Amazing articles on just about every subject...




Famous Women:
 Madame De Maintenon

 Mary The Mother Of Washington

 Maria Theresa

 Catherine Ii

 Marie Antoinette

 Josephine

 Victoria

 Epilogue

 Read More Articles About: Famous Women

Madame De Maintenon

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

A. D. 1635-1719

THE MOST ARTFUL OF HER SEX

We shall now proceed to relate the details of an episode in history which, it would seem, has not its like as an example of the power to be attained by the exercise of patience, skill, cajolery, hypocrisy, devotion, and state-craft. For thirty-two years an elderly woman, the daughter of a thief, the widow of a hunchback, absolutely ruled a capricious monarch, the chief sovereign in the world, and he never knew the facts, nor could the bitter enemies who surrounded the woman on every side, convey a knowledge of his true situation to the fascinated King. The King had worn out several other women before he met her, but though many scenes had also passed in the drama of her life, she, in turn, wore him out, and left him to die, as he well deserved, in solitude and neglect. The King was "The Grand Monarch," Louis XIV. It will be necessary to outline the earlier years of the wonderful woman who was a match for his god-like selfishness and anointed egotism.

D'Aubigné, the noble friend of Henry of Navarre, left a son, Constant, who was a scamp all the way through life. He should have been named Inconstant. The daughter of this scamp came well by the qualities which wrought her wonderful success. Constant obtained the post of Viceroy of some of the West Indian islands (like Martinique) and at once set out to turn the islands over to the English. This being detected, he was deposed, and his governorship of Maillezais, at home, was taken away. At this low stage in his fortunes, a rich widow, Madame de Noailles, took pity and married him. She thought she could reform him that he had sown his wild oats that fast young men made staid husbands, etc. He repaid this service by neglect, but, growing jealous, it was charged that he killed both his wife and a man on whom his suspicions rested a double murder. His estate was seized and he was cast into a cell of the Castle Trompette, at Bordeaux. Here the widower made love to the jailer's daughter, and, swearing eternal devotion to her, he prevailed on her to aid his escape. This was accomplished, and the pair fled to Martinique, an island not far from the coast of South America, in the Caribbean Sea. He raised tobacco, saved some money, and, against the advice of his wife, leaving wife and son, returned to France, where he was apprehended and cast again into Castle Trompette. His wife, learning of his fate, sailed for France with her child, although she was unfit for travel, and was so successful with her influence that she had her husband transferred to the prison at Niort, where his relatives might be of assistance to him.

While he was in prison at Niort, she who was after-ward Madame de Maintenon was born. The child was baptized at Niort, in the diocese of Poitiers, near the Loire River, in the west of France. Her godfather was Francis de la Rochefoucauld, her godmother Madame de Neuillant, who gave the infant the name of Frances. The mother and wife played on the good will of Constant's first wife's relatives, who did not prosecute vindictively, and herself drew up a memorial on which the judges acquitted the husband. He was set at liberty to join a circle of wretches whose members, at last, were accused of counterfeiting and cast into Castle Trompette, he along with the lot.

The miserable wife and her two children were forced to seek shelter in the prison, and young Frances played with the jailer's daughter. The relatives of so worthless a character were filled with disgust, and listened with small patience to the entreaties of the faithful wife. At last Constant's sister, Madame de Villette, gave way to the inclinations of humanity and visited the cell. There lay her brother on the stone floor, starved and ill. The two children were wan and only half-clad with rags. The mother and wife was in a pitiful state, though bearing up with woman's fortitude under difficulties. The sister was deeply affected, and took away the children, placing Frances with the nurse of her own daughter. Thus encouraged, the wife made a journey to Paris, where Cardinal Richelieu told her with some truth, though with little charity, that the best thing that could happen to her would be to lose such a husband. A charitable Duke of Weimar gave her 10o pistoles, and with this money she was able to get lier little Frances near her once more, and to bring influence for a pardon. It was at last agreed that Constant should be set free if he would become a Catholic, and this he readily assented to, as he was anything but a martyr. On his liberation he embarked for America once more, and, while the family were on board ship, the little girl Frances became so ill that she lay for some time with-out signs of life. The mother, frantic with grief, strove to reanimate the child by holding it to her warm bosom. The father, true to his inglorious record, stood by, anxious to snatch the child from her, in order that a sailor might cast it in the sea. The mother, recalling her own services to her lord, begged a last embrace, and, placing her hand on the child's heart, declared she felt it move. With this the ship's people restored the future Madame de Maintenon to life.

