Montespan, Francoise Athenais, Marquise De

Montespan, Francoise Athenais, Marquise de one of the mistresses of Louis XIV. noted for her profligacy and vices, deserves a place here because of the influence she exerted on the fate of the religion of France. She was born in 1641, married to the marquis de Montespan in 1663, but, supplanting the duchess de la Valliere in the affections of the king in 1668, the marquis was banished from court. The marchioness, freed from the authority of her husband, became the mistress of a ruler who claimed to be a faithful servant of the Church of Rome. In 1670 she accompanied him to Flanders, and unblushingly revealed her real position at court. She openly braved the queen and the whole kingdom. But, what is stranger still, she endeavored to reconcile imperious vice with humble piety, and formed a set of morals for herself which Christians would hardly care to endorse. She did not disdain to work for the poor, and, like many others, brought herself to believe that frequent alms and exterior practices of devotion would purchase a pardon for everything. She even presented herself at the communion-table, favored by absolutions, which she either purchased from mercenary or procured from ignorant priests. One day she endeavored to obtain absolution from the curate of a village who had been recommended to her on account of his flexibility. "What?" said this man of God, "are you that marchioness de Montespan whose crime is an offence to the whole kingdom? Go, madam, renounce your wicked habits, and then come to this awful tribunal." She went, not indeed to renounce her wicked habits, but to complain to the king of the insult she had received, and to demand justice upon the confessor. The king, naturally religious, was not sure that his authority extended so far as to judge of what passed in the holy sacraments, and therefore consulted Bossuet, preceptor to the dauphin and bishop of Condom, and the duke de Montauzier, his governor. The minister and the bishop both supported the curate, and tried upon this occasion to detach the king from Madame de Montespan. The strife was doubtful for some time, but the mistress at length prevailed. In 1675 she lost her hold on the king, who had fallen in love with Madame de Maintenon (q.v.), and she never regained her former position in the reign of her master and former lover. She retired to Paris for the winter, and in the summer visited watering-places. In 1707, while away at one of these places (Bourbon), she died, neither regretted by the king, her children, nor the nation. One half of her life was spent in grandeur, and the other half in contempt. She was rather ashamed of her faults than penitent for them. In a word, her reign was so intolerable and fatal that it was looked upon in France as a judgment from heaven. See General Biographical Dictionary, s.v.; Saint-Simon. Memoires; Voltaire, Siecle de Louis XIV; Houssaye, Mlle. de la Valliere et Mme. de Montespan; see also Louis XIV. (J.H.W.)

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