If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten. — Rudyard Kipling

Louis XIV - John S. C. Abbott




The Secret Marriage


1685-1689


The king exerted all his powers of persuasion to induce Madame de Maintenon to enter into the same relations with him which Madame de Montespan had occupied. At last she declared, in reply to some passionate reproaches on his part, that she should be under the necessity of withdrawing from the court and retiring to the cloister, rather than continue to expose herself to a temptation which was destroying her peace of mind and undermining her health. Under these circumstances the king had been led to think of a private marriage. At first his pride revolted from the thought. But in no other way could he secure Madame de Maintenon.

Rumors of the approaching marriage were circulated through the court. The dauphin expostulated with his father most earnestly against it, and succeeded in inducing the king to consult the Abbé Fenelon and Louvois. They both protested against the measure as compromising the dignity of the monarch and the interests of the nation. Bossuet, however, urged the marriage. Boldly he warned the king against entering again into such connections as those which had hitherto sullied his life, wounded his reputation, and endangered his eternal welfare.

Pure as Madame de Maintenon was, the devotion of the king to her was so marked that her reputation began to suffer. She felt the unjust imputations cast upon her very keenly. The king at last resolved that it should be so no longer. Having come to a decision, he acted very promptly. It was a cold night in January, 1686. A smothering snow-storm swept the streets of Paris. At half past ten o'clock a court messenger entered the archiepiscopal palace with a sealed packet, requesting the archbishop to repair immediately to Versailles to perform the marriage ceremony. The great clock of the Cathedral was tolling the hour of eleven as the prelate entered his carriage in the darkness and the storm. At half past twelve he reached the gate of the chateau. Here Bontems, the first valet de chambre of the king, conducted the archbishop to the private closet of his majesty. Madame de Maintenon was there in full dress. Louis XIV. stood by her side. In the same apartment were the Marquis de Montechevreuil and the king's confessor, Pére la Chaise.

Miss Pardoe thus describes the scene that ensued:

"As the eye of the king rested upon the archbishop, he exclaimed, 'Let us go.' Taking the hand of the lady, he led her forward through the long suite of rooms, followed by the other actors in this extraordinary scene, who moved on in profound silence, thrown for an instant into broad light by the torch carried by Bontems, and then suddenly lost in the deep darkness beyond its influence. Nothing was to be heard as the bridal party proceeded save the muffled sound of their footsteps, deadened by the costly carpets over which they trod. But it was remarked that as the light flashed for an instant across the portraits of his family which clothed the walls, Louis XIV. glanced eagerly and somewhat nervously upon them, as though he dreaded the rebuke of some stern eye or haughty lip for the weakness of which he was about to become guilty."

The marriage ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of Paris. There were eight persons present as witnesses, most of them of high distinction. The king was in the forty-eighth year of his age, and Madame de Maintenon in her fifty-second. The marriage was celebrated with all the established ceremonies of the Church, the solemnization of the mass, the exchange of marriage rings, and the pronouncing of the benediction by the archbishop. A magnificent suite of apartments was prepared for Madame de Maintenon at Versailles. She retained her own liveries, but thenceforward appeared in public only in the carriage of the king. Though by her own private attendants she was addressed as "your majesty," she was never publicly recognized as the queen. The king addressed her simply as Madame.

Though the morning after the nuptials the astounding rumor spread through the court that the king had actually married the Widow Scarron, still there were no positive vouchers found for the fact. As she was never recognized as the queen, for a long time many doubts rested upon the reality of the marriage.

It was a matter of necessity that Madame de Montespan should call upon Madame de Maintenon, and pay her respects to her as the real though unrecognized wife of the monarch. Dressed in her richest robes, and glittering with jewels, the discarded favorite entered the apartment of her hated rival. The king was seated by her side. His majesty rose, bowed formally, and took his seat. Madame de Maintenon did not rise, but, with a slight flush upon her cheek, motioned to Madame de Montespan to take a seat upon a tabouret  which stood near by. The king scarcely noticed her. Madame de Maintenon addressed her in a few words of condescension. The unhappy visitor, after a short struggle to regain her composure, rose from the humble stool upon which she had been seated, and, repeating the stately reverences which etiquette required, withdrew from the room.

