In the winter of 1711, France and Louis XIV felt absolutely crestfallen. Frost had annihilated the harvest; it was so cold that people were dying in the streets; the Spanish War of Succession had been dragging on for more than ten years; there was no more money, troops, resources, and no more hope. France’s enemies were desperate to destroy it, and Louis XIV. In the icy splendour of Versailles, where the wine was freezing in the carafes, he was truly wondering to which saint he might pray.
He was unaware though that strange things were happening in London. The leader of the coalition against France was Louis the XIV’s fiercest enemy, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. He wanted to annihilate France. He had married Sarah Jennings: a bad-tempered beauty and a phenomenal shrew.
The sovereign Queen Anne had somehow fallen in love with her. She had Sapphic leanings, but also masochistic ones. Sarah Jennings, who had understood the queen, treated her accordingly, in other words, very badly.
These ladies exchanged a great many letters that they signed using the names of men. However, Sarah went a bit too far and, despite her masochistic tendencies, Queen Anne began to suffer and to protest somewhat against Sarah’s treatment.
Hoping to strengthen her stronghold, Sarah arranged to place her niece Abigail with Queen Anne, as a kind of luxury maid, and most importantly as a spy who would report back on the deeds and actions of Queen Anne so that she could do nothing without Sarah knowing.
Little by little, without Sarah realising it, Abigail gained Queen Anne’s trust, affection, and perhaps some love. The sovereign nestled into Abigail’s arms and told her of the miseries that Sarah afflicted on her. Abigail provided understanding, consolation, support, and tenderness. What Sarah did not know was that Abigail belonged to the pacific political party, bitterly opposed to Marlborough and Sarah.
Sarah’s behaviour went beyond reasonable measure. She ordered Queen Anne to wear a specific outfit that she liked for a certain ceremony. Queen Anne however had chosen another dress and in the coach on the way to the ceremony, Sarah slapped the Queen. That was too much. On that occasion, Anne did not cry on Abigail’s bosom, but instead, with Abigail’s support, she put Sarah out of favour, forbidding her to appear in her presence and stripping her of all of her positions. In that instant, Abigail became the favourite, in her aunt’s stead. And along with her, the Peace party rose to power; and, immediately thereafter, Marlborough resigned.
All this went on in the corridors of the palace; but someone outside the palace learned about it too. He was a French abbot, a turncoat who had remained in London as a dormant spy long after the embassy there had closed. He learned what was happening, mounted his horse, galloped to Dover, rented a boat, sailed to Calais, then galloped to Versailles. He arrived at two o’clock in the morning, knocked on the door of the Secretary of State for the Navy, Monsieur de Pontchartrain, woke him up and declared: “Take me to the King immediately” – “But you are dreaming, my friend, the King is asleep at this hour.” – “You will be forever grateful for what I am bringing him.” Pontchartrain got dressed, and led the abbot-spy to the king. Louis XIV was awakened. The minister and the spy entered the bedroom, and the abbot-spy announced: “Sire, I bring you peace.” Louis XIV immediately sat up amongst his pillows; he could hardly believe his own ears. And the abbot-spy told him everything that had happened in London. Louis XIV could have kissed him. When the Peace Party came to power, Queen Anne decided to begin negotiations to put an end to the War of Succession.
France and Louis XIV were saved thanks to an argument between two Sapphic ladies.