Philippe, Duc D'Orleans
Regend of France
Atlantic Monthly Press
THE SON OF MONSIEUR
Philippe d'Orleans was born on 2 August 1674 at Saint-Cloud, the home of his parents, the duc and duchesse d'Orleans, known at court simply as Monsieur and Madame, brother and sister-in-law of King Louis XIV. The birth of a nephew to the King of France was a noteworthy event. But the court of France scarcely noticed; their eyes were fixed on the King himself, who at that very moment was staging a series of spectacular parties at Versailles.
Louis XIV was at the height of his glory, his armies victorious abroad, his authority unchallenged at home. Throughout July and August of 1674 he showed off his new gardens and attractions at Versailles, nominally in honour of the French conquest of the Franche-Comte, actually to celebrate himself and his new mistress, the marquise de Montespan. All the court was busy recalling the last party and awaiting the next; and so, from the very beginning, Philippe was merely a footnote to the overwhelming epic of the glory of his uncle, the Sun King.
That summer, Versailles still conserved some of its original charm as a hunting lodge and summer pavilion. There was as yet no Hall of Mirrors or long stone facades on the garden. Its main beauties were the gardens, laid out in parterres and terraces, studded with pools and fountains, its dense woods arranged into patterns of groves, quincunxes, cabinets de verdure. The Grand Canal stretched to the western horizon, past the Porcelain Trianon and the Menagerie. The air was scented with the perfume of hundreds of orange trees planted in tubs in the new Orangerie. Within the palace, the Grands Appartements were just completed, with their breathtaking decor of coloured marble, their ceilings painted with scenes of gods and goddesses, the walls hung with rich tapestries, the furniture silver and gold. Everything was sparkling and new.
The summer of parties began on 11 July in the gardens of the new Porcelain Trianon, the exquisite blue and white tiled pavilion built for Mme de Montespan. Lully directed a performance of his Eclogue de Versailles under a pergola decorated with flowers. Supper was taken in the new bosquet of the Salle des Festins, marvellously illuminated. A week later there was a collation in the Menagerie and a promenade on the Canal; the King's gondola preceded a miniature galleon, on which musicians and singers gave a concert. Moliere's Malade imaginaire was presented in the Grotto of Thetis. On 28 July Lully's Fetes de l'Amour et de Bacchus was performed in a theatre designed by Berain at the end of the allee du Dragon. After a torchlight promenade in carriages there were fireworks at the Canal, and an open-air supper in the Cour de Marbre.
Philippe had the tact to present himself between parties; the next fete did not take place until 18 August: a collation in a bosquet near Latona, perhaps the Girandole, then, in a theatre improvised in the Orangerie, Racine's Iphigeneia, followed by fireworks over the Canal.
Finally, on 31 August, there took place the last and perhaps most beautiful party of them all. The King and his court rode to the Grand Canal through the illuminated park, then embarked on gilded boats. `Their Majesties boarded richly decorated gondolas,' cooed the diarist Felibien, 'followed by the court, also travelling in beautifully ornamented vessels. Then we saw the water in the canal, calm and unruffled, but seemingly swelling with pride at being privileged to bear the most great and august the world has to offer.'
At thirty-five, the King was in his prime, handsome and vigorous, the centre of everything. He was determined to be the most glorious monarch of his era, and to that end was imposing his authority over almost every aspect of national life. Artists, musicians, writers and architects were called upon to celebrate his magnificence. Idolised, seductive and adored, Louis could regard his handiwork at Versailles with satisfaction. And he could take pleasure in his very public private life. Queen Marie-Therese, a Spanish princess, was submissive and obedient and had done her dynastic duty. Louis had fathered a male heir, a boy thirteen years old in 1674, who, despite his lack of promise, was the only direct heir to the throne. The King continued to honour the Queen with his presence in her bed; but increasingly he visited elsewhere.
