She is known under many names and one of my favourite people in history. In Germany most people know her by her nickname Liselotte von der Pfalz. In France she is Élisabeth-Charlotte du Palatinat or de Bavière, some call her la Palatine or simply Madame. As she was born in Heidelberg on May 27 in 1652, her parents gave her the name Elisabeth Charlotte. By birth she was a Pfalzprinzessin, a Princess of the Palatinate, by marriage she would become sister-in-law to the great Sun King and a Child of France.
Liselotte, as I shall call her, was the second child of Prince-Elector Karl I. Ludwig and his wife Charlotte von Hessen-Kassel. Her papa Karl Ludwig was a descendant of Elizabeth Stuart, sister of Charles I of England and grand-daughter of Mary, Queen of Scots. At her birth, Liselotte was a relatively small child and received a emergency baptism, in which she was named after her grand-mother Elizabeth Stuart and her own mother Charlotte. Liselotte is a portmanteau of a portmanteau. Lise as the short form Elisabeth and Lotte being the short from Charlotte.
The marriage of her parents was not a happy one. It was a dynastic match, as it was common. Before their marriage in 1620, Charlotte’s mother had warned the groom about her daughter’s occasional foul moods. Karl Ludwig does not seem to have minded it much in first. He appeared quite infatuated with his wife and eagerly set out to the task of making an heir. He had a quite jealous character, his wife a rather temperamental one. When both clashed, it could be heard in all of the castle. Arguments were not rare, because Karl Ludwig could not stand to be criticised by his wife and would go into a rage, yet they made up quickly… which again could be heard at night in all of the castle.
At least the heir-making was a success. A little Karl was born on 31 March in 1651 and Liselotte followed on May 27 the following year. As she was born, her parents were not that infatuated anymore. After two years of marriage, it became quite clear that their characters were not made for each other. Charlotte loved to gamble and ride, Karl Ludwig considered gambling a waste of money, he was a bit of a scrooge too, and was of the opinion that women should not ride about on horseback. In his opinion, she also went hunting way too often, decorated herself with too much bling, and was just way too disobeying. She, on the other hand, was in a huff with him for not taking her to the Electors’ Diet in Prague and later on for taking her to a coronation. She was pregnant and unable to wear the fine gowns of the latest French fashion that had been made for her.
The whole situation got even worse as Karl Ludwig took a liking to a young girl named Luise von Degenfeld. In first Charlotte had not much of a problem with the sixteen year old girl as she joined her household as a lady-in-waiting. The girl was not very pretty and naive, yet pretty enough to stir a great fire in the loins of Karl Ludwig. One evening, as Charlotte caught her husband in bed with Luise, she nearly bit Luise’s little finger off. Karl Ludwig put Luise in rooms above those of himself and Charlotte tried to prevent him from entering those via a secret passage by wielding a knife. Karl Ludwig’s sister Sophie, the Electress consort of Hanover, writes in her memoirs of how Charlotte stormed the rooms of Luise and upon finding expensive jewels there, started to attack the girl violently. Karl Ludwig was called for help and had to place himself between them. Charlotte cried out that those jewels are Luise’s payment for her services, calling her a whore, and as she was ordered by her husband to put the jewels back, threw them on the ground.
Liselotte grew up in the very middle of it. Torn between mother and father, and witnessing the constant fights. Karl Ludwig informally broke up with his wife, who from then on insisted she was kept a prisoner in her own house. In 1658, Karl Ludwig acquired a formal separation from his wife and married Luise von Degenfeld in matrimonium morganaticum. Morganatic marriage that prevents the wife from taking the titles of the husband, or claiming them for her children, if both are of unequal rank.
In her early years, Liselotte was already headstrong and unconventional, with a passion for freedom and fresh air. For her nurses and governesses she was rather a handful. “Fraulein von Quaadt, was our first governess, and she was very old. One day she wanted to whip me, for as a child I was rather turbulent. When she tried to pick me up I struggled so violently and kicked her poor old shins so hard that she fell in a heap with me. . . . That was why she insisted on going.”
