A Strange Romance, The Sun King and the School Teacher
Out of our humble little vacation home in France, and into our little tin Suzuki, we drove into the era of Louis XIV by just putting down the road to pick up a baguette in the village. The ruins of the aqueduct that never quite got the water to Versailles frames the Chateau de Maintenon. And the story, aah that is the fun part. The improbable romance of it all. Let me tell you:
We’ve all heard of the Sun King, Louis XIV who reigned so many years in France.
This is his most famous portrait, obviously around middle age at the time. Historians have noted that Number Fourteen liked the looks of his own legs and made sure that they were properly displayed in all royal portraits. But this story starts when he is in his 30’s, in his prime and cutting a wide swathe with the ladies.
He’d been king since he was a boy. He’d been married for years to Marie Therese of Austria.
It was an arranged marriage, of course, and was a love match for neither of them. I personally think the young Queen got the worst of the bargain. She missed her mother and her homeland, her children were sickly and she died young.
From all accounts Louis was a good king for France. It was good to be the King, to quote Mel Brooks.
He liked the looks of a married woman and made her his mistress, so her husband exiled himself to get out of the King’s way. She and Louis had four children. He gave her a beautiful castle and all the trimmings. Part of the trimmings was a wise little woman to govern the children and actually run the household. Her name was Francoise d’ Aubigne. (Fun to say: Fran Zwahs D Oh-bin-yey.)
Here’s where you expect to hear that she was lovely, sensual. Nope. She was trim little lady, older than the king, and religious. She took the kids on field trips and told them the children of a king must know the people who might someday be their subjects. (It was of course a possibility, if Louis legitimized them and his other heirs did not survive him.)
When the King called on his mistress he observed Francoise’s ways and came to respect this little lady. She engaged him in intellectual conversation and they laughed together. Oh, oh. She was a real woman, not royal, not glamorous.
Then poor Marie Therese died. The royal mistress prepared to become Queen. Finally. But you guessed it. Louis was smitten with Francoise.
It is told that jokes were made about the King falling for an older, dowdy woman when he could have any woman in the world. But, and this is the great part, for the next 32 years he proved his love for her was real.
She would not become his mistress. She was not of royal blood, but she wanted to be married. She did not care if she was Queen, she never aspired to that. So they were married,he 45 and she 47, a morganatic marriage, in the church and witnessed by many.
From that day forward they were together every day. She traveled with him, and he consulted her for her good advice in many matters. He gave her the Chateau de Maintenon from which she took her new name, Madame d’ Maintenon. Not Queen, not Mrs., but in every way his wife.
Louis reigned for many years, outlived all his children, then died in her arms. Francoise lived four more years, at age 83 as she lay dying Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, came to her bedside just to get a look at this amazing person.