Louis de France, le Grand Dauphin
Heir of a King, but never King himself, yet father of a King. Louis de France, born on 1 November in 1661, was the first-born son of Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche and the only of their children to reach adulthood.
To celebrate the birth of his heir, the Sun King hosted a lavish party called the Le Grand Carrousel. He had every reason to be rather happy about it. The Sun King’s father and mother needed a good twenty-years to produce a healthy heir, Louis managed in a year. The kingdom rejoiced. Their Dauphin – the title for the eldest son of the king of France – promised a bright future to the kingdom. He was a delicate child and regularly suffered of fevers, which often gave reason for great alarm, but as the years passed, the Dauphin became a robust child.
The child received the name of his father upon his baptism on 24 March in 1662, which took place at the chapel of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. As a Fils de France – child of France – Louis was entitled to be addressed as Royal Highness, but mostly was referred to as Monseigneur. A style especially created for him by his proud papa, who rushed to the windows and shouted “La reine est accouchée d’un garçon!” upon his birth.
Since Louis XIV, and also his brother, were brought up with a rather lacking education and Louis XIV himself remained clueless about a lot of matters all his life, he did not wish for his son to be equally lacking knowledge. At the age of seven, the Dauphin left the company of women and entered that of his tutors to be educated in the métier de roi and everything else that was needed to become a good and just King. Monseigneur’s education was trusted into the hands of Charles de Sainte-Maure, Duc de Montausier, who apparently served Moliére as inspiration for his Misanthrope. As tutor Monseigneur received Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, at that time Bishop of Condom, famous for his sermons and funeral-speeches. Unfortunately, while those men were rather intelligent, the Dauphin came more after his mother in matters of intelligence. These smart men, and the officers and military heroes supposed to teach him, intimidated him.
His lessons included Latin, writing, reading, riding, history, geography, philosophy (moral and political), rhetoric, logic, physics, anatomy, drawing, and the art of war. All of it was a bit too much of him. He was not entirely without intelligence, but with the kind of intelligence that needs to be fostered to bloom. The Dauphin tried his very best to understand all the topics placed before him and while he understood the basics, he blacked out as matters got too complicated for him to follow. Especially when Bossuet put piles of books on various topics in front of him. The spark of intelligence, and the desire to learn, was suffocated by a bombardment of wisdom. All it did for the Dauphin, was to inspire a lasting horror for books and a never vanishing feeling of being not good enough. A case of good intention, but poor execution, that might have gone into a different direction if the needs and capabilities of the boy would have been taken more into account.
As all of this became visible to the court, the blame was put on the Duc de Montausier, known to be a man to speak unpleasant truths. He was not different with his pupil. The Duc de Montausier took the Dauphin on a field-trip one day. Their destination was a cottage of the poor. Montausier lead the Dauphin inside and made him have a close look at the lacking comforts, telling the Dauphin to observe everything, since those unhappy people he saw in this hovel, father, mother and children, work from early morning to late night, enduring hunger and cold, to pay their taxes, with which his palaces will be gilded. A hard truth for a small boy, who knows nothing of the world apart from his father’s residences. Montausier did not allow others any kind of flattery towards the young prince. No compliments ought to be bestowed and the Dauphin was not even allowed to read the laudatory dedications of the books written for him and his education. Sweets were a big no as well. All dainties were banished from his table and although the doctors protested strongly, the child also had to observe all fasts of the Church to their smallest detail.
The Dauphin was also familiar with the rod, due to Montausier. Monsieur Dubois, Valet de chambre to the Dauphin, relates an incident which took place on the 4th of August in 1671, when the Dauphin was ten years old. On that day, after the child had already been beaten in the morning, the Dauphin was saying his Oraison Dominicale in the evening and did not do it to full satisfaction, making the same mistake twice. Montausier took the child by both hands and dragged him to the room used for his schooling, where be bestowed, with all his strength, five cuts on each of the Dauphin’s hands. The little Monseigneur cried in pain and terror and “I wept with all my heart at seeing such cruelty“, says Dubois. The next morning the child showed Dubois his little hands, bruised purple to the arms.
