Franqoise Louise de la Baume le Blanc, Duchess de la Valliere, was born in 1644. She lost her father at an early age, and on her mother remarrying she went to Court as Maid of Honour to the Duchess of Orleans. She was barely seventeen when she entered the maelstrom of Court merrymaking. She had all the romance of a violet, its modesty and beauty. Her silvery, fair hair, her brown eyes, full cherry lips, lovely complexion, and slender figure gave her a delicate loveliness, which the modesty of her bearing and the real virtue of her heart served to accentuate. She was timid, unassuming, discreet, and sensitive, and prided herself not a little upon the sagacity of her mind and her conduct. Thus was she on entering the corrupt atmosphere of the Court, and thus she left it many years after, her spirit still pure, her heart broken, maybe, but, as the times and the manners went, really virtuous.
The magnificence of Louis XIV., then at the height of his glory, the prime of his manhood, made a deep impression upon the shy, young Maid of Honour. She struggled hard against her feelings. Admiration turned to sincere and whole-hearted love. She had no ambition whatsoever. She did not seek the King. She lusted not after power. She loved unselfishly and unsuspected, until the exclamation, What a pity that he should be King!" gave away her secret. Her words were conveyed to Louis, who, no doubt, charmed to think that here was one who loved him for himself alone, sought her acquaintance. For a time his interest in her was solely that of kindliness. The little Louise, with her shrinking beauty and shy modesty, was of those who arouse kindliness.
An Innocent Cats paw
It was the Queen-mother who unintentionally set the train which fired the heart of Louis the Magnificent. She became rather alarmed at the strong and intimate friendship between Louise and his sister-in-law, the Duchess of Orleans. The Court was gay, and the King and the Duchess were always together in the heart of its gaiety.
The Queen-mother allowed her alarm to become noticeable, and it was arranged that Louis, in order to calm the alarm of his mother, should pretend to be in love with someone else. Three Maids of Honour were suggested, but finally Louise was chosen as the stalking-horse for the King's affection She was such a modest little flower, and her beauty was so delicate, that the Duchess of Orleans, no doubt, felt that there was no danger of pretence becoming reality.
It was not long before Louis fell under the persuasive charm of the Maid of Honour, and his make-believe affection rapidly gave way to real passion. It was in the green, umbrageous avenues of Versailles that he first made his avowal. The setting was as romantic as the heart of lover could well wish for, and Louis's language was worthy of it and of him.
Then came a faltering response. She assured him that she was not playing with his love. She had been hurt by the openly expressed ridicule of the Court for the esteem she bore towards him, and complained with a sigh that in loving a king only his crown and his sceptre were to be thought of, according to the world's way of looking at the matter. That was not hers, however, and she assured him, as he hoped already, that she loved him, as few kings have been loved, for himself alone.
A little later he sent her a pair of earrings and a watch, with the letter: "Bid me die, or love me. I cannot hide my misery, and the curiosity of my friends drives me mad. They tell me that madame is not cruel, and that there fortune favours me. The fools! They know not that I love one whose mocking affection is killing me.
I implore you, in the name of God, to relent or to dismiss me for ever."
Louis's love for her was really great, and the deeper the affair went, the greater was the reserve he showed. With her it was a case of lasting love. She deserted most of her friends, and, when away from her Royal lover, preferred to relieve the unhappiness of separation by solitude and reflection. Placed as she was upon the pinnacle of power, she never dreamed of using it. She gave all and asked nothing. Like all true lovers, they had their quarrels and their scenes, but such usually ended in reconciliation. The first test to which Louis's love was put was severe, for it involved the sacrifice of his dignity, which, for a king, is no small matter.
Louise de la Valliere, the beautiful Maid of Honour whose love for Louis XIV. was the purest and most disinterested ever bestowed upon the Grand Monarque. On the desertion of her Royal lover, she retired.
heartbroken, to a convent
Louis, lover-like and king-like, had objected to the friendship of Louise with Anne Constance de Montalais, an intriguer of the type so common at his Court. He forbade Louise to have anything to do with her. Louise obeyed him in public, but in secret kept up her friendship with the ill-named Constance, who, thinking, no doubt, to sow the seeds of jealousy, revealed to Louise some of the many love affairs of the Duchess of Orleans.