The mistress for whom the fete was being given, Athenais de Rochechouart-Mortemart, marquise de Montespan, although already thirty-four, was still a radiant beauty. She had displaced Louise de La Valliere as royal mistress in 1669, and in 1674 the relationship between her and the King was as passionate as ever. Mme de Sevigne has left a description of Mme de Montespan on a summer day at Versailles at about this time. She was playing cards with the King, resplendent `in a gown of French needlepoint lace. Her hair was all done up in curls, black ribbons in her hair, pearls and diamonds all about her person, in a word a triumphant beauty to make all the ambassadors gasp.' And Mme de Montespan was as fertile as she was dazzling. She had already presented the King with three children, who lived at court, looked after by the modest widow Francoise Scarron, newly created marquise de Maintenon.
At no time would Louise XIV be closer to the dazzling, self-selected image of Apollo, the God of the Sun, than he was that summer.
If he turned away from his own magnificence, Louis might observe the only other person in his Kingdom with whom he might entertain the notion, if not of equality, then at least of proximity. That was his only brother Philippe, duc d'Orleans, known at court simply as Monsieur. But Monsieur, two years younger than Louis, was condemned to the shadows. A brave soldier, he had rarely been given the chance to shine; he was never included in the councils of state and had no influence at all on the government of the Kingdom. As a foil to his glorious brother he was perfect. Dependent upon Louis in every way, Monsieur revenged himself in the only way he knew: he flaunted his homosexuality. Perfumed, bejewelled and extravagantly clothed in lace and silk, Monsieur made no secret of his femininity, or his preference for male companions and lovers. Whether through strategy or heredity, Monsieur had developed into a man whose opinions were sought only on matters of ceremony, clothes and gardens. His palace of Saint-Cloud on the banks of the Seine was his passion. If he had not been a royal personage, perhaps he could have pursued his interests untroubled by the duties of marriage and procreation. But, as a member of the semi-divine royal family, he had to marry and attempt to provide children; France needed as many demi-gods as possible.
He and his second wife, Elisabeth-Charlotte of Bavaria, had been married for almost three years; his first wife, Henrietta of England, daughter of the executed Charles I, had died dramatically in 1670 at the age of twenty-seven, collapsing on the terrace of Saint-Cloud. She left Monsieur with two young daughters, Marie-Louise, aged eight, and Anne-Marie, not yet one, and the necessity to marry again in order to provide the required male heir. His new bride was a robust and tomboyish German princess; she it was who had accomplished the bringing forth of a male child.
In fact Philippe was their second son. At his birth he had an elder brother, Alexandre, duc de Valois, who was just over a year old. This was significant, for second sons were traditionally destined for the Church, in order not to spoil the inheritance of the elder. If Alexandre had lived, Philippe might have become a cardinal, a prince of the Church; but the little duc de Valois died before his third birthday, to the intense and prolonged grief of his mother, who never trusted French doctors again, and Philippe, at the age of eighteen months, came into a different birthright, the fortune of the house of Orleans.
Philippe was a very grand personage from birth. He was given the title of duc de Chartres. He was nephew to the King, a Royal Highness, with the exalted rank of Grandson of France, or in other words of Louis XIII.
One's rank determined whether one had to stand at all times or could occasionally sit, and if so whether in an armchair or on a stool; whether one could wear one's hat or was obliged to take it off; whether one could approach the King in his bedroom or only in the antechambers. The hierarchy at court was, after the King, his son, then his brother Monsieur. All these were Sons of France. Then came Philippe, a Grandson of France; then the Princes of the Blood, cousins of the royal family; then the dukes; then the rest of the nobility and so on. Philippe was at the top of the pyramid, but, and it was an important but, he was not of the direct line, merely the junior branch, and with every birth in Louis' own family he would take a step down in precedence. His position was thus from birth subject to change and, despite the sonorous titles, peripheral to the real royal family.
That August there was only rejoicing. Saint-Cloud, so perfect for a summer party, celebrated the newborn boy with fireworks and balls and banquets. The maleness was important; as a general rule, only boys could inherit property and titles. Now Monsieur and Madame had two sons, the proverbial heir and a spare, and that was cause for joy, particularly in view of Monsieur's personality, habits and approach to lovemaking.