With crushed heart she retired to her apartment, and, weeping bitterly, threw herself upon a sofa. She soon sent for her son, the Duke du Maine, hoping to hear, from his lips at least, words of sympathy. But the duke, who had reproached his mother with his dishonorable birth, and who, by a royal decree, had been recognized as a prince, was not at all disposed to cultivate intimate relations with that mother, now that the memory of disgrace only would be perpetuated by that recognition. Without the exhibition of the slightest emotion, the duke addressed his mother in a few cold, formal words, and left her. The marchioness summoned her carriage, and left Versailles and the court forever. As she cast a last look upon the palace, she saw the king standing at the balcony of a window watching her departure.

The reader will be interested in learning the routine of a day as passed by this most sumptuous of earthly kings amidst the splendors of Versailles. At eight o'clock in the morning the under valets carefully entered the bedchamber, opened the shutters, replenished the wood fire, if cold, and removed the ample refreshments which were always placed by the royal bedside in case the king should need food during the night.

The first valet then entered, carefully dressed, and took his stand respectfully by the side of the bed-curtains. At half past eight precisely he drew the curtains and awoke the king, assuming always that he was asleep. The valet then immediately retired to an adjoining room, where several distinguished members of the court were in waiting, and communicated to them the important intelligence that the king no longer slept.

The folding doors were thrown open, and the dauphin, attended by his two sons, the eldest of whom was entitled Monsieur, and the youngest the Duke of Chartres, entered, and inquired of the king how he had passed the night. They were immediately followed by the Duke du Maine and the Count de Toulouse, sons of Madame de Montespan, and by the first lord of the bedchamber and the grand master of the robes. They were succeeded by the first valet of the wardrobe, and by several officers, each bearing a portion of the royal vestments. The two medical attendants of the king, the physician and surgeon, also entered at the same time.

The king, still remaining pillowed in his gorgeous bed, held out his hands, and his first valet de chambre poured upon them a few drops of spirits of wine, holding beneath them a basin of silver. The first lord of the bedchamber presented a vase of holy water, with which the king made the sign of the cross upon his brow and breast. His majesty then repeated a short prayer. A collection of wigs was presented to him. He selected the one which he wished to wear. As the king rose from his couch, the first lord of the bedchamber drew upon him his dressing-gown, which was always a richly embroidered and costly robe.

The king then sat down, and, holding out one sacred foot after the other, his valet, Bontems, drew on his stockings and his slippers of embroidered velvet. The monarch condescended to place upon his head, with his own hand, the wig which he had selected. Again the devout monarch crossed himself with holy water, and, emerging from the balustrade which inclosed the bed, seated himself in a large arm-chair. He was now prepared for what was called The First Entrée.

The chief lord of the bedchamber, with a loud voice, announced The First Entrée. A number of courtiers, who were peculiarly favored, were then admitted to the distinguished honor of seeing his majesty washed and shaved. The barber of the king removed his beard and gently washed his face with a sponge saturated with spirits of wine and water. The king himself wiped his face with a soft towel, while Bontems held the glass before him.

And now the master of the robes approached to dress the king. Those who had been present at what was called the petit lever  retired. A new set of dignitaries, of higher name and note, crowded the anteroom to enjoy the signal honor of being present at the Grand Entrée, that is, of witnessing the sublime ceremony of seeing shirt, trowsers, and frock placed upon his sacred majesty.

Three of the highest officers of the court stood at the door, attended by several valets and door-keepers of the cabinet. Admission to the Grand Entrée  was considered so great an honor that even princes sought it, and often in vain.

As each individual presented himself, his name was whispered to the first lord of the bedchamber, who repeated it to the king. When the monarch made no reply the visitor was admitted, and the duke walked back to his station near the fireplace, where he marshaled the new-comers to their several places in order to prevent their pressing too closely about his majesty. Princes and governors, marshals and peers, were alike subjected to this tedious and somewhat humiliating ceremony, from which three individuals alone were excepted, Racine, Boileau, and Mansard. On their arrival at the guarded door they simply scratched against the panel, when the usher threw open the folding door, and they stood in the presence of the monarch.

Racine
RACINE.


In the mean time, a valet of the wardrobe delivered to a gentleman of the chamber the socks and garters, which the gentleman  presented to the monarch, and which socks his majesty deigned to draw on himself. Even with his own hand he clasped the garters with their diamond buckles. Etiquette did not allow the king to unclasp them at night. The head valet de chambre enjoyed the privilege of unclasping the garter of the right leg, while a more humble attendant performed the same office for the left leg.