Arriving at Martinique the child was left alone on the seashore. When the mother returned the child was surrounded by serpents. The mother advanced undauntedly and snatched her daughter away. The little girl was proud to be the daughter of a scoundrel, because he was a noble. The children around her reproached her on account of her manifest poverty. "Yes, I am poor," she said; "but I am a noble lady, and you are not." Her mother read to her what a great man her father's father had been. "And what am I to be?" asked the child. "What do you wish to be?" "Queen of Navarre," replied she, not satisfied with the honors of her grandfather. The father did better in Martinique, to the extent that he kept out of jail, but while the little girl studied at her Plutarch, he fell ill, and died when she was twelve.

The widow with her children now returned to France, where she found her husband's debts standing against her own person. She became a hostage for their payment, but the daughter was sent by the Judge of the place to the mother's relatives, and the deceased father's sister, Madame de Villette, once more took pity on undeserved misfortune and assumed the care of young Frances, educating her in the Calvinistic faith. It will be seen in the sequel what a viper the Huguenots warmed in their bosoms. Yet she became a strong-minded Protestant. Her mother, visiting her, desired to take her to mass. She refused. "You do not love me, Frances." "I love God better !" was the reply. She was compelled to go, and made a jest of the mysteries she saw practised. Her mother, in anger and chagrin, struck her on the cheek. "Strike !" she cried, turning the other cheek, "it is glorious to suffer for my religion." On this, the religion of the young zealot became a matter of dispute among the relatives, and the Catholic side obtained an order of the court giving Frances in charge of a good Catholic. Her Catholic conservator, Madame de Neuillant, now brought a priest to argue with Frances, but he was answered pertly, and the Madame decided to have recourse to harsh measures to humiliate her charge. She was set at the tasks of the lowest menial. She fed the turkeys. As she said grimly afterward, "she commanded in the poultry-yard." A peasant made love to her, and such was the need of getting the young girl to a convent that the generous Protest-ant aunt, Villette, consented to pay the pension, and she entered the Ursulines at Niort. Yet the Protestants encouraged her to hold out against conversion, as she was so highly connected in the Huguenot camp. At last, when she was about convinced by the nuns, "I will admit all," she said, "provided you will not ask me to believe my Aunt Villette will be damned." On this basis, terms were made, yet it may be this is a generous fable of her flatterers, for the Aunt Villette at once disowned her when the con-version was made known. Then the nuns, no longer receiving her pension money, turned her out.

The mother and Frances now went to Paris, where the widow strove vainly to secure sums due to the grandfather and unpaid by Henry of Navarre. There was a comic poet, or satirist named Scarron, a hunchback and cripple, alive only in his head, which, nevertheless, contained a merry and waggish brain. At his apartments many persons of influence gathered to enjoy his conversation. Here the widow, hoping to advance her cause, went with Frances, who was uncommonly good-looking. But the girl was proud and timid. She was growing so fast that her gown was too short, and made her appear ridiculous. Coming into a company of great people at this disadvantage, she burst into tears. Scarron, pitying the girl's confusion, cheered her up. She rewarded Scarron for his kindness, it will be seen, and if anyone in the company laughed at her, no doubt the laugh cost dearly in after-days. It is the only mention we have of her tender feelings getting the better of her.

Madame d'Aubigné returned to Niort and died in despondency in 1652, leaving Frances seventeen years old. The girl is said to have shut herself up for three months in a room at Niort. The young man, Charles, her brother, was macle a page in a great family, and the Catholic relative who had been so harsh again took Frances in her care. The girl was vain, and the old lady had a sharp tongue. Frances wrote to a young girl in Paris, and paid a compliment to Scarron. The letter, which had been carefully penned, was shown to Scarron. "Is it at Martinique she has learned to write thus elegantly?" cried the poet, in astonishment. He wrote her a complimentary epistle, and they became friends. The old Madame Neuillant, protectress of Frances, grew kinder, came to Paris, put the girl in a convent, and hired a dancing-master and teacher of grand airs to accustom the girl to the ways of polite society. The old and the young woman frequently visited Scarron, who lived in humble apartments up three flights of stairs, and Scarron fell in love with Frances. The old lady had no objection to a marriage, as she feared a worse fate for Frances, and the girl became Madame Scarron. Her husband was about 44 years of age. He was a comic poet, and played the part of a buffoon at court. Oliver Goldsmith translated his "Comic Romance" into English. Anne of Austria was Regent while Louis XIV was a minor, and Louis (it must be noted) was three years younger than Frances. At the Court of Anne, Scarron merrily implored an office, a post, a place. "Appoint me Sick Man to the Queen !" he cried, and the Queen thought it so good a joke that the office was created. His knees were still bent with paralysis or rheumatism, his head hung low on his breast, and his entire body was contracted. Thus bent up, he wrote on a board fixed to the elbows of his chair. He had been a licentious ecclesiastic, and his marriage did not exalt him in anybody's opinion. He suffered principally because of early dissipation, yet he had the good sense to make a jest of it, and people liked to come to his apartments, because he attracted and invited only companions who were interesting. His wit, unhappily, depended for its point on personalities, and his "Mazarinade," or sally against the great Cardinal, cut off his pension. Yet he wrote, flattered, begged, laughed and kept the town talking of him, so that Madame Scarron daily saw the most notable people of France, heard the innermost gossip of the Court, noted the effects of reputation, conduct, and language, and withal made use of that instinctive skill, by which she was to make herself one of the most celebrated women of the world. "Madame," whispered her servant at table, "tell them another story, for we have no roast to serve to-day." It vas life in Bohemia. People of all shades of reputation came thither. Ninon de l'Enclos was a welcome guest. From such precincts, of course, the best men kept their wives, or went with them only at rare intervals, so that it was not long before Madame Scarron affected a moral superiority, and sometimes stayed away. The life in Bohemia grew wearisome to the world, Scarron's jokes came to sound familiar and mechanical, want entered at the door, and Scarron died in indigence and neglect. Yet his widow had not lost reputation, and had gained greatly in beauty and worldly wisdom. It was 164o, and she was now twenty-five.

She is described by her friends as possessing regular and lovely features, a freshness of complexion, a sweet and intelligent smile, an oval face, a nose delicately inclining to the aquiline, full, dark and brilliant eyes, regular teeth, finely turned hands and arms, and a modest way, which she advanced by means of plain yet neat apparel. She was a woman to whom men were drawn, and, in her turn, that instinct of falsity which in her father had led him into prison, in her was cultivated rather for her certain advancement. Fouquet, Superintendent of Finance, was the first great Lord to fall under her wiles. He made her a present of diamonds, which were piously returned, as diamonds did not play an important part in her life. The Count de la Gardie (probably Queen Christina's exiled favorite, now in Paris) was the next to be smitten, and made himself useful by advancing the widow's claims to Scarron's unpaid or suspended pension. The young Louis XIV had now come to the throne and married Maria Theresa, Infanta of Spain. This Princess, natur ally, desired to make herself popular in gossippy Bohemia. She heard the joke of "Sick Man to the Queen," and admired the constancy of the widow during Scarron's final sufferings. The Queen asked the Count how much the annuity was. He said it was 2,000 livres; it had been really only 1,500 livres. Upon this the handsome widow was enabled to go to Val de Grace to thank her Majesty. Everybody who remembered her was desirous of the widow's gratitude, and she, by her cold demeanor, quickly put them at odds with her. "Oh, well," said a spiteful dame, "if the Queen wishes to give a pension to the loveliest woman and the greatest coquette in Paris, she has made the best choice."

The remark angered Madame Scarron so that she became ill. "You are now," said her confessor, "fixing a penalty on yourself for the crimes of your enemy. She was enabled to live at the nunnery of the Hospitalers, in the Rue St. Jacques, and gave the wicked fourth of her new pension to the poor in alms. This was doubtless at the priest's suggestion, an expiation being necessary. She in the meantime had not escaped some very undesirable connections.

She had visited an astrologer, who had foretold that the wife of a cripple was born to be a Queen. It agreed with the fancies of her childhood, and she again sought the astrologer. He continued to prophesy a throne for her. "A King shall love you," he said. There was but one King, of course, and Madame Scarron knew he could not raise her to his throne. A handsome young woman with 2,000 livres a year began to attract men who, as Scarron had done, were looking for wives. It is said a Marquis of great wealth offered Madame Scarron his hand, to be refused. Her fame as a devout and orderly young woman began to spread, notwithstanding some unpleasant facts. Anne of Austria died, and Madame Scarron made a display of grief. The pension was cut off, perhaps to advance the suit of the Marquis, but the Madame continued firm. She said Scarron had attracted desirable friends; the Marquis would drive them away. She knew the Princess Nemours, who was to become Queen of Portugal, and she was now forced to apply for a position as lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and to agree to depart for a foreign country, when she met at the Hotel d'Albret, one of the few houses to which she had admission, the notorious Madame de Montespan, who was generally known to be the King's mistress. This fine lady took an immediate liking for Madame Scarron, and, almost the next day, the matter of Madame Scarron's pension was brought before the King. The name, while a lucky one for a buffoon, was uncommonly harsh to the ear of Louis, and he would repeat: "The widow Scarron most humbly supplicates your Majesty"--"Shall I," cried he, "hear nothing spoken of but the widow Scarron ?" The guilty lovers quarreled over the widow Scarron, but the King finally gave way, and the widow, again supplied with means, refused the opportunity of exile which had mocked her hopes. She must have practiced her best arts on Montespan, to whom she appeared as one clearly devout and humble, mourning for Scarron. She had learned a lesson regarding pensions, and henceforth she saved her money.

