Athenais by Lisa Hilton Page B

Book: Athenais by Lisa Hilton Read Free Book Online
Authors: Lisa Hilton
Tags: BIO022000
Athénaïs did not really believe that she was actually invoking Satan in her cause, but she would nonetheless have known that he is a treacherous ally however tenuous the connection, and generally exacts a price for his services. Much later, she would come to regret her playful visit to the sorcerers as the greatest indiscretion of her life.

Chapter Seven
    “Virtue would not go so far without
vanity to bear it company.”
    I n the summer of 1665, an eager Italian tourist, the Abbé Locatelli, sneaked into the gardens of St. Germain early one morning to catch a glimpse of the famous grottos whose fountains, with their mythological sculptures, anticipated those of Versailles. Much to Locatelli’s discomfort, he was also treated to a surprise view of the King of France taking a clandestine promenade with Louise de La Vallière. The trespasser threw himself to his knees, and then, as Louis beckoned him over, tried in his best French to explain himself, saying that he was visiting from Bologna. “You are from a wicked country,” replied the King sternly.
    “How so?” asked the brave little abbé, to the horror of his companions. “Is not Bologna the mother of universities, the palace of religion, the birthplace of many saints, among whom we honor the incorruptible body of St. Catherine, at whose feet Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France, laid the scepter of her realm?”
    Louis politely raised his hat at the mention of St. Catherine, but he snubbed Locatelli firmly by declaring: “You undertake a difficult thing in wishing to defend a country where men butcher other men.” (In the commedia dell’arte, of which Louis was an enthusiast, Bologna was represented as the most brutal of the Italian city states.) Locatelli blushed with mortification, and his party made their escape, but his curiosity about the French monarch remained undimmed, as did his admiration for Louis. 1 Some years later, he contrived to be present as the King heard Mass in Paris, and his account of his emotional reaction is representative of the religious awe Louis inspired.
The King remained standing, but followed the office with much attention ...My eyes having encountered his at the moment when I began to look at him, I immediately felt once more within myself that secret force of royal majesty, which inspired me with an insatiable curiosity to gaze at him ...but I only dared to fix my eyes on him when I was certain that he could not see me. I returned to the hôtel so happy that in wishing to express the joy with which I was transported, I seemed to have lost my reason ...Forgive me, reader, if this joy seems to make me rave; in my happiness at having seen the King, and having been seen by him, I believe that I have attracted the regard of an Empyrean divinity. 2
    As his conversation with Louis at St. Germain proves, Locatelli was no cringing sycophant. His apparently excessive joy is no more than a reflection of the belief in the semidivinity of the monarchy held by both Louis and his subjects. Not only was the King the arbiter of all temporal power, the focus of all worldly ambition, he was also a living symbol of God’s order. No wonder that his doubly adulterous relationship with Athénaïs would come to be seen by some as a blasphemy, a sacrilege visited physically on his holy body. For one woman, possessed of a most worldly piety, the struggle to reform the King’s errant soul came to be seen as a religious mission, a vocation to which she would dedicate herself as devotedly as the strictest bride of Christ.
    Françoise Scarron, who was to become the Marquise de Maintenon, is an enduringly fascinating and enigmatic character, adored and loathed by the French in equal measure, now as then. Her relationship with Athénaïs de Montespan was lengthy and hugely complicated, encompassing mutual support and mutual hatred, intense sympathy and intense rivalry. Yet it was Athénaïs who originally discerned La Maintenon’s talents and brought her

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