress appeared to be all but over in 1744 when the king fell dangerously ill at Metz. Since religious rites demanded that the king dismiss his mistress in order to receive absolution for his sins, she was initially sent away. However, to everyone's surprise the king rallied and returned to Paris. What was even more surprising was that he broke the hitherto accepted practice of not returning to a mistress who had been formally dismissed.

By November 1744 he was back by her side and Marie Anne received an invitation to return to her former splendid state at Versailles. This sent shivers across the gilded halls of the palace where the triumphant mistress had made her fair share of enemies. Considering that she now stood in the king's good graces again it was not unlikely that she would exact her revenge on those who had worked against her. 

But then, she herself fell mortally ill. Cramps and convulsions racked her body and she was convinced that she had been poisoned. On 8 December Marie Anne died - just 13 days after returning to Versailles.

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Marie Anne de Mailly

The question was whether Marie Anne's suspicions were correct - had she been poisoned?

The duchesse herself believed that she had been poisoned by her chief enemy, the Marquis de Maurepas. Their enmity went back a long while and upon returning to court Marie Anne had demanded that the king dismissed Maurepas from his duties as minister. However, Louis had refused and instead offered his beloved a chance to gloat over her enemy. The minister was duly summoned and placed before the king and his mistress where he attempted to pass their previous enmity off as misunderstandings. It did not work.

Marie Anne continued to insist that Maurepas had poisoned her either at Reims where she had indeed been taken ill and were administered medications or through a letter.

It would not have been unprecedented if the king's mistress had been killed. However, one must remember the medical practices of the day. According to the Duc de Richelieu, Marie Anne was bled no less than nine times during her illness. This undoubtedly weakened her body further. Richelieu notes that once she had died it was observed that her "blood vessels were found to be dilated and swollen with blood".

To the medical practitioners of the day such symptoms were inconclusive. Thus, they never declared that she had been poisoned - but it was not denied either. One of those who joined the now late mistress in her suspicion was Mouffle d'Angerville who described her death as a "mere act of vengeance".
To be sure, Maurepas did have his reasons for wishing to get rid of her. Not only Marie Anne attempted to remove him from his ministerial post but she had also treated him with obvious contempt. One source mentions a time when she dismissed him with a wave of the hand and the words "Off with you". These were hardly an incentive to make friends but insults does not necessarily lead to murder.

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The marquis de Maurepas who was long accused
of having poisoned her

David Smythe - in his book "Madame de Pompadour: Mistress of France" - bluntly dismisses the claim. His theory is that she suffered from typhus. To be sure, there are some credence to this theory. Marie Anne suffered from several of the symptoms usually associated with typhus including abdominal pain, head aches and fever. More than one source note that she was delirious in some periods which can also be a symptom. Also, epidemic typhus has a tendency to appear rather suddenly. It should also be remembered that Marie Anne had followed the king to the army camp at Metz - such an environment is a perfect breeding ground for disease.

However, there is the possibility that Madame de Châteauroux's health was already on the decline. Edmond de Goncourt refers to a situation fifteen days prior to the mistress' death when she was confronted by a friend of hers who warned her about her health. Apparently, there was some concern that she did not sleep nor had any appetite; her eyes were not sparkly and they worried that she might have contracted a sort of fever. Yet, Goncourt also notes that her autopsy revealed nothing but the before-mentioned blood vessels.

It is interesting to note that even those of her friends who steadfastly held that she had met with foul play did not press for any action to be taken. Actually, few of the memoirs and correspondence of the time mentions any further considerations on her final illness. Given that she had been delirious - which even her friend Richelieu admits - when she made her claims of poison it is not unlikely that few others actually gave her suspicion credence. 

The king - at least - did not. There is nothing to suggest that Louis XV believed his mistress to have been poisoned and he had no investigation initiated. Thus, that came to an end and the suspicion remained unproven. 

