Who was Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon?
Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon, the second wife of King Louis XIV of France, was a fascinating figure of her time and had an unusual life and ascension to the court. She was born into a poor family. She married poet Paul Scarron and later became the mistress and then the secret wife of King Louis XIV. Although her morals may have been considered questionable because of the path she had chosen, she was a bright and compassionate woman. She studied the philosophical currents of the time and had made an important contribution to the educational system, as she had founded a school for women in Saint-Cyr. Even though her influence with the King was significant, she was never officially recognized as the queen consort of France.
Childhood & Early Life
Françoise d'Aubigné was born on November 27, 1635, to Jeanne de Cardilhac and Huguenot Constant d’Aubigné. Her place of birth, however, is not certain. While some sources claim she was born in Niort, France, others suggest she was born in the prison where her father was confined.
Her grandfather, Protestant general Agrippa d'Aubigné, was a famous historian and poet. At the time of Françoise’s birth, her father was imprisoned for having plotted against Cardinal Richelieu.
She was baptized as a Roman Catholic, and her godparents were Suzanne de Baud¬éan and Duke de La Rochefoucauld, Fran¬çois de La Rochefoucauld’s father.
Until she turned 7, she stayed with her aunt, Villette, Agrippa’s favorite daughter, who helped her get a proper education. Françoise’s father had not inherited any of his father’s qualities and could not have provided his daughter with the knowledge and manners she needed to learn.
After being released from prison, Françoise’s father took his family to the Martinique Island but later returned to France and left them there. In that situation, her mother did her best to take care of her family until they, too, went back to France. Soon after being reunited with his daughter, Constant died. Following this, his daughter went back to live with her aunt.
When her godparents found out that she was educated as a Protestant, they insisted that she be taken to a convent where she would receive Catholic education. It is believed that Françoise could not stand the convent but befriended one of the nuns there, who convinced her to take her first communion and also made her life there a bit easier.
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Life in the High Society & Ascension to the Court
Her first marriage allowed Françoise to become part of the high society of that time. Although Paul Scarron, her first husband, may not have offered her much on a personal level, he was rich and well-established in the Paris high society. When he died, she received his pension, which had been increased by the Queen. However, when Louis XIV became king, he canceled it.
She spent quite a few years living off the help of her friends, until she finally decided to move to Lisbon and become a lady-in-waiting to the queen of Portugal. However, just before leaving, she made a fortunate encounter with Madame de Montespan, the King’s secret mistress. She liked Françoise so much that she helped her get her pension back so she would not have to leave Paris.
Madame de Montespan was her first connection to the court. When she had her second child with the King, Françoise was left in charge of the baby and the household, making sure everything was done in a discreet manner. She took such good care of the child that the King noticed her himself, despite the fact that her strict religious conduct was not too appealing to him.
When the King’s children with Madame de Montespan were officially recognized, Françoise was named the royal governess. It was an important position, and she profited from it by beginning to get closer to the King and talking to him in a straightforward and courageous way, which was exactly what he was looking for. He even gave her 200,000 livres, which she used to purchase the property of Maintenon. A year later, she was granted the title of “Marquise de Maintenon.”
Gradually, the relationship between her and the King became more affectionate in nature. Surprisingly, even the Queen approved of their affair, as Françoise was extremely polite toward the Queen, unlike Madame de Montespan.
It was only a few months after the Queen’s death that the King married the Marquise de Maintenon, in a private ceremony held by the Archbishop of Paris. Since there was such a big class difference between them, the marriage was morganatic, meaning that Françoise was not officially considered the King’s wife and was not named Queen. While some historians think the King only married her in order to consummate their relationship, others claim it was simply a formalization of a much older affair.
As the unofficial consort of the King, she did not have any influence over the political matters of the kingdom. Her purpose, as dictated by her religious background, was to make sure the King was surrounded by decent and dignified people.
Her main accomplishment was founding the ‘Maison Royale de Sain-Louis’ in Saint-Cyr. It was a school meant to educate girls from poor environments. Many historians later described her as someone with pedagogical talent. She did her best to get away from the court and help her school become a great institution.
Despite her religious upbringing, she was perceived by many as a cold, selfish, and manipulative woman who found her way to the royalty through undignified ways.
Family & Personal Life
Françoise had had two marriages. Although the second one, that would have made her the queen consort, was never officially recognized, the first one was legal and changed her social status entirely. Her first husband, Paul Scarron, was a famous poet and novelist of the time. He was much older than her and crippled and deformed, probably from polio.
She died in 1719, 4 years after the King, in Saint-Cyr.