Funny And Not So Funny Things That Happened At The Court Of Louis XIV, Part One

Louis le Grand, the great Sun King, reigned for a long 72 years and a lot of things happened during those 72 years at court. Some of those are well-known, some of those not, some of those are small and would not fill a whole post on this blog by themselves, but combined…. you see where I am going with this. There are plenty, as the title says, funny and not so funny (tragic) things that happened, which are hardly mentioned anywhere, but worth talking about. Either because they are simply hilarious or give you a WTF moment. Here are some of them and more are to follow, hopefully regularly.

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The Duchesse de Noailles, was a dame d’honneur to Queen Marie-Thérèse and not liked much by her fellow ladies-of-honor and ladies-in-waiting. Madame de Noailles noticed one day that the favoured prey of the gentlemen at court, including the King, were her fellow ladies. Thus, being in a position of significance among them, made sure the doors to the rooms of her fellow ladies were always locked once they retired. Much to the annoyance of the young gentlemen seeking to woo them. This step however did not stop secret nightly visits. Madame de Noailles was a little baffled by that, until she noticed those gentlemen could also visit via the windows. A dangerous undergoing. The rooms were on the very top-level. Attic floor. The gentlemen were able to balance along a sort of stone downspout and reach the rooms this way. (The things we do for love…. ) Madame de Noailles wasn’t amused at all and ordered the windows to be blocked with iron bars, prison style. Olympe Mancini, the Superintendent of the Queen’s Household and her ladies, noticed this as the bars were delivered. Madame de Noailles’ plan was met with much protest from her, yet Madame de Noailles was willed to carry it out anyway. Someone else was not fond of her plan either and that was Louis XIV. Not only would iron bars destroy the facade, this whole nonsense of locking doors and blocking windows kept him as well from visiting those ladies. Madame de Noailles meant no harm and sought only to protect, as thank you she and her husband were both urged to leave and stay away from court for quite a while. (Don’t mess with the King.)

As the Duc de Gramont lay ill and thought to be dying, he asked for the story of the Passion to be read to him. He had never heard it in French before, only in Latin, and his Latin must not have been good. The story came upon him with all the force of novelty and when they reached the passage where ‘they all forsook him and fled’, the Duc cried out ‘Ah! The traitors! But why did he take rascals and common people like fishermen for his followers? Why didn’t he choose Gascon noblemen ?’

Madame Panache, a little old woman with thick lips and bloodshot eyes, was regarded as sort of semi-lunatic. The ceremonies of court life exercised a strange fascination for her and she hardly missed being a spectator at the supper of the King or the dinners of the Dauphin and Monsieur. Since Madame Panache was prone to outbursts of temper and emotion, the courtiers loved to play tricks on her. They amused themselves by working her into a passion. The Princes and Princesses, for example, filled her pockets with meat and stews, until the juice trickled down her petticoats on to the floor. Some would give her money. Others poked or pinched her. Poor Madame Panache was too blind to see who poked her or put things into her pockets, and thus delivered the anticipated outbursts.

Madame de Maintenon once held a lesson at her girls-school Saint-Cyr about the hardships of marriage life. She told the girls what they had to expect and how lucky a friend of her was, for her friend’s husband hardly ever came home during the period of 10 years. She certainly gave the girls no illusions.  ‘Mon Dieu! What virtue a woman must have! We make no mistake, when we tell our pupils that marriage brings with it great pains. Happy, if all husbands were like the one I have just mentioned, for, as he was never at home, his wife was at least free in her own room! But this was an exceptional case. Most husbands come home more than once in the day, and, when they come, they always make it clear that they are the masters. They come in making a hideous noise, often with I don’t know how many friends, and they bring in dogs which spoil the furniture. The wife has to put up with it. She mayn’t even shut a window. If her husband comes home late, she has to sit up for him. She has to dine when he pleases. In a word, she counts for nothing.’

The Duc and Duchesse de Bourgogne played a trick on the Princesse d’Harcourt at Marly. They arranged a series of bombs along the avenue that led from Marly to the Perspective, where the Princesse d’Harcourt lodged. As the Princesse was half way up the allee in her sedan chair, the bombs began to explode. Her porters were in the know, dropped the chair and fled at once, while the Princess was left struggling and shrieking inside. The rest of the court was also in the know and watched the screaming Princesse in her struggle from a distance, highly amused.

Part Two 

3 thoughts on “Funny And Not So Funny Things That Happened At The Court Of Louis XIV, Part One

  1. It’s an excellent idea. Lots of anecdotes do not fit into the larger forms like book or article and remains forgotten. Weekly gossip column (even short) would be greatly appreciated :).

  2. I love your historical vignettes! So much history, so little time. Thanks for making time for the small and unknown!

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