Having Montausier as governor was quite the nightmare for the timid and slightly indolent child. In his role as governor, the Duc de Montausier hardly ever left the child alone. He was there when it was time for his lessons, when he ate, and Montausier also slept in the same room as the Dauphin, when the child was allowed to play, Montausier was there too. Ever watching. Ever observing. It not surprising the Dauphin turned into happy-bunny-mode whenever he was left alone by Montausier and expressed his great joy about the Duc’s absence. Once, as he did so, the Duc was preparing to leave for Paris and the Dauphin remarked how lovely it was to hear the departing carriage… but Montausier had not departed yet… he heard the comment and sounds of joy that echoed from the schoolroom. Montausier turned on his heels, rushed there and delivered three blows to the Dauphin’s hands before leaving for Paris.
Luckily, Bossuet was a kinder man than Montausier. With Bossuet, the Dauphin could laugh and enjoy a bit of merriness, that is when Montausier was not around. Monseigneur was rather glad as his years of schooling were over and made a vow on the occasion. A vow that he would never ever open and read another book. He kept it. The only book-like thing he read from that point on was the Paris section of the Gazette de France, which contained marriage and death announcements.
What did the papa think of all of this? While he was rather proud of having fathered an heir, and said heir was the only of his children to reach adulthood, one could think that the papa took special care in ensuring his only child and heir was brought up in a good environment… but the opposite was the case. Louis XIV had no good opinion of his son and this son was almost terrified of his father. One of the lessons the Dauphin received, was to be in awe of his father and it seems that this lesson was the only one to last. The Dauphin had been taught from earliest childhood to regard his father with almost superstitious reverence, and the feeling lasted till his death. For Louis XIV, his son was a bit of good-for-nothing… bit like Louis’ own brother. The only thing father and son had in common was a love for hunting. The Dauphin is said to have hunted wolves to extinction in the Île-de-France.
With nineteen, the Dauphin became his own master. Since he was seven years old, he had been engaged to Marie-Anne de Bavière, who was a year older than him, and now it was time to marry. Maria-Anne was the eldest daughter of Ferdinand Maria, Elector of Bavaria and his wife Henriette Adelaide of Savoy, thus a grand-daughter of Christine de France, sister of Louis XIII. Which made bride and groom second-cousins. Both were married by proxy on 28 January in 1680 in Munich and saw each other for the first time on 7 March 1680 in Châlons-sur-Marne. Marie-Anne spoke French fluently, which made a good impression on the French court, but was regarded as highly unattractive. She was the first Dauphine France had since Mary, Queen of Scots, married Francis II in 1558.
According to Madame, the Dauphin didn’t mind that his bride was no beauty and did what papa told him. “The king,” says Madame,” asked him whether he could resign himself to marrying an ugly woman: to which he replied that he really didn’t mind. Provided that his wife were intelligent and virtuous he would be satisfied, no matter how ugly she were.”
The Dauphin himself wasn’t too much of a looker either. Saint-Simon describes him like this: “He was rather above the medium height, very fat, but not obese, with a noble and distinguished air that had nothing repellent in it, and his face would have been handsome if his nose had not been accidentally broken by the Prince de Conti when, as children, they were playing together. He was fairhaired; and his face full and weather-beaten: he had the finest legs imaginable and singularly small feet. He felt his way as he walked, and put each foot twice to the ground; he was always afraid of falling, and if the road was not perfectly level he required assistance. He looked well on horseback and had a perfect seat, but he was a timid rider. He made Casau ride ahead of him when he was hunting, and if he lost sight of him he was helpless. He seldom went faster than a hand-gallop, and often waited under a tree to see what would happen… He was a great eater, like all the royal family, and very fond of the pleasures of the table; but not indecently so. His character was nil. He had fair common-sense but no wit; a natural dignity and an excessive obstinacy. He was gentle through indolence and a sort of stupidity; hard at bottom, with a superficial good-nature which was chiefly reserved for valets and retainers: with them he was extraordinarily familiar, but, otherwise, indifferent to the sufferings or griefs of others; and that rather through want of imagination than because he had a bad heart.”