In order to take the children out of the line of fire, and prevent the mother from seeing them, Liselotte was sent to the court of her aunt as she was seven years old. She lived at the court of Hannover for four years with her aunt Sophie and uncle Ernst August acting as foster parents. During this time Liselotte met her grandmother Elisabeth Stuart as well. Elisabeth Stuart, called the Winter Queen, lived in exile in The Hague. There she also met William of Orange, later William III of England.
Liselotte and William got a along very well. She was seven-and-a-half years old. He was nine. They ran around together and performed somersaults on expensive carpets.
Her aunt Sophie seems to have been the first one to bring up a marriage between Liselotte and William. They had the same religion, a great lineage, they were almost of the same age and fond of each other. He was not the only one Sophie had in mind, another option was to made Liselotte Queen of England or Denmark. The last option was the one her father favoured, but the heir of the Danish crown decided to marry someone else. As Liselotte reached the tender age of fourteen, the idea of marrying her to William was brought up again, but not further pursued by her father. Liselotte was no beauty, but had many match options. At the age of eighteen, a marriage to the Duke of Courland and Semigallia was brought up and again not favoured by her father. While Liselotte did not care much about talk of marriage as she was fourteen, she was way too busy to arrange for secret nightly deliveries of Sauerkraut to her rooms then, she was now, with eighteen, at least somewhat informed of what was going on. At least she seems to have been aware that although her father did not favour a Duke of Courland and Semigallia match too much, the mother of said Duke was quite interested. She also seems to have known that the Duke himself was actually madly in love with someone else, but was not allowed to marry the girl, because the parents preferred Liselotte as his bride.
A lucky coincidence prevented Liselotte from being married off to someone she considered silly and obnoxious. It was a certain Friedrich Magnus von Baden-Durlach, three years her senior, and according to himself quite in love with Liselotte. Friedrich Magnus had spotted her, decided he liked her, and came up will all sorts of excuses to meet her. He made friends with Liselotte’s brother Karl and in 1669 brought the idea of a wedding to his papa. Said papa turned to Karl Ludwig and received a promise of betrothal. Liselotte was not asked. Everyone knew she could not stand Friedrich Magnus at all. Friedrich Magnus’ papa then turned to Charlotte in order to gain her agreement as well. Merry on the way, he was suddenly stopped by armed peasants, beaten up and all horses were snatched away. The peasants thought Friedrich Magnus’s papa and entourage had stolen the horses. They took them for a group of fabulously dressed men from Lorraine that were known to nick horses. Friedrich Magnus’s papa thought Karl Ludwig, who had no clue, sent them to punish him for daring to ask Charlotte as well. The betrothal was broken and Friedrich Magnus was engaged to someone else. Liselotte later called it “One of the happiest accidents in my life.” But Friedrich Magnus did not give up so easily. He sent his doctor to a convent Liselotte stayed at, she was there to find out if it is true that the spirits of the nuns throw rocks at visitors, in order to propose a way to clear the misunderstanding. Liselotte said she could not possibly disobey her father in the matter and refused to speak with Friedrich Magnus ever again. She did so until 1697.
It was ironically a group of men from Lorraine who indirectly sealed her fate and made her sister-in-law to the Sun King.
“Marriage is like death.” Liselotte wrote this to her half-sister Amalie. She was very aware, that whoever she married, she might be better off marrying not at all. Her father was the best example for it. His first marriage was a disaster and his second not much better. He bombarded Luise von Degenfeld with scenes and jealousy. A small thing like her talking to a friend or looking at a male-being was enough to make him explode. Luise was constantly apologising for nothing and constantly pregnant. Before Liselotte was married in 1671, Luise had given birth to eleven children and two more followed. The last pregnancy, number fourteen, did cost Luise her life. After her demise, Karl Ludwig made a list with pro and contras, based on the joy and trouble Luise had apparently caused him, to decide whether he should grief or be happy she is dead.
Life as she knew it, where she was able to do what she pleased, ride for long hours, hunt and enjoy the fresh air, did forever change for the freedom-loving Liselotte as Henrietta of England died in 1670.
