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Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart, Mme de Montespan

Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart, marquise de Montespan (October 5, 1641 - May 27, 1707) was a mistress of Louis XIV.

Born at the chateau of Tonnay-Charente, in today's Charente-Maritime, France, the daughter of Gabriel de Rochechouart, duc de Mortemart. She was educated at the Convent of St Mary at Saintes, and when she was twenty she became maid-of-honour to Queen Maria Theresa. She married in January 1663 LH de Pardaillan de Gondrin, marquis de Montespan, who was a year younger than herself. By him she had two children, LH Pardaillan de Gondrin, duc d'Antin, born in 1665, and a daughter.

Beauty was only one of Madame de Montespan's charms; she was a cultivated and amusing talker who won the admiration of such figures as Saint-Simon and Mme de Sévigné. She was also a profound believer in witchcraft. Nicholas de La Reynie, Paris's first Lieutenant General of Police and the chief judge of the court before which the famous poisoning cases were brought, places her first visits to Catherine Monvoisin ("La Voisin") in 1665. She was alleged to have received from the sorceress love powders concocted of abominable ingredients for Louis XIV, and in 1666 the "black mass" was said by the priest Etienne Guibourg over her with the usual horrible ceremonial. In 1667 she gained her objective, becoming Louis XIV's mistress in July.

Madame de Montespan astounded the court by openly resenting the position of the queen. A scandal arose when Mme de Montausier was accused of acting as go-between in order to secure the governorship of the dauphin for the marquis. Madame de Montespan was arrested, but released after a few days' imprisonment. The first of the seven children whom Mme de Montespan bore to the king was born in March 1669, and was entrusted to Mme Scarron, the future Madame de Maintenon, who acted as companion to Mme de Montespan while the king was away at the wars. Her children were legitimatized in 1673 without mention of the mother's name for fear that Montespan might claim them. The eldest, Louis Auguste, became duc de Maine, the second, Louis Cesar, comte de Vexin, and the third, Louise Françoise, demoiselle de Nantes (afterwards duchess of Bourbon).

Meanwhile Montespan had been compelled to retire to Spain, and in 1674 an official separation was declared by the procureur-general Achille de Harlay, assisted by six judges at the Chatelet. When Louis's affections showed signs of cooling, Mme de Montespan is again said to have had recourse to black magic. In 1675 absolution was refused to the king, with the result that his mistress was driven from the court for a short time. It has been thought that she had conceived the intention of poisoning even as early as 1676, but in 1679. Louis' intrigue with Angélique de Fontanges and her own relegation to the position of superintendent of the queen's household brought matters to a crisis. Mlle de Fontanges died a natural death in 1681, though poisoning was suspected.

Meanwhile suspicion was thrown on Mme de Montespan's connection with La Voisin and her crew by the frequent mention of the name of her maid, Mlle Desoeillets, in the evidence brought before the Chambre Ardente. From the end of 1680 onwards Louvois, Colbert and Mme de Maintenon all helped to hush up the affair and to prevent further scandal about the mother of the king's legitimatized children. Louis XIV continued to spend some time daily in her apartments, and apparently her brilliance and charm in conversation mitigated to some extent her position of discarded mistress. In 1691 she retired to the Convent of St Joseph with a pension of half a million francs. Her father was governor of Paris, her brother, the duc de Vivonne, a marshal of France, and one of her sisters, Gabrielle, whose vows were but four years old, became abbess of the wealthy community of Fontevrault.

Besides her personal expenses, Mme de Montespan spent vast sums on hospitals and charities. She was also a generous patron of letters, and befriended Corneille, Racine and La Fontaine. The last years of her life were given up to penance. When she died at Bourbon l'Archambault, the king forbade her children to wear mourning for her. Real regret was felt for her by the duchess of Bourbon and by her younger children - Françoise Marie, Mlle de Blois (1677-1749), married in 1692 to the future regent Orléans, then duc de Chartres, and Louis Alexandre, comte de Toulouse (1678-1737).

Mme de Montespan in fiction

She figured in Victorien Sardou's play, L'Affaire des poisons (1907).

See also

External link and reference

See contemporary memoirs of Mme de Sévigné, of Saint-Simon, of Bussy-Rabutin and others; also the proceedings of the Chambre Ardente preserved in the Archives de la Bastille (Arsenal Library) and the notes of La Reynie preserved in the Bibliothéqueçoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, marquise de Montespan fr:Madame de Montespan


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