Reign of Louis XIV, 1661.
Louise-Françoise de La Baume le Blanc, duchess de La Vallière (1644-1710), maid of honour and mistress of Louis XIV.
Françoise Louise de La Baume Le Blanc, Duchess of La Vallière and Vaujours, called Louise de La Vallière was mistress of the French King Louis XIV from 1661. She bore several children and was displaced in his favour by Madame de Montespan in 1667, after which she had to remain at court until 1674. At the age of 30 she entered a Carmelite convent and lived there until her death 36 years later.
Françoise Louise de La Baume Le Blanc, soon to be called by her middle name, came from old but impoverished nobility actually based in Bourbonnais. She was the daughter of a cavalry officer, Laurent de la Baume le Blanc, Seigneur of La Vallière, Governor of the Royal Castle at Amboise, and Françoise Le Prévost.
She spent her childhood on two family estates, namely the Hôtel de la Crouzille in Tours and the charmingly situated Château La Vallière in Reugny. She grew up in a deeply Catholic provincial aristocracy; her uncle Gilles became Bishop of Nantes in 1668 and she herself received her first primarily literary education from two aunts, the Ursuline nuns Élisabeth and Charlotte.
Through the influence of a distant relative, Madame de Choisy, Louise de La Vallière became maid-of-honour to Henrietta Anne Stuart, called Madame, who was the sister of the English King Charles II, was about the same age as Louise and had just married the Duke Philip of Orleans, brother of King Louis XIV, on 31 March 1661. Henrietta was very attractive, was soon on the most friendly terms with her royal brother-in-law at the court in Fontainebleau, and spent a great deal of time with him every day in all sorts of diversions, so that rumours of a love romance began to circulate. The Queen Mother Anna of Austria felt compelled to intervene because of the jealousy of Louis’s wife, Queen Marie Therese, and the annoyance of Henrietta’s husband.
Louise had only been at Fontainebleau for two months when she became the king’s mistress. It was Louise’s first serious relationship, and she was an innocent, pious girl who did not look upon her relationship with self-interest. She was not interested in money or titles that could get her the situation, but wanted only the king’s love.
Although Louise and the king tried to keep their liaison a secret, it soon became an open secret at court. For example, when Louis won a diamond-studded bracelet in a lottery arranged by his mother, he presented it to Louise, who returned it but received the compliment from the king that her hands were too beautiful not to keep it. Louise, for her part, gave the king a fur coat purchased from her meagre wages as a lady-in-waiting. She felt deep guilt towards the French queen and God because of her extramarital affair and therefore suffered from pangs of conscience.
La Valière and her love story with the king play a central role in Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Vicomte of Bragelonne (also known as The Man in the Iron Mask; original title: Le vicomte de Bragelonne).
Source: “Modes et Costumes Historiques“. Drawing by Xavier Willemin. Edited and steel engraving by Hippolyte Louis Emile and Polidor Jean Charles Pauquet. Published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin London, 1864.