Athenais by Lisa Hilton

Book: Athenais by Lisa Hilton Read Free Book Online
Authors: Lisa Hilton
Tags: BIO022000
in the hope of contracting syphilis and passing it on to the King via Athénaïs. Terrified, Athénaïs changed her lodgings and moved into Mme. de Montausier’s apartment. When he found out, Montespan broke down the door and attempted to rape his wife, who clung to her friend for safety, both of them screaming for help as Montespan tried to wrench them apart. The servants rushed in, and Montespan had to content himself with screaming abuse at Athénaïs. The next rumor was that Montespan was planning to abduct his wife and carry her off to Spain.
    It seems curious that the King should allow Montespan to remain at large, but it was difficult for him to intervene. There was no legal reason why a man could not insult, beat or rape his own wife, and beyond providing her with bodyguards, there was little Louis could do without attracting the attention of the Queen. It is depressing that Louis did so little to protect the woman he loved.
    Was it love or pride that made Montespan lose his mind? If he truly loved Athénaïs, he had hardly given her cause to believe so, with his debts and extravagance, his voluntary absences and his exploits with camp followers. Having experienced his rage, Athénaïs must have felt more than ever that she was justified in trying to escape from such a man. Insults and assaults were hardly the way to win her back.
    Eventually, Louis did act. He produced a lettre de cachet which banished Montespan to the prison at Fort-l’Eveque on the grounds that he had challenged the King’s authority with regard to the choice of preceptor for the Dauphin. Lettres de cachet were one of the most objectionable features of the French ancien régime. They enabled the King personally to imprison anyone who displeased him, indefinitely and without trial. A week cooling his heels in an unwholesome strong room seems to have calmed Montespan’s temper, and he accepted that the separation from Athénaïs was inevitable. He indicated this acceptance by revoking the power of attorney he had made in his wife’s favor the preceding spring. A few days later he was released, with strict orders to remain at his country estate, effectively in exile from society.
    At this point, there were rumors that Louis had succeeded in paying off Montespan. Mme. de Sévigné’s correspondent Bussy-Rabutin whispered about the sum of 100,000 livres. However, he had his own reasons for making out that Athénaïs was a piece of goods for sale, as he was peeved that one of his own relatives, Mme. de Sévigné’s daughter, had not succeeded in turning an earlier flirtation with the King to the good. Both Mme. de Caylus and Monsieur’s second wife, the Princesse Palatine, later agreed that Montespan might have been more reasonable if he had been rewarded from the first, but he was either too proud to sell his wife or too obtuse to realize that a quiet, civilized acquiescence was a better means of obtaining such a reward. Whatever the case, his subsequent theatrics suggest that he received no financial satisfaction.
    Montespan left Paris with his three-year-old son Louis-Antoine to join his mother and daughter Marie-Christine in Gascony. Athénaïs was not allowed to see her boy again until he was fourteen, and this loss of her legitimate children was the first great sacrifice she had to make for Louis’s sake. It seems likely that the anxious and ambitious love she showed for her children by the King was fueled by guilt at her perceived desertion of little Marie-Christine and Louis-Antoine. When Montespan arrived at Bonnefont, he insisted on having the main gates opened, claiming that his cuckold’s horns were too tall to pass through the postern. He informed the waiting household that his wife was dead, sarcastically attributing the demise of “his dear and well-loved spouse” to “coquetry and ambition.” It is claimed that he invited all the neighbors to a sham funeral in the village church, during which a dummy of Athénaïs was buried,

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