1902 Encyclopedia > Madame de Maintenon

Madame de Maintenon
(Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon)
Second wife of King Louis XIV of France

MAINTENON, FRANCOISE D'AUBIGNE, MARQUISE DE (1635-1719), the second wife of Louis XIV., and unacknowledged queen of France for the last thirty years of his reign, was born in a prison at Niort on November 27, 1635. Her father Constant d'Aubign6, was the son of Agrippa d'Aubigne, the famous friend and general of Henry IV., and had been imprisoned as a Huguenot malcontent, but her mother, a fervent Catholic, had the child baptized in her religion, her sponsors being the Due de la Rochefoucauld, father of the author of the Maxims, and the Comtesse de Neuillant. In 1639 Constant d'Aubigne was released from prison and took all his family with him to Martinique, where he died in 1645, after having lost what fortune remained to him at cards. Madame d'Aubigne returned to France, and from sheer poverty unwillingly yielded her daughter to her sister-in•law, Madame do Villette, who made the child very happy, but, unfortunately for her, converted or pretended to convert her to Protestantism. When this was known, an order of state was issued that she should be entrusted to Madame de Neuillant, her godmother. Every means, every indignity even, was now used to convert her back to Catholicism, but at the last she only yielded on the condition that she need not believe that the soul of Madame de Villette was lost. Once reconverted, she was neglected, and sent home to live with her mother, who had only a small pension of 200 livres a year, which ceased on her death in 1650. The Chevalier de Mere, a man of some literary distinction, who had made her acquaintance at Madame de Neuillant's, discovered her penniless condition, and introduced his "young Indian," as he called her, to Scarron, the famous wit and comic writer, at whose house all the literary society of the day assembled. The wit, who was of good legal family, and had a kind heart, took a fancy to the friendless girl, and offered either to pay for her admission to a convent, or, though he was deformed and an invalid, to marry her himself. She accepted his offer of marriage, and became Madame Scarron in 1651. For nine years she was not only his most faithful nurse, hut an attraction to his house, where she tried to bridle the licence of the conversation of the time. On the death of Scarron in 1660, Anne of Austria continued his pension to his widow, and even increased it to 2000 livres a year, which enabled her to entertain and frequent the literary society her husband had made her acquainted with; but on the queen-mother's death in 1666 the king, in spite of all the efforts of her friends, refused to continue her pension, and she prepared to leave Paris for List on as lady attendant to the queen of PortugaL But before she started, she met Madame de Montespan, who was already, though not avowedly, the king's mistress, at the Hotel d'Albret, and the lady in question took such a fancy to her that she obtained the continuance of her pension, which put off for ever the question of going to PortugaL Madame de Montespan did yet more for her, for when, in 1669, her first child by the king was born Madame Scarron was established with a large income and a large staff of servants at Vaugirard to bring up the king's children in secrecy as they were born. In 1674 the king determined to have his children at court, and their governess, who had now made sufficient fortune to buy the estate of Maintenon, accompanied them. The king had now many opportunities of seeing Madame Scarron, and, though at first he was prejudiced against her, her even temper showed so advantageously against the storms of passion and jealousy exhibited by Madame de Montespan that she grew steadily in his favour, and had in 1678 the gratification of having her estate at Maintenon raised to a marquisate, and herself entitled Madame de Maintenon by the king himself. Such favours brought down the fury of Madame de Montespan's jealousy, and Madame de Maintenon's position was almost unendurable, until, in 1680, the king severed their connexion by making the latter second lady in waiting to the dauphiness, and soon after Madame do Montespan left the court. The new " amie " used her influence on the side of decency, and the queen openly declared she had never been so well treated as at this time, and eventually died in Madame de Maintenon's arms in 1683. The queen's death opened the way to yet greater advancement ; in 1684 she was made first lady in waiting to the dauphiness, and in the winter of 1685, or, Voltaire says, in January 1686, she was privately married to the king by Harlay, archbishop of Paris, in the presence, it is believed, of Pere la Chaise, the king's confessor, the Marquis de Montchevreuil, the Chevalier de Forbin, and Bontemps. No written proof of the marriage is extant, but that it took place is nevertheless certain. Her life during the thirty years of her second married life must be studied from more than one side, and can be so fully from her letters, which are masterpieces even of an age when Madame cle Sevign6. wrote, and of which many authentic examples are extant.

