Death of Madame
|Madame painted after her death|
Henrietta died suddenly in June 1670 and there were plenty of people happy to claim that Philippe had murdered his wife. The trip to England could not have helped what was already a frail constitution, possibly ravaged by anorexia.
‘Listless and tired throughout the journey, she took no nourishment except milk; on alighting from the carriage in the evening she retired immediately to her quarters, generally to take to her bed.’[i]Henrietta arrived back in Saint-Germain on 18th June. Philippe refused to follow court etiquette and meet her and escort her to the chateau. Both Louis and Charles had showered money on Henrietta, who was also loaded with honours and showered with attention by the court. The following day Louis returned to Versailles, but Philippe refused to follow to ensure that his wife could not continue to bask in the courtier’s admiration.
Henrietta began to complain of pains in her side and stomach; but despite this went bathing in the river and as she was unable to sleep took late night promenades in the garden. When she took a nap after dinner on the 29th her face appeared to have changed beyond all recognition and the following day Henrietta was so ill that even her husband remarked upon it. He was preparing to spend the evening in Paris and came to take his leave of her.
Every afternoon Henrietta habitually drank a cup of chicory water[ii]. As she drank the chicory water she clutched her side and cried of a pain in her side. As she was undressed and her confessor was sent for Henrietta claimed she had been poisoned.
‘Fixing her eyes upon the cup from which she had drunk, she pronounced that one bottle had been substituted for another, that she had been poisoned and was going to die.’[iii]Philippe, who was present, agreed that poison remedies should be procured for Madame and ordered that the remainder of the chicory water be tested on a dog. As it became obvious that Madame was beyond saving Louis, Mademoiselle, Louise de la Valliére, Madame de Montespan and others came and said their adieus to the dying princess.
Madame assured her husband that she had never been unfaithful to him. She died in the evening of 30th June 1670[iv]:
‘No one was talking of anything but the death of Madame, of the suspicion that she had been poisoned, and of the terms which she and Monsieur had long since lived.’[v]It is unlikely that Philippe had anything to do with Henrietta’s death, despite Charles (who detested his brother-in-law) apparently believing the rumours. But even if they had been true it is exceptionally unlikely that Louis would have had someone as close to him as his brother brought to justice.
Marriage to a German PrincessImmediately after Madame’s death Mademoiselle was offered the position of Philippe’s wife by his brother. She declined the honour; currently infatuated with a guardsman in the king’s service. She then began to have second thoughts about improving her status at court, but so too was Louis. He realised that marriage to his cousin would place Philippe in control of one of the largest fortunes in France and this would lessen the financial hold Louis had over his brother.
Elisabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine
Philippe married again in 1671. Once again his marriage was a state affair, the bride chosen for him by his brother and his advisers. This time Louis looked to Germany for a princess for Philippe; the choice was Elizabeth Charlotte (known as Liselotte) daughter of the Elector Palantine. Liselotte’s father had been contacted about the possibility of Liselotte replacing Henrietta in the role of Madame, within 12 days of the death of the latter. The suggestion came from Liselotte’s aunt Anna Gonzaga, the Countess Palatine, an intellectual at the French court.The negotiations dragged on, as Liselotte was endowed with only a modest dowry and had no expectations, her father Karl Ludwig being one of the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire. As minor royalty Karl was extremely eager to ally his house with the mightiest monarchy in Europe. Why Louis agreed to the match is less comprehensible.
By August 1671 the major hiccup to the marriage was the question of the bride’s religion. A Protestant bride was not acceptable for a Catholic prince. A reluctant Liselotte was secretly instructed in the Catholic faith and on a trip to Metz to see her aunt was accepted into the Catholic church. For the sake of his Protestant subjects the Elector immediately made public his ‘disapproval’ of the conversion.
