Gabrielle de Rochechouart de Mortemart (nun)
Marie-Madeleine Gabrielle Adélaïde de Rochechouart de Mortemart (1645 – 15 August 1704) was a French nun from the House of Rochechouart. The abbess of Fontevraud Abbey, she was an influential figure in the 17th century French intellectual community. She was the daughter of Gabriel de Rochechouart, duc de Mortemart, and thus sister to Madame de Montespan.
Gabrielle de Rochechouart was endowed with great beauty. In her childhood, she devoted herself to studying philosophy and languages living and dead. Upon submitting to Maria Theresa of Austria, it was an astonishment to the new queen, unaccustomed to hear a young person from the court speak, languages other than French with ease. Introduced to various schools, who shared opinions, she turned to theology and doctrine of the Holy Fathers and Councils. With all these gifts, she was nevertheless of great simplicity. The world offered her all the seductions: she preferred to devote herself to God and buried deep in a retreat. She took the veil in the monastery of Saint-Evroult-Notre-Dame-du-Bois in 1664, then in Poissy.
Queen of Abbesses
Gabrielle de Rochechouart Mortemart fled from worldly status. But Louis XIV, who understood how to distinguish merit, appointed her, on 16 August 1670, Superior General of the Fontevraud Abbey, where she led the monks along with the nuns. Without neglecting the duties of her office, she did not forget his favorite studies and turned Fontevraud an intellectual and cultural center. She translated the first three books of The Iliad of Homer, and with Racine, Plato's Symposium. Endowed with great exactness of mind, she met with the best writers of the day, asking for opinions and advice. Always humble, she received them with love, and they retired happy, even honored to have been admitted to her. Under her administration, the order was thriving. Authority over the abbey, and the mother-fifty priories depended earned her the title of queen of Abbesses, as reported by Saint-Simon, that
his spirit surpassed that of her sisters, and she joined them with a knowledge strong and extensive.
Victor Cousin says:
She had the spirit of Mortemart, and something of the beauty of her sisters, with the most noble traits and an air of majesty and mildness.
Louis XIV, with whom she corresponded regularly, tried to appoint her to the court, but she refused, preferring to remain in Fontevraud. After her disgrace, Madame de Montespan had frequent stays in the abbey of his sister, whom she loved. Gabrielle de Rochechouart Mortemart died on 15 August 1704, leaving several pamphlets of various kinds. On hearing the news, Louis XIV pronounced during his dinner a thought for the great abbess.
He had preserved, wrote Saint-Simon, esteem and friendship which neither the expulsion of Madame de Montespan, or extreme for Madame de Maintenon could not dull.
She was replaced as head of the abbey by her niece, Louise-Françoise, de Mortemart.
- Général de Rochechouart, Histoire de la Maison de Rochechouart (Paris, 1859)
- "Gabrielle de Rochechouart de Mortemart (nun)", in Marie-Nicolas Bouillet and Alexis Chassang (eds.), Dictionnaire universel d'histoire et de géographie, 1878
- Georges Martin, Histoire et généalogie de la Maison de Rochechouart (Mathias, 1990)