Marie Angélique de Scorailles
|Marie Angélique de Scorailles|
|Duchess of Fontanges|
Marie Angélique de Scorailles
|Died||28 June 1681
Abbaye de Port Royal, France
Marie Angélique de Scorailles (July 1661 – 28 June 1681) was a French noblewoman and one of the many mistresses of Louis XIV. A lady-in-waiting to his sister-in-law Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine, the Duchess of Orléans, she caught the attention of the Sun King and became his lover in 1679. She died most probably as a result of complications arising from childbirth.
Marie Angélique de Scorailles was born in 1661 at the Château of Cropières in Upper Auvergne. Her family realized that her beauty was a great asset and raised enough money to send her to court with an unspoken yet precise aim of replenishing the family coffers from the royal bed. Marie arrived to the court of Louis XIV in 1678 and became the maid of honor to the Duchess of Orléans. Louis XIV was then torn in between the affections of Marquise de Montespan and Madame de Maintenon. Infatuated by the beauty of the young girl, the King suddenly abandoned both women. Now the stand-off between Athénaïs and La Maintenon was suddenly eclipsed by a new passion which appeared to threaten them equally. Despite her physical charm, Marie Angélique was, in the court parlance, "as stupid as a basket," This declaration made Montespan and Maintenon certain that Louis XIV would return to either one of them. Arrangements were quickly made, and, a few weeks after the presentation of the young girl to court, the king made her his new favourite royal mistress and presented entertainments in her honour.
Louis showed his great affection for Marie by wearing ribbons often matched to hers. This flattery spoiled her, and she began to consider herself as the Queen. She flaunted herself before Queen Marie Thérèse, and put Athénaïs de Montespan to shame with her behavior. The king gave her one hundred thousand crowns a month, twice as gifts, but he could not exhaust her extravagance, her coach was being driven by eight horses, it seemed to "eat her reign at a time." Louis XIV suddenly felt young again. He wore diamonds, ribbons and feathers. Every day they went out to a new party, ballets, and comedies—never had luxury been pushed so far.
Soon it appeared she was pregnant, causing the wrath of Madame de Montespan, who did not think the king was so enamoured of his young conquest. She thought their affair was a passing fancy, easily controlled and easily disposed of. She then said to Marquise de Maintenon, "the king has three pillars: my name, this girl and your heart."
Marie-Angélique created the famous fashion of Fontanges: during a hunt in the forest of Fontainebleau, her hair clung to a branch and she appeared before the king with her hair loosely tied in a ribbon, tumbling in curls to her shoulders. The king found this "rustic" style delightful. The next day, all the courtiers adopted this hairstyle, except the Marquise de Montespan, who thought her hairstyle was in "bad taste". The bitterness between Athénaïs and Marie went as far as Athénaïs releasing her two tame bears which she kept in a little menagerie Louis had given her in the grounds of the palace, and "accidentally," the two bears went to destroy Marie's apartment in Versailles. This event made both women comical at court.
In January 1680, Marie gave birth prematurely to a stillborn boy. She was then said to have been "wounded in the service." The king bestowed on her the title Duchess of Fontanges and a pension of 80,000 livres, however, by this time Louis began to tire of her. Still sick (suffering from serious blood loss) since the birth, she retired to the Abbey of Chelles, and did not appear at court again.
In 1681, Marie suffered a high fever and was sent to the Abbey of Port-Royal. According to some sources, she gave birth prematurely to a stillborn girl in March. Sadly, her retirement did not last long. Later the court learned that Mademoiselle Fontanges was going to die and she had asked to see the king. Louis XIV agreed to her request. Touched by her suffering, he wept while at her deathbed. Fontanges is reported to have said, "having seen tears in the eyes of my King, I can die happy". But this story was deemed untrue by many at Versailles because according to them, the king had, in fact, already forgotten her. The duchess died on the night of 28 June 1681. She was not yet 20 years old.
Possible death by poisoning
Marie Angélique died during the Affaire des Poisons scandal in France. Poisoning was suspected to be her cause of death. During the interrogation of the accused witches and wizards, some of them mentioned the name of Mademoiselle de Fontanges, referring to a plot they planned on the duchess. The first witness who testified was Marguerite Monvoisin, the daughter of the sorceress La Voisin. She accused accomplices of her late mother for poisoning the Duchess of Fontanges. Marguerite Monvoisin lovers Bertrand and Romani were arrested in 1681 as suspects. Bertrand was accused of selling poisonous stuffs to Fontanges; while Romani was accused of delivering her gloves contaminated with poison. Defendants pronounced the name of Miss Carnation, a maid to the Marquise de Montespan, however there were no statements to back their claim.
While in prison, the poisoners agreed to name other poisoners so they would not undergo any torture. Their testimonies were fabricated. Then Françoise Filastre, a worker in the household of the Fontanges was arrested, she admitted to be a poisoner and abortionist, she entered the trial of Marie Angélique. When asked about what she knew about the duchess' strange death, Filastre panicked and admitted that Montespan hired her to perform the murder on Fontanges. Montespan wished death on her young rival so she could regain the love of the king. Later Filastre said about her statements: "All I said is false. I did that for me to be free of pain and torment. I say all this because I do not want to kill the guilty conscience of a lie." however she was executed by burning in Paris after Marguerite Monvoisin accused her of a child sacrifice. Though many believed the Duchess was indeed poisoned by Madame de Montespan, the evidence by the witnesses whom later denied every statements from them as false made it impossible for the court to determine Montespan as the actual murderer.
Louis XIV asked that there be no autopsy on the body of the duchess, presumably because he feared that the autopsy would encourage rumors that she was poisoned. However by the request of her family, the autopsy was still performed. Her doctors found that her lungs were in appalling condition (with the right one in particular being full of "purulent matter") while her chest was flooded with fluid. The cause of her death was perhaps unknown but not in any way connected with the blood loss which she suffered for months in 1680. They were unable to determine whether she was poisoned or not. The doctors later stated that the duchess aborted her children, and she was guilty of the crime of infanticide and abortion. This seems unlikely since, like all of the king's mistresses, Marie Angélique would presumably have wanted more than anything to give the king children so she would secure her place at court.
It was not until the early 20th century that some doctors took an interest in the case. Some have suggested that Marie Angélique died from pleuro-pneumonia induced by tuberculosis. However in the view of the fact that she was known to have suffered from a persistent loss of blood after her miscarriage, another doctor suggested that when she lost her baby, a fragment of the placenta lodged in her uterus. An alternative suggestion is that she was killed by a rare form of cancer, which occasionally develops after a cyst on the placenta is expelled during pregnancy. On the whole, the overwhelming probability is that she died from complications arising from her earlier miscarriage.
At court, some courtiers wrote about the Duchess' death. According to Ernest Lavisse and Bernard Christmas, "Two miscarriages caused her to lose favor with the king." Princess Palatine reported that it was certain that the Duchess was poisoned by Madame de Montespan. She suspected that the poison was administered in her milk. Although medical results from the autopsy apparently said otherwise, the court of Louis XIV continued to believe the Duchess of Fontanges died slowly from poisoning.
Marie Angélique's extraordinary style of head-dress and hairstyle maintained the name, Fontanges. It was the only memory she left of her.
- The Case of poison (1955) played by Christine Carère
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