After the exciting events of the summer the family at Saint-Cloud settled back. Monsieur, the proud father, was still a good-looking man, although now a little stout. He was short with fine legs and a large nose. He was always enveloped in a huge black wig, his clothes the most gorgeous at court at a time when all the men there were decked out in silk and brocade, lace jabots and plumed hats. He was a passionate gambler, party-giver and gossip. He loved to discuss clothes and jewels and questions of etiquette with women; but for sex he preferred men.
It was said that Monsieur had been perverted for reasons of state so as to render no effective opposition to his elder brother. His mother Anne of Austria (she was not Austrian, but Spanish, a princess of the Hapsburg dynasty who ruled' in Spain) is said to have encouraged him to dress as a girl and follow feminine pursuits. She and Cardinal Mazarin were determined to avoid a repetition of the bloody civil wars of the Fronde in which, from 1648, the nobles and princes of the Blood, including Louis' uncle Gaston, brother of Louis XIII, made war on the crown. Philippe, brother of Louis XIV, would not be allowed to become another Gaston. He had to be rendered ineffectual. Perhaps. But Monsieur's tastes needed little encouraging; and later on it was Louis XIV himself who kept his brother subjugated and humiliatingly dependent upon him. He himself made this chillingly clear; `it can be useful for rulers to see their relatives very much opposite in character. The grandeur and constancy of soul which a king should have shown to better effect in contrast to their softness; and his love of duty and true glory is made infinitely more brilliant when one compares it to the idleness and frivolity of others.' Louis had learnt from the Fronde: one could not trust one's own family. Monsieur would suffer from this perception all his life, and his son after him.
Monsieur had found his great love in Philippe de Lorraine-Armagnac, chevalier de Lorraine. The chevalier was beautiful, `fait comme on peint les anges', utterly corrupt, and had ruled Monsieur from the late 1660s. At the Palais-Royal Monsieur appeared in public dressed as a woman, in decolletage and earrings, led out to the minuet by the chevalier The chevalier de Lorraine controlled Monsieur and his favours; the two Philippes would be a couple until death.
While Monsieur danced, Madame, too, was very much a part of the glamorous life at court. Arriving from Heidelberg four years earlier, gauche and provincial, she had conquered the King by her sense of humour, her enthusiasm and her love of the chase. She plunged into everything with gusto, was infatuated by the theatre and the King. She was no beauty and ran no risk of embarrassing her husband by flirting with Louis as Madame Henriette had done; but she was young and vital and made sure everyone had fun. Madame was at the centre of things. Her son would inherit her humour, intelligence and devouring curiosity.
Her arrival in November 1671 came just over a year after the death of Monsieur's first wife, Henrietta. The rumours that she had been poisoned by Monsieur's jealous lovers singled out the chevalier de Lorraine, exiled to Rome at Henriette's request. The court shuddered at the spectacle of royal mortality. They then turned their attention to the search for a new bride for Monsieur, a somewhat perfunctory procedure which quickly led to the Princess of the Rhine. On the face of it she seemed an inadequate match; she was poor, Protestant and not pretty, but she was promoted by Monsieur's close friend, the formidable Anne of Gonzaga, aunt by marriage to Elisabeth-Charlotte.
And perhaps there was another reason for this marriage. The lands of the Elector Palatine, Elisabeth-Charlotte's father, lay along the Rhine, encompassing the cities of Heidelberg, Mannheim and Karlsruhe; these lands were of the greatest strategic importance to France in case of war with the Holy Roman Emperor, suzerain of the German states. (The Emperor was a Hapsburg; for decades Bourbons and Hapsburgs had divided Europe between them.) Perhaps Louis XIV had already concocted the Macchiavellian plot later attributed to him: to use the excuse of the unpaid dowry of the poor Princess to invade and occupy her country when he deemed it convenient. After all, he had done it before; in 1667 Louis had invaded the Spanish Netherlands, using as pretext the unpaid dowry of his wife, Marie-Therese of Spain. Louis was adept at laying long-term plans; but plotting the marriage of Elisabeth-Charlotte seems too much even for him. Whether or not he planned it, however, it paved the way for the later French destruction of the Rhineland, not just once but twice.
