Paris in Oct. 2011

NV 1. The Chateau de Maintenon

Part 1 Historical Introduction to a true-life fairy tale

Only 1 photo here, the rest of the photos are in

Part 2, to go there now, click here

Thanks to my good friend and colleague Claudio and his charming wife Serena, I was able to get “out of town” to see a remarkably nice chateau, the Chateau de Maintenon.  

Claudio recommended this place to me, and volunteered that his wife and he would take me, because of my interest in Catholic mystics, and the person associated with this chateau, Françoise d'Aubigné, marquise de Maintenon, usually known as Madame de Maintenon, was a reputed mystic even while she was also the secret wife of the king, Louis the XIV. My interest was peaked, of course, and I started reading this woman’s incredible life story.

Madame de Maintenon, thanks to the king, bought the chateau in 1674, including its lands and farms. She lived there until 1688.  

Just a few years before she left, the king had an aqueduct built to assure plentiful water, taken from the upper reaches of the Heure river, for his main palatial estate in Versailles, 50 miles away!  It got to within less than 20 miles of Versailles, but money ran out so it was never completed.  

The part of the waterway that went through the Maintenon estate was raised into the air at Louis’ order, he wanted the water to fly through the air over the Heure river, its own source, at the Maintenon estate, on its way to his Versailles estate.  Its remnants add to the charm of the Maintenon estate.

So, is this a fairytale or for real?  We are asked to believe that a girl is born in a prison, and after fate turns her this way and that, ends up in her own chateau sleeping with the Sun King as his secret wife?  Incredible.  But true.

I’ll tell the tale by abbreviating what is told about her in several Wikipedia articles  (with the linked article being the primary one).

Françoise d'Aubigné, marquise de Maintenon, was born 27 November 1635 Niort, France.  She died 15 April 1719 (aged 83) at Saint-Cyr.

Her first husband was Paul Scarron (1651-1660). Her second (secret) husband was Louis XIV, King of France (1685-1715).

Her parents were Constant d'Aubigné and Jeanne de Cardillac.  

Her place of birth is suggested to be the Hotel du Chaumont in Niort, in western France.  The claim is made that this was a prison, and she was born there because her father, a Huguenot (a fiercely persecuted Protestant sect at times) was in jail for conspiring against the life of Cardinal Richelieu.

Her mother, Jeanne de Cardilhac, was the daughter of the jailer. Jeanne had her child baptised in her own Catholic religion.

In 1639 Françoise's father was let out of prison and the family moved to the island of Martinique in the West Indies. Françoise received a strict Protestant education there.  Her father returned to France.  Françoise and her mother followed him a few years later in 1647, just before he died.

Françoise went to live with her aunt, Madame de Villette, her father's sister, whom she loved and with whom she had lived for a time as a child before moving to Martinique. The Villettes were ardent Protestants. When Françoise's godmother's family found this out, they got a legal writ moving Françoise to a convent, where she took her first communion.

Madame de Neuillant, the mother of Françoise's godmother, brought her to Paris and introduced her to the high society there that would help her shape her future.

Françoise met and married Paul Scarron, 25 years older than she, an established poet to the court, in 1651.  He suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and the marriage lasted 9 years until he died.  

She developed a reputation for unusual devotion to her religion.  In1692 Pope Innocent XII granted her the right of visitation over all the convents in France in recognition of her faith.  

Except for this very high-level recognition of her devotion to her religion, I see no evidence of mysticism in her story. But it is a fascinating tale anyway, as evidenced by the history books and historical novels about this woman's life and her relationship to Louis XIV.

She has been accused of urging her husband's cruel and bloody crack-down on Protestants, but that is not known for sure.  She has been rumored to have been pleased by the conversions stemming from this cruelty, but not the cruelty itself.  In my critical mind, of course, this is an indirect way of approving the slaughter.

Madame de Neuillant, the aunt, also introduced Françoise to Madame de Montespan, and these latter two became great friends.  Françoise was hired to be a governess to this woman's illegitimate children, all fathered by Louis XIV.

Madame de Montespan was at the time the official chief mistress, living in the palace with the king. The story has it that the king took a fancy to this new governess and started to spend time with her.  He really enjoyed her company, and this did not sit well with Madame de Montespan, of course.  

The church got involved in separating the king from Madam de Montespan, trying to save his soul, of course. Why did they select her for this treatment, given all his other mistresses?  Perhaps because she was still married to someone else the entire time she was having the king's babies, which could lead to legal challenges, on the part of her estranged husband, to the estates and other appointments that the king provided to his children.

