Historical Figures

Portrait of Madame de Montespan, sulphurous favorite of King Louis XIV

Last updated:2022-07-25

Françoise de Rochechouart de Mortemart, better known as Madame de Montespan , is undoubtedly the most volcanic of all the favorites and mistresses of Louis XIV . Glory, love, disgrace, accusation… La Montespan's life was one of the most eventful. Discover the portrait of Madame de Montespan, illustrious woman of the Ancien Régime became the mistress of Louis XIV.

Birth and youth in the countryside

The future Madame de Montespan is born in Poitou

We are in October 1640 in Lussac-les-Châteaux, a small village in lower Poitou. Françoise de Rochechouart de Mortemart, future Marquise de Montespan , was born in a former private mansion of the family. On October 5, the young child was baptized in the Saint-Maixent church by Father Tartaud, as the following lines attest:

On Friday the fifth day of October one thousand six hundred and forty was baptized françoise de rochechouard, daughter of gabriel de rochechouard Chevallyer of the orders of the king councilor In his councils of state And prince first gentleman of the chamber of His majesty lord marqui de morthemart lussac le chasteau other places and prince of tonai charante and lady dianne de grandsaigne and were his godfathers and godmother nicolla rozet and françoise massoullard who did not know how to sign .”

Rochechouart, one of the oldest noble families

The Rochechouart family isone of the most illustrious families in the kingdom . Its traces can be traced back to the 10th century, so it is one of the oldest noble lineages in France. The different members of the tribe have a high opinion of their origins , which is wonderfully reflected in their motto “Ante mare undae ” which means “before the sea, the waves ”, and which a poet translated as “Before the sea was born, Rochechouart carried the waves ”. It is in this context that the future Madame de Montespan evolves, surrounded by her three brothers and sisters.

The education of Françoise de Rochechouart

Françoise lived a happy and pleasant childhood in her native village of Lussac-les-Châteaux. His parents Gabriel and Diane are regularly on the move to the Louvre to honor their duties to the royal family. The young girl is then entrusted to the “Nono”, the Troubat or even the Gailledrat, the servants. At the age of 12 or 13, the future Madame de Montespan was sent to the convent of Sainte-Marie de Saintes to learn everything a young noblewoman needs to know.

His entry to the Court of France

At the end of her apprenticeship, it is time for the beautiful Rochechouart to enter the big world . With age, the future Marquise turns out to be a woman of incomparable beauty and a strong character. She inherited this sharp and piquant spirit from the Mortemarts , who will make his reputation with his courtiers and who will please Louis XIV so much.

When she was only 20 years old, the young woman joined the Court on the recommendations of her parents. The King of France has just married the Infanta Maria Theresa of Austria. Anne of Austria, the Queen Mother, appoints Françoise bridesmaid to the new Queen of France. Her entry into the Court was noticed, her sulphurous beauty dazzled more than one . But fresh out of the convent, the future Mme de Montespan is still shy and reserved.

Her marriage to the Marquis de Montespan

The troubled engagement of Madame de Montespan

It's time to think about the future! Her parents decide to betroth her to Louis-Alexandre de la Trémoïlle, Marquis de Noirmoutiers. This handsome man turns out to be a very good match , and François does not seem insensitive to his charm. But fate changed on January 20, 1663 when Louis-Alexandre took part in a quarrel involving his brother-in-law, which ended in the sword. Upset, Louis XIV decides to exile the culprits. Françoise de Rochechouart de Mortemart then sees her future marriage go up in smoke. But the fiancé was quickly replaced by Louis-Henry de Pardaillan de Gondrin, Marquis de Montespan.

A difficult marriage for the future favorite

The marriage was celebrated on February 6, 1663 at Saint-Sulpice, making Françoise the Marquise de Montespan. Jean-Christian Petitfils tells us, in his work “Madame de Montespan” an interesting anecdote. Arriving at the church, the future bride realizes that the cushions on which they must kneel, called tiles, had been forgotten. So she sends someone to get them, who comes back with… the dog cushions. The future Marquise only realizes this error after the Gospel.

The beginnings of the couple are difficult. Very soon after the wedding, Madame de Montespan returned to her life at court, where she liked to perform and show herself to courtiers. She quickly surrounds herself with illustrious minds who attract her interest. Very quickly, Françoise abandons her original first name in favor of that of Athénaïste, which will be transformed into Athénaïs. This is why you probably know her better as Athénaïs de Montespan.

