It was during the Spanish War of Succession that one of Saint Simon’s masterpieces unfolded: the story of Alberoni.
France was then fighting against a coalesced Europe.
A French army laid siege on the city of Parma: its Duke was an ally of Louis XIV’s enemies. The Duke was a direct descendant of Pope Paul III who, having offered his sister Julia Farnese to Pope Alexander VI, had received the Dukedom of Parma, invented for him, as a gift for his descendants.
However, the Duke’s affairs were in a very poor state. The siege on his capital became more and more cruel and he was considering surrender. But beforehand, he preferred negotiation. He appointed the Bishop of Parma whose rank and personality held some weight. He sent him to enter into negotiations with the French commander. The bishop therefore went right to the headquarters of the besiegers and was brought into the commander, the Duke of Vendome’s tent.
The Duke was the illegitimate grandson of Henri IV. Homosexual, insolent, headstrong, debauched, and repulsive, he knew how to command an army. To shock the bishop, he received him whilst sitting on his commode. The prelate’s stomach lurched; but he started his speech nonetheless.
In the midst of the lengthy spiel, the Duke of Vendôme stood up, turned around and showed the bishop his pustule-covered bottom. The outraged bishop declared that it was not his lot in life to converse with such an oaf. He left the tent, went back to Parma and declared his indignation.
This did not settle matters for the Duke of Parma who, under pressure from the besiegers, wanted negotiations to begin. The appointed bishop staunchly refused to go back to see Vendome.
But whom could they send instead?
The Duke could not envision any minister, nobleman or prelate. Then he remembered that there was a sort of con artist in his court, a clever little guy named Alberoni who had had himself designated abbot. He had never been ordained but it would seem that the title ‘Abbot Alberoni’ opened a lot of doors. He had people address him as such without having any right to do so, and thanks to his relentlessness; he had managed to be recognised as such. Abbot Alberoni he himself had made; thus Abbot Alberoni he would remain. He handled the rather lowly tasks, rather shady ones, at the Court of Parma. When someone was needed to carry out a task that no one dared admit to, it was to him that one would turn. The Duke, desperate, did not find anything better to do than send Abbot Alberoni to see the French.
He entered the Duke de Vendome’s tent, and this is where we ought to let Saint Simon tell the story: “Alberoni who had nothing to lose and who knew very well what Vendome was like, resolved to please him at any cost, in order to attain the end goal of his mission according to his master’s wishes and to move forward alongside him. He therefore dealt with Monsieur de Vendome while he sat on his commode, brightening up his task by telling jokes that, by making the general laugh, worked all the better than forced flattery and homages.
Vendome abused of this situation as he had done with the bishop. He wiped his ass in front of him. When he saw this, Alberoni shouted : ‘O culo d’angelo’ (Oh an angel’s ass) and ran to kiss it. Nothing would make his matters move forward more so than this vile buffoonery.”
The Duke of Vendôme who wanted to be shocking did not expect this appreciative reaction. He turned and stared at Alberoni’s face. He did not find him ugly at all. So, he kept him at French army headquarters. What the relationship with the Duke generalissimo and the fake Abbot, one can easily guess.
Very quickly, the Duke of Vendome was named generalissimo of the French armies who were fighting in Spain. He brought Alberoni with him. There, the fake Abbot just had to leap from the French general headquarters to the Royal Court of Spain, where Louis XIV‘s grandson Philippe V had just become king.
Having settled in at the Royal Palace, Alberoni was like a fish in water in the midst of all of the intrigues. He joined up with the most powerful person in the place, the Princess des Ursins. They became accomplices and friends.
But that is another story that I will tell you very soon….