Images of the past

A chronologue of beauty

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Love and Louis XIV

Louis XIV King of France,1673

Catherine Bellier Baronne Beauvais

Catherine Bellier was Queen Anne's trusted friend and confidante.Despite being described as ugly she had an amorous nature and many love affairs.In 1652 she was asked by the Queen Dowager Anne Louis's mother to seduce her son the King and take his virginity.She did that and more their relationship lasting for two whole years despite the Barrone being twenty three years older than her lover.After their relationship ended she was awarded by the Queen Dowager with an estate and a handsome pension.

Three nieces of Cardinal Mazarin,1660 Hortense on right,Olympe in centre and Marie on left

Cardinal Mazarin,the unofficial Prime Minister of France,had five nieces three of whom would go on to become the King's mistress.First of them to catch the King's eye was Olympe wife of Prince Eugene-Maurice of Savoy-Carignano.The affair with the Kings had began before her marriage and she was never described as especially beautiful but as very charming and fascinating with shiny black hair,black and vivacious eyes and a round and plump figure.She was friends with Henriette Anne of England,Duchesse of Orleans with whom the King had fallen in love and in an effort to divert attention from the inappropriate affair  of the King and his brother's wife Olympia introduced the King to Louise de La Valliere.This worked to both the ladies disadvantage as the King fell in love with Louise and made her his official mistress.She was involved in the Affair of the Poisons and was said that she asked La Voisin to poison Louise de La Valliere.She even threatened the King with the words "come back to me or you'll be sorry".She was exiled from France and went to live in Spain.

Olympe Mancini,Voet

Olympe Mancini Comtesse de Soissons 

Olympe Mancini,1700 Mignard 

Marie Mancini was the young King's great love.He was so besotted with her that he even considered marrying her before sacrificing his love and doing his duty by marrying a suitable princess,the Infanta Maria Theresia of Spain.His love for her was idealistic,romantic and strictly platonic as they never physically consumed their passion.She was described as "dark beautiful and vivacious" and according to her mother who had done her horoscope she was destined to cause trouble.The young lovers were separated by her uncle the Cardinal and the King's mother Queen Anne.At their tearful farewell before she was sent off to marry the Italian Price of Colonna she said to the King in reference to their forced separation"You are the King yet you cry and I go".Her husband was surprised to find that she was still a virgin saying he did not expect to "find innocence among the loves of Kings".Their marriage was deeply unhappy and she lived the rest of her life in exile and separated form her husband.

Marie Mancini,1665 Voet

Marie Mancini Princesse de Colonna,Voet

Hortense Mancini was to become the most scandalous and free living of all her famous siblings.She had a short fling with Louis XIV but had more success in England where she became the titular mistress of Charles II.She also had a few lesbian affairs one of them with Charles's own illegitimate daughter with Barbara Villiers.After her short affair with King Louis she was married to the one of the richest man in France the Duc de Meilleraye who also inherited her uncle's title of Duc de Mazarin.Her husband was mentally unstable and terribly jealous of his wife's many affairs despite himself having many sexual relations with other women,even milkmaids who worked for them.He forbade his wife from being in other men's company and forced her to leave Paris with him for their country estate.After he locked her up in a convent she made a daring escape and traveled throughout Europe finally settling in England and Charles II.She died there and finally after thirty  three years her husband had her all to himself.He took her corpse back to France and carted it around with him wherever he went until the smell became too much and he buried her happy in the knowledge that she will never cheat on him again.

