One night, at the chateau de Versailles, a group of selected people gathered, sworn to complete secrecy, to witness the second marriage of Louis XIV. To this very day, no document has been discovered that proves the whole thing, yet it is accepted to have happened by historians all over word.
The great Sun King had lost his wife Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche to a sudden illness in 1683. Louis was only forty-four then, young enough to marry again and to have some more children, which was pretty much what the rest of Europe thought he would do. But he did not. For a time, Louis le Grand considered to marry one of the European princesses. There were a few fit to make a gracious Queen, but thinking about it he thought his lineage quite save. His son married three years earlier and had a son in 1682. His wife was pregnant at the time of the Queen’s death and it might result in a second son being born. (It did.) Thus, considering everything, why not do the very extraordinary thing and marry for love? In secret, of course. Only a handful of people could know and they had to swear not to say a word about it. After all, even or especially for a King, what Louis had in mind was a bit scandalous.
Louis XIV was very much aware of it. Just as he was aware that he could not make the lady in question the new Queen of France. All the nobles would have rebelled at once. It had to be a morganatic marriage. In which two people are united in marriage, but the one of the lesser rank, in this case the bride, was not entitled to the husband’s rank and privileges. Neither the bride nor any children of the marriage have a claim on the bridegroom’s succession rights, titles, precedence, or entailed property. Thus, for the bride not much would change at first glance. Apart from a previously sinful relationship, being changed into something the Church could be alright with.
The chosen one was a lady that long lived on charity. She was born either in or just outside a prison, married a poet and was widowed young, due to connections she was hired to look after the royal bastards, the children of Louis and Madame de Montespan, she did her job well, the King got to like her a bit, then a bit more, and a bit more again… During those last years, she was pretty much always on his side in an attempt to save his soul. She changed his mind about a thing or two and he made her a Marquise.
According to Françoise d’Aubigné herself, she had no great desire to join Louis in his bed. Nor to become another maitresse en titre, but somehow she became just that. Everyone knew. Being a pious woman, Madame de Maintenon did not only see the King’s soul in danger, due to past affairs, but also her own if she should live with him like only man and wife should. She told Louis so.
What in the end got Louis to think of marrying Madame de Maintenon, is something only he knows. She might have thrown a subtle hint or two. Maybe he was tired of being told how sinful everything is. Maybe he was really in love.
Of course, one can not marry without priest or witnesses, thus Louis had to tell someone of his desire. He told his son and said son was apparently not at all happy about it. Louis also told his Minister of War Louvois and he wasn’t happy either. “Oh, Sire! Has your Majesty really considered this? The greatest King in the world, covered in glory, to marry the widow Scarron? Do you want to bring dishonour on yourself?” Louvois fell on his knees and continued “Sire, pardon the liberty I take. Relieve me of all my posts, throw me into prison, but I will never look upon such an indignity.” At least the Church found the idea good enough, for the sake of Louis soul.
And so, either on the night to 9 October 1683 or in January 1684, a handful of people gathered in a cabinet at midnight. Since the only mentions of it, come from memoirs, it is a little unclear who was really there. Groom and bride, of course, along with King’s confessor François de la Chaise, the Archbishop of Paris, as well as Alexandre Bontemps and Louvois. Saint-Simon adds the Dauphin and the Marquis de Montchevreuil to the list, along with a maid of the bride and Chevalier de Forbin. The Archbishop of Paris was to hold the ceremony and travelled to Versailles in secret, where Bontemps led him through secret passages into one of the King’s cabinets. There, Madame de Maintenon greeted him with Louis by her side.
Saint-Simon, who was a boy as it happened, writes: “But what is very certain and very true, is, that some time after the return of the King from Fontainebleau, and in the midst of the winter that followed the death of the Queen (posterity will with difficulty believe it, although perfectly true and proved), Père de la Chaise, confessor of the King, said mass at the dead of night in one of the King’s cabinets at Versailles. Bontems, governor of Versailles, chief valet on duty, and the most confidential of the four, was present at this mass, at which the monarch and La Maintenon were married in presence of Harlay, Archbishop of Paris, as diocesan, of Louvois (both of whom drew from the King a promise that he would never declare this marriage), and of Montchevreuil…. The satiety of the honeymoon, usually so fatal, and especially the honeymoon of such marriages, only consolidated the favour of Madame de Maintenon. Soon after, she astonished everybody by the apartments given to her at Versailles, at the top of the grand staircase facing those of the King and on the same floor. From that moment the King always passed some hours with her every day of his life; wherever she might be she was always lodged near him, and on the same floor if possible.”
The new secret wife indeed lodged in better rooms afterwards, just a few steps away from the King’s apartment, but that was pretty much all that changed for her. Officially she was still Madame de Maintenon, the widow of the poet Scarron, although rumours began to spread that something like a secret marriage might have occurred. Keeping a secret really secret was nearly impossible in Versailles, after all. Her servants continued to wear her own livree, her household did not increase, and if it wasn’t for the fact that she sat in the Queen’s place when travelling with the King, nothing might have happened just as well. Louis treated her with the usual respect in public…. but in private, apparently, like a Queen. Then she was also called her Majesty by those in the know.