Wednesday, 8 May 2013

At the Court of the Sun King - Duc de St Simon

Duc de St Simon
‘I was born on the night of 15-6 January, 1675, the son of Claude, Duc de Saint-Simon, Peer of France, and of his second wife Charlotte de l‘Aubespine, the only child of their marriage.’[i]

Thus begins one of the most detailed and fascinating memoirs of the court of Louis XIV; that of the second Duc de Saint-Simon, Louis de Rouvroy.

Claude de Rouvroy, son of a provincial Seigneur du Plessis, had been a bosom companion of Louis XIII and like his king addicted to hunting. Louis XIII made Claude Master of the Hounds and First Gentleman of the Bedchamber in addition to bestowing the dukedom of Saint-Simon upon his friend.

The young Louis de Rouvroy, Vidame de Chartres was not an only child, having a half-sister, the Duchesse de Brissac[ii], by his father’s first wife. Louis XIV and his wife Marie Thérèse acted as the young Louis’ Godparents. Claude de Rouvroy was 68 when his only son was born, a tall taciturn man, who had little in common with his small son.
The young St Simon[iii] was educated at home and his mother was worried that her son would dissipate his patrimony if he entered his inheritance too young. The young boy, by his own admission did not care for schooling

‘My dislike for learning and the sciences did not assist her [his mother], but I had a natural love for reading and history that made me wish to imitate the great men whom I thus encountered, and made up for my lack of enthusiasm towards the classics.’[iv]
In the Army

St Simon began his memoirs in June 1694, while colonel of a cavalry regiment at Guinsheim under the command of the Maréchal-Duc de Lorges, who was to become his father-in-law. Also serving in the army was the Duc de Chartres[v], with whom St Simon had spent time throughout his childhood. The Duc de Chartres was the son of Louis XIV’s only sibling, Philippe Duc d’Orléans.
Saint-Simon had commenced his active service two years before, having joined the Grey Musketeers under their captain Maupertius, who was a friend of his father. He was present at the siege of Namur and at the battle of Neerwinden. Saint-Simon was also involved in a couple of other campaigns in Louis’s war against most of the rest of Europe[vi].

In 1702 Saint-Simon resigned his commission, having failed to get an expected promotion following the restructuring of the army after the Peace of Ryswick. The list of general promotions that year was one of the longest ever produced and Saint-Simon was mortified to find himself omitted.
‘My pride was most deeply hurt but I kept silent for fear of saying something rash in my vexation. The Maréchal de Lorges was indignant and his brother-in-law not less so, and they both insisted that I ought to quit the service.’[vii]
The king was angered by Saint-Simon’s resignation and for the next three years Saint-Simon was distressed to receive no sign of favour from Louis.

After his father’s death Saint-Simon had no mentor at court and his mother was concerned at her son’s unprotected position in a court where gaining the king’s favour meant the difference between ignominy and success. Saint-Simon was determined that he would not marry out of his caste;

‘Yet not for millions would I have made a misalliance; neither fashion nor financial stress would ever have induced me to stoop so low.’[viii]
His first offer of marriage in 1693 to one of the Duc de Beauvillier’s daughters was turned down. This old friend of his father’s was concerned about problems within his own family, rather than considering Saint-Simon ineligible[ix]. Marriage with one of the daughters of the Maréchal-Duc de Lorges was mentioned at this time but not pursued.

Marechal-Duc de Lorges
It was not until 1695 that the suggestion of marriage with Mademoiselle de Lorges was raised again. The Maréchal-Duc de Lorges was not a rich man and had married the daughter of the Keeper of the King’s Jewels; a man of immense wealth. St-Simon’s marriage on 8th April had been approved by the king.
‘That same evening the king desired the bride to be presented to him in Madame de Maintenon’s, which my mother and hers accordingly did. On the way there the king had joked with me, and he spoke most graciously to them, paying them compliments and treating them with marked distinction.’[x]
Saint-Simon wanted a young woman he could train to be the wife he wanted and in Marie Gabrielle he had the perfectly malleable specimen. They were both very happy together. There were three children born of the marriage; Charlotte, Jacques Louis and Armand Jean. Only Charlotte outlived her father. Unfortunately his father-in-law died in 1702, leaving Saint-Simon without the support he so clearly craved.

Life’s Work
Throughout his adult life Saint-Simon was obsessed with the idea of forming the peers of France into a body to advise the king. He felt that the peerage was ignored by Louis XIV, who deliberately turned to the noblesse de robe[xi] for his ministers; men like Colbert, Fouquet and le Tellier. Scarred in his childhood by the wars of the Fronde, Louis used such men rather than the Princes of the Blood[xii] and established nobility, believing that they would be more reliant on him. .