Hortense Mancini,Henri Gascard

Hortense Mancini Duchesse Mazarin

Hortense Mancini,Voet

Hortense Mancini,1671 Pierre Mignard

Hortense Mancini by Benedetto Gennari

Portrait of Hortense Mancini,Duchesse Mazarin

                                                              Hortense Mancini,c. 1700

The little Princess Henrietta was living in the French Court ever since her family's exile from England whe n she was a very young girl.The first time Louis laid eyes on her he was not impressed seeing her a a skinny mousey little girl.But by the time she married his brother,the flamboyant homosexual Phillipe Duc d'Orleans,she had developed into a voluptuous young beauty and he was immediately attracted to her and himself being a young good looking man his feelings were reciprocated.Their flirtation was intense but it's not known if it was consumed despite some at court believing that her first daughter was conceived by the King and not her husband.Despite his homosexuality the Duc d'Orleans was intensely jealous of his wife and complained to his mother of his brother's and wife's behavior.In an effort to divert attention form their relationship the King began paying attention to one of Henriette Anne's ladies-in-waiting,the plain and unassuming Louise de La Valliere.Soon this pretension turned into a real affair thereby ending the in laws flirtation.Henriette Anne died suddenly soon after at age of twenty six.Everyone thought that she had been poisoned by her husband's lover the Chevalier de Lorraine.hearing of this her distraught brother King Charles II demanded an autopsy which revealed that she had died from gastroenteritis but many remained unconvinced of the official results.

Henriette Anne d'Angleterre,Pierre Mignard

Henriette Anne Duchesse d'Orleans,1660 Pierre Mignard

Henriette Anne,1662 Peter Lely

Henriette Anne Duchesse d'Orleans

Henriette Anne Duchesse d'Orleans

Louise de la Valliere's affair with the King began as a distraction for rumormongers but turned into a real love affair that lasted six years and produced three children.She was an unusual choice for a royal mistress not because she lacked beauty having "had an exquisite complexion,blond hair,blue eyes,a sweet smile and an expression at once tender and modest",but because she had one leg shorter than the other thereby having to wear specially made shoes to hide the defect.She was also unusually for a royal mistresses very innocent,religious and used neither coquetry nor had any desire for self interest form her relationship with the King.She was madly in love with the King and unlike other royal mistresses she was not extravagant saying that her biggest desire and reward  was the King's love,not titles and presents.Because of her deep religious convictions she was troubled about her love affair with the King and shortly after their affair began she fled to a convent.The King went after her and after a long persuasion she returned to court.After the birth of their third child,a daughter named Anne Marie de Bourbon whom the King legitimised and gave the title of Madmoiselle de Blois,the King's love for his devoted mistress waned.He made Louise a Duchess giving her the title of Duchesse de La Valliere but she was unimpressed and saw this as a farewell present to a servant on his retirement.She had been replaced in the King's favor by a friend the Marquise de Montespan,a woman whom she invited to court as a witty companion at her private dinners with the King.She wanted nothing more but to join a convent but she was forced to remain at court and serve herself as a decoy to the affair between the King and Athenais de Montespan.She also had to act as a lady's maid to her friend and beautify her for the meetings with the King by tying bows,curling her hair and placing lacing her stays.The two women shared same apartments and the King had to go through Louise's rooms to get to Athenaise's bedchamber.Seeing her unhappy one day when passing through her rooms the King threw his spaniel Malice into her lap saying " Here,now,I'm leaving you in good company....So don't mope".Thankfully she was allowed to go to convent where she spent the rest of her days in a hair shirt in an effort to expurgate her sins.

Louise Francoise de La Baume le Blanc by Jean Petitot

Louise Francoise Duchesse de la Valliere

Louise de La Valliere 

Louise,Duchesse de La Valliere

Louise de La Valliere,1667 Claude Lefebvre

Louise de La Valliere receiving presents form the King,Louis Ferdinand Elle 

Louise de La Valliere with a mask,Nicolas de Largilliere

Duchesse de La Valliere,c1670 Pierre Mignard

Louise de La Valliere,c1700

In an effort to distract Louis for his affair with Louise de La Valliere and draw him back to her Henrette Anne placed Catherine Charlotte de Gramont the Princesse de Monaco in Louis's path,thinking that after their short affair he would not go back to Louise de La Valliere and would place his sight on herself once again.Catherine Charlotte was renowed for her beauty and wits and was described as being "hungry for pleasure".The King took the bait and had a short affair with the Princesse but Henriette Anne's plan failed her as the King did not go back to her but fell for Athenais de Montespan.After the affair the Princesse de Monaco was rumored to have had an affair with Henriette herself.

