Françoise d'Aubigné marquise de Maintenon

The Marquise de Maintenon is one of the most famous mistresses of Louis XIV. She was born as Françoise d'Aubigné, stayed in Guadeloupe for a while and was married to Scarron. Later she would become the mistress and secret wife of the king.

Maintenon is also known for her letters and her activities in charity. The latter more understandable by looking at her youth. The description of her family also makes clear that Maintenon was of good descent, but poor means.

1 The d'Aubigné family

Francoise d'Aubigné afterwards Marquise de Maintenon had a turbulent youth. Her grandfather was the Huguenot general Agrippa d'Aubigné, a famous historian. Agrippa's father had been chancellor of the King of Navarre, but had left only the seigneurie de Landes-Guinemer to Agrippa, born 8 February 15521. At age 16 he joined the civil wars and fought in multiple combats.

In June 1583 Agrippa married Suzanne de Lezay daughter of Ambroise de Lezay seigneur de Surimeau. For Agrippa this meant he climbed the social ladder, but at the time of this marriage Suzanne's wealth consisted only in the prospect of some big inheritances. In the end Agrippa would lay his hands on her inheritance, but by then it was loaded with debts.

Agrippa also had the still higher ambition of wanting to conquer a government for himself. At first he seemed to succeed by conquering Oléron island, but he lost it again. In 1588 he realized his ambition by conquering the fortress-abbey of Maillezais. This was a strategic stronghold covering La Rochelle and controling Poitou's access to the sea. It was also close to his possessions of Surimeau and Mursay. Agrippa became governor of Maillezais and turned it into a well-garrisoned strong-point.

After the peace of Vervins and the Edict of Nantes Maillezais became a place of security for the Huguenots. Agrippa had a pension of 7,000 livres and had become Vice-admiral of Aunis and Saintonge, which gave him control of navigation in these areas.

The possessions brought in by his wife were: the Seigneurie de Surimeau valued at 90,000 livres and yielding 3,800 a year; the Seigneurie de Mursay valued at 45,000 livres and yielding 1,500; La Berlandière and other possesions valued at 25,000 livres. With regard to the possessions brought in by his wife one has to note that they had come to her loaded with debts. Agrippa had cleared these debts and raised the worth of these lands by his investments. Next to that Agrippa collected the revenues of the episcopal lands depending from Maillezais.

By himself Agrippa had started with only Landes Guinemer valued at about 7,500 livres. Financially Agrippa was a very successful man, and the same can be said for his exploits in the arts. His children, especially one of them, would however give him a lot of trouble. Something that might have been caused by the appearance that he favored one over the other.

1.1 Agrippa's children

Agrippa d'Aubigné had 3 surviving children. The eldest son was Constant d'Aubigné, father of the Marquise de Maintenon. Marie d'Aubigné married Josué de Caumont sieur d'Addé or Dadou. Louise-Arthémise married to Benjamin le Valois Sieur de Vilette in 1610. There was also a Nathan d'Aubigné, a bastard son born in 1601.

1.2 Agrippa and Constant

Constant d'Aubigné baron de Surimeau was born 1585. He became baron de Surimeau by inheriting the estate from his mother. He went to the Académie de Sedan, but Agrippa surmised his youth as consisting of gambling and drinking2. Constant married the widow Anne Marchant on 10 October 1608. Anne Marchant descended from a good family of La Rochelle and brought a substantial dowry of 25,000 livres3. Agrippa might not have been very pleased with this marriage, but at first it seemed quite normal. In 1609 a first son Théodulphe was born, but he seems to have died early. A second son Théodore-Agrippa was born in 1613 and lived at least till 1627.

In about 1610 Constant killed a noblemen in a duel that was perceived as unfair, but even though it created a scandal, he got away with it. Next he aided the Sieur de Fief in kidnapping Mademoiselle de la Saussaye only daughter of the rich Claude d'Angliers procureur du roi in the presidency of La Rochelle. During this abduction they broke into her house and killed or wounded 2 servants of d'Angliers. It was followed by a marriage, but d'Angliers succeeded in retrieving his daughter and a criminal procedure followed. In October 1613 Constant was convicted to be hanged, but Agrippa got his son of the hook again.