Liselotte, as her family called her, endured a long and miserable journey to France in 1671, along cold and bumpy roads from Heidelberg to Strasbourg. Here she bade farewell to her father, whom she would never see again, and to the person she loved most in the world, her aunt Sophie, her father's sister, the Electress of Hanover.
Liselotte was not ill prepared for domestic controversy. Her father, a cold, studious, arbitrary man, repudiated her mother, a princess of Hesse-Cassel, and sent her back to her own father. He had, even before his wife departed, proclaimed his union with his mistress, the red-haired and submissive Luise von Degenfeld. He eventually gave Luise thirteen children whose rank, since they were the product of bigamy, was very hard to establish. In order to avoid this odd situation, Liselotte, aged seven, was sent to live with her aunt Sophie, who lived in Hanover, and her husband the Elector. She stayed there for four years, returning to Heidelberg as soon as her mother had left. These were happy years in Hanover; Liselotte would love Sophie all her life and write her thousands of letters over the next thirty years.
Liselotte was nineteen, a robust, intelligent girl with few pretensions to beauty and none to elegance. But `she had an open and easy air, a face which, without being regularly beautiful, was not unattractive in its nobility and gentleness'. She also had untameable curly hair, a large nose and a flat forehead, wit, a sense of humour and a lively curiosity. She was noisy, plump and freckled; she preferred playing with toy guns to doing needlework. She was not at all a conventional princess.
Destined for the most luxurious court in Europe and the most fashionable Prince in the world, she brought a trousseau of six gowns. Anne of Gonzaga, arriving in Strasbourg to organise everyone, found the pale-blue taffeta gown she would wear for her proxy marriage in Metz not only unsuitable but embarrassing. In a hurry, she sent out for dressmakers and velvet and brocade. Liselotte was weeping too much to care; she watched her father return home and, even though her childhood in Heidelberg had been difficult, she would always remember it with nostalgia.
Liselotte struggled through interminable services in the cathedral at Metz, where she gave up her Protestant faith and was received into the Catholic Church; through the wedding by proxy, at which the aged marechal Du Plessis-Praslin stood in for her husband; through speeches and fireworks and more travelling to meet her groom at Chalons. When she arrived there she had been on the road for over a month, had changed her faith and become the second lady in France, the bride of a man she had never met.
Monsieur meanwhile had arrived in Chalons in a very different procession. A magnificent entourage, all in splendid new outfits, cheering crowds, fireworks, declarations of loyalty, had all followed him. There were moving references to his recent widowerhood and to his hopes of a son for France. Trumpets sounded, wine ran from fountains, bishops delivered homilies, magistrates presented the keys to their cities, triumphal arches sprang up along the way. Monsieur was enjoying it all immensely. And there was another, more questionable reason for his good temper. On the very day on which Liselotte arrived at Strasbourg, Louis XIV had given his permission for the chevalier de Lorraine to return to court from his exile in Italy. When Monsieur heard the news, he threw himself at his brother's feet and kissed his hand in an ecstasy of joy. It was not a gallant act towards the unsuspecting new wife.
And so they met, the fresh and the faded, innocence and disillusion. Philippe was covered in jewels, balanced on high-heeled shoes, a huge black wig obscuring his face. It appeared that he was wearing rouge. Liselotte, rising from her curtsy, was speechless; Monsieur, it is said, turned to his entourage and whispered, `Oh! comment pourrai-je coucher avec elle?'
The couple entered the town of Chalons, stopping on the way to listen to a concert (which muse have been torture for Monsieur, who had no ear for music) and then heard a nuptial blessing from the Bishop. Afterwards there was no help for it; the couple had to enter their apartment at the Bishop's palace and into the mystery of intimacy.