Anne Gonzaga, a Princesse Palatine by marriage to Karl Ludwig’s brother, known for her excellent matchmaking skills and a friend to the late Madame and Monsieur, was in Germany as the news reached her and saw at once what it could mean for Liselotte. Her correspondence shows how very shocked she was about Madame’s death and the rumours about an involvement of Monsieur or his friends. It also shows that she brought the idea of marrying Monsieur to Liselotte quite early to Louis XIV. In a coded letter to Karl Ludwig she says she has spoken with the King about it, who wishes Monsieur to marry his cousin la Grande Mademoiselle, but the latter does not want it. She says Louis XIV, who was fond of her for trying to reconcile the late Madame and Monsieur on several occasions, talked with her about a possible match with the Archduchess of Innsbruck or the sister of the Emperor, then mentioned Liselotte and if her faith might not be in the way. Liselotte was a protestant. Anne Gonzaga said if just something like faith is in the way, it is not much of an issue and can be solved.
Liselotte had no idea what was going on. She had heard of the surprising demise of Henriette and also of the gossip surrounding Monsieur, the Chevalier de Lorraine and the Marquis d’Effiat, but she had no clue her aunt did her very best to marry her to the King’s brother.
For Louis XIV such a match was not too bad. Liselotte was not in possession of a large dowry, nor pretty, but she had other qualities. The most important one being the fact that she was who she was. A Princess of a place that bordered France and the Holy Roman Empire. In case of a war, this would mean the region would stay neutral… in case of a death it might mean the possibility to annex a bit of land for France. He had done it before in the War of Devolution. Monsieur’s first marriage prevented England to team up with Spain, Monsieur’s second marriage might bring the German Princes to team up with France. Thus strengthen France and Louis XIV’s grasp over Europe…. what Monsieur and Liselotte thought about that did not matter.
The prospect of marrying his daughter to the brother of the King of France made Karl Ludwig quite blind. He was happy he did not have to spent much in means of a dowry and did not get suspicious as Louis XIV not even insisted a specific amount must be named in the possible marriage contract. The Sun King tricked him skilfully into agreeing to something that would later destroy large parts of his lands and leave his castles in ruins.
As for Monsieur, he knew that he had to marry again. Not just because his big brother wanted it so, but also because he was lacking a male heir and needed one to ensure the survival of his own house. Thus he agreed to the match…. while Liselotte still had no clue.
Religion was the only thing that remained in the way. Her father tested the waters by asking her what she thought of people who converted and she replied she was not quite sure about it. Anne Gonzaga, as she was informed, just remarked one could not say no to such a chance because of something like religion.
Gossip concerning the match drifted from France to Liselotte. She found it a bit odd to give up her religion just to marry a man, no matter who that man was. Nevertheless her father arranged for her to be educated in the Catholic faith and plans were made as to how and where she should convert. For her father it was not much of a deal, but for the rest of the German Princes it was, thus the matter had to stay somewhat secret…. in public at least.
Liselotte heard nothing else anymore apart from how good it would be to agree, to convert. How much glory it would bring her family, herself, her future children, all that are involved. How silly it would be not to do it. She agreed at some point, and as she later said against her own wishes, but in order not to displease her father.
She left Heidelberg, knowing she would never see city and castle again, under bitter tears en route to Metz. End of September 1671, during a stop in Strasbourg, she and her small entourage met with Anne Gonzaga. The Marquis de Béthune arrived the next day in special undercover mission. He carried the marriage contract, in which Liselotte gave up all claims to Palatine territory, but not her claims to objects belonging to her father. Her future husband received the right to claim everything Liselotte brought into the marriage and to everything that was acquired by her during it. The contract was signed and sent to Paris the same evening.
It was signed on November 6 by Louis XIV and Monsieur, in company of the Queen, the Dauphin, a special envoy of Karl Ludwig, the Dowager Duchesse d’Orléans (widow of Gaston de France) and all Princes and Princesses of the Blood.
Saying goodbye to her family in Strasbourg was not easy for Liselotte. She wept bitter tears again and as she later admitted herself in a letter, screamed all the way from Strasbourg to Challon. In the first three days on French soil she ate nothing and spoke hardly a sentence.
“I cried till my side swelled. I did nothing but cry from Strasburg to Chalons, and during the whole night. I couldn’t console myself for the way in which I had taken leave of my friends at Strasburg. I had shown myself much more indifferent than I really was.”