Constant's behavior made Agrippa very worried about the prospects of his daughters. Constant had officialy inherited his mother's lands in which Agrippa had invested most of his fortune. Constant's tendency to get into debt however made it likely that at Agrippa's death these debts would leave his daughters with nothing. Agrippa therefore held a rigorous account of all the expenses he made for Constant, so he could restrict his son's spending as Lord of Surimeau.

Agrippa also made a premature partition of 'his' wealth. His favorite Louise, married to Vilette got the seigneurie de Mursay and took effective control of it in 1616. Marie got the small domains of La Berlandière and l'Herce, depending from Surimeau.

Constant tried to gain favor at court and became a Catholic in 1618. In 1619 he killed his wife, supposedly while catching her in bed with a lawyer's son. The family of Anne Marchant started criminal procedures against Constant d'Aubigné and again Agrippa had to intervene. Agrippa however also perceived that his son was again trying to gain his domains.

Perceiving himself besieged on all sides, Agrippa decided to sell his government of Maillezais. In 1619 the Duke of Rohan bought it for 100,000 livres and the seigneurie of Port d'O in Brittany (which Agrippa would never possess). Before Agrippa had left Constant assembled 180 mercenaries and tried to take Agrippa's fortress by surprise, but failed when he was charged by his brother in law Dadou. Agrippa then went to Saint-Jean d'Angély and fought in a short campaign against the royal army. In 1620 Agrippa fled France and went into exile in Geneva, where he died in 1630.

2 Constant d'Aubigné

Constant d'Aubigné became factual owner of Surimeau by his father's exile. His financial affairs were however so bad that in 1625 he went bankrupt. His brother in law Caumont d'Adde was appointed as curator of Surimeau and would succeed in retaining it in his family, giving Constant a pension of 1,500 livres. At about the same time Marie d'Aubigné died.

Before the Siege of La Rochelle (1627-1628) England tried to contact the Huguenot leaders who could organize a rebellion, and they also contacted Agrippa, who sent his son Constant to England. Constant however betrayed his mission, and this led to the final breach in the relations between Agrippa and Constant. The court also had doubts about Constant's role at in the end of September 1627 Constant was arrested in Niort and emprisoned in the Château-Trompette.

2.1 Constant's second marriage

For Constant d'Aubigné's second marriage we have to investigate the person of Pierre de Cardilhac sieur de Lalanne, who was the father of the bride. According to the marriage certificate as represented in print 'Pierre de Cardillac' was: 'lieutenant de Mr. le duc d'Epernon dans la garnison du Château-trompette'4. Did this mean that Pierre de Cardillac was the actual governor while the Duc d'Epernon was the official governor? The 'Souvenirs de Madame de Caylus' point in this direction by stating: 'Pierre de Cardillac lieutenant de Monsieur le Duc d'Epernon & gouverneur sous ses ordres de cette place.'5.

For now we'll assume that Cardillac was commander of Chateau-Trompette, with d'Epernon as provincial governor of Guyenne. He had a daughter Jeanne de Cardilhac, who was 16 years old. Constant was 43 and broke. Pierre de Cardilhac would probably not have consented in a marriage, but it seems that it was forced by a pregnancy.

The marriage gave rise to the story that Maintenon descended from a jailer's daughter, but even when taken literally this is not true. Château-Trompette was a major fortress on a very strategic position next to Bordeaux, its governor held an important office and had employees to oversee his prisoners.

The marriage took place on 27 December 1627, and the dowry of Jeanne de Cardilhac was estimated at 3,000 livres. At about the same time Constant was set free, but he remained in prison till 20 February for the debts he had contracted during his emprisonment. Jeanne soon discovered the extent of her husband's financial troubles, and in April 1629 she obtained a separation of equity from the tribunal of Niort. In 1629 Constant had a first son born, but he seems to have died early.