Louis in some way or other got to hear of this, and asked Louise to tell him what it was that Constance had revealed. Louise, loyal to her friend, refused to do anything of the sort, and the King left her in a furious ill temper: All through the day Louise waited for some sign of reconciliation. Night came, and with it no word from the King.
A Hapless Fugitive
She left the palace and went along the banks of the Seine to Chaillot, where she knocked at the door of a small convent kept by some poor nuns. They admitted her to the outside parlour, and there she collapsed, worn out with fatigue, cold, and misery. As the sun rose over the palace, the huge whisper of gossip, hardly silent at night, grew louder and louder. At last the King heard the name Louise in a passing conversation.
"What is it? Tell me!" he commanded.
"Sire, they say she has taken the vows at the Convent of Chaillot," replied the frightened courtiers.
Louis said not a word, but turned on his heel, mounted a horse, and galloped to the convent.
He was admitted to the parlour where lay his lovely Louise on the floor, her whole body shaken with sobs. After much persuasion, she told what she would have hidden from him, and Louis ordered her a carriage for the return to Paris. Neither the Duke nor the Duchess of Orleans would have her back.
At length, however, the Duchess yielded to Louis's commands, his entreaties, his threats, and his tears, and Louise returned to the Tuileries. It was long before she again conquered the complete confidence of the King. Naturally enough, there were many lovely ladies at the Court who eyed the position occupied by La Valliere with great envy. Now, the most determined of these intriguers was the Countess de Soissons. Foiled in one attempt, she bided her time, and at length found in one of the Queen's maids, Anne Lucie de la Motte-houdancourt, a weapon with which to break the infatuation of Louis for Louise. She was pretty, but cold, self-controlled and entirely calculating.
By a well-judged resistance she inspired some sort of passion in the King, who in this fleeting affair behaved himself in a thoroughly foolish manner.
But the calculations of Anne Lucie had left out of account that very powerful personage the Queen-mother, who, alarmed by the new intrigue, and realising the innate goodness of Louise de la Valliere, and the excellent effect she had upon the King, showed her son that he was being duped. From that moment La Motte no longer existed for him. He implored forgiveness from Louise, who had watched the progress of his infatuation with angry jealousy.
She granted it none too easily, and it was therefore treasured accordingly by Louis, who, like the rest of mankind, preferred the things which are difficult of achievement to the easy prizes of life and of love.
Throughout all this time the Queen knew nothing of La Valliere. In 1663, while Louis was ill with fever, he babbled continually of Louise, though he would not see her for fear of placing her in danger of infection. It became more and more difficult to keep the secret from the Queen, and at last she was told of the affair by the Duchess of Orleans and Countess de Soissons.
With advancing years Louis acquired growing independence, and openly hunted with Louise and walked with her in the gardens. The Queen about this time urged Louis to find a husband for La Valliere. Louise herself refused very definitely to marry, declaring to the King, "I will tell you. I can die easily enough, but I cannot give you up, and I would rather lose my life than lose the lovely hopes you have given me. Therefore go on loving me. If you cease to do so, I know quite well that life will hold nothing for me."
And on his knees Louis replied, "I should be a vile wretch indeed if, after that, I could live for anyone but you."
There was a great ball at the Tuileries the night she left. As she listened to the music she decided to leave it all. In her little grey frock she stole out of the palace for the same convent to which she had fled eight years before in her distress. She entered it at dawn. This time there came no ardent king-lover in pursuit. He sent a friend to bring her back. At first she refused to return, but finally consented to a farewell interview. Louis showed some emotion, and his entreaties were difficult to resist. At last La Valliere exclaimed, "My crimes were public; my repentance must be public, too." She flung herself at the Queen's feet and begged for forgiveness. After Mass the next day she drove to the convent.
A year later she took the veil in the presence of a large concourse of Court people. Many a courtier sighed when the black veil was placed on her head and covered the sweet face for ever, for she was young (just thirty-one) and beautiful. The prioress took her to the garden, and there on a cross of flowers she laid her lovely self.
Then she arose, "dead to the world, alive in God."
She was over sixty when she died.