Charlotte Catherine de Grammont,Charles Beaubrun

Charlotte Catherine de Gramont Princesse de Monaco,Jean Nocret

        Francoise-Athenais de Rochechouart Marquise de Montespan,the lady who displaced Louise de La valliere as maitresse-en-titre would go down as one of the most powerful and celebrated mistresses in history.She added to the glory of the monarch all the while looting the treasury and while then despised by all she was sorely missed when replaced by a less colorful successor.She bore the King seven children in the nine years they were together and left many descendants between them a future King of France and the current claimant to the Bourbon throne.She was described as cunning,rapacious,vengeful and jealous.When she arrived at the court of the Sun King she was the most beautiful woman there with thick golden blonde hair,large heavy lidded blue eyes a straight nose and nice teeth,a rarity at the time,and luscious cherubic lips.Her neck was long and nicely shaped,her large bosom and white shoulders id eal for the off the shoulders gowns popular at the time.She had a tendency to put on weight and because of that would visit a spa when it got out of control.After one of her visits to the spa in Bourbon she was described by Madame de Sevigne as "Quite flat again in the rear end...her beauty is breathtaking..While losing weight she has lost none of her radiance...her skin,her eyes,her lips all aglow...Her costume was a mass of French lace,her hair dressed in a thousand ringlets,the two at her temple quite long,falling against her cheek,her coiffure topped with black velvet ribbons and jeweled pins,her famous pearl necklace...caught up with superb diamond clips and buckles.In short a triumphant beauty to show off,to parade before the Ambassadors".By this description we see that she was as unlike poor Louise de La Valliere as she could be.She pestered the King for titles,lands and pensions for herself,her family and friends which he always granted.Her temper tantrums were legendary as was her jealousy.In one of her fits and in an argument over the King's latest flirtation with  another woman she threatened that she would rip their children together form limb to limb.In an effort to keep the Kings love she paid a witch to say spells in her favor and attended Black Masses where infants were sacrificed,their blood and intestines powdered,mixed with similarly powdered toads and bats and given to Athenais to put in the King's food and drink.The King upon hearing this realised why for years after dining with Athenais he had woken with a headache.Disgusted that the woman he loved would do such things he never again visited her bed.She remained at court for a few more years as official mistress before finally being displaced in a same way that she had got her position,by a friend whom she had invited to court and had introduced to the King,Francoise Aubigne Sacrron the future Marquise de Maintenon.

Francoise-Athenais de Rochechouart,c. 1660 by Charles Beaubrun

Athenais de Montespan holding the Hope diamond

Madame de Montespan by Caspar Netscher, 1670

Marquise de Montespan,c. 1670 Pierre Mignard

Athenais de Montespan

 Madame la Marquise de Montespan,c1674

Marquise de Montespan

Madame de Montespan

Madame de Montespan,c. 1670 Pierre Mignard


Madame de Montespan by Caspar Netscher

Madame de Montespan by Henri Gascard

In 1667 Madame de  Montespan's jealousy fell upon the Princesse de Soubise.She had noticed that the Princesse always wore the same pair of emerald earrings whenever her husband was away from court.Her spies soon discovered that the earrings were a sign for a randezvous with the King.The Princesse de Soubise was tall beautiful and had flaming red hair which at the time was thought to be product of conception during pregnancy,making the red headed children lack sexual self discipline and sexually insatiable.Maybe this fact is what attracted the King to the Princesse but after the initial excitement his desire was short lived and the affair ended but not before gaining the Princesse and her complacent husband immense riches. 