Perhaps the couple and its creditors hoped to inherit something from Agrippa, but when he died his will left them with nothing. Constance then got involved in the intrigues of Gaston d'Orléans, and in December 1632 he was again arrested and to be confined at Château-Trompette for ten years. Jeanne de Cardilhac probably settled in nearby Bordeaux, or even at Château-Trompette itself.

2.2 Birth of Charles d'Aubigné

In early 1634 Charles d'Aubigné was born. Charles d'Aubigné would later become governor of Berry and Chevalier des Ordres du Roi and died in 1703. Charles d'Aubigné would leave another Françoise d'Aubigné, who would marry Adrien Maurice Duc de Noailles on 1 April 1698.

After the birth of Charles Jeanne obtained that Constant was moved to Poitiers. By an act 11 December 1634 it's known that she then lived in the house of a baker, while her husband was imprisoned in the Conciergerie of the Palais de Justice. She became pregnant again, and obtained that her husband was transferred to the conciergerie of the Palais de Justice of Niort. Jeanne then sent her two sons to her sister in law Louise-Arthémise, Madame de Vilette and moved in with her husband.

2.3 Birth of Françoise d'Aubigné marquise de Maintenon

It was in the by now non-existant prison connected to Palais de Justice of Niort that Jeanne gave birth to another child on 27 November 1635. This was our Françoise d'Aubigné marquise de Maintenon. In her labor she had been helped by Madame de Vilette. On 28 November Maintenon was baptized in the church of Notre-Dame de Niort. Her baptismal mother was Suzanne de Baudéan, daughter of Charles de Baudéan baron de Neuilhaut and Françoise Tiraqueau.

3 Maintenon's youth

3.1 Childhood at Château de Mursay

Almost immediately after her birth Madame de Vilette took Maintenon with her to the Château de Mursay, where she joined her brothers. It was at Mursay that Françoise would live the happiest part of her youth. She grew to adore her aunt and was raised in the Protestant religion. Jeanne stayed with her husband another year and then started attempts to re-establish the affairs of her husband. At the end of 1636 she demanded that Dadou rendered an account of the income of Surimeau from the time he became warden in 1625.

Jeanne de Cardilhac succeeded in organizing the sale of Crest (Agrippa's manor near Geneva) in the name of Constant's creditors and taking control of l'Herce. The whole affair led to a proces before the Parlement de Paris which lasted from 1637 till 1642. Jeanne had the support of the Villette family and had her sons with her during her stay in Paris. At first it looked as if she was going to win over Dadou.

Dadou's eldest daughter Arthémise had however married Sansas de Nesmond, nephew of one of the presidents of the parlement. De Nesmond became her new enemy and beat her entirely in a sentence delivered in August 1642. As a consequence Nesmond and the two surviving daughters of Marie d'Aubigné gained ownership of Constant's possessions, primarily the Seigneurie de Surimeau. Dadou's fears of Nesmond also materialized, because he was ordered to account towards his two daughters for the administration of Surimeau from 1627 to 1641. Sansas then started a proces which entirely ruined Dadou, and ended up the final owner of Surimeau.

Françoise d'Aubigné had almost spent the first seven years of her life at Mursay when Richelieu died in August 1642. As a consequence Constant was set free, and together with Françoise he went to see his wife in Paris. After not seeing her for 4 years the reunion with her mother was very disappointing for Françoise. Constant and his wife again started a life without any income.

3.2 Her stay in the Caribbean

At the end of March 1645 Constant then applied for a job with the Compagnie des iles de l'Amérique. He was appointed as governor of Marie Galante, a small island near Guadaloupe, for three years. On arriving with his family later that year they found Marie Galante inhabited by Indians and the planned governship did not come to pass. Constant then probably held some minor commission in the Caribbean, but again started to spend far more than he earned.

