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:
The obligatory snowdrops:
An most unexpected philadelphus flower:
Tiny new leaves:
The honeysuckle is just unfurling:
Off go the dogs:
Duchess lounging about in the sun:
The Pigeon thinks if she stares at me firmly enough I will crumble and throw her a stick: