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The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Françoise…

The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Françoise d'Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon

by Veronica Buckley

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1014183,657 (3.5)None
This work presents the extraordinary story of Francoise d'Aubigne, who managed to make her way from grimmest poverty to the delicate position of becoming Louis XVI's secret wife and uncrowned queen.



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The UK keeps turning out excellent historical biographers. Veronica Buckley, author of the previously reviewed Christina Queen of Sweden, does it again with Madame de Maintenon. Originally Françoise d’Aubigné and a Huguenot and impoverished; then 15-year-old wife of a disfigured and somewhat scandalous poet, Paul Scarron; then Scarron’s widow and appointed governess to the increasing number of bastards sired by Louis XIV, then Louis’ mistress and ennobled as the Marquise d’Maintenon, then Louis’ secret wife, and finally a contented recluse after Louis’ death. She seems to have navigated all this with aplomb: adequately religious for the time and place; adequately virtuous (she supposedly became the king’s mistress to keep him from having too many extramarital affairs, and the queen reportedly agreed, saying “Thank God for Madame d’Maintenon!”); and adequately amorous (Louis apparently valued Françoise because she was “comfortable”; previous mistresses may have been more exotic but also more demanding and more likely to intervene in politics). Françoise’s immediate predecessor as royal mistress was Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemarte, Marquise de Montespan. Madame de Montespan (see Athénaïs,) had become in involved in the notorious “Affair of the Poisons”, where an assortment of noble and common ladies had supposedly become involved in witchcraft, as sort of a hobby for the bored and the situation became too scandalous for the king to ignore; the various noble ladies, including Athénaïs, were discretely instructed to withdraw themselves from court. The non-noble ladies were burned. After this Louis may have decided he needed somebody a little more ordinary.

Buckley covers both the personalities and the background history well; I learned quite a bit about 17th-century international politics. Illustrated with relevant contemporary pictures. Excellent footnotes and references, but could use some maps as an aide to understanding Louis’ campaigns in the Netherlands. Good if you’re fond of The Three Musketeers, Cyrano de Bergerac, and/or Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy. ( )
2 vote setnahkt | Jun 28, 2019 |
A clear and concise history of Francoise D'Aubigne, otherwise known as Madame de Maintenon. She became the second (and morganatic) wife of the Sun King Louis XIV. Francoise was thought by contemporaries to be a negative influence on the King, but she truly seems to have had more common sense than he. If not for his excessive construction projects and incessant warfare-and the ever increasing taxation to pay for it-there would probably have been no uprising 80 years later. No Revolution, and the removal of the French monarchy, and the heads of The Sun King's great grandson and his wife.
This book is easy to follow and I would recommend it to French history buffs, especially anyone looking for the reasons behind the Fremch Revolution. ( )
  a1stitcher | Jun 22, 2019 |
The story of Francoise D'Aubigne, Madame de Maintenon and mistress and later (possibly) secret morganatic queen to the Sun King. Francoise was an admirable woman, witty and good-hearted. After an impoverished childhood (her father was gently born but flaky, perhaps even a con man), she went to Paris and befriended the crippled but clever writer Scarron. He died after only ~five years of marriage, leaving her a pretty, probably virginal widow of 24. She spent the next few years taking care of friends' children, and eventually her reputation came to the notice of Athenais de Montespan. Athenais was the King's mistress, but her husband refused to pretend to be the father of her illegitimate children. To maintain her reputation, Athenais had her infants (of which there were five) each spirited away as soon as they were born, to live with the sensible and virtuous Francoise. Eventually the King started visiting his little bastards, he took notice of Francoise, and after some time they fell in love. There were many other, prettier, younger, more nobly born mistresses throughout his affair with Francoise, but he stayed with her, and accorded her honors, until his death. After he died, she went to live (apparently quite happily) in a little convent and died peacefully thereafter.

I'd have liked this book more if it weren't so scattered. I felt like I knew all the political intrigue and how each battle went and how every single person at court felt about every single other person at court, and truthfully it got a bit uninteresting. A more focused book could have kept me glued to the page, because certainly she led a fascinating life. Still, it's pretty well-written and the author provides plenty of personage's opinions in their own words. I do appreciate that. Plus, it's a great source for bon mots popular in the French court at the time, and anecdotes to horrify your friends. Like the time the King of Spain peed into a beaver hat. Or that when the French peasants were starving because the king's army had forcibly taken all their grain, their Archbishop advised them to fast and pray for forgiveness. Hilarity! ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
An excellent eye-opening biography, but full of errors. Can't be trusted. Too bad. ( )
  SandraGulland | Dec 20, 2008 |
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