Madame de Maintenon
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Madame de Maintenon


Madame de MaintenonMadame de Maintenon was born in a prison, and became for thirty years the mistress of a royal palace. The vicissitudes of her fortune exemplify and verify t.he proverb that truth is stranger than fiction. As Francois D' Aubigne, she was born November 27, 1635. in the prison of Niort, where her father, Constant D' Aubigne, was confined. Her grandfather, Agrippa D' Aubigne was a historian and W:lrnar remarkable for his teaming, wit and audacity, and was a favorite companion of King Henry IV. Her father, who was nearly destitute of virtue, had been imprisoned several times for his crimes and turbulence. He also impoverished himself by gambling and other vices. He belonged to the Huguenot party; but his wife was a fervent Catholic, and the daughter was baptized in that religion. Her childhood and youth were passed in almost extreme poverty.


Constant D' Aubigne was released from prison in 1639, and took his family to Martinique, where he died in 1645. his widow then returned to France, and as she was too poor to support her daughter, Madame de Villette, Constant's sister, gave the child a home, treated her kindly and educated her in the Protestant religion. By another turn of fortune the girl went to live for some years with her godmother, the Comtesse de Neuillant, who resorted to every means to convert her to the Catholic religion, yet afterwards neglected her.


In 1650, at the tender age of fifteen, she lost her mother, and as her mother's little pension then ceased, the poor girl was left destitute of resources except her rare beauty and talents. The Chevalier de Mere, who had become acquainted with the "young Indian," as he called her from her residence in the West Indies, introduced her to Scarron, somewhat famous as a wit and comic writer. Scarron's house was a favorite resort of the literary, noble and fashionable persons of Paris. The host was a cripple, having lost the use of all his limbs, and was supported by a pension paid by the State. Scarron offered either to pay for her admission to a convent or to marry her. The girl of sixteen accepted the latter alternative, was married to him in 1651 and became his faithful attendant.


Madame Scarron's presence added a new attraction to the house. She had beautiful spiritual eyes, and her voice and manners were found most fascinating. Her leading attributes were moderation, discretion, serenity, religious faith, superlative tact and invincible firmness. Madame de Sevigne, who was her intimate friend, describes her society and conversation as truly delicious. Although Madame Scarron was compelled to associate with licentious persons, she appears to have had no vicious habits. People were surprised that she could possess such phenomenal virtue, conjoined with beauty and poverty. Bishop Hurd, an English prelate, declares that she was the most virtuous woman of her time. Her confessor once advised her to be dull and taciturn in society in order to mortify her inordinate desire to please and to gain admiration. She obeyed for a time; but finding that this program caused herself and others to yawn, she relapsed into her former genial habit.


Scarron died in 1660 and then Anne of Austria, the queen mother, ordered that his pension should be continued to his widow, and increased it to 2,000 livres. Madame Scarron had gained the favor of rich and aristocratic persons who used their influence to promote her prosperity. On the death of the queen-mother in 1666, the King refused to continue her pension, and she was again reduced to poverty. She was about to leave Paris for Lisbon to become lady-attendant to the Queen of Portugal i but in this crisis she gained the favor of Madame de Montespan, the King's mistress, who persuaded the King to continue her pension. In 1669 Madame Scarron was appointed governess of the Duc de Maine, infant son of Louis XIV. and Madame de Montespan, and she was established at Vaugirard with a large income to bring up in secrecy that son and other offspring of the same connection. In this delicate situation she was embarrassed by a desire to keep her employment secret from her acquaintances. She even had blood drawn from her veins as a remedy for blushing.


In 1674 Louis XIV. determined to have his children at court) and their governess accompanied them. The King now had opportunities of seeing and conversing with her; and though he was prejudiced against her at first, her even temper and superlative tact gradually gained his favor. In 1678 an estate which she had acquired at Maintenon by savings from her income, was raised to a marquisate by the King who gave her the title of Madame de Maintenon. This mark of royal favor roused the jealousy of Madame de Montespan. The stonny temper of the imperious mistress rendered the position of Madame Scarron almost intolerable. In 1680 Louis separated them by making Madame de Maintenon second lady in waiting to the dauphiness, and Madame de Montespan retired from court. Surely there never was a plainer or stranger example of virtue rewarded. Yet the new favorite's progress did not stop here. She obtained a definite status at court as first lady-in-waiting to the dauphiness about 1684, and thenceforward gained a complete ascendancy over the King. At the age of fifty she was privately married by the Archbishop of Paris to Louis, who was three years younger. He was then the most powerful monarch of Europe, and his court a model for all others. She was never publicly recognized as Queen, and never claimed the title, but their marriage is well attested and is not disputed.


