Marie Anne de Mailly

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Marie Anne de Mailly-Nesle by Jean-Marc Nattier

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[edit]

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:

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 1708). Her husband died on 23 November 1740.

Mistress to Louis XV[edit]

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.

The post of lady-in-waiting of Marie Anne de Mailly was the result of an intrigue. On 13 September 1742, the duchess de Villars, previously a dame du palais, was promoted to dame d'atours, and there was thereby a vacancy among the ladies-in-waiting of the queen. The recently deceased Françoise de Mailly, duchesse de Mazarin, a personal friend of the queen, had shortly before her death wished for a post of her favorite step-granddaughter Marie Anne de Mailly in order to embarrass Louise Julie de Mailly, whom she detested, and apparently the queen herself asked for the vacant place to be given to Marie Anne de Mailly, and although the queen soon after tried to change her mind, Marie Anne was appointed to the position on 19 September.[1] In parallel, Louise Julie de Mailly resigned her own post of dame du palais in favor of another sister, Marquise de Flavacourt, on condition that she be compensated with the post of dame d'atours at the court of the next dauphine.[2] On 20 September, however, Cardinal Fleury opposed the future position of dame d'atours of the dauphine for Louise Julie de Mailly, and on 4 November the king asked her to leave court.[3] Marie Anne de Mailly reportedly felt threatened by her sister Madame de Flavacourt, who distanced herself from her and whom she therefore suspected of having the ambition to replace her as royal mistress, and she suspected the queen of trying to disturb her relationship with the king by presenting a rival to her position. While the queen regarded Louise Julie de Mailly as the most hurtful of all the mistresses of Louis because she was the first one, she had grown accustomed to her, and she disliked Marie Anne de Mailly on a more personal level.[4] The queen regarded her as haughty and insolent, seldom spoke to her and feigned sleep when Marie Anne de Mailly was in attendance.[5] In reality, Madame de Flavacourt had no wish to become a royal mistress and only wished to enjoy her position as courtier because it gave her a position of independence away from her spouse: she once told the minister of war count d'Argensson that she wished for her husband to be promoted or he would leave the army, which would be most unfortunate for her, and she remained a dame du palais until 1767 without any ambition of being a royal mistress.[6]

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; in October 1743, 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 being 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.

Madame de Châteauroux was a friend of Charlotte Aglaé d'Orléans, granddaughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan.

See Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, La Duchesse de Châteauroux et ses sœurs (Paris, 1879).

Depiction in Fiction[edit]

Marie Anne is one of the central characters in Sally Christie's The Sisters of Versailles (Simon&Schuster 2015), a novel about Louis XV and the notorious Mailly-Nesle sisters.


  1. ^ Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort. Cambridge University Press (2004)
  2. ^ Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort. Cambridge University Press (2004)
  3. ^ Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort. Cambridge University Press (2004)
  4. ^ Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort. Cambridge University Press (2004)
  5. ^ Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort. Cambridge University Press (2004)
  6. ^ Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort. Cambridge University Press (2004)

See also[edit]

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.