Laure Mancini, Duchesse de Mercœur

Laure Mancini was the eldest of the five Mancini sisters. Born on May 6, 1636, she was called to France by Cardinal Mazarin, along with her sister Olympe and cousin Anne Marie Martinozzi, in 1647.

Laure Mancini, Duchesse de Mercœur
Laure Mancini, Duchesse de Mercœur

Upon arriving in France, Laure adopted, like the rest, the French spelling of her name, Laure-Victoire Mancini. Due to the influence of their uncle, Cardinal Mazarin, Laure and her sister Olympe were placed in the care of widowed Marie-Catherine de La Rochefoucauld, Marquise de Sennecey, who was once governess to the young Louis XIV. All three of this first set of Mazarinettes on French soil, lived in the Palais Royal along with the Royal Family.

As Laure arrived in France, aged thirteen, she was already well on the way to become a great beauty with great charm. It was her uncles plan to marry her and her sisters well, in order to partly brighten his own glory and influence, and to establish the Mancini’s in the French nobility. The Cardinal did not aim low in his search of husbands. Laure was the first to enter a marriage arranged by her uncle. The Cardinal ogled Charles de Nogaret de La Valette, of the House of Épernon, as possible husband, but that didn’t work out.

While the Cardinal was busy to find the proper husband for his niece, a friendship developed between Laure and the not yet ten year old Louis XIV. Laure, with her blue eyes, light hair and shapely mouth, fitted the beauty ideal of the time perfectly and she was a skilled and graceful dancer. Louis was drawn to her, not because of her beauty, but because of her dancing skills.

It did not take long until the Cardinal found a new possible husband for Laure. César de Bourbon, illegitimate son of Henri IV and Gabrielle d’Estrées, suggested Laure should marry his son Louis de Bourbon, the Duc de Mercœur. César, the Duc de Vendôme, was one of those of the high nobility who challenged the rule and position of Mazarin during the early days of the Fronde. Now he wanted to make up for it. The Cardinal was delighted. It was quite the match. Laure would not only be part of the Bourbon-Vendôme family, she would have also have a Lorraine mother-in-law and a legitimised son of the great Henri IV as father-in-law. She would become Duchesse de Mercœur and a Serene Highness. The groom was not bad either. Due to his rank he was called cousin by Louis XIV and he would inherit the title of Duc de Vendôme one day… but most families have a black sheep. The groom’s younger brother was a bit of a problem. It was the infamous Roi des Halles, François de Vendôme, Duc de Beaufort, who was very popular in Paris, but not so much with Mazarin of the King, because the Duc de Beaufort was one of the great figures of the Fronde.

The marriage negotiations went underway nonetheless, just to be paused shortly after as the Cardinal was forced to leave France, taking Laure, Olympe and Anne Marie with him.

Although marrying a niece of the exiled Cardinal was not really a move that seemed too smart now, the Duc de Mercœur considered himself to be a man of quality and honor. The Duc thus married Laure par procuration and secretly traveled all the way to Brühl, where Mazarin and his nieces lived, to marry Laure in person. Not everyone liked that. Louis was openly insulted as word reached France and Laure was forbidden to set foot on French soil by the Parliament.

Louis de Bourbon, Duc de Vendôme
Louis de Bourbon, Duc de Vendôme

As Laure was finally allowed to return to France, she lived a quite secluded life with her mother-in-law Françoise de Lorraine. Her husband, who was a whole twenty-four years older than her, was enamoured with Laure and she with him, but she did not saw much of him after their secret marriage.

The marriage of Laure and Louis was renewed and made official on May 29, 1654, in presence of the King and Anne d’Autriche. Laure’s dowry was a impressive 600.000 Livres strong and Louis XIV gifted the couple another 100.000 Livres. Along with that, Louis was made Governour of the Provence and his papa Governour of the Bretagne and Admiral of France.

Laure started to life a somewhat independent life with frequent visits to the court. She still danced often with Louis XIV and by now he also ogled her a little. It was believed that Louis privately amused himself with pretty gardener girls, which he did, but some also suspected that he amused himself with Laure as well. Madame de Motteville even said that, although due to pregnancies Laure’s figure had suffered, she still looked handsome enough on her back and that those, who were lucky enough to see her like that, could really believe she is the most beautiful woman of France.

Laure Mancini, Duchesse de Mercœur
Laure Mancini, Duchesse de Mercœur

Laure gave birth to two healthy boys Louis Joseph in 1654 and Philippe in 1655, but did not survive her third pregnancy. In 1657, she gave birth to another boy, Jules César, and seems to have suffered a stroke either while giving birth or shortly after it. Laure was partly paralyzed, could not move or feel her left arm, and lost the ability to speak. Blood letting was ordered by the physicians, which weakened her more and most likely caused her death.

Laure Mancini died on February 8, 1657, aged only twenty, at the Hôtel de Vendôme in Paris. Her husband suffered greatly due to the loss of his wife and retired from public life to become a man of the church. He died two years later in 1669 and Laure’s children were given into the care of her sister Marie Anne Mancini, Duchesse de Bouillon.

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