For thirty years this aged woman who had mounted to the throne, submitted cheerfully to the terribly strict etiquette of the court, and succeeded, as far as was possible, in entertaining one whose capacity for pleasure had been sated. In the royal councils she had great influence, and she was Often consulted on public affairs by the King, who considered her one of his wisest counsellors. He sometimes asked her opinion in these terms.. Queen pense votre Solidite? What does your Solidity think about it?" Her political influence was of a moderating character and was supreme in matters of detail. Madame de Maintenon used her influence to convert the King from bis immorality, and had the supreme sagacity to exemplify the cause of religion and virtue before him. He had been a zealous professor and defender of the faith, but did not allow it to affect his conduct too strictly. He was more willing to expiate his own sins by punishing severely heretics and other sinners.


After becoming the unacknowledged Queen of France, Madame de Maintenon founded at Saint Cyr a large boarding school for young ladies in indigent circumstances, and she devoted milch time and attention to their education, for which she had by nature excellent qualification. She was a born teacher, and some of her pupils loved her more than their own mothers. When the King grew old and fretful, the task of diverting or entertaining him became arduous and irksome. A contemporary writer says; "I have seen her divert the King by a thousand inventions for four hours together, without repetition, yawning or slander." On her husband's death she retired to St. Cyr, and took no further part in public affairs. She continued to be an object of interest to distinguished persons who visited France; but Peter the Great was probably the only one who was able to obtain an audience with her.


She died in 1719, leaving valuable letters, of which ten volumes have been published. "It would be hard," says Macaulay, "to name any woman who with so little romance in her temper has had so much in her life." The cynical Saint Simon, who was all eye-witness of her career at court, admits that she had incomparable grace, but represents her as cold, cunning, selfish) false and deceitful. But this testimony is contradicted and overborne by a cloud of witnesses, and by the palpable facts of the case. Her virtue, her religious devotion, her Jove for children, her faithfulness to two husbands whose widely different positions yet taxed to the utmost woman's nature, entitle her to lasting regard.




Towards the end of the month of March, 1684, the rumor of some intrigues between the courts of Spain and Austria furnished a pretext for assembling an army all the frontier of the Pyrenees, and, although Spain in her weakness immediately gave satisfaction as to her intentions, the army was not disbanded, as Louvois had persuaded the King that it might be used to advantage in the conversion of thc heretics. It was resolved to try the experiment first in Bearn, where the troops were ready at hand; and Foucault, the intendant of the province, a mall without scruples, was selected as the agent for carrying it into effect. Hc was zealously seconded by the clergy and by the parliament of Pau. He began by finding excuses for demolishing fifteen out of the twenty temples which then existed in Bearn, and eleven hundred persons were converted, or forced to conform outwardly to Romanis1l1, in the course of the two months of February and April, 1685.


The King, dazzled by this "success," let Foucault run his course, and allowed his own conscience to be satisfied with his bare promise to restrain the soldiers from violence, which was kept by billeting the military chiefly dragoons who. being accustomed to act as horse or foot, were judged best for the purpose on the Protestants, and allowing them to live at discretion. The victims were exposed to every description of brutality, while their property was wasted and destroyed persons of whatever sex or age were exposed to the most refilled torments, and the females were subjected to the most disgusting outrages. It was a common practice for the soldiers to relieve each other in keeping their hosts from sleep day after day, Until they became nearly insane, and in that state signed the abjuration of Protestantism without knowing" what they were doing. The terror caused by these proceedings was so great, that on the first news of the approach of the dragoons, whole towns sent in their submission to the superintendent, and went through the outward formalities of reconciliation with the Roman church. The remaining temples in Beam were demolished, and before the end of August only a few hundred of the twenty-two thousand Protestants who had existed in that province remained obstinate.


The King was greatly delighted with the success of this experiment, and was easily persuaded to extend it to other provinces. Orders were sent at the end of July to conduct the dragoons into Guienne, and although these orders were accompanied with directions which prohibited the employment of personal violence, it was well known that the King turned a deaf ear to all complaints, because he was unwilling that the Protestants should have any excuse for thinking that he disapproved anything that was done to convert them. All such directions were looked upon therefore as no better than dead letter, and as intended merely to shield the King from direct responsibility in the face of the world. The result was more satisfactory here even than in Bearn. After experiencing during a few days the violence of the soldiery, the greater part of the Protestants of Montauban, which was their head place in Guienne, conformed. Bergerac held out longer, but it was at last compelled to submit the towns and villages around hardly waited for the approach of the soldiers, but prevented it by sending in their submissions. Sixty thousand Protestants were thus converted in Lower Guienne, and twenty thousand in Upper Guiel1l1e, in the course of about three weeks. It is only, necessary to read the letters of Madame de Mainteon to understand the exultation which prevailed iu the court of Louis XIV.