Sunday, 7 October 2018

The Irregular Beauty of the Princesse de Lamballe

Marie Thérèse Louise had one of those faces that were not considered to be dazzlingly beautiful but not without charm. The Baronne d'Oberkirch said of her that she was "very pretty but with irregular features".

One of her most winning features was undoubtedly her hair. Long, golden locks which fell in thick tresses around her remarkably long neck were admired by all around her. Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun noted that she had "the most beautiful blonde hair imaginable". During the revolution her hair kept her thickness. When she was brutally murdered a letter from Marie Antoinette was found concealed in her tresses. It says something that even when her head had been mounted on a pike, passers-by noticed how beautiful her locks were - although covered in blood. 

The princesse de Lamballe's complexion was almost unnaturally white - quite the fashionable trend at the time. At the same time her skin was clear of any pockmarks or even regular scars from acne. Her skin kept its youthful freshness during her twenties which often led people to believe that she was younger than she actually was.

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Court portrait from 1776

She was not a tall woman but had a shapely figure which she moved with some elegance. However, the generally snarky Prince de Ligne thought that her hands were rather too large. Another feature that was considered somewhat out of the ordinary was her very long neck. This might have become an object of criticism at court if the princesse had not been endowed with a particular sense of grace.

Her nose was considered to be a little too long but her eyes were large and blue. Some described them as rather "expressionless" while others found them to portray pure innocence.
It was her mouth that greatly added to the opinion of an irregular beauty. Her mouth was small and - according to Raoul Arnaud - somewhat irregular; she rarely smiled which only further enhanced the almost mysterious expression that quite a few of her contemporaries ascribe to her.

With such pure features, the Savoyard princess looked rather strange in the full make-up of the French court. The heavy rouge contrasted greatly with her pearly white skin which caused her to look ill. Fortunately for Lamballe, during the 1780's Rousseau's ideal of "back to nature" led to a far simpler style being adopted by particularly Marie Antoinette. Thus, Marie Thérèse Louise looked her best when she strolled in the gardens of the Petit Trianon.
In contrast, the rosy cheeks resulting from a sledge-ride with Marie Antoinette only enhanced her beauty. During one of these excursion she was likened to spring itself since her rosy, youthful face peeped out through the heavy white furs she was covered in.

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Portrait by Vigée le Brun

Friday, 5 October 2018

Pineapple: The King of Fruits

The exotic pineapple - named "king of the fruits" - found its way to the French court during the reign of Louis XIV. As it happens, Madame de Maintenon had tasted the fruit during her childhood in Martinique where her father had relocated following his release from prison. According to her, the pineapple tasted like a mixture of melon and an apricot.
It would not be surprising if it was on her suggestion that the had the plant cultivated at Choisy-le-Roi in 1702. However, according to Tonelli and Gallouin, the cultivation proved too costly so it was quickly scrapped. It should be said that this was not the first time that Louis XIV's gardens had yielded such fine specimens. In 1642 one of the first French pineapple was grown by Jean-Baptiste La Quintinie but he never succeeded in producing more than one. 

One story has it that when Louis XIV was first presented with a pineapple, he was so eager to taste it that he bit straight through and hurt his upper lip quite badly. True or not remains speculative though.

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By 1690 Louis XIV had concluded a new treaty with Charles II of Spain; the result was that the island of Hispaniola was transferred to French ownership and renamed to Saint-Domingue (today it is Haiti). This proved to be another possibility to bring the pineapple to France. When the king sent Charles Plumier to examine the flora of his new possession, Plumier returned with several specimens - including pineapples.
The problem was partly that the seedlings had a hard time surviving the journey back to France; once they arrived the colder weather quickly killed off those that survived. The few that did manage the journey were put to exquisite use in the king's kitchens. The weekly appartements often featured ices and sorbets - another feat of engineering - and pineapples were soon added to the flavours.

The French gardeners struggled with the pineapple but did not give up. Finally, on 28 December 1733, the gardeners of Versailles were successful and presented Louis XV with two perfect pineapples. Quickly, it became one of the king's favourite fruits and a new hot-house was promptly erected. According to Eugene Walter the king spent 1000 francs a year on that hot-house alone. Actually, the plants that produced that pineapple later provided samples which were sent as diplomatic gifts. 