The great Madame de Richelieu now opened her home, and Madame Scarron was given a humble footing in the Hotel de Richelieu. Here it was settled that she should be taken care of as governess of the King's children by Madame de Montespan she had no less than seven in all. Madame Scarron's terms were high. It was a task for which she had little taste, and the King did not like either the terms or the frightful sibilant, guttural, trill, and nasal all combined in the buffoonish name of Scarron. Yet Montespan, with tears, threats and entreaties brought it about. A fine establishment was purchased at Vaugirard, a suburb, and Madame Scarron, with a large income, and a numerous staff of servants, was placed, at thirty-four, in charge of all the illegitimate children that the King might have. She was now well out of the world. All she could do was to wait and save money. She accumulated funds rapidly, having many means at hand. She already had in mind a property of her own and a renovation of the for-tunes of the family d'Aubigné. Probably the expense and inconvenience of a separate nursery at Vaugirard led the King to direct that his illegitimate children he housed in the palace, and this, to the mortification of the poor Queen, was done at the end of four years. By this time Madame Scarron had saved enough money to be able to purchase the estate of Maintenon, not far from Paris, on the high road to Brest.

The King had been prejudiced against Madame Scarron, but her careful ways soon interested him, and her extraordinary care in avoiding him piqued him. He railed at her scholarship. He called her "the wit," "the comic poet," "the learned lady." "Why do you talk to her so much ?" he asked of Montespan. "Do you wish her to make you as pedantic as herself ?"

Presently, however, the children began to praise their governess to the King, and at last Montespan saw her danger. "I dare not speak to the King alone," the governess said; "Madame Montespan would never forgive me." At this, the King began to invite Madame Scarron to his small parties, still taking little notice of her. With woman's instinct, Montespan strove to defend her own position by complaining of Scarron. "If she displeases you, why don't you send her away? Are you not the mistress?" This was the reply of the King, and it seems to have convinced Madame Scarron that her royal game could not be enmeshed. Her perquisites had been shut off with the removal of her establishment. She was ready to rebel against Montespan, and rebel she did, avowing her purpose of removing to Maintenon, rather than to submit to the tyranny of Montespan she a granddaughter of Agrippa D'Aubigné, and so on. At last it was found that only a command of the monarch would keep her, and lo! this command in fact, an apology came. Henceforth she should take charge of the children, and report only to the King. The King solaced her with a gift, and this completed the payments on the estate of Maintenon. She was so elated with her restoration to a landed property that the King was pleased, and publicly called her Madame de Maintenon. This was instantly repeated by the courtiers, who among themselves already divined the trend of things, and in whispers named her Madame de "Maintenant" ("Now").

The King now treated her with polite distinction, and she assumed a strong religious fervor. The Duchess of Richelieu, seeing Montespan falling in favor, correctly attributed the disaster to the poor widow whom she had befriended, and berated the governess, but her reply was haughty "May she (Montespan) be the last to reign in so disgraceful a manner. I hope to convert her and you also!" In Maintenon's opinion it was somebody else's turn at last to go to the convents. In fact, by this means, alone, could poor Montespan's irretrievable ruin be softened to the world. She could affect to see the error of her ways, and enter a college of nuns. This was the bold and successful plan by which Maintenon advanced on her friend, once her only protectress in France. The King continued to look with admiration on his wise, devout and good-looking governess. When she was forty-three he raised the estate of Maintenon to a Marquisate, and she was now a Marchioness. It was no longer comfortable or convenient for the rival women to be together, and, in 1680, when Maintenon was forty-five, he gave her a high place at court.

