Maintenon, Madam De

, a very extraordinary French lady, who, from a low condition and many misfortunes, was raised at last to be the wife of Louis XIV. was descended from the ancient family of d‘Aubigne; her proper name being Frances d’Aubigne. M. d’Aubigne, her grandfather, was born in 1550, and died in 1630, in his 80th year. He was a man of great merit, a man also of rank, a leading man among the Protestants in France, and much courted to go over to the opposite party. When he perceived that there was no safety for him any longer in his own country, he fled for refuge to Geneva, about 1619. The magistrates, and the clergy there, received him with great marks of honour and distinction; and he passed the remainder of his life among them in great esteem. Mezeray says, that “he was a man of great courage and boldness, of a ready wit, and of a fine taste in polite learning, as well as of good experience in matters of war.

The son of this d’Aubigne was the father of madam de Maintenon her mother the daughter of Peter de Cardillac, | lord of Lane; and of Louisa de Moritalembert. They were married at Bourdeaux, Dec. 27, 1627, not without some apprehensions, it is said, on the part of the lady, upon her being united, we know not haw, to a man of a most infamous character, and who had actually murdered his first wife: for such was Constance d‘Aubigne. Going to Paris soon after his marriage, he was for some very gross offence cast into prison; upon which madam d’Aubign6 followed to solicit his pardon; but in vain: cardinal Richelieu was inflexible, and told her, that “to take such a husband from her, was to do her a friendly office.” Madam d’Aubign6, more attached to her husband in proportion as he became more miserable, obtained leave to shut herself up in prison with him. Here she had two sons, and becoming pregnant a third time, obtained leave from court to have her husband removed to the prison of Niort, that they might be nearer the assistance which they derived from their relations.

In this prison madam de Maintenon was born, Nov. 27, 1635; from which miserable situation, however, she was taken a few days after by madam Villette, her aunt by her father’s side, who, out of compassion to the child, gave her to the care of her daughter’s nurse, with whom she was bred for some time as a foster-sister. Madam Villette also sent the prisoners several necessaries, of which they were in extreme want. Madam d‘Aubigne at length obtained her husband’s enlargement; but it was upon condition that he should turn Roman Catholic. D’Aubigne promised all; but, forgetting his promises, and fearing to be involved again in trouble, he was determined to seek his fortune abroad. Accordingly in 1639, he embarked for America with his wife and family; and arriving safely there, settled in Martinico, where he acquired considerable plantations. Madam d’Aubigne“returned in a little time with her children to France, to carry on some lawsuits, and recover some debts; but madam Villette persuading her to desist from her pretensions, she returned to America, where she found her husband ruined by gaming. In 1646, he died, when madam d’Aubigne” was left, in the utmost distress, to support herself, and manage the education of her children, as she could. She returned to France, leaving her debts unpaid, and her daughter as a pledge in the hands of one of her principal creditors; who, however, soon sent her into France after her mother. | Here neglected by her mother, who was indeed little able to support her, she fell into the hands of madam Villette at Poicton, who received her with great marks of affection; and told her, that she should be welcome, if she thought fit, to live with her, where at least she should never be reduced to want a subsistence. The niece accepted the offer which her aunt made her, and studied to render herself necessary and agreeable to a person, upon whom she saw she must depend for every thing. She particularly Jaboured to insinuate herself into the affections of her cousin, with whom she had one common nurse: and to omit nothing that might please them, she expressed a great desire to be instructed in the religion of her ancestors. She was impatient to have some conversation with ministers, and to frequent their sermons, and in a short time became firmly attached to the Protestant religion. In the mean time madam de Neuillant, a relation by her mother’s side, and a Roman catholic, had been busy in advertising some considerable persons of the danger she was in, as to her salvation; and had solicited an order, which was granted, from the court, to take her out of the hands of madam Villette, and to have her instructed in the Roman Catholic religion. She accordingly took her to herself, and made a convert of her: which however was not effected without many threats, artifices, and hardships, which drove her at length to a compliance with the solicitations of madam de Neuillant.

