Françoise d'Aubigné Scarron, Marquise de Maintenon (November 27, 1635 - April 15, 1719) was the morganatic second wife of King Louis XIV of France. She was initially known as Madame Scarron, and later as Madame de Maintenon. Her marriage to the king was never officially announced or admitted to.
In 1639 Françoise's father was released from prison and went with his family to the island of Martinique. Jeanne was a strict mother and gave her children little liberties, and gave them a Protestant education (despite the Catholic baptism). Constant returned to France, leaving his wife and children in Martinique. She was forever trying to be "mother and father" to her children, and eventually made it back to to France to join her husband in 1647. Within months of her return to France, her husband had died. She was returned to her beloved aunt, Madame de Villette, Constant's sister. Her house of Mursay had positive memories for Francoise. She had been cared for by her aunt and uncle prior to leaving for Martinique. The de Villettes had greater financial means to take good care of the child, but they were ardent Protestants and thus continued to school Francoise in their beliefs. When this became known to her godmother's family, an order was issued that Françoise must be schooled in a convent.
Francoise disliked the convent and life, but she grew to love one of the nuns there, Sister Celeste. Upon Sister Celeste's persuasion, Francoise had her First Communion. "I loved her more than I could possibly say. I wanted to sacrifice myself for her service".
Madame de Feuillant, the mother of her godmother Suzanne, brought Francoise to Paris and introduced to sophisticated women and men. They became vital links that would need in the future.
On the death of Scarron in 1660, Anne of Austria continued his pension to his widow, even increasing it to 2000 livres a year, thus enabling her to remain in literary society. Following the dowager queen's death in 1666, Louis XIV suspended the pension. Once again in straitened circumstances, Madame Scarron prepared to leave Paris for Lisbon as a lady-in-waiting to the new Queen of Portugal, Marie-Françoise de Nemours. Before setting off, however, she met Madame de Montespan, who secretly was already the king's mistress. Madame de Montespan took such a fancy to Madame Scarron that she had the king reinstate her pension, an act which enabled the impoverished widow to stay in Paris and not move to Portugal.
In 1669, when Madame de Montespan's first child by Louis was born, she gave Madame Scarron a large income and staff of servants at Vaugirard to raise the child in secrecy. Francoise would take care to keep the house as well guarded and discreet, even doing the domestic duties herself. Due to her hard work, the King rewarded her a large sum of money, and she purchased the property at Maintenon.
In 1678, the king gave her the title of Marquise de Maintenon after the name of her estate. This allowed her to leave the name Scarron behind. Such favours incurred Madame de Montespan's jealousy. At court, she was now known as Madame de Maintenon. Madame de Montespan and Francoise would spar frequently over the children and their care.
"Madame de Maintenon knows how to love. There would be great pleasure in being loved by her." said the king. However, when he asked her to become his mistress, she refused him on religious grounds. "Nothing is so clever as to conduct one's self irreproachably, " she wrote a friend. This philosophy served her well, and by the late 1670s the king spent every spare moment with Madame de Maintenon, discussing politics, religion and economics.
In 1680, the king made Madame de Maintenon second Mistress of the Robes to his daughter-in-law, the Dauphine. Soon after, Madame de Montespan left the court. Madame de Maintenon proved a good influence on the king. His wife, Queen Marie-Thérèse, who spent years being rudely treated by Madame de Montespan, openly declared she had never been so well treated as at this time, and eventually died in Madame de Maintenon's arms in 1683.
In his memoirs, the Duc de Saint-Simon (himself only a boy at the time of the event) wrote the following:
But what is very certain and very true, is, that some time after the return of the King from Fontainebleau, and in the midst of the winter that followed the death of the Queen (posterity will with difficulty believe it, although perfectly true and proved), Père de la Chaise, confessor of the King, said mass at the dead of night in one of the King's cabinets at Versailles. Bontems, governor of Versailles, chief valet on duty, and the most confidential of the four, was present at this mass, at which the monarch and La Maintenon were married in presence of Harlay, Archbishop of Paris, as diocesan, of Louvois (both of whom drew from the King a promise that he would never declare this marriage), and of Montchevreuil.