Perhaps because his new partner was a robust, rather masculine woman, Monsieur managed to procreate. With Madame Henriette, very feminine and a flirt, it had been harder. Even so, the fact that the second marriage produced three children was rather remarkable. Monsieur clearly found sexual intercourse with women difficult and had to resort to the mediation of higher powers to accomplish his aim. Madame confided much later that Monsieur always brought to bed a rosary hung with holy medals, in order to say his prayers. One night she heard a great rattling of medals under the blanket and asked what he was doing; on his refusal to tell her she got up and shone the nightlight into the bed. Monsieur was clutching his rosary to his private parts. `You do not persuade me at all, Monsieur,' she said, `that you are honouring the Virgin by placing her image on those parts destined to relieve virginity.' Monsieur had the grace to laugh and begged her not to tell anyone; she apparently kept her word for forty years.
There is an air of affectionate complicity about this story; and at the beginning, despite the obvious difficulties, Monsieur and Madame did not get along too badly. There was one more child after Philippe, a girl born in 1676, named Elisabeth-Charlotte. Then the couple retired to separate beds, much to the relief of both parties. `When Monsieur slept in my bed,' Madame wrote to Sophie many years later, `I was always obliged to lie on the very edge, and often fell out in my sleep. Monsieur couldn't bear to be touched, and if I stretched out my foot and accidentally brushed against him in my sleep he would wake me up and berate me for half an hour. Really, I was very glad when he decided to sleep in his own room and let me lie peacefully without fear of falling out or being scolded.' Monsieur renewed his pursuit of virile young men, while remaining the slave of the chevalier de Lorraine.
Philippe, consigned to the care of nursemaids, was too young to understand the oddity of his parentage. Rank meant that, however bizarre Monsieur and Madame might be, no one would regard them with any less deference. They were royal, which in those days meant semi-divine. Unusual behaviour did not make them less so. Madame, having done her dynastic duty, enjoyed the pleasures of the hunt and the beauty of her surroundings, and lavished affection on her little boy. In this he was fortunate: most princes and noblemen sent their children off to a wet-nurse, and ignored them until they were old enough to be presentable in society. Motherhood was not considered a duty; the bond between parent and child was a fragile one. Children were seen as pieces of property or assets to be managed for the profit of the house. Boys were much more valuable because they carried on the family name; but younger brothers would be sent into the Church or to make their own way. Girls would disappear into convents unless they could be well married. In this environment Madame's enjoyment of her children was unusual.
Madame first mentions her son in a letter to Sophie. The boy was three months old when his mother informed her aunt that a horoscope had been cast for him which predicted he would be Pope. Madame found this most amusing: `I'm very much afraid that he's more likely to be the Antichrist.' The little duc de Chartres was given a governess of noble birth and a household of maids and footmen. The post of governess, like all other posts in the ancien regime, was hereditary. Every post, even those of ministers of state, was handed down from father to son or mother to daughter. Only if the next generation was hopelessly incapable would the post be sold. Thus Philippe's first governess was Mme de Clerambault, who had been governess to the daughters of Madame Henriette; she was a widow, a woman who loved to gamble and always wore a mask of black velvet to protect her fine complexion. She had no discernible talent in handling young children, and in fact neglected her own children completely, but Madame liked her, as did Saint-Simon, who praised her for `un tour, un sel, une finesse, etc... un naturel inimitable (`her turns of phrase, salty wit, finesse... and lack of affectation'). She had very little to do with her new charge.
Philippe was too young to know of his father's last appearance on the field of battle, at Cassel in April 1677. Monsieur had spent the spring and summer of the previous years serving in the army in Flanders and the Netherlands. At Cassel, he won a significant victory over William of Orange and showed great personal bravery, but after this success he never served again. Louis XIV did not want a rival in any sphere; his brother had to go back to his houses and gardens.