A distinguished officer of the household presented the monarch with his haut de chausses  (breeches), to which silk stockings were attached; the king drew them on; another gentleman put on his shoes; another gentleman buckled them. Two pages, richly dressed in crimson velvet embroidered with gold, removed the slippers which the king had laid aside.

And now came the royal breakfast. Two officers of the household entered, in picturesque attire, one bearing a loaf of bread on an enameled salver, and another a folded napkin between two enameled plates. The royal cup-bearer handed a golden vase, richly decorated, to one of the lords. He poured into it a small quantity of wine and water. Another lord tasted of it, to prove that it contained no poison. The vase was then carefully rinsed, and being again filled with the wine and water, was presented to the king on a gold salver.

His majesty drank. Then the dauphin, who was always present at these solemnities, handed his hat and gloves to the first lord in waiting, and presented the monarch with a napkin with which to wipe his lips. Breakfast was a very frugal repast. Having partaken of these slight refreshments, the king laid aside his dressing-gown. One of his lordly attendants then assisted him in removing his night-shirt by the left sleeve. It was Bontems's peculiar privilege to draw it off by the right sleeve.

Boileou
BOILEAU.


The royal shirt, which had been carefully warmed, was then given to the first lord. He presented it to the dauphin, who approached and presented it to the king. Some one of the higher lords, previously designated for the honor, assisted the king in the arrangement of his shirt and breeches. A duke enjoyed the honor of putting on his inner waistcoat. Two valets presented the king with his sword, vest, and blue ribbon. A nobleman then stepped forward and buckled on the sword, assisted in putting on the vest, and placed over his shoulders a scarf bearing the cross of the Holy Ghost in diamonds, and the cross of St. Louis.

The king then drew on his under coat, with the assistance of the grand master of the robes, adjusted his cravat of rich lace, which was folded round his neck by a favorite courtier, and finally emptied into the pockets of the loose outer coat, which was presented to him for that purpose, the contents of those which he had worn the previous day. He then received two handkerchiefs of costly point from another attendant, by whom they were carried on an enameled saucer of oval shape called salve. His toilet once completed, Louis XIV. returned to the ruelle  of his bed, where he knelt down upon two cushions already prepared for him, and said his prayers; all the bishops and cardinals entering within the balustrade in his suite, and reciting their devotional exercises in a suppressed voice.

The king, being thus dressed, retired from his chamber to his cabinet. He was followed, in solemn procession, by all those dignitaries of Church and State who had enjoyed the privilege of the Grand Entrée. He then issued the orders of the day, after which all withdrew excepting some of his children, whom a royal decree had legitimatized and raised to the rank of princes, with their former tutors or governors.

In the mean time a crowd of courtiers were assembled in the great gallery of Versailles, to accompany the king to mass. The captain of the royal guard awaited orders at the door of the cabinet. At 12 o'clock the door was thrown open, and the king, followed by a splendid retinue, proceeded to the chapel.

The service was short. At one o'clock the king returned to his room, and dined sumptuously and alone. He was waited upon, at the table, by the first gentleman of the chamber. Sometimes the dauphin or other lords of highest rank were present, but they stood respectfully at a distance. No one was permitted to be seated in the royal presence. The brother of the king stood at times by the chair of his majesty, holding his napkin for him. Upon the king's twice requesting him to be seated, he was permitted to take a seat upon a stool, behind the king, still holding his napkin.

Upon rising from the table the king repaired to the grand saloon, where he tarried for a few moments, that persons of high distinction, who enjoyed the privilege of addressing him, might have an opportunity to do so. He then returned to his cabinet. The door was closed, and the king had a brief interview with his children, of whom he was very fond. He then repaired to the kennel of his dogs, of whom he was also fond, and amused himself, for a time, in feeding them and playing with them.

He now made some slight change in his dress. A small number of persons, of high rank, enjoyed the distinguished honor of being present in his chamber as the monarch, with all suitable stateliness of ceremony, exchanged one royal garment for another. The carriage awaited the king in the marble court. He descended by a private staircase. His craving for fresh air was such that he took a drive whatever the weather. Scarcely any degree of heat or cold, or floods of rain, could prevent him from his drive, or his stag-hunt, or his overlooking the workmen. Sometimes the ladies of his court rode out with him on picnic excursions to the forests of Fontainebleau or Marly.