In Metz, Liselotte converted to the Catholic faith. “Saying a couple of times no, when I was to say yes.” she writes.
Liselotte was wedded by proxy two days later, on November 16, in the cathédrale de Metz. It was a bitterly cold day. The wedding gown made of light blue taffeta. The Duc de Plessis-Praslin, former Gouverneur of Monsieur, acted as replacement for the groom. Liselotte was Madame now, the second woman of France, sister-in-law to Louis XIV, without ever having seen her husband in person.
Their first meeting, which was quite the shock for the new Madame, took place four days later, on November 20, on the road between Châlons and Tilloy-en-Bellay. Monsieur wore an outfit covered over and cover with sparkling gems, a large beribboned wig, and heels that were probably higher than anything Liselotte had seen before. Both left their carriages and the new Madame was formally introduced to her husband. Primi Visconti writes, that upon seeing his wife for the first time, Monsieur turned to his entourage and said “How am I supposed to sleep with that?“…. Liselotte probably thought the same.
It must have been very strange to her, not just the outfit of her husband, but also the fuss that was made. Monsieur was a sucker for amusements and ceremony. He enjoyed the concerts, ballets, fireworks, congratulations and speeches that awaited them in Châlons greatly. Liselotte not so much. At least she spoke French, with a funny accent, but still. Louis XIV was quite amused by her pronunciation, which he preferred over the odd mix of Spanish and French that left the lips of his own wife. The new Madame caused mixed feeling at court. Some liked her, some found she looked quite strange, some thought she was a little silly. Louis XIV introduced her himself to his court and he was quite fond of her, which Monsieur could not quite understand. She was a fresh-air-loving person, so was Louis, and they shared a sense of humour. As the King introduced Madame to the Queen he said “Do not worry, she will be more afraid of you than you are of her.”
Marriage life was a steady up and down for Liselotte. She had to discover her husband had more interest in what she called “junge Kerls” and that these did their best to make her husband poorer. Still she had more than she had during her time in Heidelberg. As Liselotte arrived in France, Anne Gonzaga discovered to her great shock that Madame had only six nightshirts and the same amount for the day. Her relationship with the King was as much as an up and down. Sometimes he seemed fond of her, sometimes not. “They are getting so particular here, that the other day the king sent his confessor to mine and has given me a terrible scolding on three points—first, that I had spoken coarsely about the Dauphin; secondly, that I had allowed some of my maids of honour to have galants; and, thirdly, that I had joked with the Princesse de Conti on the subject of galants. These three things, I am told, have so displeased the king that, if he had not taken into consideration the fact that I am his sister-in-law, he would have banished me from the Court.”
Liselotte never came to like court-life and always missed her childhood home, about which she wrote in countless letters. “How often I have eaten cherries on the hill at five in the morning with a slice of bread. I was much happier then than I am now.” ” I deem you happy to be able to tread once more the promised land—to wit, Heidelberg and Schwetzingen. Greet in my name my old room and the salon vitre, and tell me all about them. I am sorry they have done away with the garden. All the more because, in the quick-set hedge that lined the moat, there used to be countless nightingales, and in spring they used to sing all night. And what have they done with the little stream that flowed through the garden? Many a time have I sat and read on its banks on a fallen willow. The peasants of Schwetzingen and Offtersheim used to stand round and chat with me. It was more amusing than a circle of duchesses.”
She did not like to dance, but was fond of the theatre, she did not like the French food and fell asleep during sermons. She considered herself to be really ugly, loved long walks, and was irritated how the ladies at court were not able to walk more than a few metres on foot, hunting was her favourite thing to do.
“You must have completely forgotten what I am like if you do not class me amongst ” the ugly.” I have always been ugly, and small-pox has made me still more so. My waist is huge, and I am as square as a die. My skin is of a reddish colour tinged with yellow, and I am beginning to grow grey. My hair is pepper-and-salt coloured ; I have wrinkles on my forehead and round my eyes ; my nose is crooked, as of old, and pitted into the bargain by small-pox, as are my cheeks, which are pendulous. I have large jaws and bad teeth. My mouth, too, has changed somewhat, for it has grown bigger and has wrinkles at the corners. . . . There’s a handsome face for you, my dear Amelise.” ~ Liselotte in a letter about herself as she was forty-six years old.
