Wednesday, 9 March 2011

More women, this time of a slightly different kidney

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I have been thinking again of the international women, although this time they are French, and dead. They are the mistresses of Louis XIV, and I have been reading about them for the book. I have not read about Louis XIV for twenty years, and there are many things I had forgotten. I am ashamed to say that some of the details of all those Spanish and Dutch Wars had slightly slipped my mind. (There is a point where the endless European quarrels start to merge into one another.) But mostly I had forgotten the extraordinary whiff of hypocrisy which infected the court.

Almost all the mistresses were pious Catholics, most especially Madame de Montespan. They were always dashing off to mass, and running about with their pet padres. They also appeared to take communion, even in a state of mortal sin, which I thought was a mortal sin itself. My grasp of strict Roman Catholic theology is a little sketchy, but I read not long ago that Christina Odone is no longer allowed to take communion because she married a divorced man. Compared to sleeping with the king while your grumpy husband kicks his heels, and having endless illegitimate royal babies, this seems a very minor transgression.

I have rather a soft spot for a wicked woman. I'm not much for adultery, unless it is an arrangement, with all parties consenting, but looking back over many hundreds of years it is possible to be rather thrilled by ladies who refused to abide by the mores of their strict times.  But I do find myself rather shocked by this having of the cake and eating it. Either be a devout religious women, or shag the king, it seems to me.

Also interesting is the radical difference in the standards of female beauty from their era to ours. La Montespan was considered the most dazzling beauty seen at court; everyone went on and on and on about it. Then one looks at portraits of her and it turns out she had a funny little face with poppy eyes and no chin to speak of. I may not throw stones; I have not much jawline myself. It's just curious to see the laurel wreaths thrown at what now would be seen as a very ordinary face.

Marie Mancini, by contrast, an early platonic love of the King, was judged plain; she had to make up for it with wit and cleverness and good conversation. She made Louis laugh a lot. But go and see pictures of her, and she is enchanting, with hair as black as a raven's wing, dancing eyes, and glorious colouring. So I am trying to unpack that, as lovely Lord Bragg would say on In Our Time.

Not sure if any of that made actual sense. My brain has shut up shop after eight hours of reading note-taking. Forgive me if there is incoherence.

Now for the pictures.

The massed ranks of the daffodil shoots:

9th March 1

The obligatory snowdrops:

9th March 2

The light:

9th March 4

The trees:

9th March 5

An most unexpected philadelphus flower:

9th March 6

The viburnum:

9th March 7

The crocuses:

9th March 9

Tiny new leaves:

9th March 12

The honeysuckle is just unfurling:

9th March 15

9th March 15

9th March 16


9th March 13

More trees:

9th March 14

Off go the dogs:

9th March 22-1

Duchess lounging about in the sun:

9th March 10

The Pigeon thinks if she stares at me firmly enough I will crumble and throw her a stick:

9th March 17

The hill:

9th March 22


  1. Dear Tania,
    Checked out the two ladies in question and, to today's standards, Marie Mancini seems to me too by far the more attractive and charming than her later counterpart. If you don't mind it being in French, there is a rather sweet description of the impact she came to have on the young King by Googling:
    'Les adieux douloureux de Marie Mancini'.
    The portrait, if indeed of Marie herself, is pretty powerful and may give another clue on the profound attraction and attachment that the King grew to feel towards her.
    Really quite romantic!
    Love today's pictures and feel enchanted by your awsome light.
    I have been to Scotland only once when I was nineteen, sleeping in a tent in open countryside all the way from Italy up to John O'Groats and though it was wonderful. Thirty-five years later I feel I am due a new trip North, this time only from rural Kent, in the hope to see by myself that incredible light of yours!
    Do have a wonderful evening. :)

  2. I love it. "Either be a devout religious women, or shag the king..." What a succinct summing-up of hypocritical morality - with your usual divine economy of expression.

  3. Thank you for the honeysuckle! but I do want to see them in flower so pls keep the pictures coming.

  4. I always find Georgian portraits of English beauties a little confusing. They all look exactly the same: pan faced.

  5. Different historical standards of beauty are intriguing - think about how very voluptuous was the look of the day not so long ago, replaced in our time by adulatory adoration of worryingly skinny boyish girls. I like the look of Marie Mancini a lot - she looks so smart and funny even in a portrait that I think she must have been great to know. Animation must be one of the most attractive characteristics throughout time, surely? And she has that, so clearly, in spades.

  6. A feelgood moment
    You made me smile, no laugh when I read your post and then you finished off with such lovely heartwarming photos.
    Thank you for the free therapy session
    liz from Paris

  7. My daughter has a book called Women's Wicked Wisdom. (I'm sorry I cannot figure out how to italicize here). Anyhoo, your quote should be part of the collection, "Either be a devout religious woman OR, shag the king.." I am going to work this into a conversation very soon!


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