Louis XIV’s favourite son was not his heir, the Dauphin, but one born in secrecy. It was the first son he had with his probably most famous mistress Madame de Montespan.
Fearing the wrath of a horned hubby, la Montespan’s pregnancy was kept as secret as possible. It was the result of double-adultery and since there was the possibility that Monsieur de Montespan could lay claim to the child, which was his right no matter if it was actually his own or not, it was necessary that the birth happened in secret as well. The child was born on 31 March in 1670, probably at Saint-Germain, and named Louis after his father, receiving the second name Auguste after one of Louis XIV’s idols Emperor Augustus.
Only an hour or two old, little Louis-August was smuggled out of the chateau, hidden under a cloak, by Lauzun and taken to a carriage that stood ready. He brought the baby to the rue de Vaugirard, near the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, where Francoise d’Aubigne, hired by maman and papa to look after their children and keep them safe from Monsieur de Montespan, already awaited her newest charge in a house rented for the purpose. She became more of mother to Louis-Auguste than his actual maman.
Madame de Montespan recovered in a swift. She had to, for Louis le Grand intended to take his court, including Athénaïs, to Flanders in order to show his wife what territories had been conquered in the War of Devolution in her name… and while they were there, it was planned that his sister-in-law should be overcome by homesickness and travel to England in order to help with a secret treaty.
In the meanwhile Francoise d’Aubigne, poor widow of the poor poet Scarron, acted doting mother to the child. He was small, not in the best health, fragile and crippled. One of his legs as shorter than the other and he also had a bit of a clubfoot, a deformed foot that is twisted so that the sole cannot be placed flat on the ground. Louis-Auguste was often poor, his mother did not care much. She was rather disappointed by the child, for she had had great plans for him, plans that could hardly be acted out due to the frail health of the boy. Madame Scarron’s feelings for little Louis-Auguste were completely different. She adored the boy and his well-being was her greatest worry.
She did everything in her power to help him and her motherly feelings made quite an impression on Louis XIV. The King shared her worries for the health of the child, while the actual mother was quite uncaring most of the time. Louis and the widow Scarron spent long hours with discussing what could be done to improve Louis-Auguste’s health and he gave her permission to take his son to various doctors, including a quack at Antwerp, then to the waters of Bareges. Both travelled incognito, as the Marquis de Surgeres and her poor ward.
As Louis-Auguste was three years old, his papa legitimised him and his siblings. He had already done it with the two surviving children he had with Mademoiselle de la Vallière, who still acted as his official mistress… but the times were she actually was his mistress were long over. It was Athénaïs who was in possession of his heart… more or less… because Athénaïs was in quite the huff with him for engaging with the Princesse de Soubise. Thus the legitimising of their children in 1673, might have been also an attempt to calm la Montespan. In contrary of the legitimisation of the children Louis had with Mademoiselle de la Vallière, it was not possible for Louis XIV to have the mother named in the documents this time. Mademoiselle de la Vallière was unmarried and thus could be named, while Madame de Montespan had this nuisance of a husband.
Louis-Auguste and his two still living siblings legitimised along with him, now became de Bourbon’s instead of nameless bastards. The little boy also got a title along with the family name, for he was made Duc du Maine. Of course, the King’s children could under no circumstances continue to live in some tiny house in Paris, thus their governess was introduced to court along with them and her position made official.
The boy’s health was still a source of trouble to the widow Scarron and Louis XIV. As the latter left to go to war, he received daily updates from Françoise d’Aubigné. Soon, after the boy had learned how to write with assistance, the King also received letters by him. Full of adoration for his papa and congratulating him on every victory. It became quite clear to everyone that the little Duc du Maine was the favourite son. Louis XIV showered him with attention and gifts. Only the best of the best, no matter if doctors, tutors or toys.
The Duc du Maine and his siblings moved to court in 1674, his father wishing to have them closer, and to celebrate it, the boy, only four years old, became a colonel-general of the Swiss Guards.
The court, especially Madame de Montespan, had high hopes for Louis-Auguste becoming a military genius and to make quite the career one day… papa made sure the boy had one of the best soldiers, the Marèchal de Luxembourg, as mentor… but Louis-Auguste wasn’t that interested in war. He was pious and had a bit of an effaced temperament. He studied with great care, but had no natural talent for military matters.