She at once advocated the dismissal of Montespan as an act necessary to the salvation of the King's soul. "Yet she loves me, and I love her still," he said. "Sire," argued Maintenon, "if you love her, would you cause her irreparable loss her soul? Had she loved you, would she have seduced you into vice?" She told him that an extreme devotion to the female sex sullied the glory of a Prince. Madame de Montespan, meanwhile, was absent, seeking absolution from complaisant priests, and it is remarkable that Louis sent for her to come back. Thereupon Madame de Maintenon also tried the effect of absence on him, and in her travels went by the Castle Trompette. When she returned, she found Montespan well on her guard, with all the court desirous of defeating Maintenon. It was the business of Maintenon to arrange the hair of the King's daughter-in-law, the Crown Princess at least, nobody else could aid the ailing Princess without pain. It was now a whim of Louis to come often to the toilette. "One would scarcely conceive how my talents as a comber contributed to my elevation," confessed Maintenon afterward. Her brother was made Count d'Aubigné. We shall hear of him anon. At last the King grew weary of the sight of Montespan around the court. Her eldest son, the Duke of Maine, basely carried her the order of the King, and was elated to see her go. He was ever one of the staunchest supporters of his governess, and she did her best to make him King. Montespan went away in tears and fury, the victim of an ingratitude so base and designing that it has been the marvel of historians ever since.

At court Maintenon was called the "Amie," the female friend. She proceeded to teach the King the moralities. He now had two cast-off mistresses in convents, and she announced to him that, though his going to mass he never missed but one in his life might secure him absolution for past offenses, there must come a time when it would be necessary to begin a better life. On this account the poor Queen Maria Theresa, had a few years of peace, and died in the arms of Maintenon, in 1683. Soon afterward Maintenon was advanced to be first lady-in-waiting to the Crown Princess, now the leading place at court to be held by a subject not a scion of the blood, and, in the winter of 1685-6, she was privately married to the King by the Archbishop of Paris, in the presence of Père Lachaise, the King's confessor, after whom the famous cemetery in Paris was named, and three other witnesses. The woman born in a prison, the widow of a miserable cripple, had thus, through the power of religious persuasion, at an advanced age, won her way to the side of the principal King in the world, who was soon also to add the realm of Isabella to his family possessions. She did not doubt that time would soften the King's opposition to a public announcement of the marriage.

She hereupon enters into the bright light of St. Simon's Memoirs. She had been seven or eight years beside Louis XIV when the young Duke of St. Simon arrived at court, but we are henceforth to look on her without theory or perplexity. She was hated by St. Simon from the first, possibly because the King wished to take away his hereditary governorship of Blaye and give it to Charles, her brother. "Is there not a son?" the King asked of D'Aubigné.

Of all the persons who have secretly made notes and printed them, St. Simon ranks as the most authentic, entertaining, and instructive. He alone, in those days, looked on a great King and did not inwardly tremble. He alone studied the character of Maintenon, and saw beneath her affected modesty and devotion, the ambition, resentment, and almost irresistible purpose that resided in her heart. There was a great and undiscovered poisoner somewhere in the Court of Louis XIV. The King's wife, his minister, his deceased son's son and wife, and their eldest son, all fell suddenly. The deeds seem to have been done either by the Duke of Orleans and St. Simon or by Mainte-non. Nobody ever charged her with the crimes, but she had the chief interest in all of them. St. Simon, by his constant expressions of "the fatal witch," "the fatal Madame de Maintenon," gives us sufficient hints that he wishes us to charge her with the crimes. As for Louis XIV, he looked on them all with a stolidity that has puzzled the world.

The wars of the Dukes and Counts of France had settled themselves in King-worship. The only way to avoid Leagues, Frondes and massacres was to let one man do as he pleased this, at least, had seemed to bring an end of internecine war and Louis was now the man, well-fitted, too, for the task of pleasing himself and being pleased. A woman of fifty-one years took her chair beside him, at his request, and knitted while he discussed the condition of France with his secretaries, who were called Ministers. The children had dubbed Maintenon "Madame Reason' Once in a while the King would turn to her : "Let us consult with Dame Reason," or "What thinks your Solidity of that idea?" And she would reply that such matters were far past the ken of a poor woman like her. But, still, if she gave an opinion, it was sure to be the King's, so that the Ministers soon became anxious to learn her views in advance. The obliviousness of the King to the feelings or rights of others was so monstrous that she must have despised him at the very commencement, for he was a man whom nobobdy could love; yet her love of power and attention was so keen that she filled her place with unalterable enthusiasm.

