Madame de Maintenon, the secret wife of King Louis XIV by Veronica Buckley
I enjoyed reading this story of the life of Francoise d’Aubigny, later to become Madame de Maintenon and the uncrowned queen of France as the secret wife of Louis XIV.
This story is quite extraordinary.
Francoise did occasionally enjoy stability and security while staying with her aunt and uncle and cousin at the Chateau of Mursay, however, this was often short lived as she would be uplifted and taken to Paris to live elsewhere and be brought up under a different religion.
She spent time in the overseas colonies of France but often lived her life through the generosity and friendship of others, even in her early days in the French colonies. There is also a hint in the novel, whether true or false that Francoise and her younger brother were sent out on to the streets of La Rochelle as they were in dire need of food and were begging. This was before they would have embarked on their voyage to the French colony of Martinique.
Francoise’s father was more or less disowned by his own father and her mother spent years In Paris trying to claim money which she believed was owed to her husband. It was not a very good beginning in life for Francoise, who may also have been born in prison (according to the book.)
I was shocked and humbled by the extremes of poverty which the family did suffer while waiting for passage to Martinique at La Rochelle. It may have been from this time that Francoise always seemed to suffer from the cold.
It is also a sad story but later on Francoise enjoyed her life in the Marais district of Paris, as is mentioned in a chapter, The Merry Widow. At a young age she had married a scandalous poet, Paul Scarron and was thereafter known as the Widow Scarron. However, it was during these years that Francoise came into her own and enjoyed meeting intelligent and influential people at his Paris Salon. It would have been a glittering social scene for Francoise though perhaps people must have wondered the reason that she was married to Paul Scarron, especially at such a young age. Francoise did seem to shine at this salon and became friends with Madame de Montespan, whose children she later minded. It was in this regard that Madame de Maintenon later came into contact with the King.
Madame de Maintenon would have seen the king in the early days in Paris when he first entered the city with his Spanish bride which was a grand occasion and many people crowded the balconies to get a view. Francoise would also have attended entertainments which were put on by the king at the gardens of Versailles.
It was not until later that Francoise and the king became more acquainted and the king admired and respected Francoise for her intelligent conversation and obviously also as she took such great care of his children.
The book gives wonderful insights of the court of Louis XIV and the politics of the day. It is well worth reading. It presented a different view for me as I had previously read books about other members of the royal court and the story of Madame de Maintenon is certainly something different.
It is stated at the beginning of the book that she had said that her life had been a miracle. It certainly is and also an extraordinary story as Francoise did become an uncrowned queen of France and perhaps if the king had had his own way with his councillors and advisors he may have crowned Francoise d’Aubigny as a queen of France.
An incredible story!