Upon returning from the drive, the king again changed his dress and repaired to his cabinet. He then proceeded to the apartments of Madame de Maintenon, where he remained conversing with her, or reading, and sometimes transacting business with his minister, until ten o'clock. The hour for supper had now arrived. The house-steward, with his badge of office in hand, gave the information to the captain of the guard. He, entering the royal presence from the antechamber, announced the fact to the king, and opened wide the door. After the delay of a quarter of an hour, which etiquette required, his majesty advanced to the supper-room. During the quarter of an hour which had elapsed, the officers of the household had made preparations for the royal repast by tasting the bread and the salt, and by testing the plates, the fork, the spoon, the knife, and the tooth-pick of the king, so as to be assured that no poison could be thus conveyed.

As the king, preceded by the house-steward and two ushers with flambeaux, entered the supper-room, he found there awaiting him the princes and princesses of France, with a numerous assemblage of courtiers, gentlemen, and ladies. The king, having taken his seat, requested the others to be seated also. Six noblemen immediately stationed themselves at each end of the table, to wait upon the king. Each one, as he presented a dish to the king, first tasted of it himself. When the king wished for a drink, his cup-bearer exclaimed aloud, "Drink for the king." Two of the principal officers, making a profound obeisance, approached his majesty, one bearing an enameled cup and two decanters upon a salver. The other poured out the wine, tasted it, and presented the goblet to the king. With another low salutation, the two officers replaced the decanters upon the sideboard.

The repast being finished, the king rose, and, preceded by two guards and an usher, and followed by all the company, proceeded to the bedchamber. He there bowed adieu to the company, and, entering the cabinet, took a seat in a large arm-chair. The members of the royal family were introduced. His brother, Monsieur, was permitted to take an arm-chair. All the rest remained standing except the princesses, who were indulged with stools. After an hour or so of such converse as these stately forms would admit, the king, about midnight, went again to feed his dogs. He then retired to his chamber, with great pomp said his prayers, and was undressed and put to bed with ceremonies similar to those with which he had been dressed in the morning.

Such was the ordinary routine of the life of the king at Versailles. Its dreary monotony was broken by occasional fétes, balls, and theatric shows. Madame de Maintenon testifies to the almost insupportable tedium of such a life. "If you could only," she exclaims, "form an idea of what it is!"

Magnificent apartments were prepared for Madame de Maintenon at Versailles, opposite the suite of rooms occupied by the king. Similar arrangements were made for her in all the royal palaces. Royalty alone could occupy arm-chairs in the presence of the sovereign. In each of her apartments there were two such, one for the king and the other for herself. The king often transacted business with his minister, Louvois, in her room. She had sufficient tact never to express an opinion, or to take a part in the conversation except when appealed to.

Madame de Maintenon was exceedingly anxious that the king should publicly recognize her as his wife. It is said that the king, tormented by the embarrassments which the secret marriage had brought upon him, seriously contemplated this. His minister, Louvois, remonstrated even passionately against such a recognition. At the close of a painful interview upon this subject, he threw himself upon his knees before his majesty, and, presenting to him the hilt of a small sword which the minister usually wore, exclaimed,

"Take my life, sire, that I may not become the witness of a disgrace which will dishonor your majesty in the eyes of all Europe."

Others of the most influential members of the court joined in the opposition, and so strenuously that the king commanded Madame de Maintenon never again to allude to the subject.

Premature old age was fast advancing upon the king, though he had as yet attained only his forty-ninth year. He was tortured by the gout. He was also attacked by a very painful and dangerous internal malady. His sufferings were dreadful. It became necessary for him to submit to a perilous surgical operation. The king met the crisis with much heroism. Four persons only, including Madame de Maintenon, were present during the operation. Indeed, the greatest precautions had been adopted to keep the fact that an operation was to be performed a profound secret. During the operation the king uttered not a groan. It was successful. In gratitude he conferred upon the skillful operator who had relieved him from anguish and saved his life an estate valued at more than fifty thousand crowns.

Weary of every thing else, the king now sought to find some little interest in building. The renowned architect, Mansard, whose genius still embellishes our most beautiful edifices, was commissioned to erect a pavilion on the grounds of Versailles in imitation of an Italian villa. Thus rose, within a year, the Grand Trianon, which subsequently became so celebrated as the favorite rural residence of Maria Antoinette.

