Tag Archives: Marquise de Maintenon

Versailles Palaces: Grandiose, (Merely) Grand, and Petit


Even the Sun King himself sometimes tired of the over-the-top splendor he had created at Versailles.  He heard Mass daily in his spectacular Royal Chapel, around 10:00.

Louis XIV by Rigaud, Public Domain

Louis XIV by Rigaud, Public Domain

I read somewhere that courtiers attending mass were seated such that they looked at the King in his elevated gallery.  Right now I can’t verify that, but it makes some sense.  The chapel was built and carefully decorated to celebrate the association between Louis XIV and his namesake, the only French king who became an actual saint:  Louis IX, AKA St. Louis the Confessor.

Grand Trianon, Azurfrog, Creative Commons Share Alike Attribution

Grand Trianon, Azurfrog, Creative Commons Share Alike Attribution

Louis XIV was anything but saintly in his younger years. He built a smaller palace, the Grand Trianon, as a private retreat where he could take his mistresses and closest friends. It originally had a facade of blue and white porcelain tiles, following the rage for Delft tiles. But the tiles deteriorated quickly.  The Grand Trianon was rebuilt in red marble.  By the time it was finished, in 1688, the Sun King had repented of his wild youth and “secretly” married the Marquise de Maintenon.


Louis XV, the successor to the Sun King, built himself a smaller palace yet: the Petit Trianon. Not many tourists make the trek to see it.



Marie Antoinette famously frolicked with her friends in the Petit Trianon. It’s my personal favorite at Versailles.


Louis XIV ended up spending a lot of time away from Versailles altogether, once he had all his nobles gathered there where he could control them.  Instead he went off to the absolutely charming chateau that he gave to the “secret” wife who tamed him in his old age.

Madame de Maintenon, Public Domain

Madame de Maintenon, Public Domain

It seems that even an absolute monarch with the world at his feet eventually can settle down.  Madame de Maintenon came in for a lot of criticism for taking the King away from the goings-on at Versailles, but I like to think the two of them were very happy together.

I wrote about the beautiful Chateau de Maintenon in these previous posts:




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!