Tag Archives: Louis XIV

Chateau de Maintenon


MaintChateauMy new second-favorite chateau is one I had never even heard of until my recent trip to France. (My favorite chateau is the incomparable Chenonceau, which was built spanning a river in the Loire Valley). The story of how a penniless woman, born in a prison, came to be the second wife of the Sun King is strange but true. Chateau de Maintenon is close to the cathedral city of Chartres, and I came across a brochure about it in the Chartres tourist office.

Madame de Maintenon, Public Domain

Madame de Maintenon, Public Domain


The woman who eventually became Madame de Maintenon was Francoise d’Aubigne, born in the prison where her ne’er-do-well father was incarcerated in 1635.  She married an invalid older man, an aristocrat who brought her into the highest social circles before obligingly dying and leaving her with a sizable royal pension. After awhile, though, Louis XIV suspended the pension and she was left high and dry. One of her friends was the current favorite mistress of the King, the Marquise de Montespan. Francoise became the caretaker of the King’s many illegitimate children with his favorite mistress, about 8 as far as anybody knows.  Francoise was discreet and did her job well.  The King rewarded her with a pile of money, which she used to buy the Chateau in the town of Maintenon.

Eventually the King tired of the ill-tempered Montespan, and took up with Francoise, giving her the title Marquise of Maintenon. The King’s wife died.  He was in his early forties, beginning to feel like an old man, and beginning to be concerned about his sins.  He married the Marquise sometime in 1685-1686. She remained at his side for 30 years, his most trusted confidant for the rest of his long life.  The marriage was officially secret, but courtiers had to accept the low-born Marquise de Maintenon as a permanent fixture, like it or not. It was a seventeenth-century version of an old story:  the rich man marries the nanny. (In this case, the nanny was actually a few years older than the King, and considered overly pious in the French court. But Louis appreciated her qualities).


Today the chateau and its gardens are lovely and as inviting as they must have been when the King used the Chateau as a homey escape from the crowds at Versailles. The Marquise was given rooms adjoining the King’s at Versailles and in all the other royal residences, so she rarely had time to visit her own beloved chateau once she was married.  For the rest of her life, though, she had flowers and foods grown on her estate delivered to her.

Join me next time for more explorations in the fascinating art and history of Europe!


Moonwalk with Ludwig

"King Ludwig II of Bavaria," Ferdinand Piloty, 1865, Public Domain

“King Ludwig II of Bavaria,” Ferdinand Piloty, 1865, Public Domain

Ludwig II of Bavaria identified with Louis XIV, the Sun King of France. (In German, Ludwig is the same name as Louis).  The trouble was, the French King Louis XIV actually was an absolute monarch who expanded and presided over quite a large and powerful empire.

Louis XIV by Rigaud, Public Domain

Louis XIV by Rigaud, Public Domain

Louis XIV was also a warrior. He actually led his own forces in the battlefield.  Ludwig? Not so much. And he had little interest in the day-to-day work of government. Ludwig was a monarch of the kingdom of Bavaria, which was much smaller and less powerful than France.  Through no real fault of Ludwig’s, Bavaria was more or less eaten up by Germany, under Kaiser Wilhelm I of Prussia, during his reign.  But while Bavarian independence lasted, Ludwig was a much-loved monarch of a proud independent kingdom.


He visited Versailles early in his reign.  When he came home, he decided to build a dream home–or maybe two or three or four dream homes.  Linderhof Palace, where he actually spent a lot of time, was designed as a mini-Versailles-for-one.  It is in French Rococo style and has any number of references to the Sun King, including this ceiling medallion in the main entry.


But Ludwig called himself the Moon King.  He often stayed up all night and slept all day.  He was fond of moonlit sleighrides. Pulled by four white horses, he rode in solitary splendor, enjoying the spectacular Bavarian landscape of mountains, foothills and farms.

During these forays into the countryside, he would often stop and visit with the locals, who adored him.  His life was lonely, but by all accounts at least some of his servants and a few of his peers became loyal and trusted friends.  The movie Ludwig, directed by Luchino Visconti, touchingly describes some of these friendships, which lasted to the untimely end of Ludwig’s life.

Michael Jackson in Vienna, Austria, 1988, Zoran Veselinovic, Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike

Michael Jackson in Vienna, Austria, 1988, Zoran Veselinovic, Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike

If I had to make a modern comparison, I would compare Ludwig IV to Michael Jackson.  I would not want to offend fans of either man by carrying the comparison too far.  But both of them were romantic, idealistic, talented, misunderstood, and wildly famous but still lonely. Both of them died far too early in mysterious circumstances.  And both died accompanied only by their physicians.  Sometimes the past can help us understand the present.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!