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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Madame de Montespan over the court


The

date has never been ascertained exactly of the king's private marriage with Madame de Maintenon. It took place, probably, eighteen months or two years after the queen's death; the king was forty-seven, Madame de Maintenon fifty.

"She had great remains of beauty, bright and sprightly eyes, an imcomparable grace," says St. Simon, who detested her; "an air of ease, and yet of restraint and respect; a great deal of cleverness, with a speech that was sweet, correct, in good terms, and naturally eloquent and brief."

Madame do La Valliere had held sway over the young and passionate heart of the prince, Madame de Montespan over the court, Madame de Maintenon alone established her empire over the man and the king. "Whilst giving up our heart, we must remain absolute master of our mind," Louis XIV. had written, "separate our affections from our resolves as a sovereign, that she who enchants us may never have liberty to speak to us of our business or of the people who serve us, and that they be two things absolutely distinct." The king had scrupulously applied this maxim; Mdlle. de La Valliere had never given a thought to business; Madame de Montespan had sought only to shine, disputing the influence of Colbert when he would have put a limit upon her ruinous fancies, leaning for support at the last upon Louvois, in order to counterbalance the growing power of Madame de Maintenon; the latter alone had any part in affairs,

a smaller part than has frequently been made out, but important, nevertheless, and sometimes decisive. Ministers went occasionally to do their work in her presence with the king, who would turn to her when the questions were embarassing, and ask, "What does your Solidity think?" The opinions she gave were generally moderate and discreet. "I did not manage to please in my conversation about the buildings," she wrote to Cardinal Noailles, "and what grieves me is to have caused vexation to no purpose. Another block of chambers is being built here at a cost of a hundred thousand francs; Marly will soon be a second Versailles. The people, what will become of them?" And later on: "Would you think proper, monsignor, to make out a list of good bishops? You could send it me, so that, on the occasions which are constantly occurring, I might support their interests, and they might have the business referred to them in which they ought to have a hand, and for which they are the proper persons. I am always spoken to when the question is of them; and if I were better informed, I should be bolder." "It is said that you meddle too little with business," Fenelon wrote to her in 1694; "your mind is better calculated for it than you suppose. You ought to direct your whole endeavors to giving the king views tending to peace, and especially to the relief of the people, to moderation, to equity, to mistrust of harsh and violent measures, to horror for acts of arbitrary authority, and finally to love of the Church, and to assiduity in seeking good pastors for it." Neither Fenelon nor Madame de Maintenon had seen in the revocation of the edict of Nantes "an act of arbitrary authority, or a harsh and violent measure." She was not inclined towards persecution, but she feared lest her moderation should be imputed to a remnant of prejudice in favor of her former religion, "and this it is," she would say, "which makes me approve of things quite opposed to my sentiments." An egotistical and cowardly prudence, which caused people to attribute to Madame de Maintenon, in the severities against the Huguenots, a share which she had not voluntarily or entirely assumed.


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