CHAPTER VII. THE WOMEN OF VERSAILLES
We have pictured the Sun King and his imposing Court. We have told the story of the founding and construction of his luxurious palace, and described the spectacles and entertainments that made Versailles the most brilliant spot in Europe. We have said nothing of the women of Versailles and the part they played in the life of the Court and the influence they exerted in the affairs of France. Some of these women, though occupying the Queen's apartments and sharing the crown, lived an existence of bitter disappointment and thwarted affection - Queens in name only, and serving only as mothers of princes and future monarchs. Such were Marie Therese, the heart-sick wife of Louis XIV, and Marie Leczinska, the sad consort of Louis XV. About them were many brilliant women that graced the palace with their beauty and charm and made romantic court history that the chroniclers of the time fed on eagerly, and that the world has devoured eagerly ever since. Rich were those years in intrigue and adventure, and many and rapid were the changing fortunes of favorites. No one could tell what a day might bring forth. The woman of one hour might go the next. Self-interest stimulated the ambitious seekers of favors to constant endeavor. Grim, determined strugglers for social preference frequented the salons with smiling faces that sometimes glowed with pride and satisfaction, but more often veiled rankling disappointment and carking care.
Even the great Madame de Maintenon, who successfully weathered the storms of the social struggle for so many years, once exclaimed: "I can hold out no longer. I wish that I were dead." And a short time before her demise, she observed bitterly, "One atones in full for youthful joys and gratification. I can see, as I review my life, that since I was twenty-two years of age - when my good fortune began - I have not been free from suffering for a moment; and through my life my sufferings increased."
If Madame de Maintenon confessed so much in her last days, what must the other favorites of Versailles have experienced and felt? Each wore the mask of Comedy, with Tragedy gnawing beneath. These brilliant women, who seemed at times to be so happy, were little more than slaves, and we find them disclosed in the memoirs of the time as "penitents who make their apologies to history and lay bare to future generations their miseries, vexations and the remorse of their souls." The demands of Court life were constant and relentlessly exacting. The favorites, each one striving to outdo the others, knew not, from day to day, what way their destinies were leading them.
"If," exclaimed Saint-Amand, "among these favorites of the King, there were a single one that had enjoyed her shameful triumphs in peace, that could have recalled herself happy in the midst of her luxury and splendor, one might have concluded that, from a merely human point of view, it is possible to find happiness in vice. But no; there was not even one. The Duchesse de Chateauroux and Marquise de Pompadour were no happier than the Duchesse de la Valliere and the Marquise de Montespan."
The Sun King built Versailles and established his Court there. It was the women that made the life of Versailles - and gave their lives to it. The Court was a dazzling spider's web, and many a beautiful favorite became fatally entangled in its glittering meshes.
Louis XIV, when twenty-two years of age, married Marie Therese, daughter of Philip IV of Spain. If he had been a simple, respectable young man of France, he might then have settled down and finished the story by "living happily ever after." But he was not. He was the King of France; so he pursued the royal road that his antecedents had blazed before him; and the way was made easy and pleasant for him. In treading the "primrose path of dalliance" he allowed no grass to grow under his feet.