As the 18th century passed it was not just the king of France who had the opportunity to cultivate the delicious yellow fruit. According to Louis-Sébastien Mercier (writing in 1782) pineapples were grown by the Duc de Bouillon whose passion for them exceeded even Louis XV's. Mercier claimed that no less than 4000 pots were reserved solely for growing pineapples. 

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"Ananas" by Oudry

The botanists of the time continued to be fascinated with the "king of fruits". During Louis XVI's reign, Jean-Baptiste Oudry produced a series of botanical illustrations - including one of the pineapple. Marie Antoinette chose to hang that particular one above the door in her Cabinet of the Meridian. Some time during Louis XV's reign the cultivation of pineapples at Choisy-le-Roi had been taken up again and this continued right up till the dawn of the revolution. At this point, the gardener (a man by the name of Edi) was considered to be the foremost specialist on pineapples.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

"Wounded in the King's Service"

With two monarchs who shared a love for women it is hardly odd that Louis XIV and Louis XV fathered their fair share of bastards. However, not all pregnancies went to plan. The poor hygiene of the age and a lack of basic knowledge about the female reproduction system meant that childbearing was a dangerous thing. While some experienced miscarriages, others succumbed either during or after delivering. 
Such subjects were not welcome in polite society - although "polite society" also consisted of women who knew all about it - certain terms were invented to spread news of the like. Thus, whenever a woman had miscarried a child by the king it was said that she had been "wounded in the king's service". However, this would also be used in other senses; "the king's service" could mean more than that of sharing his bed. Most royal women were considered to have one primary purpose: to bear children. So, when a woman married to an heir to the king miscarried the same term could be applied. For example, when the Duchesse de Bourgogne miscarried it was said that she had been thus "wounded". In this instance there was a certain reason for dragging the king into this: he had insisted that the heavily pregnant duchesse travel with him to Fontainebleau.

It is possible that Louise de La Vallière suffered a serious miscarriage. In 1670 it was noticed that her body was becoming slimmer and she looked more "haggard". Some attributed this change to the strain of living with the king's new favourite - Madame de Montespan - while others pointed at the likelihood of a miscarriage.

Mademoiselle de Fontagnes came close to replacing Madame de Montespan although her reputed stupidity probably prevented that. She had fallen pregnant by Louis XIV in late 1679 or early 1680. After she failed to be present at the wedding of Mademoiselle de Blois (Louis XIV's illegitimate daughter) courtiers started speculating if Madame de Montespan had finally gotten rid of her. However, it was soon leaked that she had suffered a miscarriage - some sources claims that she suffered two. She would never recover from the ordeal and died shortly afterwards.

Madame de Pompadour suffered two miscarriages (1746 and 1749) which may have hastened the end to her physical relationship with Louis XV. It is possible that she suffered a third miscarriage in 1747. The last one could have had far more dire consequences but eventually she rallied. According to the Marquis d'Argenson, Louis XV remained by her side during her recovery.

Marie Louise O'Murphy came close to paying the ultimate price "in the king's service". She fell pregnant by her royal lover in 1753 only to suffer a severe miscarriage. For a while her life was in the balance and most courtiers thought she would die. However, she lived only to be ousted two years later.

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Pauline Félicité who paid the ultimate price in the king's

Much the same fate befell Pauline Félicité de Mailly, Marquise de Vintimille, who had fallen pregnant by Louis XV in 1741. Unlike many others of the time she carried the baby to term but the birth proved to be difficult. About a week following the delivery she was suddenly seized by convulsions and died. It is not unlikely that her death was caused by complications at the delivery or by a lack of hygiene. The Marquis d'Argenson claimed that she died of so-called military fever but notes that it seems to afflict women recovering from their confinements rather than others. This could very well be a result of lack of hygiene.