From Guienne a part of the troops were sent to complete the conversion of Limousin, Saintonge, and Poitou, where considerable progress had already been made in this work, while the rest were sent into Languedoc, where the Protestants were more numerous than in any other country. It was estimated that there were lIot less than two hundred and forty thousand Huguenots in Lower Languedoc and the mountainous districts depending upon it, and much more resistance appears to have been anticipated there. But this was not the case, and Nimes and Montpellier, after a short experience of the soldiery, followed the example of Montauban. To overcome any reluctance on the part of the notable. .. of the former city, a hundred soldiers were billeted in each of their houses. Sixty thousand persons abjured Protestantism in three days in the diocese of Nimes. The Cevennes and Gevaudan, and after them Dauphine and other districts, and even Rochelle itself, were converted with the same facility. Louis XIV. rejoiced in the complete success of his design, and became more and more convinced of his own infallibility; while Madame de Maintenon, who could hardly avoid doubting the sincerity of the abjuration, exulted, as she wrote in her letters, in the prospect that, if the fathers were hypocrites, the children at least would be good Catholics.


Meanwhile Louis was preparing to perform what he intended and expected, to be the last act of that melancholy drama. The King had long felt some scruples with regard to the violation of the engagements of his grandfather, Henri IV., as consecrated in the celebrated Edict of Nantes, but in a secret consultation with some of his clergy he had been persuaded that he not only might, without any injury to his conscience, revoke that great act, but that it was his duty to do so. A final consultation on this subject was held ill the earlier part of October, at which several personages of the court showed some reluctance in incurring the responsibility of a measure the result of which seemed so very hypothetical. The two Colberts, Seignelai and Croissi, suggested delay; and even the young dauphin, then twenty.four years of age, interposed, and represented thal the whole body of the Protestants might be driven by desperation to take up anns in their own defence, or, if they did not dare to do that, they might leave the kingdom in greater numbers, which would weaken the state by ruining its commerce and agriculture. The King replied that he had foreseen and provided against all contingencies; that if his subjects rebelled, he was strong enough to crush them; and that he thought the question of interest one worthy of very little consideration when it stood in the way of the restoration of unity to the church, and interfered with his authority over the consciences as well as the persons of his subjects.


The tone in which the King spoke silenced all further opposition, and it was resolved that the Edict of Nantes should be revoked. The declaration to this effect, drawn up by the aged Chancellor Le Tellier, now on the briuk of the grave, was signed by the King on October 17, 1685. All Protestant temples in France were, by tbis docnmen11 ordered to be immediately demolished, and the Protestants were inhibited from assembling anywhere for the exercise of their mode of worship on pain of forfeiture of life and goods. All the Protestant ministers, unless they became converts to Romanism, were ordered to quit the kingdom within a fortnight. All special schools for the instruction of the children of Protestants were forbidden and all children born after the dale of the edict, were ordered, under heavy penalties both to the priest whose duty it was to execute the edict in this respect and to the parents, to be baptized by the cure of the parish and afterwards brought lip to the Catholic religion. The Protestants who had made their escape into foreign countries were allowed a delay of four months to return, by which they were to recover possession of their property, but if they passed this time, the property was to be finally confiscated. The Protestants were forbidden in future to leave the kingdom under pain of condemnation to the galleys for the men, and imprisonment during life for the women. All the former declarations and denunciations against relapse were confirmed.


An article was added ill conclusion, which is supposed to have been the work of the Colberts, and which stated that those who remained Protestants might, until it pleased God to enlighten them equally with the others, remain within the King's dominions, and continue their commerce and enjoy their goods, without being interfered with on pretext of their religion. This edict was registered in the parliament of Paris ou the 22d of October, but it had already been sent around to the governors and intendants of the provinces. Instructions were at the same time sent to these officers, by which they were directed not to permit the Protestant ministers who went into exile to dispose of their estates or to take with them their children who were above seven years of age. They were also recommended to show some consideration for the Protestant gentlemen and the great merchants and manufacturers, and not to pursue the work of conversion with too much violence.


The effect of the last article of Louis' edict became almost immediately an object of bitter complaint on the part of the zealous persecutors. Those who had persisted in their religion, claimed the protection of this article and desired to be permitted to live unmolested and those who had conformed began to repent of the facility with which they had allowed themselves to be converted, and ceased to present themselves at the mass. The King's officers, in reply to their pressing representations on this subject, received answers from Louvois which set all their apprehensions at rest, and which assured them that the article of the edict to which they objected was not intended to be observed. In a circular letter sent round to them in the month of November, 1685, Louvois told them distinctly that "it was his majesty's will that the last rigors should be used towards those who were unwilling to conform to his religion, and that those who had the foolish glory to remain last, ought to be persecuted to the last extremity." He added, that the soldiers were to be allowed to live with great license.