Thus, since a military career was unlikely, the proud papa looked for other ways to improve the fortune of Louis-Auguste and found them among the possessions of La Grande Mademoiselle. She had a crush on the Duc de Lauzun and wished to be wedded to him… a scandal. Lauzun was thrown into prison and La Grande Mademoiselle into great despair. She begged and begged for him to be released… Louis XIV eventually had him released, but only after she transferred parts of her possessions to Louis-August. As a result, Louis-Auguste became Comte d’Eu, sovereign Prince of the Dombes and Duc d’Aumale.
Aged twelve, the Duc du Maine became governor of Languedoc. Louis-Auguste’s first big chance to impress came as he was fourteen years old in 1684. He was sent to Savoy by the Sun King in order to represent him at the wedding of Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia and Anne-Marie d’Orléans, daughter of Louis XIV’s brother. Two years later, he entered the ranks of the Chevaliers du ordre du Saint-Esprit. By 1688, he was promoted by his father to general of the galleys then lieutenant-general.
Louis-Auguste was now in an age to think of marriage and uttered his desire to find a wife in 1688, but his papa was not yet willed to arrange for one… or rather feared that the one he had in mind for his son would not be easy to get. Louis had in mind to marry his son to Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans. A daughter of Louis-Auguste’s uncle Philippe de France and his second wife Liselotte von der Pfalz, known to loathe the King’s bastards and how he married them to Princes du Sang to establish them. Liselotte also had her doubts that Louis-Auguste actually was a royal bastard at all. “I can readily believe that the Comte de Toulouse is the King’s son; but I have always thought that the Duc du Maine is the son of Terme, a member of the court, who was a false knave, and the greatest tale-bearer in the Court”, she wrote.
Madame was horrified her daughter could marry a bastard and protested with all her might as it was suggested to her. Thus, the King had to find a different bride. Luckily, for the Sun King, la Grand Condé’s son had more than one yet unmarried daughter and Condé was will to overlook the rank issue. Louis-Auguste could even chose which daughter he wanted. Anne-Marie Victoire de Bourbon, Anne-Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon or Marie-Anne de Bourbon. The oldest, Anne-Marie, even had quite the crush on him… but Louis-Auguste decided for Anne-Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon.
The marriage took place at Versailles on May 19 in 1692. Madame de Montespan was not present, her involvement in the affaire des poisons had brought disgrace upon her… but there was a special guest of honour. The exiled James II of England. The Duc du Maine received a splendid gift of one million livres from papa as well as the chateau de Sceaux and the new Duchesse du Maine a hundred thousand livres in cash along with clothes and jewels worth an additional two hundred thousand livres.
As often, the marriage was not too happy. The bride did not really like the groom’s légitimé de France status. Both were physically handicapped. The Duc due his leg and the Duchesse was rather small and had a bad right arm, which often made the court jest “Voici l’union d’un boiteux et d’une manchote. Ah, le beau couple!”
The couple had seven children, of which three reached adulthood, but none had an heir.
Louis-Auguste’s relationship to his mother was a quite delicate one. After la Montespan’s star declined on the firmament and that of Maine’s former governess, which in the meanwhile had risen to the rank of Marquise and was secretly wedded to Louis XIV, began to hover ever observing over the court, Louis-Auguste does not seem to have regarded his mother with too friendly feelings. Before his wedding, he confronted her with his wish to take over her apartment at Versailles, because once he was married he would be in need of more space. Madame de Montespan left it to him without much ado and relocated herself to Clagny, but not for long. Maine shooed her out of the château de Clagny too, which once had been built for her, arguing that it was way too close to Versailles and considering her situation, it would be rather indecorous to lodge there. Louis-Auguste was not too affected as his mother passed away in 1707. He had long ceased to care for her. Upon her demise, he inherited large parts of her property and the chateau he had shooed her out of was among it.
That Maine was the favourite of his father became very clear again in 1694 as a shift in ranks put Maine and his legitimised brother straight between the Princes du Sang and the Duc’s and Peers. The latter were quite outraged about it, for it meant a set of privileges was granted to them that many considered them to be unworthy of… or rather thought they should be reserved to the true children of France and the Duc’s and Peers. The events of the next year, 1695, made them think that even more.