Monsieur turned his energies to the transformation and embellishment of his chateau at Saint-Cloud. Following the advice of his chancellor, the artistic Bechamel (a great gourmet after whom the sauce was named), Monsieur hired his own team of artists and architects, preferring Giraud, Le Pautre, Nocret and Mignard to the King's team of Le Vau and Le Brun. The place was already splendid in 1677. The chateau stood on high ground facing the Seine and Paris. The facade to the courtyard was majestic, tall windows piercing carved stone. In the north wing was the Galerie d'Apollon, precursor of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles; this magnificent gallery had thirteen windows, each facing a painting of one of the royal residences. Along the walls were tabourets of carved and gilded wood covered with crimson velvet. In the centre of the room, busts of Roman emperors stood on marble-topped tables. The entrance to the Galerie was flanked by the salons of Diane and of Mars; the latter led to the Salon des Rois, where the portraits of Monsieur's ancestors were hung.
In October 1678 Monsieur gave a party to show his brother the new Galerie and its decoration. The King, Queen and Dauphin arrived with all the court to see the elegant new appointments and the marvellous gardens. The Hall of Mirrors was just being started at Versailles and the King was very curious. It was important that Saint-Cloud be grand and royal, but it should not overshadow the rising glories of Versailles. The Salon de Mars, the Galerie d'Apollon, the Salon de Diane were shown, with their painted ceilings, gilded reliefs in stucco, marble columns. `I very much hope, Madame,' remarked the King, `that the paintings in my gallery at Versailles will be as beautiful as these.' For the sake of the architects at Versailles, everyone else hoped so too.
Monsieur had his private suite in the part of the building looking west over the Orangerie, running parallel to the state rooms which overlooked the courtyard. When the English visitor Martin Lister saw these rooms, he reported:
The first you enter is furnished with a great variety of rock crystals, cups, agates upon small stands, and the sides of the room are lined with large panes of looking glass from top to bottom, with Japan varnish and paintings of equal breadth intermixt; which had a marvellous pretty effect. The other room had in it a great quantity of bijoux, and many of very great price; but the Siam pagodas, and other things from thence, were very ordinary.
Madame had a suite of four rooms overlooking the gardens to the south, all decorated with delicate frescoes and paintings by Nocret. In her antechamber hung his famous painting of members of the Royal family, living and dead, as the gods of Olympus, with Madame Henriette prominently displayed in deshabille as Spring.
Madame's favourite room was her cabinet or study. It had three windows facing south and was furnished with a day bed covered in crimson damask, gilded chairs, tables of precious wood, a marquetry desk and, the most important possession of all, a writing table. Here she wrote her letters every day in her own hand, mostly to her Aunt Sophie in Hanover, but also to her half-brothers and sisters in Heidelberg.
Madame's windows looked out on to the Bassin des Cygnes and along tree-lined avenues. From every window of Saint-Cloud marvellous vistas stretched to the horizon, punctuated with pools and fountains. The parterres and statues, bosquets and allees, made Saint-Cloud the epitome of a formal French garden of the time. All through Philippe's childhood, wonders were unfolded there. Monsieur would give more than a thousand dinners, suppers and parties of all kinds at this `palais des delices'.
Le Notre had worked such miracles with the difficult terrain and levels, so much so that many thought Saint-Cloud more agreeable than Versailles. Of course, none said so to the King. Monsieur had, perhaps, better taste than his brother, but that thought too had to go unexpressed. Madame, however, made no bones about it, telling Sophie that `between ourselves, I find our gardens more pleasing than those of Versailles, even though they are not as magnificent, but they are more intimate and shadier'.
In August 1679 Sophie herself came to visit; she too was impressed by Saint-Cloud and preferred it to Versailles. But aunt and niece had many other matters to discuss, for they had not seen each other since that tearful day in Strasbourg over seven years before. And Madame was celebrating, if that was the word, the imminent marriage of her step-daughter, seventeen-year-old Marie-Louise, to the King of Spain, the imbecilic Charles II. Poor Marie-Louise was distraught; she had wanted to marry the Dauphin and stay in France, and she had heard the talk of her future husband's fragile hold on reality. His portrait could not disguise his ugly Hapsburg chin and feeble air. When Louis XIV informed her of the match and graciously said that he could not have done more for his own daughter, Marie-Louise had cried, `But you could have done more for your niece!' Monsieur, impervious to his daughter's anguish, and thrilled at her new rank, busied himself with her trousseau. Sophie came upon him in his bonnet de nuit arranging the jewels for himself, his wife and daughters.