Her opinion of her husband changed during the years from “Monsieur is the best man
in the world; so we get on splendidly. None of his portraits are like him.” to “I could put up with it if Monsieur only squandered his money in gaming, but sometimes he gives away as much as 100,000 francs at one swoop, and all the economies fall upon me and the children. That is not at all pleasant, besides putting me in a position where, as God is my witness, we would have to live entirely on the King’s charity, which is a miserable thing.”
Compared to Monsieur’s first marriage, this second one was an improvement. Both got along quite well. Liselotte did not mind Monsieur’s preference for males, only the money he spent on them, she was not flirty like the first Madame, had no secret admirers she cared about, had no longing to be the jewel of the court or the centre of attention. Monsieur, on the other hand, had a blank canvas in front of him which he could decorate as he pleased. Liselotte did not care much for jewels, so Monsieur performed the task. She did not really care about the current fashion either, as she writes in 1695. “It’s so cold here, that one hardly knows what to do. Yesterday, at High Mass, I thought my feet would be frozen, for when one is with the King one isn’t allowed to have a foot-muff. I had a comic dialogue with his Majesty. He was scolding me for having put on a scarf. “Nobody,” he said, “has ever come to the procession in a scarf.” “That may be,” I replied, “but then it has never been so cold as it is now.” “Formerly,” said the King, “you never used to wear one.” “Formerly,” I replied, “I was younger, and didn’t feel the cold so much.” ” There were older people than you present,” said the King, “and they did not wear scarves.” ” The fact is,” I replied, “that those old ladies would rather freeze than wear anything unbecoming, while I would rather be badly dressed than catch a cold in my chest, for I don’t pride myself on my elegance.” To which he said nothing.”
If it had not been for Monsieur’s friends, they might have gotten along even better. They did their very best to ensure that Monsieur always was suspicious of his wife. Talk of a flirting with the King, of secret letters, of mean words towards Monsieur… and when Madame was foolish enough to complain about it to Monsieur, or even worse the King, the gates of hell opened. In 1682 their relations had become so strained that Madame even threatened to leave the Court and the King had to intervene, after Monsieur accused her, who did care as much for men as he did for women, to have an affair with a Chevalier of the Royal Bodyguard.
What really got to her was the War of the Grand Alliance and the destruction of her childhood home, for which she partly blamed herself. As the Wittelsbach line of Pfalz-Simmern was extinguished in 1685 with the death of Liselotte’s brother, Louis XIV laid claim to the Palatinate. “Though it were to cost me my life,‘ she wrote in 1689, “I shall never cease to regret and deplore that I am, in a sense, the cause of the ruin of my country. I am seized with such horror at the thought of all that has been destroyed that every night, as soon as I begin to go to sleep, I fancy I am at Heidelberg or Mannheim, and seem to see all the desolation. Then I wake up with a start, and for two hours I can’t go to sleep again. I picture to myself what it was like in my time and what a state it is in now, and then I can’t help crying.”
Although Monsieur needed “rosaries and holy medals draped in the appropriate places to perform the necessary act“, three children were born to them. Alexandre Louis d’Orléans was born at the Château de Saint-Cloud on July 2 in 1673 and died not yet three years old at the Palais Royal, probably due to excessive bloodletting. Their second son, Philippe II d’Orléans, was born on August 2 in 1674 and a daughter, Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans, followed on September 13 in 1676. With that, Monsieur told her, he considered to have performed his duties well enough and did not intend to perform them further. Liselotte was quite glad about it, for she never really enjoyed this part either. Philippe II d’Orléans would become Regent of France and Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans the grandmother of Marie Antoinette.
Liselotte’s relationship with her stepchildren, Marie-Louise and Anne-Marie, was more like that of sisters. She adored both of them, especially Marie-Louise… but Madame could also lose her temper about her children. As she writes herself in a letter, she thought a good slap once in a while could bring good and her son Philippe suffered the most under it. Madame also sent her servants to the prison of Saint-Lazare for a good beating if they disobeyed.