The Marquis de Montespan, a mediocre husband in search of fortune

As for M. de Montespan, having no function at court, he could not accompany his wife as he pleased. A certain jealousy seizes this man with an ambitious and greedy character . He accepts with difficulty to see his wife Madame de Montespan evolve and shine at the Court of France, while he remains in their Parisian residence. He then decides to volunteer in the conflict with Lorraine. He jumps at the chance to take out several loans – the Marquis de Montespan is known to be a particularly spendthrift . By going to war, the Montespan husband hopes to make a fortune and satisfy his ambition. But the marquis returns to his wife even poorer than he was when he left.

From this marriage, two children will be born. Marie-Christine was born 9 months after their union, on November 17, 1663. In 1665, it was Louis-Antoine Duke of Antin who came to enlarge the tribe. After giving birth, Athénaïs quickly returned to her occupations at Court. She is not happy with her husband , and can no longer bear his mediocrity. The household is riddled with debt. She prefers the company of the ladies of the Court.

Madame de Montespan becomes bridesmaid

Madame de Montespan will also work to offer herself a better future. By getting married, she loses the function of maid of honor of Marie-Thérèse of Austria, one of the wives of Louis XIV . Thanks to her friendship with Monsieur, Philippe d'Orléans, the king's brother, she became lady-in-waiting to the Queen of France . This is how the sulphurous Athénaïs de Montespan will get closer to King Louis XIV, to become his greatest favorite.

Even if the Montespan likes to shine in this court where gallantry is commonplace, it shows irreproachable behavior. Her wisdom and virtue define her perfectly .

Madame de Montespan and Louis XIV, a passionate love

Louis XIV notices the sulphurous Athénaïs

We are in the fall of 1666. Louis XIV is beginning to get tired of his favorite Louise de la Vallière . While visiting his wife, the king noticed this beautiful blonde with a fiery character, then 26 years old. The Duc d'Enghien, in November 1666, reported these few lines to us:

Very quickly, Louis XIV sought the company of Madame de Montespan, who was said to be “the most beautiful woman at Court”. But Athenais, showing virtue,wants a relationship based on the spirit rather than the flesh . She begins by resisting the king, going so far as to ask her husband for advice, informing him of the sovereign's insistence. The Montespan wife receives no response from her husband. Will she take it as permission to surrender to the king?

Madame de Montespan gives in to the advances of King Louis XIV

After several months of working for the conquest of the one who haunts all his thoughts , King Louis XIV is rewarded. The historian Jean-Christian Petitfils tells us that Madame de Montespan would have yielded to the advances of Louis XIV “probably at the stage of Avesnes, between June 9 and 14”. It is said that for 3 days, the two young lovers indulge in the pleasures of being together, and only together. The king remains locked up in his room, and the Montespan does not appear before the queen. However feeling remorse , the pious Marquise de Montespan went to Notre-Dame-de-Liesse a few days later to go to confession…in the company of Louise de la Vallière.

“The era of the three queens”

But this remorse will not prevent her from returning to the arms of the king. In the company of Madame de Montespan, Louis XIV evolves to become a confident and assured man. As for Athenais, the pious and virtuous woman is transformed into an ambitious woman, eager to make her way to the king's heart. Because in his heart, Louise de la Vallière still holds an important place . It is then a real threesome that takes shape under the eyes of the courtiers – and this without counting the place of the Queen of France. If at the beginning of her relationship with the king, Athénaïs wants to be friendly with Louise, this friendship only lasts for a while. Louis XIV does not want to part with his first favorite , while indulging in pleasures with the Montespan. It is “the era of the three queens” that is taking place. It is not uncommon to see the monarch of France travel in a carriage, accompanied by his wife Marie-Thérèse, as well as his two mistresses, Madame de Montespan and Louise de la Vallière. But quickly, the devilish character of Athénaïs will oust the reserved Louise . She does not hesitate to inflict the worst humiliations on her and to “treat her like a servant”. Louise de la Vallière will eventually retire to a convent, with the approval of her former lover.

The cuckolded husband ousted

The relationship between Louis XIV and the Marquise de Montespan quickly comes to light, and under the eyes of the Marquis de Montespan. This cuckolded husband is quick to make people talk about him . The first months, the marquis naturally erased himself, perhaps hoping to benefit from the success of his wife, and finally to have the long-awaited fortune. But it is nothing! He then decides to make a scene at court. He then causes many scandals, and even goes so far as to insult his wife. Annoyed, Louis XIV decides to have him locked up for four days during Fort-l'Évêque, before demanding that he retire to his lands.The lovers can now indulge in passion that animates them, without hiding.

