Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon

27 Nov 1635
15 Apr 1719
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Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon (27 November 1635 – 15 April 1719) was the second wife of King Louis XIV of France.

She was known during her first marriage as Madame Scarron, and subsequently as Madame de Maintenon. Her marriage to the king was never officially announced or admitted, though she was very influential at court. She started a school for girls from poorer noble families.

Françoise d’Aubigné was born on 27 November 1635, but her place of birth is under speculation. A plaque suggests her birthplace was at the Hotel du Chaumont in Niort, in western France.

Some sources indicate she may have been born in or just outside the prison at Niort because her father, the Huguenot Constant d’Aubigné, was incarcerated there for conspiring against Cardinal Richelieu.

Her mother, Jeanne de Cardilhac, was the daughter of Constant’s jailer.

Her grandfather was Agrippa d’Aubigné, a well-known Protestant General, a former intimate servant of Henry IV, and an epic poet. Jeanne had her child baptised in her own Catholic religion; the young girl’s godparents were Suzanne de Baudéan, the daughter of the Comtesse de Neuillant and the governor of Niort; and the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, father of François de La Rochefoucauld, author of the famous Maxims.

Suzanne would later go to serve Anne of Austria and Maria Theresa, the first wife of Louis XIV.

In 1639 Françoise’s father was released from prison and went with his family to the island of Martinique in the West Indies. Jeanne was a strict mother, allowed her children few liberties, and gave them a Protestant education, despite their Catholic baptism.

Constant returned to France, leaving his wife and children behind in Martinique. Jeanne was forever trying to be “mother and father” to her children, and eventually she made it back to France, to join her husband in 1647.

Within months of her return to France Jeanne’s husband died and Françoise returned to the care of her beloved aunt, Madame de Villette, her father’s sister. The Villettes’ house, Mursay, became a happy memory for Françoise, who had been in the care of her aunt and uncle before leaving for Martinique.

The de Villettes were wealthy and took good care of the child, but they were ardent Protestants and they continued to school Françoise in their beliefs. When this became known to her godmother’s family, an order was issued that Françoise had to be educated in a convent.

Françoise disliked the convent life, but she grew to love one of the nuns there, Sister Céleste, who persuaded Françoise to take her First Communion. “I loved her more than I could possibly say. I wanted to sacrifice myself for her service.”

Madame de Neuillant, the mother of Françoise’s godmother Suzanne, brought her to Paris and introduced her to sophisticated women and men, who became vital links that she would utilise in the future.

In her excursion with Madame de Neuillant, Françoise met Paul Scarron, who was 25 years older than her, and began to correspond with him. Scarron was an accomplished poet and novelist, who counted Marie de Hautefort, a favourite of King Louis XIII, among his patrons.

He offered her marriage, or to pay her dowry so that she might enter a convent. Although Scarron suffered from acute and crippling rheumatoid arthritis,

she accepted his proposal and became Madame Scarron in 1652. The match permitted her to gain access to the highest levels of Paris society, something that would have otherwise been impossible for a girl from an impoverished background. For nine years, she was Scarron’s wife and nurse, and a fixture in his social circle.

On the death of Scarron in 1660, the queen dowager, Anne of Austria, continued his pension to his widow, even increasing it to 2,000 livres a year, thus enabling her to remain in literary society. After Anne’s death in 1666, Louis XIV suspended the pension. Once again in straitened circumstances, Mme Scarron prepared to leave Paris for Lisbon as a lady-in-waiting to the new Queen of Portugal, Marie-Françoise de Nemours.

Before setting off, however, she met Madame de Montespan, who was secretly already the king’s lover. Madame de Montespan took such a fancy to Mme Scarron that she had the king reinstate her pension, which enabled Françoise to stay in Paris.

In 1669, when Madame de Montespan’s first child by Louis was born, she placed the baby with Madame Scarron in a house on Rue de Vaugirard, and provided her with a large income and staff of servants. Françoise took care to keep the house well guarded and discreet, even doing the domestic duties herself.

Her care for the infant Louis Auguste, Duke of Maine (born 1670) first brought her to the attention of Louis XIV, though he was initially put off by her strict religious practice.

When Louis Auguste and his siblings were legitimized on 20 Dec 1673, she became the royal governess at Saint-Germain. As governess, she was one of very few people permitted to speak with the king as an equal, without holding back. Madame Sévigné observed that he was charmed by having someone who would speak to him in this way.

