The show Versailles includes no shortage of scandals, but the most shocking thing about it is many, if not most, of the salacious details it portrays about daily life in the court of Louis XIV are true. The Sun King led a sensuous and unorthodox life filled with mistresses, drama, and intrigue.
When it comes to the life of Louis XIV, the facts are almost stranger than fiction. From a baby of African descent being born at Versailles to a wild carriage race between the queen and the king's mistress, life for the French royals was never boring. And why should it have been? The court was filled with beautiful and ambitious women, and men who had won their place in history as war heroes. With so many beautiful and striving people in one place, things were bound to get scandalous under the reign of Louis XIV.
When Louis XIV was 15 years old, his mother began her search for the woman who would introduce the young king to the act of procreation. It was incredibly important for Louis to produce "an heir and a spare," as they say, to ensure the continuation of the royal line. However, historical consultant and author Aurora von Goeth described just how hard the queen had to work to find the perfect woman to deflower her son:
The chosen woman must lack ambitions to raise herself above her current rank, she must be discreet, she must be experienced, but not too much, she must be clean and without any diseases, she must be charming, but not to a level of being too enchanting, after all the whole act will be quite bewitching already.
In the end, the queen settled on one of her own ladies-in-waiting, Catherine Henriette Bellier, also known as One-Eyed Catherine (or Kate). Not only was she missing an eye, but she was also known for being "ugly as ugly can be." However, she followed the queen's instructions and reportedly did an outstanding job at taking Louis's virginity after he returned to his room one day to find her lying on his bed wearing almost nothing.
The queen rewarded Catherine handsomely for her efforts - she received 2,000 livres, two townhouses, the title of baroness, and the Hôtel de Beauvais. In fact, the hotel still stands today with the only surviving image of Catherine carved into the wall of the courtyard.
The details surrounding the origin of Sister Louise Marie Thérèse are very cloudy. What historians do know, though, is she lived as a nun in Moret and rumor said she had royal heritage. However, most don't agree on exactly who her parents were.
One theory says a Black baby was born to Queen Marie Thérèse, but the child wasn't actually of African heritage. Some historians believe the baby may have been born with dark blue or purplish skin because it had been deprived of oxygen, and that it died soon after being born.
However, the more salacious version of the story claims an illegitimate child was born to either Queen Marie Thérèse or King Louis XIV. Marie Thérèse was known to have had a jester who was an African dwarf, while Louis XIV had access to "exotic" women from Africa. Either of them could have been Louise Marie Thérèse's parent, but the truth behind her heritage has been lost to history.
Guy Armand de Gramont, the Comte de Guiche, was known as one of the most handsome men in Louis XIV's court. Better known as Armand, the comte was bisexual and easily drew attention from both male and female partners. Armand and his sister were members of the household of the Duc and Duchesse d'Orleans, Philippe and Henriette (the king's brother and sister-in-law).
Armand and Philippe had a close relationship, though it was reportedly not a balanced one. Philippe cared deeply for his lover and friend, but Armand was more interested in chasing Philippe's power and money. Armand showed the duke very little respect, even kicking him during a masked ball.
The greatest disrespect Armand showed to Philippe was sleeping with his wife, Henriette. It was at Philippe's request that Henriette and Armand began getting to know each other better, but they took things much further than intended. They kept their affair hidden, but barely. In fact, there was one incident that involved Philippe coming upstairs to Henriette's rooms unexpectedly, at which point Armand hid behind a door while a valet tried to cover for the lovers by making a scene. In the chaos, Armand was able to slip away unseen.
After his first wife, Marie Thérèse d'Autriche, died suddenly in 1683, Louis XIV was not in a hurry to remarry. He had produced an heir and successfully kept the lineage alive, and had little interest in the available European princesses. However, there was one woman who had his attention - Françoise d'Aubigné.
She was known at the time as the Marquise de Maintenon and had been born into poverty. Her first marriage was to a poet named Paul Scarron, and she became a widow at a young age. She worked in Versailles as a nanny to the illegitimate children of the palace. As she became closer and closer with the king, he supposedly fell in love with her.
But the Marquise de Maintenon was religious; she did not feel comfortable living with Louis XIV out of wedlock. Although there is no concrete proof of the wedding, historians and authors like Aurora von Goeth insist that evidence found in memoirs proves the king secretly married her. There were few witnesses, and it was all kept as quiet as possible due to her lower status.
The marriage was a morganatic one, meaning nothing really changed for the Marquise de Maintenon. She did not gain any titles or rights to the monarchy, but she did have a place by Louis's side and apartments close to his from that time onward.