The Trianon
THE TRIANON.


Most men who, with vast wealth, attempt to build a mansion which shall eclipse that of all their neighbors, and which shall be perfect in all the appliances of comfort and luxury, find themselves, in the end, bitterly disappointed. This was pre-eminently the case with Louis XIV. The palace of Versailles, still unfinished, had already cost him countless millions. But it did not please the king. It had cold and cheerless grandeur, but no attractions as a home. The king looked with weary eyes upon the mountain pile of marble which had risen at his bidding, and found it about as uncongenial for a home as would be the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Disgusted with the etiquette which enslaved him, satiated with sensual indulgence, and having exhausted all the fountains of worldly pleasure, with waning powers of body and of mind, it is not possible that any thing could have satisfied the world-weary king.

He had other palaces. None suited him. The Tuileries and the Louvre were in the heart of the noisy city. The banqueting hall at St. Germain overlooked the sepulchre of St. Denis, where the grave-worm held its banquet. Fontainebleau was at too great a distance from the capital. To reach it required a carriage drive of four or five hours. Vincennes, notwithstanding the grandeur of the antique, time-worn castle, was gloomy in its surroundings, inconvenient in its internal arrangements—a prison rather than a palace.

Marly
MARLY


About nine miles from Paris, upon the left bank of the Seine, there reposed the silent village of Marly. The king selected that as the spot upon which he would rear a snug "hermitage" to which he could retire "from noise and tumult far." The passion for building is a fearful passion, which often involves its victim in ruin. The plans of the king expanded under his eye. The little hermitage became a spacious palace, where a court could be entertained with all the appliances of regal elegance.

But dark and stormy days were rapidly gathering around the path of the king. He became involved in war with Germany. The complicated reasons can scarcely be unraveled. The king sent his son, the dauphin, at the head of one hundred thousand men, to invade Holland. Situated upon both sides of the Rhine there was a territory called the Palatinate. It embraced one thousand five hundred and ninety square miles, being not quite so large as the State of Delaware. It contained an intelligent, industrious, and prosperous population of a little over three hundred thousand. The beautiful city of Manheim was the capital of the province.

Though the dauphin was nominally at the head of the invading army, that the glory of its victories might redound to his name, the ablest of the French generals were associated with him, and they, in reality, took the direction of affairs. One city after another speedily fell into the hands of the French. The king mercilessly resolved, and without any justification whatever, to convert the whole province into a desert. An order was issued by the king that every city, village, castle, and hut should be laid in ashes.

It was midwinter—the month of February, 1689. There were many beautiful cities in the province, such as Manheim, Philipsbourg, Franckendal, Spire, Treves, Worms, and Oppendeim. There were more than fifty feudal castles in the territory, the ancestral homes of noble families. The citizens had but short warning. Houses, furniture, food, all were consumed. The flames rose to heaven, calling upon God for vengeance. Smouldering ruins every where met the eye. Men, women, and children wandered starving through the fields.

Nearly all Europe soon became banded against this haughty monarch, and he found it necessary to raise an army of four hundred thousand men to meet the exigencies.

Intoxicated by the pride of past success, he thought that he should be able to force upon England a Roman Catholic king, and the Roman Catholic faith, and thus expel heresy  from England, as he dreamed that he had expelled it from France. He equipped a fleet, and manned it with twenty thousand soldiers, to force upon the British people King James II., whom they had indignantly discarded.

Civil war was now also desolating unhappy France. The Protestants, bereft of their children, robbed of their property, driven from their homes, dragged to the galleys, plunged into dungeons, broken upon the wheel, hanged upon scaffolds, rose in several places in the most desperate insurrectionary bands. And the man who was thus crushing beneath the heel of his armies the quivering hearts of the Palatinate, and who was drenching his own realms with tears and blood, was clothed in purple, and faring sumptuously, and reclining upon the silken sofas of Marly and Versailles. It is not strange that Faith, with uplifted hands and gushing eyes, should have exclaimed, "O Lord, how long!"

The singular complication of the royal family, with the various mothers and the various children, some of which children were recognized by royal decree as princes, and some of whom were not, filled the palaces with bickerings, envyings, and discontent in every form. The unhappy dauphiness, who had long been immersed in the profoundest gloom, at last found a welcome retreat in the grave. Neither her husband nor the king shed a single tear over her remains, which were hurried to the vaults of St. Denis.