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Chichester academic’s book reveals untold history of King Louis XIV’s ‘extraordinary’ first lady

  • Queen of Versailles reveals rise to power of notorious French figure Madame de Maintenon (1635-1719)
  • Sun King’s secret consort wielded unparalleled influence as Louis XIV's closest confidante
  • Madame de Maintenon dominated the court becoming a queen in all but name, said author Dr Mark Bryant

 

THE history of one of the most powerful women in French history has been unearthed in a new book by a University of Chichester academic.

The Queen of Versailles by historian Dr Mark Bryant chronicles the rise to power of Françoise d’Aubigné Marquise de Maintenon (1635-1719), and how she came to wield unparalleled influence as Louis XIV's closest confidante and most trusted political adviser.

“Madame de Maintenon’s life was nothing short of remarkable”, said senior lecturer Dr Bryant, who specialises in the later reign of famed French King Louis XIV.

“Born into poverty and ignominy, she used her intellect, charisma, and connections to join the ranks of fashionable society, eventually establishing herself at the French court as governess to the legitimized children of Louis XIV.”

After secretly marrying the King following the Queen’s death in 1683, she used her expansive social network to intervene in a range of political, religious, and royal family affairs, but not always with Louis XIV’s knowledge, Dr Bryant added.

“She appointed generals, ministers and bishops, helped shape government policy, superintended the royal family and corresponded widely with international princes and popes anxious to win her favour. Maintenon worked assiduously to assist the King, becoming in effect his leading minister, but her successes were often outweighed by controversy and failure.”

Author Dr Bryant teaches on Chichester’s history degree, which was recently ranked in the top 15 for satisfaction by the 2021 Guardian University League Tables. His new book, out now, has already been well received.

Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Professor Julia Prest said: “It is a traditional scholarly history of a misunderstood woman who led an extraordinary life. Bryant’s meticulous and nuanced investigations...draw on an impressively wide range of primary materials, notable Maintenon’s own writings.

“Bryant ably demonstrates how, over time, a number of Maintenon’s protégés were appointed to privileged and influential positions and that, by the early eighteenth-century, her own status was quasi-ministerial… [It is] an authoritative and convincing account of Maintenon’s place in history.”

Queen of Versailles Madame De Maintenon, First Lady of Louis XIV's France (ISBN 9780228003397) can be purchased from Blackwells or from Bookshop at this weblink.

Or read more at www.mqup.ca/queen-of-versailles-products-9780228003397.php.

Alternatively read the article in The Times Literary Supplement in full at www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/queen-of-versailles-mark-bryant-review-julia-prest.

Dr Bryant's research and teaching on the Medieval and Early Modern History Degree at the University of Chichester can be seen at www.chi.ac.uk/staff/law/dr-mark-bryant.