At first she busied herself with matters clearly within her province. She felt the need, from experience, of an institution which should provide for the indigent daughters of the nobility. Accordingly, at St. Cyr, near Versailles, 2,500 workmen erected, in one year, a magnificent building, which would give a home, an education, and a small dowry to 250 young women of needy families. Here, afterward, Eliza Bonaparte was educated. At St. Cyr Maintenon arranged a small theater, where Racine's tragedies of "Esther" and "Athalie" were first performed, and many private entertainments for the King were given with a success that was the envy of other courts. Next, the King built for her the Grand Trianon at Versailles, which is to-day a national museum. The position of the King, thus enmeshed, it may be guessed, was not flattering to the Bourbon pride. How soon would he break away from it? No one could tell, and, least of all, Madame Maintenon. She had fortified herself with Maintenon against Monte-span; now she had St. Cyr as a fortress against the King. There she was munificently provided for, for life. The Pope had appointed her Visitant of all French convents. More she could not do let the worst come.

"She had her troubles," says St. Simon, with glee. "Her brother, who was called the Count of Aubigné, was of but little worth, yet always spoke as though no man were his equal. He complained because he had not been made a Marshal of France sometimes said that he had taken his baton in money, and constantly bullied Madame de Maintenon because she did not make him a Duke and a peer. He spent his time running after girls in the Tuileries, always had several on his hands, and lived and spent his money with their families and friends of the same kidney. He was just fit for a waistcoat, but comical, full of wit, and unexpected repartees. A good, humorous fellow, and honest—polite and not too impertinent on account of his sister's fortune." It may be seen he was a more honest man than his father.

"Yet it was a pleasure to hear him talk," says St. Simon, rolling this morsel in his month "to hear him talk of the time of Scarron and the Hôtel D'Albret, and of the gallantries and adventures of his sister, which he contrasted with her present position and devotion. He would talk in this manner, not before one or two, but in a compromising manner, quite openly in the Tuileries gardens, or in the galleries of Versailles, before everybody, and would often drolly speak of the King as "the brother-in-law."

Maintenon finally haltered this fellow and sent him and his wife off to a place where they could be under the eyes of her agents. The wife was a poor creature, and Maintenon took their child, a daughter, to St. Cyr, and afterward made her heir to a vast fortune.

One bad Friday evening the great poet Racine was sent for to amuse the King. The three sat before the fire. The King asked why comedy was not more in vogue. Oh, for several reasons, Racine said; for one, there were no new comedies, and the actors gave old ones those of Scarron, for instance, which were worth nothing, and found no favor with anybody. "At this," says St. Simon, "the poor widow blushed, not for the reputation of the cripple attacked, but at hearing the name mentioned in the presence of his successor." On seeing the slip he had made, Racine did not dare to speak further, nor to raise his eyes. After a long pause, the King said he was going to work. Neither the King nor Madame de Maintenon ever spoke to Racine again, or even looked at him, and he fell into a languor, dying two years later.

"What manner of person she was this incredible enchantress and how she governed all-powerfully for more than thirty years," says St. Simon, "it behooves me to explain. She made the King so afraid of the devil that she became what our eyes have seen her, but what posterity will never believe she was." In brief, St. Simon says she possessed much wit, and the many positions she had held rendered her flattering, insinuating and complaisant--always seeking to please. The King had given way to her incomparable grace, her easy manner, yet measured and respectful, which, in consequence of her long obscurity had become natural to her, and marvelously aided her talents. She never liked St. Simon, and as long as the old King lived, the Duke received no honors. Probably she easily detected his taste for intrigue, also the great ability - the celebrated writer was so desirous to conceal.