As a wife she is wholly admirable ; she had to entertain a man who would not be amused, and had to submit to that terribly strict court etiquette of absolute obedience to the king's inclinations which Saint-Simon so vividly describes, and yet be always cheerful, and never complain of weariness or ill-health. Her political influence has probably been overstated, but it was supreme in matters of detail. The ministers of the day used to discuss and arrange all the business to be clone with the king beforehand with her, and it was all done in her cabinet and in her presence, but the king in more important matters often chose not to consult her. Such mistakes as, for instance, the replacing of Catinat by Villeroi may be attributed to her, but not whole policies, - notably, according to Saint-Simon, not the policy with regard to the Spanish succession. Even the revocation of the edict of Nantes and the Dragonuades have been laid to her charge, but there can be no doubt that, in spite of ardent Catholicism, she retained a liking for her father's religion, and opposed, if not very vigorously, the cruelties of the Dragonnades. She was probably afraid to say much, or peril her great reputation for devotion, which had in 1692 obtained for her from Innocent XII. the right of visitation over all the convents in France. Where she deserves blame is in her use of her power for personal patronage, as in compassing the promotions of Chamillart and Villeroi, and the frequent assistance given to her brother Comte Charles d'Aubigne. Her influence was on the whole a moderating and prudent force, and the king, when he wanted her advice, used to say, "Qu'en pensez votro Solidit61" or " Consultons la Raison." Her social influence was not as great as it might have been owing to her holding no recognized position at court, but it was always exercised on the side of decency and morality, and it must not be forgotten that from her former life she was intimate with the literary people of the day, and never deserted her old friends. Side by side with this public life, which wearied her with its shadowy power, occasionally crossed by a desire to be recognized as queen, she passed a nobler and sweeter private existence as the foundress of St Cyr. Madame de Mainteuon was a born teacher ; she had so won the hearts of her first pupils that they preferred her to their own mother, and was similarly successful later with the young and impetuous Duchess° de Bourgogne, and she had always wished to establish a home for poor girls of good family placed in such straits as she herself had experienced. As soon as her fortunes began to mend she started a small home for poor girls at Rue], which she afterwards moved to Noisy, and which was the nucleus of the splendid institution of St Cyr, which the king had endowed in 1686 at her request out of the funds of the Abbey of St Denis. She was in her element there. She herself drew up the rules of the institution; she examined every minute detail; she befriended her pupils in every way; and her heart often turned from the weariness of Versailles or of Manly to her " little girls" at St Cyr. It was for the girls at St Cyr that Racine wrote his Esther and his AtTealie, and it was because he managed the affairs of St Cyr well that Chamillart became controller-general of the finances. The later years of her power were marked by the promotion of her old pupils, the children of the king and Madame de Montespan, to high dignity between the blood royal and the peers of the realm, and it was doubtless under the influence of her dislike for the Due d'Orleans that the king drew up his will, leaving the personal care of his successor to the Due de Maine, and hampering the Due d'Orleans by a council of regency. On or even before her husband's death she retired to St Cyr, and had the chagrin of seeing all her plans for the advancement of the Due de Maine overthrown by means of the parlement of Paris. However, the regent Orleans in no way molested her, but on the contrary visited her at St Cyr, and continued her pension of 48,000 Byres. She spent her last years at St Cyr in perfect seclusion, but an object of great interest to all visitors to France, who, however, with the exception of Peter the Great, found it impossible to get an audience with her. On April 15, 1719, she died, and was buried in the choir at St Cyr, bequeathing her estate at Maintenon to her niece, the only daughter of her brother Charles, and wife of the Mareehal de Noailles, to whose family it still belongs. Such was the life of the extraordinary woman who kept till the last the heart of Louis XIV., marked by a virtue almost amounting to prudery, in strong contrast to the generations which preceded and followed her, by a love of power, and a use of it which can indeed be excused by her early life, but which was not exercised for the good of France, and by a religious devotion which was narrow, if not violently fanatical, but sweetened throughout by her ardent love for her "little girls," whom she had saved from the difficulties of life, and whom she loved with all a mother's love.

La Beaumelle published the Lettres de Madame de Maintenon, but much gambled, in 2 vols. in 1752, and on a larger scale in 9 vols. in 1756. He also in 1755 published Memoires de Madame de. Maintenon, in 6 vols., which caused him to be imprisoned in the Bastille. Next must be noted Madame de Maintenon penile par elle mime, by Madame Suard, 1810 ; Ilistoire de Madame de Main-tenon, by Lafont d'Aussonne, 1814 Lettres intdites de Madame de Maintenon et la princesse des Ursins, 1826, reviewed by Sainte&nye, Causerics dtc Lundi, vol. v. ; and Histoire de Madame de Maintenon, by the Due de Noailles, 3848-58. All materials for her life have, however, been superseded by Thmiophile Lavallime's Loire de St Cyr, reviewed in Causeries do Landi, vol. viii., and by his edition of leer Leltres historiques et edifiantes, Ito., in 7 vols., and of her Correspondence Generale, in 4 vols., which latter must, however, be read with the knowledge of many forged letters, noticed in P. Grimblot's Faux Autographes de Madame de Maintenon. Saint-Simon's fine account of the court in her day and of her career is contained in the twelfth volume of Cheruel and Regnier's edition of his Mtmoires. (H. M. S.)

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