The Secret Wife of Louis XIV:
Françoise d’Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, September 2009)
★ The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Françoise d’Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon
Veronica Buckley. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30 (544p) ISBN 978-0-374-15830-9
Buckley (Christina, Queen of Sweden) serves up a superior biography of a remarkable woman who, most improbably, became the Sun King’s second wife. Françoise d’Aubigné (1635–1719) was born in a grim prison, the daughter of a disinherited nobleman and traitor and a mother incapable of loving her. These facts, and a financially uncertain childhood, including a three-year sojourn in the Caribbean, contributed to the intelligent Françoise’s resilience but also to a deep emotional insecurity. A marriage of convenience to a renowned but crippled scholar brought her new social connections, which she, a lovely, popular young woman, exploited when she was widowed, becoming the governess of the secret illegitimate children of Louis XIV and Athenais de Montespan. Françoise, aged 39, succumbed to being Louis’s mistress after resisting for a year, ambitiously supplanted Athenais, who was implicated in the infamous poisons affair, and after the queen died in 1683, Françoise married Louis, although the marriage remained secret. Buckley trains her intent gaze on 17th-century France—from the civil and religious wars that plagued the Bourbons to lively Parisian salons— offering a graceful, vivid portrait of a woman of intelligence and dignity. 16 pages of color illus. (Sept.)
Readers intrigued by the lives and loves of royal personalities will enjoy this engrossing biography of Françoise d"Aubigne, aka Madame de Maintenon, who carried on a 40-year love affair with the great Sun King, Louis XIV of France. Born in poverty, afflicted by family scandals, and widowed at an early age, Françoise managed to find her way into Parisian grand society through a combination of personal grit and "amazing good luck." Using archival sources, contemporary reminiscences and the letters and memoirs of Maintenon herself. Buckley (Christina, Queen of Sweden ) presents a sympathetic account of this witty and beautiful woman who knew how to take advantage of opportunities that came her way. Once called "the machine that controls everything" because of her influence on the king, Françoise became his secret uncrowned wife after the death of Queen Marie-Thérèse, entering into a morganatic marriage whose details will prove enlightening to general readers.
VERDICTAlthough the story of this royal love affair is framed against the background of the religious and international tensions besetting 17th-century France, the political context is not overbearing. There are fascinating details here about French high society, including on fashion, child rearing, court life, medical ailments, and prevailing superstitions. Most interesting is the poignant story of what became of Maintenon after the king"s death, and the curious fate of her remains in the upheavals of the French Revolution and beyond.(Marie Marmo Mullaney).
THE SECRET WIFE OF LOUIS XIV: Françoise d’Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon
Digestible history of the improbable life of a woman who achieved greatness as the wife of the legendary Sun King.
Through the figure of Françoise d’Aubigné, Buckley (Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric, 2004) paints a colorful portrait of 17th-century France. Françoise’s grandfather was the Protestant poet Agrippa d’Aubigné, but her father was a convicted murderer and Françoise was born in a prison. Though well-connected, the family’s name and their Protestant roots would dog her throughout her life as the country grew increasingly hostile to the Huguenots. Françoise, a charity case, spent a few happy years at the country estate of her aunt before being plucked from her Protestant idyll. Through a series of manipulations by relations, she was married off at age 16 to “horribly crippled” salon host and former abbé Paul Scarron. Effectively, she became his nurse, though he taught her a great deal during their marriage until his death. Subsequently, the intelligent, dignified young widow grew gradually closer to the court of Louis XIV, first as governess to his various illegitimate children, a regular visitor and occasional mistress, then, shortly after Queen Marie-Thérèse’s death in 1683, his secret wife. In this sumptuous story, the survival—and flourishing—of Françoise, now Madame de Maintenon, within this atmosphere of deadly intrigue seems no less than miraculous, and Buckley skillfully portrays her subject’s salient characteristics, especially “self-control, a keen sympathy for the suffering [of the poor], and a distaste for frivolity and extravagance.” The author also reveals King Louis in all his manly vainglory.
A sprightly biography of “Her Steadiness.”