The Duc de Maine, pampered by Madame de Maintenon and showered with gifts by his father, already had gathered some experience in matters of war and they were not too glorious. Maine’s actions at Namur, which was nearly taken, brought him only ridicule. Instead of giving the necessary orders to secure the victory, in his position of grand master of the artillery, Maine discussed the matter with his confessor first. Namur was lost. Maine seen as a coward… and papa very disappointed. While the court whispered about Maine’s cowardliness, the Dutch were less quiet about it and ridiculed him openly.
Luckily, for Louis-Auguste, there was still his old governess to run to and she made sure that nobody would dare to talk bad about her darling. Even if the once so sweet child turned out to be a greedy, selfish, whiner with a fondness to create unrest for his own advantage. Ever on the look to gain more and climb a step higher on the importance ladder.
Maine was quite high on that ladder already, thanks to Madame de Maintenon, and thanks to her, he was allowed to make another step up. Pressed by Madame de Maintenon, and maybe to have a bit of peace, Louis XIV declared Maine and his younger brother the Comte de Toulouse to Princes du Sang. And on top of it, compelled the Parlement de Paris to acquiesce to their being placed in the line of succession to the French throne, following all of the legitimate lines of the House of Bourbon. Which means, if there should be no other Princes du Sang left, the lines of Maine and his brother would provide the King of France. A scandal. The King even put it into his testament… but here well aware that what his testament said was not necessarily what would happen. After all, both the wishes his grandfather and father were overwritten as soon as they were dead. And that would happen to his own as well, which he told Maine. As long as Louis XIV was alive, Maine was someone of importance, but with his death Maine could no longer rely on his father to keep him important. He would have to manage that on his own.
Louis-Auguste took that to heart… but it did not work out as he intended. One day after the death of Louis XIV in 1715, according to custom, the testament was read in a solemn sitting in the Parliament of Paris, in presence of members of all the Sovereign Courts, the Princes du Sang and the Ducs and Peers. The new King, Louis XV, was a little boy who needed a Regent and Louis XIV gave this regency to Maine and his cousin the Duc d’Orléans. The latter was supposed to be President of the Regency Council, while Maine had the say over the new King, his household and the guards. That didn’t sit well with the Duc d’Orléans, of course. After all he was a grandson of Louis XIII. After all his father was the brother of Louis XIV. After all he was the senior prince. Just like Louis XIV predicted, his testament was overwritten and the Regency given to the Duc d’Orléans.
Louis-Auguste kept his seat in the council, but had to give up his say over the household of the King and the guards. He had to do with being responsible for the King’s education and did that quite well, for he became a bit of a father figure to him. The outrage that was caused by Maine being elevated to Prince du Sang was not forgotten either.
The Duc de Saint-Simon was especially outraged about it and buddies with the Regent. He managed, his only great victory, that Maine, who he did not like one bit, was stripped of the rank along with his brother. The eight year old Louis XV asserted the rank of Duc and Peer to them and Maine was also stripped of his superintendence of education.
Displeased by all of that, Louis-Auguste and his ambitious wife joined a plot against the Regent a couple of months later in 1718. Called the Cellamare Conspiracy, after Antonio del Giudice, Prince di Cellamare, the Spanish ambassador to France, this plot involved transferring the Regency from the Duc d’Orléans to the King of Spain, uncle of Louis XV, and in case of the demise of Louis XV, to have the King of Spain or one of his sons installed as King of France. The whole thing was discovered and the Duc and Duchesse du Maine’s involvement as well. The Duchesse was exiled to Dijon and the Duc du Maine arrested and imprisoned in the fortress of Doullens.
Both were pardoned in 1720 and allowed to return to court. The Duchesse sought to make peace with the Regent and also her hubby. It was her who talked him into joining the plot.
Louis-Auguste’s great days were finally over then. He and his wife retired to the château de Sceaux, where they lived a subdued quiet life most of the time. The Duchesse du Maine created a small court there and filled it with popular literary figures. Louis-Auguste spent most of his time in company of books and stayed away from politics. He died at Sceaux on 14 May in 1736, aged sixty-six, due to face-cancer. The House of Bourbon-Maine became extinct at the death of his oldest son in 1775.