The women in the life of Louis XIV is a history unto itself. The year 1789 in France was one of the most dramatic social upheavals in history. Mixed into the hodge-podge of economic, social and political issues, the people of France had a huge beef with the hedonistic lifestyle of the monarchy and aristocracy (which in many ways had taken their cues from Louis XIV and his women), while commoners were starving in the streets. Considered one of the major triggers in setting things off, the excesses of the French court were nothing new.
Like many people with too much time and money on their hands, the royals that occupied Versailles in the 18th century are reputed to have indulged in complete debauchery. They were the forerunners of excess, establishing the principals of overindulgence. Louis XIV, the Sun King, was particularly known for his behavior with women.
Louis XIV was crowned on June 7, 1654 and reigned as king of France for 61 years. Throughout his life, he had a myriad of affairs before, during, and after his marriage to Queen Marie Thérèse.
The Moment the King Became a Man
His father passed away when Louis was only five years old. His mother took control of the government and ruled over all affairs of state, including every element of her son’s upbringing. Every element.
The women of Louis XIV began for him as a teenager. When he reached 15 years of age, Anne decided it was time for her son to become a man. After considering acceptable ladies for the job — none too buxom and none too ambitious — Anne chose one of her ladies in waiting, “One-Eyed” Kate.
Louis XIV’s biographer, Antonia Fraser, says Kate was 39 years old when she was made to lie in wait for the young Dauphin (heir apparent) so as to educate him in the ways of the bedroom.
Another biographer, Aurora Van Goeth, described Kate as “not what was considered a beauty by 17th century standards.” According to Fraser, “The experience seems to have been enjoyable enough to be repeated on several further occasions,” a fact that Van Goeth also notes.
An African Dauphin?
Bedroom liaisons continued after the Sun King officially ascended the throne. Both the king and his wife had a fascination with people from Africa. The king was known to have a penchant for “exotic women” and the queen employed an African dwarf as a jester.
Neither of these facts are particularly shocking, but when you add in the mystery of Sister Louise Marie Thérèse, the situation gets scandalous. Known as the Dark (or Black) Nun of Moret, it was rumored that she was the daughter of Queen Marie Thérèse.
In 1664, it was reported that the queen had given birth to a dark-skinned baby, but historians believe it was actually born blue due to being deprived of oxygen.
Speculation still encircles the Dark Nun of Moret, however, as no one has yet confirmed her parentage. If it wasn’t the queen who gave birth to her, then surely Sister Louise was the illegitimate daughter of the king and one of his numerous consorts, n’est-ce pas?
Mistress vs. Wife
Some scandals were considerably less existential. Steeped in protocol, the court followed very strict rules of public behavior — despite what went on behind closed doors. During the War of Devolution in 1667, the queen rode out to meet her husband who had been away leading his army. Louis XIV’s mistress (one of many), Louise de la Vallière, joined the convoy despite being very pregnant and having been told to stay home.
What’s worse, she dared race her carriage against the queen’s, passing it en route to meet her lover. Upon reaching the king, however, Louise found herself spurned for daring to arrive before the queen who had become sick from shock, vomiting on her ladies in waitings’ skirts.
Another of Louis XIV’s rumored women was the scandalous affair involving none other than his sister-in-law. His brother Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, had married Henriette Anne, the youngest daughter of King Charles I of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
Her heritage allowed the Duchess of Orléans, known as Madame to her friends, to play the liaison for English affairs. The paternity of her first child was doubted, with rumors spreading that it was in fact the king’s child, not Philippe’s.
Scandal followed her until end. In 1670, Madame passed away suddenly from an unspecified cause. She had been complaining about discomfort in her side for months, and on the night in question, was in considerable pain.
Taken suddenly ill on June 29th, she drank chicory water which she was convinced had been poisoned. Despite possible motives for her husband and his lover, the Chevalier de Lorraine, most historians agree her passing was unsuspicious. Madame died before morning.
The Secret, Second Wedding
In 1683, Queen Marie Thérèse succumbed to a terrible illness, leaving Louis XIV a widower. The king never officially announced a new queen, but it is believed that he remarried.
Nanny to his numerous illegitimate children, Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon caught the king’s eye. Their rumored marriage was not officially recognized, however, due to her lowly status. In his memoirs, the Duc de Saint-Simon recounts a “mass at the dead of night” that was overseen by several witnesses and believed to be Louis XIV’s second wedding.
This event is further recorded in the Marquise de Montespan’s memoirs. Love conquers status, however as it is said that Françoise d’Aubigné had the king absolutely smitten.
In his final days, one of Louis XIV’s officers recorded the king’s last words to his heir: “Do not imitate me, but be a peaceful prince, and may you apply yourself principally to the alleviation of the burdens of your subjects.”