The marriage took place on 16th November 1671. The new Madame was to have a jointure of 30,000 livres per annum; heady stuff for a princess from an impoverished minor court, whose prince had his shoes repaired when they wore out. At the time of his marriage Philippe’s annual income from his brother was 1,212,000 livres (about 80% of his total income). Louis commented in his memoirs
‘The sons of France must never have any home but the court nor any resource but the love of their brother.’[vi]The new Madame was fascinated by the strange world she found herself in;
‘It is not that I am taking more strenuous walks here than I used to do, but the people here are as lame as geese, and except for the king, Madame de Chevreuse, and myself there is not a soul here who can do more than twenty steps without sweating and puffing.’[vii]
Madame dressed for the hunt
Presumably Monsieur, never one for outdoor activities unlike his hunting mad brother, was one of the sweaters and puffers. For the first few years the married couple got on together well enough; Madame wrote to one of her correspondents in December 1672
‘I only say this, that Monsieur is the best man in the world. We are getting on very well together, he does not resemble any of his portraits.’[viii]This was despite the recall to court in that year of the Chevalier de Lorraine. Madame de Sévigné noted a conversation between Louis and his brother:
‘’But do you still think of this chevalier de Lorraine? Do you still care for him? Would you like to see him returned to you?’
‘Truly Monsieur’ replied Monsieur, ‘that would be the greatest joy that I could know in my life.’
‘Very well’ said the king ‘I wish to make you this present; in fact the courier left two days ago…..I give him back to you.’’[ix]Philippe threw himself at his brother’s feet in gratitude, but the chevalier’s return did not spoil the marital felicity of Monsieur and Madame.
Duc de Chartres
By September the following year Madame was pregnant with her and Philippe’s first child. The Duc de Valois was born on 2nd June 1673, but died less than three years later while his mother was pregnant with her third and last child, a daughter Elisabeth Charlotte born in September 1676. The Duc de Chartres was born in August 1674. Monsieur sat with Liselotte through her confinements.Madame was naturally devastated by the death of her first-born
‘I was too stricken by the unexpected disaster God Almighty has visited upon me; I simply cannot get over it…….they have strange ways here with children.’[x]Liselotte blamed the death of her son on the foreign ways of the French court and she was left alone to grieve as Philippe had followed Louis on campaign. Of her second and third children she wrote in her very down to earth fashion
‘He is now, thank God, in quite perfect health as is his baby sister, who is as fat as a stuffed goose and very big for her age. On Monday last both of them were christened and given Monsieur’s and my names.’[xi]Madame also had two stepdaughters from Philippe’s marriage to Henrietta to care for too, until their marriages; one to the king of Savoy and the other to the king of Spain.
An illness of Madame’s in 1675 saw an outpouring of love between the couple and indeed Philippe wrote to his father-in-law telling of his relief at the recovery of Liselotte from her illness.
‘And as for myself, I was more dead than she, for I do not think that since the world began, there has been a better marriage than ours. I pray that it may long endure.’[xii]
BibliographyBrother to the Sun King – Nancy Nichols Barker, 1989 The John Hopkins University Press
Louis XIV – Vincent Cronin, The Reprint Society London 1965A Woman’s Life at the Court of the Sun King – Elborg Forster, John Hopkins Paperbacks 1997
Memoirs Duc de Saint-Simon Vol 1 Edited Lucy Norton, Prion Books 2000The Affair of the Poisons – Anne Somerset, Weidenfeld and Nicholson 2003
Louis XIV – John B Wolf, Panther History 1970En.wikipedia.org
[i] Brother to the Sun King - Barker
[ii] Chicory is known to be an ancient German remedy for everyday ailments. The flower has oils that are used for appetite stimulants and treatment for gallstones, gastro-enteritis, sinus problems and cuts and bruises – www.kalamala.com
[iii] Brother to the Sun King - Barker
[iv] The autopsy showed the death as peritonitis, resulting from a perforated ulcer
[v] Brother to the Sun King - Barker
[vi] A Woman’s Life at the Court of the Sun King - Forster
[ix] Brother to the Sun King - Barker
[x] A Woman’s Life at the Court of the Sun King - Forster