It was after this declaration that the terrible dragonnades, as the quarterings of the dragoons on the Protestants were called, were resumed with greater fury than ever, and the Protestants among whom they were lodged were exposed to every description of abominable torture that had been practiced by the persecutors of the primitive Christians, or by the brutal routiers of the Middle Ages. The King permitted every violence short of rape and murder but the first of these crimes appears to have been perpetrated very frequently with impunity, and many persons expired under the tortures inflicted upon them, or remained cripples for life. Females of all ages and conditions were subjected, sometimes for several hours together, to obscene outrages and exposures which on pen can describe. When the victims, of whatever sex, were reduced by these brutal means to the last extremity, they were induced to abjure at a moment when they were unconscious of what they were doing, and as quickly as possible after the abjuration, they were taken to the communion, after which, unless they continued in the profession which had been forced upon them, they exposed themselves to the penalties denounced against relapse. Of those who resisted the attempts to withdraw them from their faith, many were distributed in the prisons in different parts of France, and were thrown in some cases into the deep and filthy dungeons of the old feudal castles, which had not been used for several generations, and where, to make them still more insupportable, their keepers often threw in upon them the putrid remains of animals. The females were shut up in the convents, and were sometimes there treated with great rigor and cruelty though the nuns, when they became acquainted with their heretical sisters, generally showed compassion for their sufferings. Other particular edicts accompanied or immediately followed the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, one of the most oppressive of which was that published in the January of 1686, ordering that all children from five to sixteen years of age should be taken from their Protestant parents or relatives and given to Catholic relatives, or, if they had no Catholic relatives, to persons of that persuasion elected by the judges.


Louis imagined that his triumph over Protestantism was complete, but this illusion was soon dispelled. The Protestants recovered quickly from the panic into which the horrors of the dragonnades had thrown them, and multitudes of the new converts retracted the concessions which had been drawn from them in a moment of despair or confusion, ceased to show themselves in the churches, and withdrew their children from the Catholic schools. The rage of the government was proportional to its mortification at this unexpected result, and new rigors were invented against those who relapsed. Meanwhile many of the banished ministers began to repent of the readiness with which they had deserted their posts at the command of the temporal power, and they passed the frontier under various disguises, and returned to their congregations. The Protestants began to assemble for worship in the mountains and ill secluded spots, and even ill private houses ill the towns. At the beginning of July, 1686, an edict appeared which decreed the punishment of death against all ministers returning into France without permission, and condemning to the galleys all persons who gave them asylum. Every in dividual taking part in a meeting for Protestant worship was also condemned todeatb. Anned with these authorities,when the soldiers discovered one of the solitary assemblies of the
Huguenots, they wantonly slaughtered, on the spot, many of the individuals who composed in and the rest were dragged away to the gibbet or the galleys.


At the same time the emigration of the Protestant population of France was increasing greatly, and could only be met by throwing still greater difficulties in the way of the fugitives. On May 7, 1686, condemnation to the galleys for life was decreed against all persons whatever who aided the Protestants in escaping out of tbe kingdom. Armed vessels were employed to watch the coasts, all the frontier passages were guarded, and the Catholic peasantry were encouraged everywhere to attack and massacre the wretched Huguenots who were attempting to make their way towards them. Some oC the emigrants perished in the attempt to make themselves a way by force, others were taken and carried back as prisoners; and as the number of these latter was very great, the government was afraid to let them be all crowded on the royal galleys, and they were distributed in various prisons.


The failure of the first adventurers rendered their fellows more cautious without being less bold, and for months the stream of emigration went on under a variety of disguises and other means of concealment. Whole families watched for the dark and stormy nights to put out to sea in open boats, and great numbers reached the shores of England in safety, and met there with a hospitable reception. Even the guards placed upon the frontiers gradually allowed themselves to be softened either by compassion or much more frequently by interest, and it was thus that the richest and best part of the Protestant population, those who could pay for connivance, escaped with most ease. On such conditions the officials who guarded the frontier not only allowed the emigrants to escape, but they secretly instructed them in the means of doing so unobserved. When the government became aware of the multitudes who thus passed the frontier in spite of its efforts, its vengeance was directed anew against those who were supposed to give them assistance, and by an edict of October 12,J687, the punishment of death was denounced against what were called the "accomplices of the deserters.


It is said that in the space of five years the emigrants carried out of the kingdom no less than sixty millions of French money. A large number of the richer refugees made their way to Holland and settled in Amsterdam and other places. But the loss to France in money thus drained from it was trifling in comparison to that of its population for the Protestants were universally acknowledged to be the steadiest and most industrious of the Kings subjects, the best mechanics and manufacturers and the most successful traders. Of these it is reckoned that at the lowest computation hardly less than two hundred and fifty thousand emigrated during the period between the revocation of the edict of Nantes and the end of the seventeenth century. We arc assured that, before the year 1689) nine thousand of the best of the French sailors, and twelve thousand soldiers) with six hundred officers had passed into the service of foreign states.-T. WRIGHT.


Madame de Maintenon