Françoise and the boys were brought up very strict, and later Maintenon did not like to talk much about her time in the Caribbean. In 1647 Constant died of illness, and Jeanne and the children returned to France immediately.

3.3 Back in France

After arriving in La Rochelle the family found refuge at Mursay, but soon the eldest son drowned in a lake. Charles was made a paige with the Baron de Neuillant and Françoise was again confided to the care of Madame de Vilette. Jeanne went to Paris.

For Françoise it seemed that a happy time would recommence again, but it was ended soon. Françoise Tiraqueau baroness de Neuillant perceived that Françoise was again getting educated in the protestant religion. She therefore asked the queen mother to intervene and obtained orders for Françoise to live with her. Later Maintenon would recount that she was not treated well at that house.

3.4 The Ursulines de Niort

De Neuillant tried to convert her to Catholicism and when she refused Neuillant sent her to the convent of the Ursulines de Niort, but refused to pay anything for her. Nevertheless Françoise had a very good time in the convent. She regretted when she had to leave because her stay was not paid. The nuns sent her back to Neuillant, who forwarded her to Paris, where her mother was.

3.5 Re-converted to Catholicism

Jeanne had meanwhile finally lost her battle with Nesmond when agreeing to a pension of 200 livres a year in exchange for all her pretensions on the rights of Constant. Jeanne again tried to convert Françoise to Catholicism, and when that did not work she sent her to the Ursulines de Faubourg Saint-Jacques. At age 13 Françoise was treated very bad in this convent. It resulted in the Françoise's first letter that was kept for posterity. It was a cry for help to Madame de Vilette, but nothing happened and in the end she was re-converted back to the Catholic faith. Françoise then left the convent and went to live with her mother in a small room in the Rue des Tournelles. Here she lived in poverty from the 200 livres pension and what their hands could produce.

4 Madame Scarron

4.1 Paul Scarron as an author

Near to the d'Aubigné's lived the criple poet Paul Scarron (1610-1660). He would now be classified as a poet and a novellist. At the time Scarron was a very famous author. Now he's still known for his Roman Comique published in 1651, a work classified as Baroque comic fiction. Other authors in this genre were Charles Sorel and Cyrano de Bergerac. At the beginning of this genre of literature is also a work of Agrippa d'Aubigné, his Aventures du Baron de Faeneste.

4.2 Paul Scarron's situation in 1650

Paul Scarron was a member of a parliamentary family and entered the church in 1629. From 1632 to 1640 he had lived at Le Mans and was in the service of the bishop. From 1638 he had been afflicted by a terrible disease then called gout, but probably spondylarthritis complicated by iritis. It caused his body to fold up in the form of a Z and left him with little more than the use of his hands. In about 1640 Paul Scarron returned to Paris.

Scarron's repute as a poet started when he published his Recueil de quelques vers burlesques in 1643. His renown gained him pensions from Queen Mother Anne of Austria and from Fouquet. From about 1651 he came to live at the Hotel de Troyes in the Rue d'Enfer in an appartment described as 'very comfortable6'. His social and professional life revolved around this home. Here he regularly entertained and tried out some of his work with his audience.

Madame de Neuillant regularly stayed at the Hotel de Troyes during her visits to Paris7. The story is that in order to redeem his health he thought about settling in the Caribbean. He therefore asked information from Madame de Neuillant, who sent Jeanne and her daughter. Françoise arrived in his room full of people with a very short dress and poor clothes and started to cry from embarassement8.

4.3 Marriage to Scarron

Some months later Françoise and her mother Jeanne left Paris and returned to Niort. Almost upon arriving at Niort Jeanne died. Françoise was again in the custody of Neuillant and stayed with that family for over a year. While there she wrote a letter to Mademoiselle de Saint-Hermant. This mademoiselle showed it to Scarron, who reacted by sending a letter to Françoise. It was later followed by a proposal to marry her or to pay her entry in a convent.