In 1651, she was married to the abb Scarron. Madam de Neuillant, being obliged to go to Paris, took her along with her; and there becoming known to this old famous buffoon, who admired her for her wit, she preferred marrying him to the dependent state she was in. Scarron was of an ancient and distinguished family, but deformed, infirm, and in no very advantageous circumstances; as he subsisted only on a pension, which was allowed him by the court, in consideration of his wit and parts. She lived with him, however, many years; and Voltaire says that this part of her life was undoubtedly the happiest. Her beauty, but still more her wit, for she was never reckoned a complete beauty, distinguished her greatly; and her conversation was eagerly sought by all the best company in Paris. Upon the death of her husband, which happened in 1660, she was reduced to the same indigent condition she was in before her marriage; but her friends did all they timid to | prevail upon the court to continue to her the pension which Scarron had enjoyed: in order to which, petitions were frequently given in, beginning always with, “The widow Scarron most humbly prays your majesty,” &c. For a time all these petitions signified nothing; and the king was so weary of them, that he has been heard to say, “Must I always be pestered with the widow Scarron?” At length, madam de Montespan, his mistress, undertook to present one to him “How” cried the king, “the widow Scarron again Shall I never hear of any thing else” “Indeed, Sire,” replied madam de Montespan, “you ought to have ceased hearing of it long ago.” The pension was granted, and madam Scarron went to thank madam de Montespan, who was so struck with the charms of her conversation, that she presented her to the king, who is reported to have said: “Madam, I have made you wait a long time; but your friends are so numerous, that I was desirous of your owing this to me alone.” Voltaire tells us, he had this fact from cardinal Fleury, who took a pleasure in often repeating it, because he said Louis XIV. had made him the same compliment when he gave him the bishopric of Frejus.

Some time after, madam de Montespan, wishing to conceal the birth of the children she had by the king, cast her eyes on madam Scarron, as the most likely person to keep the secret, and educate them properly; and madam Scarron undertook this charge by his majesty’s order, and became their governante. She then led a hard, unpleasant, and retired life, with only her pension of 2000 livres, and had the mortification of knowing that she was disagreeable to the king. His majesty had indeed a degree of dislike to her: he looked upon her as a wit; and though he possessed much wit himself, he could not bear those who made a display of it. He never mentioned her to madam de Montespan, but by the name of “your belesprit.” When the children grew older, they were sent for to court, which occasioned the king to converse sometimes with madam Scarron, in whom he found so much sense, sweetness, and elegance of manners, that he not only lost by degrees his dislike to her, but gave her a particular proof of his esteem: looking over the state of the pensions, and seeing “two thousand francs for madam Scarron,” he erased the sum, and wrote “two thousand crowns.” The young duke of Maine also contributed not | a little to remove his majesty’s prejudices. The king frequently played with him, and being much pleased with the sense that appeared even in his eyes, and with the manner in which he answered his questions, said to him one day, “You are very wise” “I may well be so,” replied the child, “for I have a governess who is wisdom itself.” “Go,” said his majesty, “go, tell her you bring her a hundred thousand franks for your sugar plumbs.” Madam Scarron attended this young prince sometime after to the waters of Barege, from whence she wrote to the king himself, to inform him of all that passed. He was much pleased with her letters, and said, “I had no idea that a bel -esprit could write so well.” This circumstance probably gave rise to the report that Louis XIV. was first captivated by a letter she wrote in madam de Montespan’s name; but it is a mere story. Madam de Montespan wrote at least as good letters as madam Scarron, and even as madam de Sevigne.

In 1679, the king bought her the lands of Maintenon, worth 250,000 livres, which was the only estate she ever had, though afterwards in a height of favour that afforded her the means of purchasing immense property. Here she had a magnificent castle, in a most beautiful country, not more than fourteen leagues from Paris, and ten from Versailles. The king, seeing her extremely pleased with the acquisition of her estate, called her publicly madam de Maintenon; which change of name was of greater use to her than she herself could have foreseen. She could not well be raised to the rank in which she was afterwards seen, with the name of Scarron, which must always have been accompanied with a mean and burlesque idea. A woman, whose very name was a jest, must have detracted from the respect and veneration which was paid to the great and pompous Louis; nor could all the reserve and dignity of the widow efface the impression made by the remembrance of her buffoonish husband. It was necessery, therefore, that madam de Maintenon should obliterate madam Scarron.