Marie-Louise left the Palais-Royal with the words of Louis XIV echoing in her ears: `Madame, I hope to be saying farewell to you for ever; it would be the greatest misfortune to see you again in France.' Mme de Sevigne saw the new Queen weeping as she passed, her only consolation the two little dogs with her in the carriage. Madame sadly followed her as far as Orleans, leaving the marechale de Clerambault to conduct her to the frontier. On the journey there were reports of a scandalous affair between the Princess and one of her entourage, the comte de Saint-Chamand. When Mme de Clerambault returned to Paris at the end of the year she was promptly dismissed by Monsieur and banished from the Palais-Royal. Saint-Chamand was sent to his estates. If there had been a dalliance, it was Marie-Louise's last happy time. The next ten years would be tragic. Married to an imbecile, suffocated by the gloom and religiosity of the Spanish Court, she gave herself up to gluttony and despair.
Louis XIV did not concern himself with his niece's happiness; in the summer and fall of 1679 the King had a new mistress. She was one of the four filles d'honneur of Madame, a gorgeous redhead called Marie-Angelique de Fontanges. Mlle de Fontanges was very pretty, although not very clever.
The King made her both a duchess and pregnant. But her days of glory were short-lived; after a miscarriage she left the court for a convent and died in June 1681. By then the atmosphere at court was such that many people believed Mme de Montespan had had her poisoned.
How had Mme de Montespan, the dazzling beauty of the court, the radiant inspiration of all the splendid court fetes, she for whom the Porcelain Trianon had been created, fallen so low? After 1674 she had given the King two more children, Francoise-Marie in 1677 and Louis-Alexandre in 1678. After that the King avoided her, although he did not dismiss her from court; she still lived in her spacious apartment at Versailles and at the nearby chateau of Clagny. But the appalling scandal known as the `affair of the poisons' was the dark secret of the age. Since various unsavoury characters had been arrested in Paris in March 1679 -- a collection of abortionists, black magicians, and swindlers -- an official investigation had gradually been uncovering ghastly doings, including murders by poison. The names involved had become grander and moved disturbingly close to the throne. In 1680 warrants were issued for the arrest of the comtesse de Soissons, the duchesse de Bouillon, the marquise d'Alluye, the princesse de Tingry and the marechal de Luxembourg. And then in 1682 the investigation was dropped; perhaps because, as was suspected, the name of Mme de Montespan was being mentioned with increasing frequency. Athenais stayed at Versailles for another ten years; her children by Louis were brought up as royalty by the pious and widowed Francoise de Maintenon. But Louis had irretrievably cooled towards her. And he was spending more and more time with the modest governess.
Philippe was too young to understand the ramifications of the affair of the poisons, but not too young to comprehend, however dimly, the peculiar, almost sadistic, relationship between the all-powerful King and his own father. It was clear that Monsieur was forbidden to compete with his brother on any level. Had not Louis said that the princes of the royal house must `never have any other shelter than the court nor any other refuge than in the heart of the King'? The entire and crushing dependence of the younger brother was made manifest every day in public. When at court, Monsieur must humbly hand the King his shirt in the morning, his napkin at meal times and his nightshirt at bedtime. Only with the King's express permission might he sit at table with him, and then only on a stool. Monsieur seemed to revel in the abasement. At the Palais-Royal there were jealous scenes between Monsieur and his `mignons', followed by abject apologies. As Philippe commenced his education, the formation of his mind, he had a great deal to observe.
(C) 1997 Christine Pevitt All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-87113-695-3
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