The satiety of the honeymoon, usually so fatal, and especially the honeymoon of such marriages, only consolidated the favour of Madame de Maintenon. Soon after, she astonished everybody by the apartments given to her at Versailles, at the top of the grand staircase facing those of the King and on the same floor. From that moment the King always passed some hours with her every day of his life; wherever she might be she was always lodged near him, and on the same floor if possible.
The Marquise de Montespan in her memoirs wrote the following about the marriage:
The following week Madame de Maintenon, entirely cured of her scratch, consented to the King's will, which she had opposed in order to excite it, and in the presence of the Marquis and Marquise de Montchevreuil, the Duc de Noailles, the Marquis de Chamarante, M. Bontems, and Mademoiselle Ninon, her permanent chambermaid, was married to the King of France and Navarre in the chapel of the chateau.
The Abbe de Harlay, Archbishop of Paris, assisted by the Bishop of Chartres and Père de la Chaise, had the honour of blessing this marriage and presenting the rings of gold. After the ceremony, which took place at an early hour, and even by torchlight, there was a slight repast in the small apartments. The same persons, taking carriages, then repaired to Maintenon, where the great ceremony, the mass, and all that is customary in such cases were celebrated.
At her return, Madame de Maintenon took possession of an extremely sumptuous apartment that had been carefully arranged and furnished for her. Her people continued to wear her livery, but she scarcely ever rode any more except in the great carriage of the King, where we saw her in the place which had been occupied by the Queen. In her interior the title of Majesty was given her; and the King, when he had to speak of her, only used the word Madame, without adding Maintenon, that having become too familiar and trivial.
Historians have often remarked upon Madame de Maintenon's political influence, which was considerable. Ministers would discuss with her beforehand a majority of the business that the king would be dealing with. He would not always consult her on more important matters, though. Her judgement was not infallible and mistakes were undoubtedly made: replacing Catinat by Villeroi in 1701 may be attributed to her, but not entire policies - according to Saint-Simon, certainly not the policy with regard to the Spanish Succession. Some have accused her of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the dragonnades, but recent investigations have shown that in spite of ardent Catholicism, she at least opposed the cruelties of the dragonnades, although she was pleased with the conversions they procured. She had a great reputation for devotion, and in 1692 Innocent XII granted her the right of visitation over all the convents in France.
Madame de Maintenon did use her power for personal patronage, as in achieving the promotions of Chamillart and Villeroi, and the frequent assistance she gave to her brother Charles, the comte d'Aubigné. She had no recognised position at court, and therefore less social influence than the wife of the king would typically have. One can speculate as to whether or not she occasionally desired to be recognised as queen.
She founded Saint-Cyr-l'École, a school for poor girls of good families. The school began at Rueil then moved to Noisy; the king endowed St-Cyr at her request, using the funds of the Abbey of St. Denis. Madame de Maintenon drew up the rules of the institution and attended to every detail. She was considered a born teacher and a friendly, motherly influence on her pupils, who included Marie-Adélaïde of Savoy.
Racine wrote Esther and Athalie for the girls at St-Cyr, and Chamillart became controller-general of the kingdom's finances because he had managed St-Cyr so well. In the latter years of her life, Madame de Maintenon encouraged the king to promote her previous charges, the children of the king by Madame de Montespan, to high positions at court intermediate between the Prince and Princesses du Sang and the peers of the realm.
One morning Madame de Maintenon awoke at St-Cyr to find a very tall man seated at a chair by the foot of her bed. Instead of showing surprise, she knew who the man was. It was a very distinguished royal visitor who was the toast of Paris. When the man asked what her illness was she replied "old age".
She then asked what brought him to her room, the man replied, "I came to see everything worthy of note that France contains." At that a smile appeared on her face and some of her beauty returned to her cheeks. At that the visitor, Tsar Peter the Great left the room. He later remarked to his aides that she rendered a great service to the King and nation.
She died on 15 April 1719 and was buried in the choir at St-Cyr, bequeathing her estate at Maintenon to her niece, Francoise-Charlotte, the wife of Adrien-Maurice, 3rd duc de Noailles, and her brother Charles' only daughter.