This proposal by a cripple poet in his fourties made a strange impression on some people. What did Scarron want with a 16-year old girl? We can suppose that Scarron had hired help to nurse him. We can also suppose that even though Scarron might have been smitten with this girl, he would be wise enough not to expect the same feelings in return. The most likely use that Scarron could have for a marriage was to have a hostess, just like he had Céleste de Palaiseau for a while.

Another use would be to have a secretary. Paul Scarron could not have failed to be aware of Françoise's descend, and could thus have supposed some talent for letters. The story of Scaron viewing a letter by Françoise supports this thought. For Neuillant the proposal was very acceptable because she could marry her of without a dowry. Neuillant took Françoise to Paris, and in May 1652 Françoise became Madame Scarron at age 16.

Françoise's marriage to Scarron would last 8 years. Later Maintenon would describe it as one of the happiest periods of her life. During the receptions at her house she charmed a lot of their visitors. There was however a bit of a contrast between the rude conversation and morals of Scarron and his friends and Françoise's more modest behavior. She acquainted a lot of powerful persons during her marriage.

5 Widow of Scarron

Scarron died in 1660 and was sincerely regretted by his wife. Maintenon was also practically penniless again, with only 500 livres to her name. La Maréchale d'Albret and the Duchesse de Richelieu were some of her major supports. Luckily she succeeded in having the Queen Mother continue Scarron's pension to her benefit. After the Queen Mother's dead in January 1666 her pension stopped for a while before her relations would succeed in getting King Louis XIV to continue her pension.

Françoise moved her quarters first to the Hospitalières de la Place Royal, and then moved to the Ursulines de la rue Saint Jacques. She lived a quite life, aimed at showing herself a useful and loyal friend. This paid off with her building more friendships. Amongst these were madamoiselle de Pons later married to d'Heudicourt, and Madame de Montchevreuil. Her most important relation during this time was however the old Maréchale d'Albret. At the Hotel d'Albret she would acquaint herself with the later Princesse d'Ursins and Madame de Montespan.

6 Governess of Montespan's children

6.1 Governess in the suburbs

Madame de Montespan became the mistress of King Louis XIV and in March 1669 their child, presumably called Louise Françoise de Bourbon (1669-1672), was born. He gave Madame de Montespan the choice of selecting a governess, and naturally her choice fell on Madame Scarron, who was appointed the same year. At first the child and those that followed were hidden away from court in a big house at the end of the Rue de Vaugirard. This was in the suburbs, quite some distance from court and the only thing the king saw from Madam Scarron were some of her letters.

In 1673 however Louis XIV officially recognized his children with De Montespan.This recognition forced Madame Scarron to appear at court. There she collected the 100,000 francs that had been promised for her cares, and in 1674 she bought the marquisate of Maintenon. The relation between Maintenon and De Montespan had meanwhile become much cooler. This might be explained by Maintenon disapproving Montespan's behavior, rivalry over the love of these children, or Montespan getting arrogant in her new position.

6.2 Madame Scarron at court

At court Madame Scarron got the opportunity to meet King Louis now and then, and slowly she gained his confidence. Madame de Montespan's behavior was meanwhile getting out of bounds. Louis became enamored of Madame de Fontanges and Montespan's favor was ruined in the affair of the poissons.

Maintenon became the new favorite of Louis XIV. She used this position to reconcile Louis with the queen, an act that earned her eternal recognition from the queen.

7 Marriage to Louis XIV

After the queen's death on 30 July 1683 Louis considered marrying Madame de Maintenon. This marriage has often been doubted but is now considered a fact. At the insistence of his ministers Louis however refrained from making this marriage public.

Soon after her secret marriage, Maintenon got apartments at Versailles, facing those of the king. Louis went there every day, and they are mentioned time and again by Saint Simon as the place where important things happened. Capefique (Tome II p. 71) says that Louis received his ministers in the presence of Maintenon, worked with them in her presence, and discussed with them with her present, sometimes asking her to join the conversation and asking her advice. Add to this that she succeeded in bringing her favorites (like Chamillart) into government and one has a good idea of the tremendous power she wielded at Versailles.