Louis' personal life is discussed on a Wikipedia page devoted to his life.  All along, Louis also had a legitimate wife, Maria Theresa of Spain.  They had six children, only one of whom survived to adulthood. Maria Theresa died in 1683, after 23 years of marriage.  

Louis was obviously not faithful to Maria Theresa. He took a series of mistresses, both official and unofficial, and had many illegitimate children.  He saw to their well-being except in one case, where the woman was a servant.  She is thought to have tried to poison him to pay him back for his neglect of her and her child.  

For a time Madame de Montespan was thought to have been the would-be poisoner, but this was never proven.

Madame de Montespan was now out of his way in the palace, although their affair continued sporadically and led to two more children.  But Louis made Madame de Maintenon his official chief mistress, and installed her in the palace.  Her apartments at Versailles were sumptuously appointed and directly across the hall from his own.

According to an article in The Economist, Madame de Maintenon was Louis' mistress for 11 years before this secret marriage, and his chief mistress for a lesser time. During her reign as official chief mistress prior to the death of Maria Theresa, Françoise and Maria Theresa became good friends. This good friendship between wife and mistress is probably what made their secret marriage later that same year in which Maria Theresa died palatable at court.  

The marriage was secret in part because it was a marriage between a royal and a commoner, a 'morganatic' marriage.  A morganatic marriage was almost like a modern prenuptial agreement, where the wife and her offspring had no claim on the husband's wealth or properties.  The king, of course, spent lavishly on his new wife.  He bought her the Chateau de Maintenon, paid for her founding a girls' school, and after his death his ministers gave her a generous pension. Their marriage lasted until his death, in 1715.

Louis had a number of official, recognized mistresses who had apartments in the palace as long as they were in his favor. Wikipedia (on the page about his personal life previously cited) lists them to include several that obviously were installed while he was married to Françoise (note the dates are birth and death dates, where known, they are not the dates of their reign as chief mistress to the king).  Madame de Maintenon has been highlighted:

Several internet discussions based on both fiction and non-fiction books about this story suggest that the king used her as an advisor, as did many of his advisors. Since advice is not recorded, this is hard to judge, but it seems quite plausible.  

At Saint-Cyr, a village five kilometers west of Versailles, Françoise founded the Maison Royale de Saint-Louis, a school for poor girls of noble families. The king endowed St-Cyr at her request. Madame de Maintenon wrote the rules for the institution. She was considered 'a born teacher and a friendly, motherly influence on her pupils,' although the afore cited article in The Economist cites a source that says the threat of brutality was also in her tool-chest, with a never-used scaffold (suggesting the possibility of hanging) at the girls school to help maintain control of the young girls.

On the death of her secret husband in 1715, she retired to Saint-Cyr.

The story is that one morning Madame de Maintenon awoke at Saint-Cyr to find a very tall man seated by her bed. She knew who the man was, Tsar Peter the Great (Pierre Le Grand). When the Tsar asked what her illness was, she replied "old age".  When she asked him what brought him to come and see her, he replied, "I came to see everything worthy of note that France contains." At that she smiled.  

The one photo I was able to take indoors was in the public restroom, outside of which hangs this painting by Therese de Champ Renaud of this famous visitation:

She died on 15 April 1719 and was buried in the choir at Saint-Cyr.  

A great fairy tale.  

If you read the history of the misdeeds and futile, ruinous wars waged during this time, before this time, and after this time, wars that the people ended up paying for,  you can see one of the reasons for the rebellions that followed just about one lifetime later.  The French Revolution did away with royal families, but it took quite a while to arrive at a better form of government.  

Emperor Napoleon was not that different from royalty in the exercise of absolute power and ruining the country's financial ability to stand on its feet through war-making.  But after a few hundred years of additional suffering, the French people now have a good life with an often thoughtful and usually benign government.  

Vive la France!

CLICK HERE for Part 2 of Chateau de Maintenon (the photos).


Each place starts with a description of motive for this visit.

Go Back to Introduction and Background (Role of Andrew Hussey's book Paris, The Secret History)

Several Places Newly Visited (NV):

You are here now:

NV 1. The Chateau de Maintenon (in 2 parts)

NV 2. The Catacombs

NV 3. The Bois de Meudon

NV 4. The Saint Eustache Church

NV 5. The Jewish Deportation Memorial

New Views of Previously Visited (PV) Places,

PV 1. Les Halles

PV 2. Bois de Boulogne

PV 3. Sacre Coeur Cathedral

PV 4. Pere Lachaise Cemetery

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