We catch frequent glimpses of this elderly woman, ever afterward in St. Simon's twelve volumes, sitting beside the King knitting, and modestly expressing her unwillingness to debate public affairs (which she had previously planned). How did it come that St. Simon could not win her favor? He was a Duke of ancient lineage, and in her hands might have become useful to her. But "her flightiness or inconstancy," says St. Simon, "was of the most dangerous kind. With the exception of some of her old friends, to whom she had good reason for remaining faithful, she favored people one moment only to cast them off the next. You were admitted to an audience with her, for instance, you pleased her in some manner, and forthwith she unbosomed herself to you as though she had known you from childhood. At the second audience you found her dry, laconic, cold. You racked your brains to discover the cause of this change; mere loss of time! Flightiness was the sole cause of it." Possibly it was the sober second thought, that the Duke must not be trusted, or allowed to become intimate with the King. Devoutness was her strong point, and by this means she governed the King, who thought that he was an apostle, because he had always persecuted the Jansenists and listened to the praise of the Jesuits. It must not be imagined that the King was ruled so that he knew it himself. He was thoroughly imperious, allowing no one to disobey him, and for thirty-two years, while he was under this woman's influence, he was constantly on the lookout for the deceptions which she daily practised upon him without discovery, The chief Minister, Louvois, was under her control. In the matter of appointments it was soon learned that the King scanned the lists perfunctorily, and struck out a name or two at a certain place in the list, merely to exercise his authority. After the name was eliminated, there was no use in attempting to secure a different judgment from the monarch, so long as he remembered the applicant, and to attempt a rehearing was only to impress the unfortunate name more deeply on his mind. When Maintenon, there-fore, desired the appointment of a friend or retainer, the name was placed in that part of the list which experience had shown was comparatively safe.

Her anger, if incurred to the point of vengeance, was equally fatal to Prince or peasant to the lowest officer or the highest minister in the realm, as we shall show in the terrible tragedy of Louvois. It was her ardent desire that her marriage should be proclaimed, and when Louvois boldly prevented the proclamation, after she had patiently planned until she had obtained the King's permission then she set out to ruin Louvois. She had always favored the persecution of the Huguenots and the bloody acts of the throne, and Louvois probably thought to please her when he urged the King to add to the terrible executions in the Palatinate and to burn the city of Treves. To this the King would not consent. Louvois did not know his danger, and coming the next day to work with the King, with Madame de Maintenon sitting by as usual, he remarked that he had felt it to be his duty to burn the city of Treves, and had on his own responsibility sent a courier with orders to set fire to the place at once. At this the old King leaped from his chair, seized the tongs from the fire-place, and was making a run at Louvois, when Maintenon seized him, crying : "Oh, Sire, what are you going to do?" Louvois ran out. The King called after him: "Dispatch a courier instantly with a counter order, and let him arrive in time; for, know this, that if a single house is burned your head shall answer for it."

"Of course," says St. Simon, "Louvois had sent off no courier to burn Treves."

From this time forward Louvois was lost. St. Simon says Louvois took two women out to drive in a small caleche. He mused profoundly, in a fit of perfect abstraction, repeating : "Will he ! Will he be made to? No not yet no, he will not dare !" On this he nearly drove them all into the water, and was aroused, as if out of a deep sleep. Suddenly, Louvois died. He had been poisoned by Seron, his private physician, doubtless upon the order of the King, who allowed no one to speak of the affair, until the arrival of an officer sent by the King of England to condole with the King of France upon the loss of his minister premier. St. Simon heard the King reply : "Monsieur, say to the King and Queen of England that my affairs and theirs will go on none the worse for what has happened."

St. Simon believed, from the monologue of Louvois in the caleche, that the poisoning was deemed necessary, owing to the knowledge possessed by Louvois. The King let it be known that on the next day Louvois, had he survived, would have been sent to the Bastille. To displease the sovereign was a serious crime in those days, and Louvois had blasted the hopes of a terrible woman who swayed the King. "The power of Madame de Maintenon," says St. Simon, "was, as may be imagined, immense. Many people have been ruined by her, without having been able to discover the author of their ruin, search as they might. All attempts to find a remedy were equally unsuccessful."

If Madame de Maintenon's life was a sham, a career so false and at the same time so influential should have brought ill-fortune to France, and so it did. She got one of the royal heirs out of the way when she persuaded Louis to undertake the Spanish succession, but those wars began the destruction of France. She appointed cowardly generals and dissipated civilians to command the armies at a time when men like Prince Eugene of Savoy were marching against France. But of all atrocious acts, only a few in modern times rank with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, whereby Henry of Navarre, on becoming a Catholic, had protected the people whom he had led and then deserted. "The revocation," says St. Simon, "and the proscriptions that followed it, were the fruit of a frightful plot, in which the new spouse was one of the chief conspirators" and she a granddaughter of D'Aubigné and the recipient of Madame de Villette's act of salvation. By this edict of Louis XIV, 50,000 families of French silk-workers, glass-blowers, jewelers, and other cunning trades, generally unpractised in Protestant lands, were driven out of France, and established a great commerce in rival countries. At home, thousands were killed and thousands were condemned to the prison-ships. From the torture chamber victims who abjured were taken to the communion-table. Cities were burned, and whereas Isabella and Catherine had been upheld at Rome in their cruel hunt for heretics, a more enlightened Pope actually quarreled with Louis XIV for his inhumanity. What private purpose the resentful woman entertained in thus urging on this unpatriotic persecution has never been divulged, nor did the King, who said "The State? Why, that is I ! I am the State," ever seem to hear from buman lips any other than the declaration that he was daily grappling his loving subjects to his soul with hooks of steel.

