Monsieur de Lauzun was one of the ornaments to adorn the court of Louis XIV. Small, ugly, irresistible; no woman would yield to him; no man would accept him as a friend. The audacity of the man knew no limit: he had an unspeakable cheek and an unshakeable courage. He was a great friend of the royal mistress, Madame de Montespan, who was very much cut from the same cloth.
One day Monsieur de Lauzun attempted to solicit the assistance of Madame de Montespan to intercede on his behalf with King Louis XIV, no doubt to obtain a favour; probably service in a well-paid regiment or another role of a similarly agreeable nature. Madame de Montespan, with great warmth – as befitted their friendship – promised to take the case to the king.
But Lauzun had grown suspicious of her, and so introduced himself surreptitiously into the bedroom of the great favourite of the king and hid under the bed. The king arrived shortly afterwards with his mistress. Lauzun heard first the frollicing of the couple and then the conversation that was to follow. Rather than pleading his case, Madame de Montespan instead urged Louis XIV to be wary of Lauzun and, above all, not to grant him his request. Then the lovers parted.
Monsieur de Lauzun came out of his hiding-place and made his way a little while later to wait for Madame de Montespan at the entrance to her quarters. She appeared, sumptuously dressed for the court ball; covered with magnificent jewels, resplendent, the absolute mistress of the King of France.
Lauzun gallantly offered her his hand, which she took, and so they advanced towards the great drawing-rooms of Versailles. Lauzun asked Madame de Montespan if she had been able to speak to the king. She told him that not only had she been able to speak to the king but, furthermore, that she had made herself the warmest advocate of his desired favour. On hearing this Lauzun smiled and proceeded to whisper in the favourite’s ear everything she had said to Louis XIV to dissuade the king from granting Lauzun his request, word for word.
Madame de Montespan was left breathless with astonishment. How on earth did Lauzun know what she had said? When he had finished his tirade which followed, Lauzun added a string of the most vile insults he could find; ‘Moorish slut’ the finest of the lot. This favourite of the King was now left horrified, trembling, disoriented; she no longer knew which saint to call upon. The horror and astonishment were such that when he arrived in the drawing-room where the King was waiting for her with the Court, she fainted at the feet of her lover.
The king, distraught at the sight of this, made immediate inquiries into the causes of this fainting. Madame de Montespan, stammering, told him the whole story. The very next day Lauzun was sent to prison in a distant fortress where he was condemned to languish for many years.
Lauzun was not in his first adventure with Madame de Montespan … Louis XIV had a first cousin nicknamed “la Grande Mademoiselle”. She had taken part in the Fronde, and had had the guns of the Bastille fire on the king’s troops, her first cousin. The king had not forgotten. The Grande Mademoiselle was also one of the richest heiresses in Europe; many were the suitors who presented themselves at her door without success.
The Grande Mademoiselle drew inspiration from the little Lauzun, who was but a simple gentleman at the time. Aware of the great sway that he could therefore bring to bear, Lauzun played to the situation to perfection, stirring a great desire within the Grande Mademoiselle, who was, by contrast, rather naive. Indeed, so great was Lauzun’s sway and so naïve the object of his attention that she decided to marry him. Clearly, this morganatic marriage was inconceivable at the time. However, in order that she might prevail, the Grande Mademoiselle decided to win over the royal mistress, Madame de Montespan who agreed to plead her case but not without demanding something in return. The Grande Mademoiselle would be required to cede a very significant part of her inheritance to the illegitimate children whom Madame de Montespan had from Louis XIV. As agreed, Madame de Montespan spoke to the king, and the king accepted the marriage. He could have been said to have taken some satisfaction from humiliating his cousin, who had given the order to fire upon his troops, by allowing her this ridiculous marriage. Lauzun soon began to profit from the Grande Mademoiselle’s generosity: a few trinkets were received; a principality, a duchy, thousands of hectares of forest; in short a gigantic patrimony.
In the meantime, the royal family; the queen, the princes, the princesses, was displeased. This marriage was a disgrace to the dynasty; such a decline was unacceptable to them. And yet, to whom should the royal family turn to put a stop to this scandal, if not to the royal favourite, Madame de Montespan? Enchanted by the prospect of gaining the good graces of the royal family, who had hitherto proven reluctant to accept her, she gladly accepted the role and became the champion of the royal family’s cause; promising to intercede on their behalf with Louis XIV to discourage him from this marriage. Faced with this united front of his beloved and his family, Louis XIV yielded. He reversed his authorization and forbade the marriage.
The Mademoiselle, desperate, went to bed in her Luxembourg Palace. The whole court filed through to offer her their condolences. The Grande Mademoiselle received them, unable to speak through her sobs. She patted ceaselessly the pillow which lay next to her, murmuring, “This is where he would be; he would be here.”
As for Madame de Montespan, she continued to nurse her children, who went on to receive a considerable fortune.
There is an epilogue to this story. The sole heir of the Grande Mademoiselle was the King’s brother, my maternal ancestor. On the death of the heroine, he inherited only part of the fortune; the rest went to the children of Madame de Montespan. Four generations later, her direct descendant, the Duke of Orléans, known later as Philippe Egalité, married the daughter of the Duke of Penthièvre, the illegitimate grandson of Louis XIV, who found herself because of many childless deaths of his aunts and uncles, the sole heir of all the children of Madame de Montespan. It was thus, by the marriage of Philippe Egalité, that the entire fortune of the Grande Mademoiselle came to be the rightful inheritance of my mother’s family.
There is one final element of the tale. The Grande Mademoiselle had shown herself sentimental and romantic. Her heart that had beaten so strongly for Lauzun came to a strange end. According to custom, when the Grande Mademoiselle died, she was autopsied, and her heart and bowels were taken out, and placed into two precious marble urns, which were themselves placed on a gilded wooden credenza in the Abbey of Saint-Denis, during the princess’ funeral.
The whole court was there for the event as was a great part of the clergy, an immense catafalque onto which the coffin was placed. Thousands of candles adorned the Abbey. It transpired that the urn that contained the heart had either been badly sealed, or that the heart had been badly embalmed. Whichever of the two it was, in the middle of the funeral, the urn exploded with a terrifying noise and a terrible odour spread throughout the Abbey. It was at once the panic described in the writings of Saint Simon. The bishops clasped the court ladies with their crosses to flee faster, gentlemen trampled duchesses, the choir boys threw bishops to the ground to escape from this hell on earth as soon as possible. And yet it seems appropriate that the explosive heart of the Grande Mademoiselle should, in its last act, explode.