A very handsome door, or the first meeting of Louis XIV and his bride Marie-Thérèse

Marriage in the 17th century was mostly a matter of politics, either that of a country or family politics to rise in rank or preserve it. Grooms and brides hardly knew each other, or in case of Louis XIV and his Spanish bride, had never seen each other before. Their marriage was part of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, thus of high political importance. It was signed on 7 November in 1659 and ended the war between France and Spain that raged on from 1635. To secure this peace between the two great Kingdoms and to bring them closer together once more, the young Spanish Infanta was betrothed to the young French King.

Infanta Maria Theresa by Velázquez, 1653.

Both, bride and groom, were twenty-one years old, first cousins and of a quite different character. While Louis was the charming King every Princesse dreamed of, Marie-Thérèse was shy, restrained, insecure, formed by the strict Spanish court etiquette, and spoke hardly a word French. She was small, with ash-blonde hair, and already then had a love for chocolate.

One can imagine that under these circumstances the first meeting between bride and groom was rather awkward and it was supposed to be only shortly before the actual marriage ceremony took place. After being married by proxy in Fuenterrabia, Marie-Thérèse, her father and half the Spanish court travelled towards France, to meet Cardinal de Mazarin and Anne d’Autriche on Pheasant Island. This small river island between France and Spain already witnessed the first meeting of Louis XIII and his bride Anne d’Autriche, as well as Philip IV’s first meeting with his bride Élisabeth de France, sister of Louis XIII. Now it witnessed the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees and a family reunion, that of Philip IV and his sister Anne.

The strict Spanish court ceremonial forbade Louis XIV to meet his bride until the official handing-over ceremony, something he was not quite agreeable with… and so as the Spanish King, Mazarin, Anne, the nervous Marie-Thérèse and the King’s brother Philippe sat together for a bit of chit chat, Louis disguised himself.

Donning the garments of a Cavalier, Louis entered the room the family gathering took place in to catch a glimpse of his bride, dressed in a silver-grey gown of the Spanish fashion. This disguise, however, did not trick his mother or brother. Even if not dressed as King, Louis, wearing a fashionable small moustache, and with his broad shoulders and high heels adding a good ten centimetres to his height, was easy to spot. Philip IV was not too pleased by the sight, but Marie-Thérèse was and shyly watched this ‘stranger’ that had just entered with flushed cheeks, while he watched her with keen eyes.

Anne d’Autriche, seeing the flush on Marie-Thérèse’s cheeks inquired at once how she likes what she sees there standing by the door, but Philip IV silenced her by informing her it is not the right time to speak of such things. “When is the right time?” Anne d’Autriche inquired and her brother pointed at the door across of him, the one where the Cavalier

was standing, the one that leads to France, saying the right time is when his daughter had walked through that door. Louis’ brother, known to be rather chatty, thus leaned close to Marie-Thérèse and asked with barely hidden amusement “What do you think of that door?” Marie-Thérèse’s blush was intense as she diverted her eyes shyly and replied “I think it is a very handsome door and very gallant.“. Louis was rather pleased and perhaps a bit more relaxed as he met his bride officially a few days later.

 

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