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Madame de Maintenon

Françoise d’Aubigné (granddaughter of the poet Agrippa d’Aubigné) was born on 28 November 1635 in the prison of Niort, where her father was detained. She was taken in by her father’s sister, Madame de Villette, a Protestant, and was lovingly brought up at the Château de Murcay, near Niort.

 

The belle indienne

Her father was released in around 1645 and took his family to Martinique, where he amassed a considerable fortune that he soon gambled away to nothing.

 

Madame d’Aubigné and her children returned to France empty handed. Françoise met Scarron, a poet who suffered from crippling rheumatism, whose company and sharp mind were much admired in high society circles. He noticed the qualities of Françoise, and she became his prodigy.

 

She would soon become known as the belle indienne, a reference to her travels and the tales she told of them.

 

Madame Scarron at the “hotel of impecuniosity”*

At the age of seventeen, with no family and no money, she had to choose between entering religious orders and marrying Paul Scarron, twenty-two years her elder. She chose to marry. Scarron died eight years later, in 1660, leaving her in distress. A spirited, attractive, virtuous and inaccessible woman, she found support and comfort in the high society circles frequented by her late husband.

*The name given by Scarron to their Parisian home.

 

Governess of illegitimate children

In 1669, Françoise d’Aubigné, the widow Scarron, entered the service of Madame de Montespan, the mistress of Louis XIV, as governess of the couple’s illegitimate children. She lived away from the Court and from prying eyes. In 1673, the children were legitimised, and Madame Scarron moved to the Court.

 

Madame de Maintenon

On 27 December 1674, after receiving generous financial rewards from the King for her services, Madame Scarron bought the seigneurie of Maintenon, and one year later she became Madame de Maintenon. In 1680, she was appointed Mistress of the Robes to the Dauphine. She gradually established her place in the King’s intimate circle and in his heart, and abandoned the idea of withdrawing to her estate.

 

The secret wife of the Sun King

In October 1683, some months after the death of the Queen, Maria Theresa of Austria, Madame de Maintenon secretly married Louis XIV. In 1698, having no descendants, she bequeathed the estate of Maintenon to her niece, Françoise Amable d’Aubigné, in view of her marriage to Marshal Adrien-Maurice Duke d’Ayen then Duke de Noailles. In 1715, on the death of the King, she retired to the Maison royale de Saint Louis in Saint-Cyr, a boarding school that she had set up in 1685 for girls from impoverished noble families. She died there in 1719 at the age of 84.