Duchesse de Chartres
Saint-Simon saw this as a slur on the loyalties of the nobility. He was also infuriated by the elevation to the highest ranks of the king’s bastards. Saint-Simon was unhappy when his friend the Duc de Chartres was forced to marry Mademoiselle de Blois, the youngest daughter of Louis XIV’s relationship with the Marquise de Montespan. Louis pressured his brother Philippe to agree to the marriage[xiii]. The bride’s sisters had already been married off to Princes of the Blood. Saint-Simon placed a lot of the blame on the king’s mistress Madame de Maintenon, whom he loathed.
‘She [Madam, the Duchesse d’Orléans] was marching about handkerchief in hand, weeping unrestrainedly, speaking quite loudly, gesticulating……Everyone left the stage clear for her out of respect……No-one ever looked more shame-faced than Monsieur[xiv]….…Monsieur de Chartres seemed miserable and his intended acutely distressed and uncomfortable.’[xv]
Thus did Saint-Simon depict the effect of the king’s announcement of the marriage to the court. His one-sided battle against the bastards consumed much of his emotional energies.

On 29th July 1714 Louis XIV made his bastards Princes of the Blood, possibly pressured by Madame de Maintenon. Saint-Simon was taken aback by the promotion of the king’s illegitimate children, but was not overcome with the fury at their previous promotion, placing them above the nobility at an ‘intermediate’ level. Saint-Simon immediately went to visit the Duc du Maine, the king’s favourite child
‘The doors flew open when my name was mentioned, and I found a man as delighted at my visit as he was astonished; lame as he was, he seemed rather to fly than to walk as he advanced to meet me. I told him this time I came to congratulate him, and very sincerely; we did not pretend to any rivalry with the Princes of the Blood, all we had ever claimed was merely our just due.’[xvi]

The Regency
When Louis XIV died on 1st September 1715, he left his throne to his young great-grandson, the former Duc d’Anjou. His will left the regency to both his nephew, the Duc d’Orléans[xvii] and his legitimised son the Duc du Maine. The Duc d’Orléans had the Paris parliament annul the will, making the Duke sole Regent.

Duc d'Orleans and Louis XV
As a life-long friend of the new Regent’s Saint-Simon might have been well-placed to profit from the new regime. He was given a place on the Regency council, but the Regent was uninterested in Saint-Simon’s proposals to use the nobility as a resource.
In 1721 Saint-Simon was appointed ambassador extraordinary to Spain to negotiate the marriage of Louis XV and the Infanta Mariana Victoria. The ambassadorship almost bankrupted Saint-Simon and the negotiations failed to lead to any agreement.

Cardinal Dubois
Saint-Simon’s relationship with the Regent was made problematical by Guillaime Dubois, who was made a cardinal in the same year. Dubois had joined the Duc de Chartres’ household in 1683 as a deputy preceptor. He had gained the favour of Louis XIV by persuading his charge to agree to marry his cousin. Joining the Regency council, he drew much of its power into his hands.
The Duc d’ Orléans, whilst clever, was also an indolent man and Saint-Simon had frequently had cause to bemoan his patron’s habit of letting Dubois take over. This did not endear Saint-Simon to either man.

A Short-Lived Dukedom
Saint-Simon’s wife died in 1743; an event that crushed him so much he failed to put pen to paper for six months.

‘I desire that no matter where I may die, my body shall be brought into the crypt of the parish church of la Ferté and buried there beside the body of my beloved wife.’[xviii]
His rooms were draped with black and he had mountainous debts, much of which dated back to his abortive embassy in Spain. His sons both pre-deceased him without having sired children; one dying in 1746 and the other in 1754; Saint-Simon’s beloved dukedom died with him. Charlotte died in 1763.

Saint-Simon himself died on 2nd March 1755. The three cases of notes and memoirs that Saint-Simon left in the care of his lawyer for safe-keeping were seized by the state in 1760. It was not until 1819 that the Marquis de Saint-Simon was given permission to have his ancestor’s notes released.

A Woman’s Life at the Court of the Sun King – Elborg Forster, John Hopkins Paperbacks 1997
Memoirs Duc de Saint-Simon Vol 1 & 3 Edited Lucy Norton, Prion Books 2000 & 2001

Memoirs Duc de Saint-Simon Vol 2 Francis Arkwright, Stanley Paul & Co 1915
Louis XIV – John B Wolf, Panther History 1970

[i] Memoirs, Vol 1 - Norton
[ii] The Duchesse de Brissac died when St Simon was 9
[iii] He would not inherit this title until he was 18
[iv] Memoirs, Vol 1 - Norton
[v] Later the Duc d’Orléans and Regent of France
[vi] The Nine Years War, or the War of the League of Augsburg
[vii] Memoirs, Vol 1 - Norton
[viii] Ibid
[ix] The daughter concerned was determined to become a nun
[x] Memoirs, Vol 1 - Norton
[xi] Professionals from the bourgeoisie, as opposed to the nobility (Noblesse de l’épée) and the church (Noblesse de l’eglise).
[xii] A person legitimately directly descended from the monarch
[xiii] Louis made Philippe’s lover, the Chevalier de Lorraine, a member of the highly coveted Order de l’Esprit as payment for services rendered.
[xiv] The title used for the king’s brother, the Duc d’Orléans, at court
[xv] Memoirs, Vol 1 - Norton
[xvi] Memoirs, Vol 2 - Arkwright
[xvii] His father died in 1701
[xviii] Memoirs, Vol 3 - Norton

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