Due to her hard work, the King rewarded her with 200,000 livres, and she purchased the property at Maintenon in 1674. Saint-Simon was told by his father-in-law that the King had initially disliked Madame Scarron, but, as he tired of Madame de Montespan’s bad temper, began to find her rival increasingly sympathetic.

In 1675, the king gave her the title of Marquise de Maintenon after the name of her estate. Such favours incurred Madame de Montespan’s jealousy.

At court, she was now known as Madame de Maintenon. Madame de Montespan and Françoise sparred frequently over the children and their care.

“Madame de Maintenon knows how to love. There would be great pleasure in being loved by her,” said the king. He probably asked her to become his mistress at that time.

Though she later claimed she did not yield to his advances (“Nothing is so clever as to conduct one’s self irreproachably,” she wrote to a friend), some historians doubt that she dared refuse the King at a time when her position remained very insecure. By the late 1670s the king spent much of his spare time with her, discussing politics, religion, and economics.

In 1680, the king made Madame de Maintenon second Mistress of the Robes to his daughter-in-law, the Dauphine. Soon after, Madame de Montespan left the court. Madame de Maintenon proved a good influence on the king. His wife, Queen Marie-Thérèse, who for years had been rudely treated by Madame de Montespan, openly declared she had never been so well treated as at this time.

Françoise was married to the king in a private ceremony by François de Harlay de Champvallon, Archbishop of Paris, in the presence, it is believed, of Père la Chaise, the king’s confessor, the Marquis de Montchevreuil, the Chevalier de Forbin, and Alexandre Bontemps.

Owing to the disparity in their social status, the marriage was morganatic, meaning that Madame de Maintenon was not openly acknowledged as the King’s wife and did not become Queen. No official documentation of the marriage exists, but that it took place is nevertheless accepted by historians. Biographers have dated the wedding to 9 October 1683 or January 1684

In his memoirs, the Duc de Saint-Simon (himself only a boy at the time of the event) wrote the following:

But what is very certain and very true, is, that some time after the return of the King from Fontainebleau, and in the midst of the winter that followed the death of the Queen (posterity will with difficulty believe it, although perfectly true and proved), Père de la Chaise, confessor of the King, said mass at the dead of night in one of the King’s cabinets at Versailles.

Bontems, governor of Versailles, chief valet on duty, and the most confidential of the four, was present at this mass, at which the monarch and La Maintenon were married in presence of Harlay, Archbishop of Paris, as diocesan, of Louvois (both of whom drew from the King a promise that he would never declare this marriage), and of Montchevreuil. …

The satiety of the honeymoon, usually so fatal, and especially the honeymoon of such marriages, only consolidated the favour of Madame de Maintenon. Soon after, she astonished everybody by the apartments given to her at Versailles, at the top of the grand staircase facing those of the King and on the same floor.

From that moment the King always passed some hours with her every day of his life; wherever she might be she was always lodged near him, and on the same floor if possible.

The Marquise de Montespan, who had preceded Madame de Maintenon as the King’s mistress, in her memoirs wrote the following about the marriage:

The following week Madame de Maintenon … consented to the King’s will, which she had opposed in order to excite it, and in the presence of the Marquis and Marquise de Montchevreuil, the Duc de Noailles, the Marquis de Chamarante, M. Bontems, and Mademoiselle Ninon, her permanent chambermaid, was married to the King of France and Navarre in the chapel of the château.

The Abbé de Harlay, Archbishop of Paris, assisted by the Bishop of Chartres and Père de la Chaise, had the honour of blessing this marriage and presenting the rings of gold.

After the ceremony, which took place at an early hour, and even by torchlight, there was a slight repast in the small apartments.

The same persons, taking carriages, then repaired to Maintenon, where the great ceremony, the mass, and all that is customary in such cases were celebrated.

At her return, Madame de Maintenon took possession of an extremely sumptuous apartment that had been carefully arranged and furnished for her.

Her people continued to wear her livery, but she scarcely ever rode any more except in the great carriage of the King, where we saw her in the place which had been occupied by the Queen.

In her interior the title of Majesty was given her; and the King, when he had to speak of her, only used the word Madame, without adding Maintenon, that having become too familiar and trivial.

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