The Marquise gives seven children to Louis XIV

This passion will quickly bear fruit. In March 1669, the first of the children of Madame de Montespan and Louis XIV see the day. The first of a long list, because the marquise gives birth to seven children , four of which will survive and will be legitimized by the king (including the Duke of Maine, the Count of Vexin and Miss de Nantes). Having become the new official favorite of Louis XIV, it is however necessary to keep her birth secret. Concealed pregnancies, deliveries far from the court, everything is done to keep the children of the king and his mistress away . It is therefore important to find a trusted person to watch over them and ensure their education. The choice fell on a faithful friend of Madame de Montespan:Françoise d'Aubigné, Madame Scarron, future Madame de Maintenon . Athénaïs de Montespan met Françoise a few years earlier at the Hôtel d'Albret, and saw her again at a party in Versailles on July 18, 1668. These two witty women like to converse together. The widow Scarron has all the qualities required to play this role of governess:pious, educated, childless. Madame de Montespan does not see her as a potential rival . Who would have imagined at that time that Françoise would become the secret wife of Louis XIV a few years later?

Between glory and whims

For many years, the Marquise de Montespan delighted her beloved king. After her many deliveries, she returns to her lover's bed and entertains him with her lively wit. “Athénaïs contributes to the glory of Louis XIV” , and the king in return brings a real fairy tale to life to his dear and tender. He gives in to all his whims, however many they may be! Apartment larger than the queen at the Château de Saint-Germain, porcelain Trianon at Versailles, construction of the Château de Clagny:nothing is too good for the favorite.

Even if Madame de Montespan reveals a capricious character, she plays an important role in the development of culture and art at the Court of France. She vouches for many artists Corneille, Molière and Jean-Baptiste Lully . Names that still resonate in our minds. The marquise happens to be the real sun of this French court, even if many are those who fear her sharp mind.

The favorite loses favor with Louis XIV

The rivalries between Madame de Montespan and Angélique

Despite a certain happiness, King Louis XIV likes to frolic elsewhere, provoking many fits of anger in Athénaïs. One of Louis XIV's mistresses will cause Montespan to be madly jealous . This is Angélique, Miss de Fontanges. The king fell in love with this young woman, barely 18 years old (the king was 41 at the time). To calm the anger of his favourite, the king offers Madame de Montespan the position of superintendent of the queen, which she has been asking for for a long time. But this gift in no way reflects the king's love for Athenais. On the contrary, it heralds a decline.

An event will however cause its definitive loss. Angélique, her Majesty's new beloved, is seized with terrible illness following her delivery. The young woman sees herself wasting away slowly, and ends up dying on June 28, 1681 at only 20 years old. The circumstances of his death are doubtful, and suggest a voluntary death. Who could blame Miss de Fontanges to the point of having her murdered? Suspicion immediately falls on Madame de Montespan . This is the beginning of the Affair of the Poisons.

The Affair of the Poisons

In the 1670s, an evil seized the Court of France. Many nobles use sorcery and poisoning to achieve their goal. One woman is at the heart of this whole affair:Catherine Deshayes, better known as The Neighbor , one of the most famous witches. Powders of love, poisons, abortion, witchcraft, La Voisin founded a veritable empire. His clients ? Many nobles of the Court of France. The witch is eventually arrested and executed, after giving a list of names of her clients. The name of Montespan is not mentioned at this time. Athénaïs thinks she is safe from all suspicion. But it was without counting on the daughter of La Voisin who informed the investigators of the participation of Madame de Montespan to a black mass.

From disgrace to penance

Already in disgrace with the king, the marquise is accused of having resorted to love poisons and filters. Horrified, Louis XIV decides to have all the evidence removed, to spare the one that once made his heart beat. Even if Madame de Montespan does not risk the scaffold, she has definitely lost the love of the king and loses its favorite status. Louis XIV's favors now go to Madame de Maintenon, much to the despair of Athénaïs.

Asked to leave her apartments close to those of the king to go to the ground floor, the marquise thinks about her future. Always devoid of any maternal fiber, she wants to make up for it by obtaining good marriages for her children. After living a life of sin, the former favorite decides to find the way back to God . She continues penitential stays, going for example to the Abbey of Fontevraud.

The death of Madame de Montespan

At the beginning of the year 1707, when she was 67 years old, Madame de Montespan suggested that the Duchess of Noailles accompany her husband to Bourbon, a high place of cure. During her stay, the marquise is seized with discomfort. Doctors are not confident she will recover . Athénaïs then summons her servants and confesses in front of everyone her sins as a former favorite. Surrounded by her son the Duke of Antin, Madame de Montespan died on the night of May 26 to 27, 1707 around 3am.

The announcement of his death at the Court of Versailles leaves you unmoved. On hearing the news, King Louis XIV will show no emotion, the memory of his greatest favorite being far away. Only Madame de Maintenon will show some sadness.