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April 09, 2009

Femme of the Week: Elizabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orléans

Elizabeth Charlotte was Marie Antoinette's great grandmother. She was chosen by Louis XIV to marry his brother, the Duc d'Orléans after his first wife passed away. The marriage made her the second lady at the court of Versailles next to the Queen.

She was whisked over to France to meet her future husband, Philippe Duc d'Orléans. He appeared to her decked out in precious gems and wearing strong perfume. His surprise was just as great as hers no doubt on first sight, she did not wear much make up, in fact seemed to neglect material luxuries completely in her attire. Elizabeth (Liselotte) was fair skinned, and blond, she could pass for a "Swiss-peasant" in the way about her. In short he was not pleased and had immediately said, "how on earth am I to sleep with that?"

Maybe the irony here is that Philipe preferred men. Together they were a true odd couple. Liselotte cared not for material possessions, had no desire to follow fashion, and she loved to hunt and fish.

The duc loved fashion, scandalous gossip, and he loved being catty! He liked to spend afternoons with toys to tinker with, merely for amusement, sweets, and talking about people at court with people from court, all the while injecting wit into conversation. How did these two get on? Rather well!

Neither of them enjoyed sex. Liselotte said "the task of manufacturing children..a nasty dangerous, stupid business, from no stage of which did I ever derive the slightest pleasure." Perhaps this was because her husband had a very difficult time doing the deed. (with her.)

Drama!
In any case they had 2 sons, the Duc de Valois and the Duc de Chartres. She had drama in her life, especially when her son, the Duc de Chartres, was to marry the daughter of the marquise de Montespan, a lover of the king and her enemy. Liselotte wanted to just die when this decision was made and her disgust of the match only grew with time. She went as far as slapping her son in front of the court! She wrote to her family complaining about Françoise-Marie, and this caught up with her later in life when she was confronted with the letters. She was warned to turn her attitude around!

Eventually her son would become Regent to the young Louis XV, making her the 1st lady at Versailles. But Montespan was still alive and kicking, near 15 years her senior. Liselotte viewed it a goal to outlive her rival, and she took very good care of her health. She would write about how she took care of herself and avoided medical practices of the day she disagreed with, such as bleeding. She viewed French women as sickly, and felt herself much more healthier than they were. Instead she was known to take make walks out doors and avoid medicines.
"It has become the fashion here to complain about the air; the princesse de Conti does not want to go out at all...neither does [my daughter in law]; they are forever having purges (artificially induced), bleedings, acidulous waters, and baths (extremely hot);...I tell them...if I were to live as they do, I would be even sicker than they are..."
excerpt from A Woman's Life
Her efforts seemed to pay off and she outlived Montespan and died at the age of 70, 12.08.1722

6 comments

  1. Ooh, thank you! I love Liselotte! She's one of my favorites from the court of Louis XIV. Her letters are hysterical (in addition to being incredibly useful sources about court life)! I keep meaning to get a copy of them. I've only read books with a few letters, but I'm pretty sure they were all published in one volume at one time. Or was it a journal that she kept? I don't remember; it's been a while. Anyway, I just remember that her whining and put-downs were side-splitting!

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  2. Love love love her potrait. If I ever finally get around to reading Loves of Louis XIV I would be very curious to read more about her; I know it talks about her husband a lot.

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  3. Heather, perhaps you should do a Liselotte hair style for the summer wedding...

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  4. Oh I would be all for it! It's quite similar to my racetrack doo...

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  5. Thanks for such a great post! Antonia Fraser's 'Love and Louis XIV' first introduced me to the phenomenon that was Liselotte. What a great woman! Reading about her telling the Dauphin (in very frank terms) that his naked body would not appeal to her cracked me up.
    @ Eliza Ward - Maria Kroll in the 70s (I think) released some of Liselotte's correspondence, and last time I looked for it on Amazon it was there :)

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  6. No need to purpose the book on amazon: her secret memoirs are on google books for free: http://books.google.com/ebooks?id=0s4GAAAAQAAJ&lr=&num=10

    :) Lots of interesting stuff from Louis XIV's court. Lots of atecdotes about the King, his son, his queen, his grand children, the Duc d'Orléans. You have to take what she writes with a grain of salt, as she was certainly very catty about some things and had her biases. But it's an interesting look into Louis XIV's court and the Regency. It's more focused on the people and their lives, not much talk of politics, if any.

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