As to her daily habits while she was thus in supreme power, she rose very early in the morning and gave audiences for charitable purposes or spiritual affairs. Nearly every beggar in France, it seemed, claimed he had given her a ladle of soup when she was herself a beggar. She saw the ministers as early as 8 o'clock in the morning, or sooner. She dealt principally with the departments of war and finance. She visited their offices they did not call on her. She then went to St. Cyr, and ate alone, giving few audiences. She ruled the establishment, scanned. the reports of converts, read the letters of her chief spies, and returned to Versailles just as the King was entering her rooms. When she got old, she lay down when she reached St. Cyr. Toward 9 in the evening, two waiting women came to undress her, and, after she was ready for bed, a light supper was brought to her. The King and his ministers were meanwhile at work, nor did they speak lower while this was going on. Then she was put in bed, and at 10 o'clock the King, saying good-night, went to his own supper.

Before her bed was her arm-chair ; next was the table ; beyond was the King's arm-chair; at the end of the table was the fireplace; at the other end was a stool for the Minister. By means of the arts secretly practiced on the King, she could obtain whatever she wished, but not at the moment she might wish. He was continually on the lookout, and if he knew she was advancing her own people, he would refuse the appointment. He frequently scolded her so terribly that she said to her brother that life was an intolerable burden. After she got Fagon for King's physician, she could play sick after such abuse by the King, which would then moderate his wrath. But if he were going anywhere, she must go, too, sick or well ; thus she was forced to make some journeys which came near being her last. She liked a warm room; he kept the windows open until 10 o'clock. If the King felt like hearing music, and she were in a high fever, there was music with the light and odor of a hundred wax candles at her sick-bed, the same as if she were well.

The pair grew old together, each the dupe of the other, for she loved power and revenge so well that she endured all things. Nearly all their early acquaintances were dead. In the gloom of their great age, the deaths by poisoning began. First the King's only son died of small-pox; then the Duke of Burgundy, Crown Prince, and his wife, the only person the King had loved in his latter years, fell before the unknown assassins, although there were plenty of warnings, one coming from the King of Spain. Other members of the royal line perished with the same disease —a poisoning that seemed to affect the body like measles —and the King was led to believe that he, too, would be refused the death from natural causes that was now so near at hand owing to his great age. Maintenon plotted to make the Duke of Maine, Montespan's oldest son, Regent during the minority of the little boy (Louis XV) who remained unpoisoned, and the King made a will to that effect.

On the 12th of August, 1715, the King was seriously ill; on the 25th no secret was made of his danger; on Wednesday, the 28th, gangrene attacked his feet, and Madame Maintenon, now seeing her time of revenge well come, went off to St. Cyr. On Thursday he asked for her, and it could not be hidden from him that she had deserted him. He sent for her, and she came back. At 5 o'clock of Friday afternoon, Madame de Maintenon, leaving him again, gave away her furniture to the domestics, and went to St. Cyr, never to leave its walls alive. The King died on Sunday morning at 8 o'clock.

She upon whom he had looked as his guide to a better world, cast off her mask when he was weak, penitent and in fear of the fate he deserved. She, too, was old, and near her tomb. Her heart was dry as summer dust; the candle of her life burned low in the socket. She could spare no tears, even for the curious world to see. We hear that she gave audience only to Peter the Great and the Regent after she went home to St. Cyr. She was very rich, having 4,000 livres a month from the Regent, her estates, and almost no expense. When she saw the Duke of Maine arrested and her plans fail, she took a continuous fever and died on Saturday evening, April 15, 1719, aged 83. She left her wealth to the daughter of her brother, the Duchess of Noailles, and Maintenon still belongs to her descendants.

She was the first of the woman-despots, who, by their political rule over uxorious French monarchs, made the ancient regime so repugnant to human reason that the worst crimes of the Revolution seemed to have some war-rant. There followed her at Versailles the frail Château-roux, the flagrant Pompadour, the vain Du Barry, and then the high-born Marie Antoinette, beautiful daughter of Emperors, went to the scaffold and closed the long account which had been opened in sin and deceit by Madame de Maintenon.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com