In the mean time, her elevation was to her only a retreat. Shut up in her apartment, which was on the same floor with the king’s, she confined herself to the society of two or three ladies, as retired as herself; and even these she saw but seldom. The king came to her apartment every day after dinner, before and after supper, and continued | there till midnight. Here he did business with his ministers, while madam de Maintenon employed herself in reading or needle-work, never shewing any eagerness to talk of state affairs, often seeming wholly ignorant of them, and carefully avoiding whatever had the least appearance of cahal and intrigue. She studied more to please him who governed, than to govern; and preserved her credit, by employing it with the utmost circumspection. She did not make use of her power, to give the greatest dignities and employments among her own relations Her brother count d’Aubigne, a lieutenant-general of long standing, was not even made a marshal of France; a blue ribbon, and some appropriations in the farms of the revenue, were all his fortune: which made him once say to the marshal de Vivone, the brother of madam de Montespan, that “he had received the staff of marshal in ready money.” It was rather high fortune for the daughter of this count, to marry the duke de Noailles, than an advantage to the duke. Two more nieces of madam de Maintenon, the one married to the marquis de Caylus, the other to the marquis de Villette, had scarcely any thing. A moderate pension, which Louis XIV. gave to madam de Caylus, was almost all her fortune; and madam de Villette had nothing but expectations. This lady, who was afterwards married to the celebrated lord Bolingbroke, often reproached her aunt for doing so little for her family; and once told her in some anger, that “she took a pleasure in her moderation, and in seeing her family the victim of it.” This Voltaire relates as a fact, which he had from M. de Villette herself. It is certain, that M. de Maintenon submitted every thing to her fears of doing what might be contrary to the king’s sentiments. She did not even dare to support her relation the cardinal de Noailles, against father le Tellier. She had a great friendship for the poet Kacine, yet did not venture to protect him against a slight resentment of the king’s. One day, moved with the eloquence with which he had described to her the people’s miseries in 1698, she engaged him to draw up a memorial, which might at once shew the evil and the remedy. The king read it; and, upon his expressing some displeasure at it, she had the weakness to tell the author, and not the courage to defend him. Racine, still weaker, says Voltaire, was so hurt, that it was supposed to have occasioned his xleath. The same natural disposition, which made her | incapable of conferring benefits, made her also incapable of doing injuries. When the minister Louvois threw himself at the feet of Louis XIV. to hinder his marriage with the widow Scarron, she not only forgave him, but frequently pacified the king, whom the rough temper of this minister as frequently angered.

About the end of 1683, Louis married madam de Maintenon; and certainly acquired an agreeable and submissive companion. He was then in his forty-eighth year, she in her fiftieth. The only public distinction which made her sensible of her secret elevation (for nothing could be conducted more secretly then, or kept a greater secret afterwards, than this marriage) was, that at mass she sat in one of the two little galleries, or gilt doors, which appeared only to be designed for the king and queen: besides this, she had not any exterior appearance of grandeur. That piety and devotion, with which she had inspired the king, and which she had applied very successfully to make herself a wife, instead of a mistress, became by degrees a settled disposition of mind, which age and affliction confirmed. She had already, with the king and the whole court, given herself the merit of a foundress, by assembling at Noisy a great number of women of quality; and the king had already destined the revenues of the abbey of St. Denis, for the maintenance of this rising community. St. Cyr was built at the end of the park at Versailles, in 1686 She then gave the form to this establishment; and, together with Desmarets, bishop of Chartres, made the rules, and was herself superior of the convent. Thither she often went to pass away some hours; and, as we learn from herself, melancholy determined her to this employment. “Why cannot I,” says she in a letter to madam de la Maisonfort, “why cannot I give you my experience? Why cannot I make you sensible of that uneasiness, which wears out the great, and of the difficulties they labour under to employ their time? Do not you see that I am dying with melancholy, in a height of fortune, which once my imagination could scarcely have conceived? I have been young and beautiful, have had a relish for pleasures, and have been the universal object of love. In a more advanced age, I have spent my time in intellectual amusements. I have at lastrisen to favour but I protest to you, my dear girl, that every one of these conditions leaves in the mind a dismal vacuity.” If any thing, says | Voltaire, could shew the vanity of ambition, it would certainly be this letter. She could have no other uneasiness than the uniformity of her manner of living with a great king; and this made her say once to the count d’Aubigne, her brother, “I can hold it no longer; I wish I was dead.

The court grew now every day less grty and more serious, after the king began to live a retired life with madam de Maintenon. It was the convent of St. Cyr which revived the taste for works of genius. Madam de Maintenon intreated Racine, who had renounced the theatre for Jansenism and the court, to compose a tragedy, and to take the subject from the Bible. Racine composed “Esther:” and this piece having been first represented at the house of St. Cyr, was afterwards acted several times at Versailles before the king, in the winter of 1689. At the death of the king, which happened Sept. 2, 1715, madam de Maintenon retired wholly to St. Cyr, where she spent the remainder of her days in acts of devotion. What appears surprising is, that Louis XIV. made no certain provision for her, but only recommended her to the duke of Orleans. She would accept of no more than an annual pension of 80,000 livres and this was punctually paid her till her death, which happened the 15th of April, 1719. M. de la Beaumelle published in 1755, “M. de Maintenon’s Letters,” 9 vols. 12mo; and “Memoirs” for her history, &c. the whole reprinted in 12 vols. small 12mo. These “Letters” are curious and interesting, but there are several trifling ones among them. The “Memoirs,” which contain some remarkable anecdotes, are not always to be depended on as to facts, and are frequently censurable for indelicacy. 1


Moreri. Siecle de Louis XIVDict. Hist.