Anne de Rohan Princesse de Soubise,Beaubrun

A more dangerous rival for Montespan was the governess of her children with the King,Francoise Aubigne the poor widow of the writer Paul Scarron.She took good care of the King's illegitimate children,fussing over their health and education while their mother paid little attention to them.The Marquise needed someone to amuse the King but was determined not to repeat the mistake that Louise de La Valliere had made with her by inviting someone young and pretty and who might take her place as mistress.Therefore she thought that Madame Scarron,always dressed in black and tinkling with rosaries and crosses but with a brilliant mind,would be the perfect dinner companion.The King was unimpressed with this "bat like apparition" but after seeing her devotion to his children and during their long talks on matters of religion,the King being naturally inclined towards piety and with a heavy conscience about his adulteries and sins,became fascinated  with the governess and soon this turned into tender feelings on his part.One day he approached her with the proposition that she should become his official mistress.She refused and told the King that he should discard his mistress Madame de Montespan and go back to his wife which he did,making his Queen's Marie Therese's last four years of life the happiest in her marriage.After the death of the Queen Madame Scarron was made Marquise de Maintenon and she and the King were married in a secret ceremony,becoming the King's morganatic spouse and she the uncrowned Queen of France.The unimpressive poor widow had achieved  every mistresses ultimate dream of becoming the King's wife.

Francoise d'Aubigne Madame Scarron 

Francoise d'Aubigne Marquise de Maintenon

Madame de Maintenon

Francoise d'Aubigne 

Madame de Maintenon

Before starting his sin free life the King had one last great fling left in him.Marie Angelique was a girl who had been trained to become a King's mistress since childhood.Everyone that saw her admitted that her beauty was unsurpassed at court.One courtier wrote that "she was as beautiful as an angel and as stupid as a basket".The King was very taken with her and felt invigorated and young once again.He started wearing diamonds bows and ribbons often in colors that matched Marie Angelique's in an effort to show his love and favor of her.She was created a Duchesse de Fontanges and was rewarded more extravagantly than any other mistress before.Madame de Montespan was insanely jealous of her and once remarked to Madame de Maintenon "the King has three mistresses I hold the title that little hussy,(Fontanges),performs the functions and you hold the heart.The King soon tiered of his young and stupid love and she died after giving birth to a stillborn child many suspecting from a poisoning conducted by Madame de Monespan.She is remembered for inventing the "fontange" hairstyle which came about after the young beauty tied her hair effortlessly in a bow on top of her head and which the King found very day at court everyone was wearing the hairstyle except Madame de Montespan who thought the style "in bad taste"of course.

Marie Agelique de Scoarilles Duchesse de Fontanges

Marie Angelique Duchesse de Fontanges

Louis XIV had enormous sexual appetite and never stayed faithful to his official mistresses,bedding every woman to whom he took a fancy.Seeing that every single woman and girl at court would throw herself at his feet the number of women Louis had sexual affairs with would be great.Some of these affairs lasted only a day a week or even a month but none of them had the necessary attributes to keep the King's attentions for long.Among these passing flings was Athenais de Montespan's own sister Gabrielle de Rochechouart herself.Other women who shared the King's bed were Madame de Grancey and Madmoiselle de Roquelaure.No matter how short their relations with the King all the women were richly rewarded for their services and for some just the prestige of having bedded the King of France was enough.

Gabrielle de Rochechouart Marquise de Thianges by Pierre Gobert

Louise-Elisabeth Rouxel Mme de Grancey,Claude Lefebvre

Madmoiselle de Roquelaure,c1700 Pierre Mignard


  1. Hi, meanwhile I wanted to say that this site is wonderful!
    Then I was wondering if you could help me. I found this site the wonderful photos of 'Marie Mancini Princesse de Colonna, Voet "and would be very useful for the book I'm writing. But unfortunately I can not find it anywhere unless it is in a museum or private collection. For if you know help me giving me some more information?

    1. Hi I would love to help but i actually found the picture while browsing online.It was identified as Marie Mancini on a few sites but sadly there were no sources. Thanks for stopping by..all the best with your book!!

  2. Why do these old paintings make these women
    Look so bad. None but two are even pretty. Its that way with all old portraits. I mean have u seen nell gwynn? This can't be what they really looked like.

    1. Well some of them could be fault of the artist and artistic standards of the day,although some of the paintings are by very talented portraitist,or it could be the ever changing perception of beauty.Thanks for reading.

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  5. I made a mistake in my previous comment. i wrote "previously said.." but I think it is a bad translation of "autrefois dit". A better translation would be "in the old days said to be..."

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