Marie Anne de Mailly
Marie Anne de Mailly-Nesle, duchesse de Châteauroux (5 October 1717 – 8 December 1744) was the youngest of the five famous de Nesle sisters, four of whom would become the mistress of King Louis XV of France.
Early life, family and marriage
Marie Anne was born the youngest daughter of Louis de Mailly, Marquis de Nesle et de Mailly, Prince d'Orange (1689 - 1767), and his wife, Armande Félice de La Porte Mazarin (1691 - 1729). Her parents had been married in 1709. Her mother was the daughter of Paul Jules de La Porte, duc Mazarin et de La Meilleraye (1666 - 1731), the son of the famous adventuress, Hortense Mancini, the niece of Cardinal Mazarin. Marie Anne had four older full sisters:
- Louise Julie de Mailly, Mademoiselle de Mailly, comtesse de Mailly (1710 - 1751),
- Pauline Félicité de Mailly, Mademoiselle de Nesle, marquise de Vintimille (1712 - 1741),
- Diane Adélaïde de Mailly, Mademoiselle de Montcavrel, duchesse de Lauraguais (1714 - 1769),
- Hortense Félicité de Mailly, Mademoiselle de Chalon, marquise de Flavacourt (1715 - 1763).
The only one of the de Nesle sisters not to become one of Louis XV's mistresses was the Marquise de Flavacourt. Louise Julie was the first sister to attract the king followed by Pauline Félicité, but it was Marie Anne who was the most successful in manipulating him and becoming politically powerful.
Marie Anne also had a younger half-sister, Henriette de Bourbon (1725 - 1780), Mademoiselle de Verneuil, from her mother's relationship with the duc de Bourbon, the chief minister of Louis XV from 1723 to 1726.
In her youth, Marie Anne was known as Mademoiselle de Monchy. On 19 June 1734, she married Jean Baptiste Louis, marquis de La Tournelle (born 1728). Her husband died on 23 November 1740.
Mistress to Louis XV
In 1726, Marie Anne's oldest sister, Louise Julie, wed her cousin, Louis Alexandre de Mailly, comte de Mailly. Shortly thereafter she caught the attention of King Louis XV, and was permitted by her husband to become a royal mistress. Although she became the king's mistress in 1732, Madame de Mailly was not officially recognized as his maîtresse en titre until 1738. Louise Julie did not use her new position at court to enrich herself or to interfere in politics.
In 1738, she received a letter from her younger sister Pauline-Félicité requesting to be invited to court. Louise Julie granted her sister's wish, but upon her arrival at court, Pauline-Félicité seduced the king and became his mistress.
While Madame de Mailly remained as the official mistress, the king fell in love with Pauline-Félicité and arranged for her to marry the marquis de Vintimille. He even gave Madame de Vintimille the castle of Choisy-le-Roi as a gift. Madame de Vintimille quickly became pregnant by the king, and she died giving birth to his illegitimate son in 1741. Afterwards, the king's best friend, the manipulative duc de Richelieu, began to cast about for another candidate to fulfil his royal friend's desires as he did not want Madame de Mailly to regain the king's affections. He eventually decided upon the younger sister of both Madame de Mailly and Madame de Vintimille, Marie Anne, the widow of the marquis de La Tournelle.
At a masked ball on Shrove Tuesday, 1742, Richelieu led Marie Anne up to the king and introduced them. The beautiful marquise, however, at first rejected the royal advances. She already had a lover, the young duc d'Agénois (afterwards the duc d'Aiguillon), and was not inclined to give him up even for the king's sake. As a result, Louis conspired with Richelieu, who was d'Agénois's uncle, to rid himself of the young suitor. Richelieu was quite anxious to do anything to bring about a liaison between the king and Madame de La Tournelle because he knew Madame de Mailly did not view him in a kindly light. The end result of their deliberations was that Louis, in imitation of the biblical David, sent his rival to fight the Austrians in Italy. Here, more fortunate than the husband of Bathsheba, the duc d'Agénois was only wounded, and returned to the court in glory.
Louis was in despair, but Richelieu sent his nephew to Languedoc, where a beautiful young lady had been instructed to seduce him. This she did most effectively; letters of a very passionate nature were exchanged; the lady despatched those which she received to Richelieu, and in due course they were brought to the notice of Madame de La Tournelle, who, furious at her young duke's deceitfullness, turned her attentions to the king.
But Madame de La Tournelle, who was by far the ablest as well as the most attractive of the de Nesle sisters, unlike Madame de Vintimille and Madame de Lauraguais, was by no means disposed to rest content with a divided empire and secret favours. She insisted that her older sister Madame de Mailly should be dismissed and she herself acknowledged in her place. Louis, who was already wearying of the tears and reproaches of the elder sister, consented; and the countess's post of dame du palais to Queen Marie Leszczyńska was taken away from her, and she was ordered to leave the court. Finding refuge in a convent, Madame de Mailly later became quite religious.
Cardinal Fleury, the king's chief minister at the time, tried to intervene with the king because he preferred Madame de Mailly as a royal mistress to her more ambitious sister. He did not want Madame de La Tournelle interfering in his administration of France. Louis, however, curtly informed him that while he had given the prelate control over the kingdom's political affairs, he had not given him control over his personal life.
Far from being satisfied with the dismissal of her sister and her own recognition, Madame de La Tournelle next demanded an official position at court, and the title of duchess, together with a settled income sufficient to enable her to maintain that dignity and safeguard herself against any reversal of fortune. All these demands were promptly granted by the infatuated monarch. Madame de La Tournelle was appointed dame du palais to the queen; letters patent were issued creating her duchesse de Chateauroux, and an income of 80,000 livres was given to her.
It was rumoured at the time, that one way that the new duchesse de Châteauroux kept the interest of the king was to periodically offer him a ménage à trois with her sister, Madame de Lauraguais. That Madame de Lauraguais actually began sleeping with the king at this point, however, is debatable.
Directed by Richelieu, himself dominated by Madame de Tencin, Madame de Châteauroux tried to arouse in the king a greater sense of leadership, dragging him off to the battlefield and encouraging him to form an alliance with Frederick II of Prussia, in 1744. Her political role was great, despite the fact that it was exerted from behind the scenes. During Madame de Châteauroux's frequent journeys to and from the king as he warred, she was accompanied by Madame de Lauraguais. Besides being an amiable companion, Madame de Châteauroux did not consider her simple sister much of a rival.
After successfully surviving a disgrace provoked by the king's illness at Metz, Madame de Châteauroux's victory did not last long, for she died unexpectedly on 8 December 1744. After her death, the king for a short time consoled himself with her sister, Madame de Lauraguais. A few months later, however, the king already had a new mistress, Madame de Pompadour.