Although Monseigneur had no issues with marrying Marie-Anne, and executing his duties, he did not really warm up with her. He soon took mistresses, while his wife led a largely isolated life and never really warmed up in the role as Dauphine. Three children were born to them: Louis de France on 16 August in 1682, known as Le Petit Dauphin to distinguish him from his father. Philippe de France born on 19 December in 1683, who would become King of Spain. And Charles de France born on 31 July in 1686. (Apart from three legitimate children, he also fathered three daughters with the actress Françoise Pitel: Mademoiselle de Fleury, who was born in Meudon and died young. Anne-Louise born in 1695, also called Mademoiselle de Fleury, later Madame d’Avaugour after her marriage to Anne Errard, Marquis d’Avaugour. Charlotte born in 1697, another Mademoiselle de Fleury and later Madame de La Jonchère after her marriage to Gérard Michel de La Jonchère. The Dauphin had another daughter with Marie Anne Caumont de La Force, called Louise Émilie de Vautedard, who was born in 1694.)
Marie-Anne died after ten years of unhappy marriage, aged only twenty-nine. She always had been of weak health and fell ill often, which Louis XIV regarded as imagined maladies. An autopsy revealed a multitude of internal disorders that completely vindicated her complaints of chronic and severe illness.
After the death of the Dauphine, Madame took into mind to hook her nephew up with one of her own daughters, but the Dauphin made a different decision regarding who his next bride should be. A decision inspired by his father’s secret second marriage to Madame de Maintenon. He married his mistress Marie-Émilie de Joly de Choin. She was a lady-in-waiting to the king’s favourite illegitimate daughter, Marie-Anne de Bourbon, and was considered to be unattractive but spiritual. Monseigneur fell in love with her after demise of his wife. “She was,” says Saint-Simon, “a stout girl, squat, dark, ugly, with a flat nose.” Her friends describe her as witty, modest, lively, unambitious, fond of the table and conversation.
When the secret marriage took place is a little unclear, but the Dauphin referred to her as his legal spouse in a letter to Madame de Maintenon, dated 19 July 1694. However, the marriage was not officially mentioned or recognised, and Mademoiselle de Choin was not entitled to style herself Dauphine, nor to be addressed as Royal Highness. Louis XIV was not too fond of the matter. In the same year, he removed Mademoiselle de Choin from her position as lady-in-waiting and ordered her to leave court. She went to Paris, where the Dauphin visited her in secret.
Later, as the Dauphin installed his Household at the château de Meudon, Mademoiselle de Choin went there in secret. On the eve of the Dauphin’s arrival at Meudon she would leave Paris at nightfall, in a hired carriage, accompanied by a single femme de chambre. She never appeared on public occasions and was seldom seen. In the early morning she crossed the house on her way to the chapel to hear mass, and sometimes, in summer, she walked in the gardens at midnight to breathe the air. Yet, everyone was aware of her presence. The Sun King eventually arranged himself with the situation and inquired occasionally about her health and well-being. Just like Madame de Maintenon was Queen behind closed doors, Mademoiselle de Choin was Dauphine in the privacy of the château de Meudon.
