Elisabeth Charlotte (Liselotte) von der Pfaltz Duchesse d'Orleans

Writer of letters

27 May 1652 - 8 December 1722

Portrait of Liselotte von der Pfalz

Early years

Elisabeth Charlotte, a.k.a. Liselotte, von der Pfalz was not so famous in her own time, but is now one of the most famous figures of the era. This not because of her great deeds (there were none) but because she wrote an enormous amount of letters, of which about 3,000 have survived into our time. Combined with the fact that she was a woman and wrote from a position near the inner circle of power in Versailles this has made that her fame has steadily grown since the first publications of her letters at the end of the 18th century.

Liselotte's childhood in Heidelberg and Hannover

Liselotte was born on 27 may 1652 to Karl Ludwig von der Pfalz and Charlotte von Hessen Kassel. The marriage of these two was not a success, and so her father divorced, and got a new wife in Luise von Degenfeld, from whom the Raugrafen von der Pfaltz descended. Charlotte von Hessen Kassel did however remain in Heidelberg, and continued to cause all kinds of scenes. Therefore it was decided to get Liselotte away from her influence. At age seven Liselotte and her stewardess Anna Katharina von Uffeln were therefore sent to Hannover to stay with her aunt Sophia of Hannover, who was married to Ernst August of Hannover. For Liselotte these years in Hannover were very happy and under the tutelage of her stewardess and Sophie she developed a really 'German' character, even though her boldness became a bit over-developed. From this time dated her friendship with Uffeln and her husband, the Hannoverian master of the horse Von Harling, and also that with Sophie von Hannover.

Liselotte's adolescence in Heidelberg

After Charlotte von Hessen Kassel had removed herself from court, Liselotte went back to Heidelberg in the summer of 1663. There she met her family again, and she especially liked her younger steph-brother Karllus. Etienne Polier de Bottens became her governor, a pious trustworthy man, who would later accompany her to France. Her stewardess had married in Hannover and was replaced by Ursula Kolb von Wartenberg, an older woman whom she did not like very much. Thus Liselotte grew up very healthy in body and mind, gay and dynamic. She was certainly not beautiful, but judging by her portraits it's likely that reports of her ugliness were inflated. Finally lovers did arrive at the gates, and though she rejected the first and was saved from the second by an accident, her father was eager to marry her off.

Political reasons for Liselotte's marriage to Philippe I d'Orleans

More than one political circumstance would lead to Liselotte's marriage to Louis IV's brother the Duke of Orleans. On the Palatine side these were roughly the following: Elector Karl Ludwig had just rebuild his country from the utter ruin it had met in the 30 years was that had ended in 1648. He was afraid that the expansionist Louis XIV would one day try to invade the Pfalz, and thought that with this alliance he would avert the prospect of another war. For Louis XIV the Alliance with Karl Ludwig would give him still more influence in his attempts to become emperor. Thus parties agreed upon a comparatively small dowry and Liselotte becoming catholic, and the negotiations by Anna Gonzaga became a success. Sophie came to Heidelberg, cooperated in the final stages and convinced Liselotte to agree. Liselotte did not like the marriage but obeyed her father. In the fall of 1671 elector Karl Ludwig Sophie von Hannover and Raugraf Karl Ludwig escorted Liselotte to Strasburg where the marriage contract was signed. The trip then led to Metz where Liselotte was handed over and the marriage was legalized by proxy. A crying Liselotte then continued to Paris.

The man that awaited Liselotte at St Germain was Philippe I duc d'Orleans. He had just lost his wife Henrietta of England, who perfectly understood how to life the life of royalty. Liselotte stated that he was rather disappointed when he saw her, and she blamed this on her ugliness. She was probably also disappointed when she saw him, but I know of no statement of her that affirms this. It however seems that both were determined to make the best of it, and they soon settled in. The first years of their marriage seem to have been happy, and soon their first child was born: Alexandre Louis (2 June 1673 - 16 March 1676). Her other children would live longer: Philippe II (2 August 1674 - 2 December 1723) who became regent, and Elisabeth Charlotte (13 September 1676 - 23 December 1744)

Liselotte's character

It is good to say something about Liselotte's character and convictions here. Liselotte would always claim to be very 'German'. In the first place she would write most of her letters in that language. More importantly however she meant this in a moral way. While she very well liked the glorious worldly aspects of the French court she was much less enamored of the morals of the court. In the first place she did not like to mingle herself in the constant scheming at court. Secondly she was abhorred by the submission of the French nobility to the king. To her the role-model of a nobleman was the German model of an independent man sovereign over his territory. The French nobleman that did not possess any real power did not suit her taste. This deep conviction would much diminish her standing at court later on.

Beginnings at court

In the beginning Liselotte's marriage (1671) to Monsieur le duc d'Orleans was not only happy but the couple were also much favored by Louis XIV. Since 1658 her husband possessed Saint Cloud, and at that place they established their court, soon turning it into a beautiful palace (that was sadly destroyed in 1870). Thus Liselotte happily lived part of the springtime of Louis XIV's reign.

From the 1680's onward she fared worse: The Chevalier de Lorraine returned to Philippe's court resuming his bad influence over him. Some think this was part of an express policy by Louis to scandalize Philippe in the eyes of the people. De Lorraine and his friends d'Effiat and Grancen were however also permanently trying to put themselves between Philippe and Liselotte, and doing everything to chagrin her. On 26 May 1685 Liselotte's brother, elector Karl died, and her sadness over this was increased by Louis (unjustly) claiming his inheritance 'on her behalf'. Her ancestral lands were then purposefully destroyed by Louis in the war of the league of Augsburg. However sad Liselotte may have felt about all this and also about the revocation of the edict of Nantes (her letters implicate her conversion not to have been that profound), these circumstances did not lead her to blame Louis XIV in any of her letters.

Conflict with De Maintenon

The one person Liselotte really got to hate was Louis XIV's third mistress Madame de Maintenon. De Maintenon did not belong to the higher nobility, captured Louis's heart, and even secretly married him (somewhere around 1685). For Liselotte such a person ruling the court (including the Orleans court) went against all her beliefs of how society should be. However, she had stomached mistresses before, and could probably have overcome her dislike for Maintenon if her rule had limited itself to what the other mistresses did.

The effects of Maintenon's rule were however far more profound than that of the others. She started to adjust the king to her piety. King Louis changed from a man loving romance and play to a stern and serious man involving himself with religion. The simultaneous prosecution of the Huguenots (dragonnades) and unnecessary and cruel destruction of the Pfaltz perhaps made Liselotte's intuitively appreciate Maintenon's influence as evil. It was probably on Maintenon's account that Louis XIV later forced the marriage of Liselotte's son Philippe I d'Orleans to his daughter by Montespan, Françoise Marie de Bourbon in 1692. A marriage that was very shameful for the Orleanses because of the enormous difference in social standing. The rift the marriage caused would not heal for the rest of their lives.

Later life

Though out of favor because of de Maintenon's influence, Liselotte would still have some happy years at court. From about 1698/99 she and her husband neared each other again, and she was quite content with her life up to his death on 9 June 1701. After his death she became very dependent on the king for her income because her husbands had incurred heavy debts, and she had no income of her own. After Louis had died on 1 September 1715 her influence rose once more. Her son became regent of France, and with almost all Louis' grandchildren death, the possibility of an Orleans on the throne became very real. After writing her last letter with a quivering hand Liselotte died on 8 December 1722.

Sources for the life of Liselotte von der Pfalz

Most of this biography is based on the one C. Künzel gives in his book: 'Die Briefe der Liselotte', mentioned on the page containing the direct sources.