Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon
Second wife of King Louis XIV of France
1635 – 1719 A.D.
Françoise d’Aubigné, Marchioness de Maintenon, second wife of King Louis XIV of France.
Her father, Constant d’Aubigné dissipated his fortune, and in 1652 Françoise had lost both of her parents, and was left in poverty to make her way in the world. The comic poet, Scarron, had become interested in the modest and sweet-mannered girl, and to protect her, asked her to become his wife. She accepted his offer of marriage, though only seventeen, and he forty-two and a cripple. She became his secretary and pupil; studied under him Latin, Italian and Spanish, and presided with grace and tact at his literary gatherings, where she met some of the eminent men and women of the time. Scarron died in 1660, leaving his young widow nearly penniless, his pension ceasing at his death. Mme. Scarron petitioned for the recession of her husband’s pension but without success until Mme. de Montespan, the king’s favorite, hearing of her destitution, procured her an annual allowance of 2000 francs, and in 1669 made her the governess of the children she had had by Louis XIV, much to the dissatisfaction of the king, who at first did not like the extreme gravity and reserve of the young widow.
Her talents and wisdom, however, soon attracted his attention, and she became his confidant and adviser, was made a marchioness, and took the name Maintenon from an estate at Versailles which the king purchased for her.
She probably assisted in bringing about a permanent separation between the king and Mme. de Montespan, and shortly after the death of the queen in 1683, Mme. de Maintenon was secretly married to Louis XIV. From this time until his death Louis was greatly under her influence, though her power over him was exercised with extreme prudence and moderation. She carefully shunned the appearance of meddling with the affairs of state, though in reality nothing was done without her knowledge and consent. After the death of the king, in 1715, she retired to the convent and seminary of St. Cyr, which she had founded, and spent the rest of her life in acts of charity and in devotional exercises.
Writers differ in their estimates of Mme. de Maintenon, but it is generally agreed that she was the most influential woman of French history, and that in the midst of a corrupt court she gave no occasion for scandal.
Dr. John Lord in his Beacon Lights of History says: “No woman in modern times, ever rose so high from a humble position, with the exception of Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great.” Imbert de Saint-Amand in his Court of Louis XIV, said of her:
“During more than thirty years, Mme. de Maintenon reigned without rival over the soul of a great king. The monarchy inclined respectfully before her, the whole court was at her feet, soliciting a word, a glance. Here we have a woman who, at fifty years of age, takes possession of a sovereign of forty-seven in all the prestige of victory and power; a woman who, with an ability that borders on witchery, supplants all the fairest, richest, and noblest young girls in the world; a woman who, after having been several times reduced to poverty, becomes, next to Louis XIV, the most important personality in France.”
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.