Friday, 13 September 2019

The Bloody Fall of Mademoiselle de Fontanges

At the age of 18 years, Marie Angélique de Scorailles served Madame as a lady-in-waiting at Versailles. While she was there, she caught the eye of Louis XIV and became one of his unofficial mistresses in 1679. As could be expected, Madame de Montespan was intensely displeased at this new development and it certainly did not help that Marie Angélique soon found herself with child.

However, the pregnancy did not run smoothly. By January 1680, she was prematurely delivered of a still-born son. The king was informed of her condition in the usual terms; the lady was said to have been "wounded in his service". If Marie Angélique had expected to fall back into her position as a rival to Madame de Montespan, she was sadly mistaken. As the maîtresse-en-titre had predicted, Louis' passion for her was already cooling.

The king's next action corresponded perfectly with the usual custom for dismissing a mistress. Mademoiselle de Fontanges was elevated to the rank of Duchesse de Fontanges and given a handsome pension of 80.000 livres - after all, she had been wounded in the king's "service".

The birth of her son appears to have taken a greater toll on her body than at first feared. Throughout 1680, her health became increasingly worse; during the birth it seems that she had hemorrhaged considerably and the extensive blood-loss continued to have an impact on her health. It should be remembered that this was long before blood-transfusions, so there was no way of replacing the blood she had lost in this manner. The doctors almost certainly aggravated the situation by bleeding her on several occasions. 

It was clear to everyone that something was terribly wrong with the young lady. Her previously much-admired looks faded fast - and with them, the king's affection. Her perfect complexion had become ashen and her eyes had completely lost their sparkle. She also became increasingly apathetic and complained frequently of fatigue. Furthermore, she swelled up. Her lovely face became puffy and she became quick to tears.

Billedresultat for mademoiselle de fontanges poison
Marie Angélique, Mademoiselle de Fontanges

When her condition did not improve, Marie Angélique decided to remove herself from Versailles and went to the Abbey de Chelles. It was said that she had chosen to retire because the king's behaviour made it clear that her time was already over. Once she was out of sight of the royal court, rumours began circulating. Some insisted that she had conceived a second child by the king and that she had gone to the abbey to give birth. 

Whether she was pregnant again is not known for certain; those in favour of the theory argued that she had given birth to another stillborn child (this time a girl) sometime in March 1681. What is known is that she contracted a high fever while at the abbey in 1681. Not long after, it became obvious that she would not survive. Louis XIV granted her request and agreed to see her at the abbey. While there, the two shared a last meeting before the king returned to Versailles - and Madame de Montespan. Marie Angélique never recovered and died on 28 June, at the age of 19 years old.

The young Duchesse de Fontanges had not even been buried, when rumours once more sprung up at court. This time they pointed a vicious finger at Madame de Montespan who was accused of having poisoned her young rival. Considering the long-lasting illness of Mademoiselle de Fontanges and the subsequent autopsy, it seems unlikely, but the Affair of the Poisons was in full swing.

Some said that the plan had been to entice Mademoiselle de Fontanges to buy a certain luxurious fabric which would have been coated with poison. Even if that plan had actually been thought of, it would not have worked. The poison would at most have resulted in a rash but would not have been fatal. It was even said that Marquise de Brinvilliers - interrogated during the Affair of the Poisons - had confessed to this plot having been hatched. However, even the Marquise admitted that she only knew of it because she had overheard fractions of a conversation between her mother and a man by the name of Romani. 

The gossipers pointed to the fact that two servants of Mademoiselle de Fontanges had been poisoned - whether that was actually the case or if they died of natural causes is unknown.

As Jacques Levron and Gérald van der Kemp asked in their book "Versailles and the Trianons": what would Madame de Montespan have gained by poisoning Mademoiselle de Fontanges?". There was no guarantee that Louis XIV would suddenly regain the former passion he had had for La Montespan. It could even be argued that Louis would have been more likely to turn from Madame de Montespan if another instance of poisoning was laid at her door.

Louis XIV declared that he would not have an autopsy performed on his former mistress. However, her family disagreed and the autopsy was carried out. The result was disappointing to the enemies of La Montespan. Her stomach was in good health and it was generally believed that poison would show in the stomach. However, her lungs were severely affected - one was said to be "full of pus". This has led later physicians to attempt a diagnosis. The most plausible is that during the delivery of her son, a part of the placenta remained in the uterus. This would result in infections which could account for the large amount of pus in her lungs. Even at the time, there were some who pointed the finger at the miscarriage rather than poison including Primi Visconti.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to conduct an investigation into the remains of Mademoiselle de Fontanges. Her remains were destroyed during the revolution.

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