She was stolid and mannish, with a strong “no-nonsense” attitude that lives on in her many letters she is remembered for today. Writing was one of her favourite things to do and some days she hardly put the quill down. Her letters are honest, sometimes strongly guided by emotions, and paint a perfect picture of what was going on inside her during her time in France. Sometimes she writes about gossip, of how she made the King laugh as she told him to “let out what does not want to stay in” as he suffered of flatulences, she writes of the weather, of little nothings, of the pain she feels when treated wrongly, how Monsieur made her laugh as he stumbled wearing heels, how one of her many dogs gave birth on one of her robes, and what she thought of those around her. When the latter is the case, it is quite clear to see if she likes someone or not. Madame de Maintenon was someone she could not stand at all, calling her a witch, an old devil, old slops, a bore, a Zotte (which by the definition of the time was someone unclean with pubic hair growing wild), and all sort of unflattering things. In the end, this did cost Liselotte the favour she was in with Louis XIV. He got hint of it and was not amused at all.
“In this great Court I have become almost a hermit; so I pass whole days alone in my study reading and writing. If somebody comes to pay me a visit, I see him for a moment, speak to him of the weather or the news of the day, and then return to my solitude. Four times a week I have my correspondence-day. On Monday I write to Savoy and on Wednesday to Modena. On Thursday and Sunday, long letters to my aunt of Hanover. From six to eight I drive with Monsieur and our ladies. Three days a week I go to Paris, and I write daily to my friends there.” Madame in 1698.
At least her relationship with her husband became better. Monsieur had, after long years of marriage, finally arranged himself with her. She even grew a little dear to him, after he realised that much of the trouble he had with her was actually caused by his friends and not herself. Saint-Simon describes Madame towards the end of the 1690’s the following: “Madame dined and supped with the Court ladies of Monsieur, occasionally drove with some of them, often sulked in company, made herself feared by her harsh and savage temper and sometimes by her sallies, and passed the whole day in her study contemplating the portraits of the Princes Palatine and other German princes, with which the walls were covered, and writing every day with her own hand volumes of letters of which she herself made copies or reference. Monsieur had not been able to tame her to a more civilised life. He let her do as she liked, and lived on good terms with her without troubling himself about her person and he had hardly any private intercourse with her.”
If Liselotte already thought herself ugly at a relatively young age, she compared herself to a roasted suckling pig now as she grew older and broader. Although she did not like the French food, and often craved a good German beer-soup, there were some dishes she enjoyed as she writes herself: “We rose from table half an hour ago. Mme. de Chartres was dining with us, a thing which doesn’t often happen. Monsieur, she, and I, ate nearly two hundred English
oysters between us. For my part, I have fifty inside me and Mme. de Chartres the same number, and Monsieur must have eaten eighty. . . .”
The sudden death of her husband came as a shock to her. The last years of their marriage had been much more endurable for her, but now, as a widow, her place was uncertain again. In her marriage contract it says that, if Monsieur died before Madame, Madame was to receive the Chateau de Montargis to live in during her widowhood or may withdraw to a convent. The prospect of the latter terrified her so much that she yelled “Not a convent, please not a convent.” as Monsieur took his lasts breaths. In order to remain where she was, Madame had to make peace with her arch-enemy Madame de Maintenon, which ended in quite the humiliation for herself, but allowed her to keep her rooms at Versailles and Marly. “As soon as you are away from the Court you are forgotten; you lose all respect and consideration, and nobody comes to see you.”
Madame outlived her brother-in-law and witnessed all the tragedies that occurred in the last years of his reign. He saw her son become Regent for the young Louis XV, saw grandchildren being born and pass away, as one of the last pillars of the time of the great Sun King. She looked back at her own life saying: “I have always regretted that I am a woman. I would much rather have been Elector than Madame.”
She always remained true to her principles, never meddled with state affairs, and continued to write her letters to the very end. “I must finish, dear Louise. I am too ill to write more to-day. However wretched I am, and until I receive the coup de grace, I shall always love you, dear Louise, with all my heart.” she wrote on her deathbed.
Liselotte died at Saint-Cloud, her favourite residence, aged 70 on December 8 in 1722.