Her character

The main characteristic of Maintenon was that she knew how to please. With her grace and spirit she would make any conversation agreeable while retaining respect and modesty. She was also very devout and virtuous. This led her to establish Saint Cyr as a house where daughters of impoverished noblemen could get an education. It also made her a kind of overseer to all convents in France, a charge on which she would spend lots of time. Maintenon was however also duped by relying on the guidance of the Jesuits in religious affairs.

Her influence on religious affairs

Various authors, among whom Saint Simon, state that Maintenon was the chief instigator of the revocation of the edict of Nantes and the persecution of the Huguenots. It's also said that the conservative elements in the church used de Maintenon to influence Louis in striking against the Jansenists.

Her influence on the Spanish Succession

According to Saint Simon: The cabinet meetings held after the news that Philipe V had inherited the crown of Spain were held in here apartments. The only people deliberating on the question whether to keep to the partition treaty or to let Philip of Anjou take the Spanish Crown were: The King, the crown-prince, the chancellor, the duke of Brinvilliers, Torcy and Madame de Maintenon. Saint Simon mentions only the opinions of the crown prince and Maintenon specifically, which gives us an impression of how influential Saint Simon thought her.

Her 'creatures'

De Maintenon surely knew how to advance her favorites. Chamillart, the war and finance minister was a favorite of Maintenon. When Catinat had once sent letters to the king Maintenon ordered Chamillart to keep them secret, and he did. Judging from what Saint Simon tells us about Chamillart's plan to reconquer Lille it seems Chamillart took no initiative without first consulting her. When he took the Lille project before the king without consulting her, Maintenon started to work on his dismissal and got it.

Her Enemies

The Duke of Orleans was a bitter enemy of Maintenon. When he was in Spain during the war he sat at a banquet with French and Spanish officers and proposed a toast to the She-captain of France and the She-Lieutenant that ruled Spain for her. Of course this created a scandal, but the term She-Captain of France gives such a good reflection of her power that I reproduced it the header of this chapter. Another bitter enemy of De Maintenon was Saint Simon, and though he had no power whatsoever to hit her at court, he would strike out against her memory.

8 Sources for Madame de Maintenon

For the chapters up till Maintenon's marriage to Scarron I used La famille d'Aubigné et l'enfance de Mme de Manitenon by Théophile Lavallée as basis. The same book contains the Mémoirs sur Mme de Maintenon par Languet de Gergy. These kind of pick up the story after this marriage. I checked part of the story about Constant with Constant d'Aubigné by Louis Merle.


1) La famille d'Aubigné et l'enfance de Mme de Manitenon by Théophile Lavallée, Paris 1863 page 5.
2) Mémoires de la de Théodore-Agrippa d'Aubigné page 212 has a rather nasty chapter where Agrippa describes his eldest son as a gambler, drunk, whoremonger and traitor.
3) Constant d'Aubigné proves that contrary to the general opinion that Anne Marchant did not have a penny, she brought a dowry of 21,000 livres and 4,000 in jewelry.
4) Mémoires et lettres de Madame de Maintenon by Beaumelle, Amsterdam 1756, v. 6 page 2 has a rendition of this marriage contract.
5) Les Souvenirs de Madame de Caylus Amsterdam 1770, page 56 has Cardillac as governor under the Duc d'Epernon.
6) Oeuvres diverses de Mr. de Segrais page 92 has Quoique Scaron ne fût pas riche, néanmoins il étoit logé fort proprement, & il y avoit un ameublement de Damas jaune, qui pouvoit bien valoir cinq à six-mille livres, avec ce qui l'accompagnoit.
7) Scarron Inconnu
8) Les Ouevres de Monsieur Scarron page 9 has a letter by Scarron to Maintenon where he recounts the short dress and her crying on this first visit.