Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Marriage of Marie Leszczyńska and Louis XV

A fan depicting the marriage of Marie Leszczyńska and Louis XV
A fan depicting the marriage of Marie Leszczyńska and Louis XV on 5th September 1725 

I have always liked a good wedding, especially one that goes on for days and involves a palace! I remember that giddy day when the colonist and I were wed; the gin flowed very free, we rolled out through Covent Garden in the best coach and by the end of the night grandmother Gilflurt was somewhat worse for wear. Indeed, I'd say the house on Henrietta Street was even more tottering after those festivities, and that's quite a fear in itself.

My quill has danced across a fair few life stories of late; some happy, some tragic, all of them eventful. I thought it was time for a small matrimonial interlude, to examine up close just a little of the wheeling and dealing that went into the marriage of Marie Leszczyńska and Louis XV.


Infante Mariana Victoria of Spain by Alexis Simon Belle, 1725
Infante Mariana Victoria of Spain by Alexis Simon Belle, 1725

With the end of the War of the Quadruple Alliance in 1710, relations between France and Spain were shaky to say the least. Regarding one another with suspicion, the rulers of the two nations decided that the only way to reconcile was to secure themselves a whole collection of dynastic marriages. Discussions went on for years until, by 1721 it was decided that the 11 year old Louis XV should be officially engaged to the Infanta Mariana Victoria of Spain, eight years his junior. 

The French ambassador, Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon, officially made the proposal on 25th November 1721. With the deal done, Mariana was installed at the Palais du Louvre in the care of Marie Anne de Bourbon, the intention being to raise her as a member of the French court until she reached a suitable age to marry. Mariana was a popular figure amongst the courtiers; bright, charming and too young to be part of the intrigues of court life, the only person who didn't seem enthralled by the little girl was her intended husband.


 Louis XV of France by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1748

For all her popularity, four years after her arrival in France, the young Infanta was to find her position usurped in a fairly dazzling bit of political manoeuvring by the ambitious Prime Minister, Louis Henri, duc de Bourbon. Mindful that an heir was needed sooner rather than later, Bourbon presented Louis with a list of almost 100 possible alternatives. The list included Bourbon's own sisters among others and, crucially, all the prospective brides were already of child-bearing age. Given the enormous offence the broken engagement might cause, the court breathed a sigh of relief at the news of the death of Louis I of Spain, after which the Spanish were keen to send the newly-widowed Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans home to France after her short marriage to the late King. Once more the deal was done; the French widow gladly returned to Paris and the now-unbethrothed Infanta went home to Madrid, eventually becoming the wife of Joseph I of Portugal.


Marie Leszczyńska by Alexis Simon Belle, 1730
Marie Leszczyńska by Alexis Simon Belle, 1730

As the politicians and court considered and discounted the names on the Prime Minister's list one by one, it eventually became apparent that the safest and most uncontroversial bet might just be 21 year old Marie Leszczyńska, daughter of the deposed king of Poland. With all parties in agreement a marriage by proxy took place on 15th August 1725, with Maria travelling to the ceremony at Château de Fontainebleau immediately after.


Louis XV of France by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1730
Marie and Louis met for the first time on 4th September and were married the following day, both of them apparently enthusiastic participants. Marie proved herself hugely popular with the people of France but the court took against her, laughing at her looks, the reduced circumstances of her father and her apparent inability to produce an heir. However, the couple were happy at first and eventually had 10 children, though this domestic accord was not to last. Following the traumatic birth of her final child, Marie withdrew from her husband; left to his own devices, Louis sought companionship with a series of mistresses.


Marie Leszczyńska by Jean-Marc Nattier
Marie Leszczyńska by Jean-Marc Nattier, 1748

One of these mistresses, Madame de Pompadour, has achieved lasting fame through history and is today better remembered than the queen herself. However, Marie maintained her dignity and the affection of the people to the end of her life, dedicating herself to her family and acts of charity. She and Louis would never rekindle their initially affectionate marriage, a somewhat sad end to a promising start.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

2 comments:

  1. As a child reading Cinderella and other HEA 'princess' stories, I used to dream of being one. Discovering the reality behind the royal (and nobility) scenes quickly disabused me of that wish.
    Fascinating reading, though, and that hand fan is beautiful.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean; I was fascinated by the ladies of the Georgian court as a little girl and imagined they led such dazzling lives. As an adult, things look a little different!

      Thank you for your comment!

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