Phillipe de Courcillon Marquis de Dangeau

Creator of the 'official Biography'

21 September 1638 - 9 September 1720


Dangeau is a writer far less famous than Saint Simon. The great difference between them is that Dangeau wrote openly. Most persons in power did know that he held a journal. Saint Simon wrote secretly, and that is why there is an enormous difference between their works. Saint Simon's work is full of intrigue and scandal. Dangeau's is a rather dry summation of Louis XIV's rule. This of course means that Saint Simon attracts far more attention from the public. For historians both works are unique, and of a unique value. Dangeau's work enables them to pinpoint events in time.

Early years

Dangeau was born as Philippe de Courcillon to Louis de Courcillon, Seigneur de Dangeau, de la Motte et de Diziers and Charlotte des Noues de la Tabarière on 21 September 1638, probably at the Chateau Dangeau. Philippe and his brother Louis (who would later become abbé de Dangeau) were born to a Huguenot family but converted early to Catholicism. Philippe was well built and was of a quick mind. In 1657 or 1658 he was in the army as a cavalry captain under Turenne. After the peace of the Pyrenees in 1659 Dangeau joined the Spanish side against the Portuguese. He signaled himself in the conquest of Jururmenha in 1663, and got the honor of reporting successes to the Spanish King.

Commanding and Gambling his way at court

On 2 January 1663 Louis XIV erected his own regiment called 'Regiment du Roy'. It was agreed that the young nobility was allowed to serve in the colonel's company. Somewhere in 1663 Dangeau got to command it as Lieutenant Colonel1. In 1665 Dangeau became colonel of the regiment and he commanded it against Tournai and Douai. At the taking of Lille in 1667 he signaled himself at its head. His intimacy to the king was put to paper in September 1670 when an order was issued that gave full access to the king wherever he was and in every meeting he was in.

Also in 1670 Dangeau married Françoise Morin daughter of the very rich Jaques Morin Seigneur de Chateauneuf. From this marriage Dangeau got two daughters. The first would be married in 1694 to the eldest son of the duc de Chevreuse. Later he became a kind of ADC to the king himself reportedly serving as such from 1672 to 1684. Meanwhile at court Dangeau profited from his stay in Spain and his knowledge of Spanish. The queen and queen-mother liked this and his manners and charm, and started to invite him to their games. Dangeau proved to be a good gambler, and thus made a considerable fortune from playing at court. He was aided in this by having mathematicians calculating the odds for different games and he was a man that cold blooded enough to profit from statistics. His fortune (or rather skill) at gambling was well noted at the time, and has to be taken for a historical fact.

Dangeau thus made his way earning money at gambling and spending it to get ahead. He probably used his profits to buy the governorship of Touraine in 1667. Apart from this 'bought' part of his career Louis XIV sent Dangeau on different missions to the princes on the Rhine, and used him to negotiate the marriage of James II with the princess of Modena. In September 1672 Dangeau was appointed ambassador extraordinary to the Pfaltz. This was one of his most important diplomatic missions some correspondence of it still exists and it lasted till March 1673.

A skill that further ingratiated Dangeau to Louis XIV was his aptitude at composing verses. He aided Louis in learning how to compose verses, but also made them so Louis XIV could communicate them to La Vallière as his own. Dangeau was also employed in transmitting messages/verses (that he had to invent himself) from Louis to her, but La Vallière herself was also not that talented, so she too employed Dangeau in order to compose her messages/verses. There is some doubt whether it was in the combination of Louis/La Vallière or Louis/Montepan that this the lovers noticed this mutual deceit, but they did not blame Dangeau for it. It seems that Dangeau also got himself a palace apartment by making some difficult rhymes. In January 1668 his poetic skills would enable Dangeau to enter the Académie Française. Dangeau probably liked to get academic honors, because in 1687 he became protector of the Academie Royale d'Arles. He crowned these scientific achievements by becoming a member of the Académie des sciences in 1704.

Dangeau becomes a grand seigneur

In 1680 Dangeau got his first official recognition when Louis chose him as the first 'menin' (originally a kind of assigned friend for the adolescence) of his son the Grand Dauphin on account of his marriage. Dangeau's first wife died in 1682. It is not improbable that the loneliness and or spare time brought the idea of starting a journal, and so Dangeau started his now famous work on 1 April 1684. His next promotion came when Dangeau bought the charge of Chevalier de Honneur to the Dauphine for 350,000 Livres on 24 February 1685.

In March 1686 Dangeau married Sophie Marie Countess of Levestein (Löwenstein, born 1664), a lady in waiting to La Dauphine. As regards birth this marriage to a favorite of Maintenon was way above Dangeau's standing. 'Madame' the countess of Levestein was a niece of cardinal Fürstemberg and canoness of Thorn, an institute that required 16 ancestors of princely blood or sovereign counts of the empire. On top of that she was very beautiful, wise and virtuous, making that all the court adored her. This happy marriage was however stained by an affair caused by Sophie de Levestein being named Sophie de Bavaria in the marriage contract. Though all Sophie's brothers in Germany used this surname, this was insupportable to La Dauphine. She had the registers of the parish of Versailles brought to her and the pages ripped out. The king then had to intervene and by using his sovereignty had the pages officially destroyed and replaced by pages speaking only of Sophie Countess de Levestein. Apart from this the newly wed marquise de Dangeau now became a much wanted ornament to all events at court.

From his marriage with Sophie Dangeau had a son on 19 June 1687. He was named Phillipe Egon de Courcillon and would remain their only child. He was courageous, but would also cause a lot of scandal. In January 1704 Phillipe Egon would get the cavalry regiment of Cardinal Fürstemberg. In the battle of Ramillies he then signaled himself at its head. At Malplaquet Philippe Egon would lose a leg, but that did not hinder him from becoming a cavalry brigadier in 1710. On 20 September 1719 Philippe Egon died. He had been married since 17 June 1708 Mademoiselle de Pompadour, and left one daughter named Marie Sophie de Courcillon.

The ancient order of chivalry De Saint Lazare had been joined to the chivalrous order of Our Lady of Mont Carmel in 1607. Its grand master had long been of the house of Nérestang, but the family had been replaced by Louvois in 1673. On 24 December 1693 Louis XIV then chose Dangeau as Grand Master of the united orders. In a religious ceremony Dangeau then swore loyalty to the king on 18 December 1695. His reception as head of the order was celebrated with great pomp on 29 January in a church in Versailles. Dangeau of course sought to raise the prestige of the order because it also strengthened his prestige, and seems to have enjoyed some success in this.

Around January 1696 Dangeau also became one of the three Conseillers d'Etat d'épée. All in all Dangeau thus got about everything one could expect for a man and his wife so much in favor with the king and Maintenon. And, while many other favorites tumbled from their high places in time, they continued to stay in favor till the king died.

When Louis XIV died in 1715 Dangeau closed the volume he was writing in and opened a new one. Dangeau of course remained of the party of Maintenon and the Duc de Maine, but when Phillipe II became regent their parts were finished. Almost 80 years old Dangeau retired to Paris and only seldom showed himself at the new court. He did however continue his journal and his offices as Grand Master and at the academies, just as his wife continued her correspondence with Maintenon at Saint Cyr. After making the final entries in his journal on 16 August, Dangeau died on 9 September 1720.

Dangeau's Journal

As said above Dangeau started his journal on 1 April 1684. Though contemporaries did not make much of a difference between a journal and memoirs, it stands far apart from contemporary memoirs. Though it is a journal Dangeau did not write about his own life, or his role in affairs. That is also why this little biography is not based on the journal itself. What Dangeau did write about openly were events at court, day by day and not edited later on. As such it gives us not only information about what happened, but also a view of what information arrived at Versailles and when it arrived. The weaker aspect of the journal is that Dangeau left out a lot of facts that he knew of, but that were too sensitive to be in the journal or to be written down at the time he got to know them. Therefore the contents of the journal are all true, but they do not contain the whole truth.

Publications of Dangeau's Journal

The first publication of Dangeau's Journal was prepared by Voltaire. It appeared from 1770 onwards titled as: 'Journal de la Cour de Louis XIV depuis 1684 jusqu'a 1715, avec des notes intéressantes. In 1817 Madame de Genlis, with the support of Louis XVIII, published some extracts of it titled Abrégé des Mémoires ou Journal du Marquis de Dangeau. This year also saw the publication of 'Extraits des Mémoires du Marquis de Dangeau' by Madame de Sartory. In 1818 some other extracts were published by Lémontey together with notes by a supposed anonymous, who was in fact Saint Simon. The final authorative publication was made by Soulié, Dussieux, De Chennevières, Mantz and De Maintaiglon from 1854. It is titled: 'Journal du Marquis de Dangeau, Publié en entire pour la première fois avec les Additions Inédites du Duc de Saint Simon. The good thing about this superb publication is that it is available at Gallica. In it is a good introduction about the writer that I used to make this little biography.


1) For the regiment du Roy consult the French Army page. The Creator of the Dangeau biography seems not to have used the work by Daniel, but a later secondary source and Fontenelle's 'Eloges des Academiciens' printed in 1740.