Poison Matters of Madame de Montespan
As you well know, all women are conniving and deceitful creatures. They are power hungry and eager to do anything they can in order to work their way into a higher living status. Such is the story with our latest suspect, Madame de Montespan; acclaimed mistress in title of King Louis XIV and lady of honor, or should we say lady of dishonor, of Queen Marie Therese of Austria.
Born of a noble family, our lady began her life if the village Lussac-the-Castles in Vienna. Father, Gabriel duke of Mortemart, was a well-honored man by King Louis XIII with headings such as first gentleman of the room, knight of the Saint Spirit, and governor and general lieutenant of the provinces of Metz, Toul, and Verdun. Mother Diane de Grandseigne was also in a position of high standing as lady-in-waiting of Queen Anne from Austria. In order to become prepared for her own future in the courts, Madame de Montespan was placed in a convent to learn all the workings of a noble lady.
Her plan for court life was fulfilled when she was sent to Paris and allowed to enter the court at the age of twenty. Assuming the name of Tonnay-Charente, she became lady of honor of Queen Marie Therese, wife of Louis XIV. In her position of lady of honor, Madame de Montespan became close with the current mistress of the King. This woman, Mademoiselle de La Valliere, was devoted greatly to the king and bore him 4 children, two of which survived. Montespan gave La Valliere much advice and comfort and was just as much a lady of honor of La Valliere as she was for the Queen herself. However, Louis was beginning to pay close attention to his wife’s lady of honor. In order to show La Valliere that she had lost the king’s favor, he made La Valliere a duchess, resulting in her retirement to the Carmelite convent to be celebrated for her zeal for God. It was common in these times not only for kings to have so many mistresses, but likewise for them to retire to convent when they had outstayed their welcome in the courts.
As Madame de Montespan took over the role of mistress in title of Louis XIV, she found herself quickly pregnant. Many children were born of this relationship and only the best was given them. Louis César (1672-1683) became count of Vexin, abbot of Saint German of the Meadows, and prince of Bourbon. Louise Francoise (1673-1743) became young lady of Nantes. Louise Marie Anne (1674-1681) was young lady of Turns and also princess of Bourbon. Francoise Marie (1677-1749) became young lady of Blois and duchess of Orleans. The last of the children, Louis Alexandre, (1678-1731) was made count of Toulouse and also declared prince of blood in 1714. Naturally, these children would need an education worthy of such wealthy people. A woman named Madame de Maintenon was hired as governess of the children and was to oversee their education. It is not unstartling though that a woman who spent so much time around the courts would soon take up favor with the king. As Madame de Montespan’s voluptuous beauty began to fade, Louis XIV replaced her with the very governess of his children with Montespan!!
Madame de Maintenon was a devout Catholic woman and would use her moral abilities to gain power in the courts as well. Before she became the second wife of Louis XIV, she had been married to the poet Paul Scarron and received a pension from the courts. Although her husband passed away, she continued to receive this pension, which proved how favored a woman could be by the king if she played her cards right. Made marquise, Maintenon was loved dearly by even the wife of the king before the queen’s death, with the queen dying in her arms. As Madame de Maintenon became queen, she exercised considerable influence over Louis and greatly lifted the moral tone of the court. Such behaviors were admired by the citizens of France, but were dreaded by our lady Madame de Montespan. This meant that she had lost her sovereignty in the court-life.
The woman who plays the most key role in the affair of poisons for Madame de Montespan, however, is a young woman named Mademoiselle de Fontanges. She was a mistress of the king while Montespan was influencing him as well. The interesting part of this area of our story is that Mademoiselle de Fontanges not only became pregnant with Louis’s child, but lost it as well. It was common for miscarriage to occur in this day but this miscarriage was said to be the work of a jealous Madame de Montespan. Many women were accused of witchcraft and poisonry during this day, and Madame de Montespan held all this to her name. After the miscarriage of Mademoiselle de Fontanges, she slowly weakened and died. One of the longest, most hidden court cases in the history of France was the one of the trial of witchcraft of Madame de Montespan. Louis XIV did everything in his power to keep it hidden, however, because if anyone found out that his mistress in title had been involved in such behaviors, it would have been detrimental to the appearance of dignity in the courts.
It is actually fascinating to note that at the end of the case, there were at least three black trunk cases full of documents relating to the trial. Louis entrusted this information to few close companions and declared it should be destroyed upon his death. Some of the documents were retained and exist today.
To conclude our story, I will state that Madame de Montespan was a most thrilling person from her treatment of court life, to her loyalties, to her sorcery. I learned a great deal about the workings of the Renaissance court by reading tales of her and exploring more into how she was able to do as she did. If not for the records kept by the court, we would not have this most fascinating story of witches and lovers….and I would not have the knowledge of a woman’s struggle to gain prominence in an unforgiving society.