The greatest and sweetest hour of the Dauphin’s life was as his second born son, to that point styled Duc d’Anjou, became King of Spain in 1701. The very same year, the Dauphin had a panic attack and thought his end was near. On Saturday, March 19, the eve of Palm Sunday, the Dauphin left Meudon for Marly, where his father was residing. There he stuffed himself with fish at supper and after saying his good-nights, went to his rooms for the night. All was normal at first, the Dauphin said his prayers and afterwards placed himself on a chair to undress. Where he suddenly fell unconsciousness. His servants, thoroughly alarmed, rushed upstairs for Monsieur Fagon and a surgeon. The King, disturbed at his prayers by the commotion, hurried by a private staircase to Monseigneur’s room. Saint-Simon describes the scene like this: “They found Monseigneur, half naked, being walked, or rather dragged, up and down his room. He failed to recognise the king, who spoke to him, or any other of the spectators, but defended himself as well as he could against Felix the surgeon, who, in this emergency, and believing he was dealing with a case of apoplexy, ventured to bleed the sufferer as he walked. The operation was successful; Monseigneur recovered consciousness and asked for a confessor. The king had already sent for the cure. The patient was given quantities of an emetic which was long in operating, but which at two o’clock in the morning produced prodigious results. At half-past two, as the danger seemed over, the king, who had been weeping freely, withdrew to bed, leaving instructions that he was to be called if any alarming symptoms should supervene; but at 5 o’clock the doctors, reassured as to the patient’s condition, cleared the room of visitors and left him to sleep. The Dauphin escaped with a fright and a week in bed; during which he played at cards most of the time, or watched others play, and was visited twice daily by the king.”
The Dauphin was rather loved by the Parisians and upon hearing of the sudden malady that had befallen the Dauphin, the herring-women of the market, determined to show their loyalty, deputed four of their number to journey to Marly and inquire after Monseigneur’s health. They were admitted to the sick-chamber, where one of them flung her arms round the Dauphin’s neck and kissed him on both cheeks. The others contented themselves with kissing his hands. Bontemps later showed them around and hosted a dinner, after which they were sent away with a handsome present of money from the Dauphin and the King.
Since his uncle, Philippe de France, died shortly after him due to a stroke, the Dauphin was convinced he narrowly escaped death himself. He was not observed over-eating afterwards anymore.
Monseigneur preferred Meudon over Versailles. At the latter, he was constantly under observation, while he was his own master at Meudon. As Dauphin, Monseigneur was one of the least influential persons in the land and any marked attention to his person a sure passport to the King’s disfavour. Something the Dauphin was aware of and at Versailles he was never really sure what to do and what not to do…. but he also was a bit of a strange fellow. “Monseigneur,” says Madame, “doesn’t really take pleasure in anything. He hunts nearly every day, but he’s just as happy riding at a walking pace for four miles on end, without saying a word to a single soul, as he is at the most exciting run.” There are also reports that tapping the floor for hours with his cane was a satisfying form of entertainment for the Dauphin. “He isn’t a fool at all, and yet he always behaves as if he were, through idleness and indifference.” adds Madame.
Although the Dauphin commanded armies and his capture of Philippsburg prevented parts of the Imperial army from crossing the Rhine and invading Alsace during the War of the Grand Alliance, military-matters weren’t something he was interested in either. Madame relates an anecdote in 1695: “For four days, we had been expecting news of a battle and we were mortally anxious. At last, on Tuesday, the long expected courier arrived. When we saw Monsieur de Barbesieux on his way to the king’s cabinet, we were all eager to know what had happened. The Princesse de Conti went to find the Dauphin and said, “A courier has come, and Monsieur de Barbesieux is with the king: you ought to go and find out what has happened.” “I?” said the Dauphin, “I shan’t go!” “Why not?” asked the princesse. “Because,” replied the Dauphin, “I don’t care what news he has brought.” “But, Monseigneur,” insisted the princesse, ” you see that everybody is anxious; if you won’t do it for your own sake, at least go and ask for news to please us.” “Do you wish me, ladies, to go and say to the king that you have sent me for the news? If you do, I will go; but I shan’t go on my own account.” “Don’t say that, Monseigneur. Why, Monsieur went to see the king the moment the courier arrived.” “That’s because Monsieur is more inquisitive than I am.”
After a not too happy childhood and a not too happy adulthood, the Dauphin caught smallpox and died, aged forty-nine, on 11 April in 1711. Four years before his father.
Legend has it that a prophecy told at his birth said this Louis de France would be “son of a king, father of a king, but never a king“. He indeed was the son of a King, father of a King, grandfather of four Kings, but never King himself.