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.

Louis made Marie Therese his Queen and consort in 1660, and it was only a year later when his fancy was caught by the dainty and attractive little Francoise Louise La Valliere. She was scarcely more than seventeen years of age when she became the favorite of the King. She was a delicate little creature, slightly lame, but most feminine in her appeal, and she caught the King by her very girlishness, as she played like a child with him in the parks of the palace. She was a simple maid of honor to Queen Marie Therese when she first attracted the notice of the King. A few years afterward she was created a duchess and, as such, retained the royal favor for a time. Then remorse seized upon La Valliere; she took the veil, and, as Sister Louise of Mercy, entered a convent, and gave her life in religious solitude to expiate the grief that she had caused the good Queen. The atonement was only just, for Louise de Valliere had made Marie Therese suffer bitterly the tortures of jealousy and offended conjugal affection. The Queen was not a woman of unusual intelligence, but she was sensible, tactful, and had a certain native dignity that compelled respect. She was, moreover, devoutly religious and devotedly attached to her children. She shared her royal Husband's conviction as to the divine right of kings, and what he did she considered could not be wrong. Of all the women that were associated with Louis, no one more truly admired him nor was more ardently devoted to him than his Queen. When they were first married, Louis treated Marie Therese with kindly consideration. He shed tears of sympathy and anguish while she suffered in giving birth to her first child. During the following dozen years, Marie Therese bore six sons and daughters, but all were lost except the Dauphin, and he died before ascending the throne. These bereavements sank deep into her heart and left a wound there that never healed. Added to this was the spectacle that she was called on repeatedly to witness of the King's infidelities with a succession of favorites. She was compelled to take these women into her household and make companions of them, knowing the while that they were really her rivals and persecutors. She was often heard to cry out concerning one or other of the favorites, "That woman will be the death of me." La Valliere she could afford to forgive, for the first mistress paid for the brief royal favor that she enjoyed by thirty-six years of rigid and austere penitence. Other favorites, however, pursued a path of pride, lowering their heads only under the "bludgeonings of Fate." Yet most of them, while Marie Therese lived, respected and honored her and felt a certain sense of shame in her presence. The brilliant and beautiful Madame de Montespan said, some time before her scandalous relations with the King had fairly begun, "God preserve me from being the King's mistress. If I were so I should feel ashamed to face the Queen." And yet Madame de Montespan, within a short time, assumed the role of favorite, and carried it out with great pride and arrogant assurance. The conviction is forced upon us, however, by the evidence of those that witnessed her ascendancy, that Montespan frequently felt the stings of self-reproach when she met the Queen, and that her haughty bearing concealed a genuine sense of shame. In the midst of luxury, power and brilliant success she seemed at times a small and mean character in the presence of the pious Marie Therese. As Louis' infidelities increased in number, his sense of guilt toward his consort was stamped deeper on his consciousness. He endeavored to make amends by paying her marked respect and treating her at times with distinguished tenderness and consideration. But Versailles was the high seat of elaborate and elegant insincerity, and no one was deceived by the formal courtesies paid by the Sun King to his unhappy wife. The deference that he displayed toward her in public appeared to the eyes of the world to be simply a cloak for essential neglect. And she, poor creature, with all the prestige of the Queen of France, was but a pitiful thing in the presence of the King. She tried to do her best to please him. The thought of offense to the Monarch beset her with fear. The Princess Palatine wrote of her once: "When the King came to her she was so gay that people remarked it. She would laugh and twinkle and rub her little hands. She had such a love for the King that she tried to catch in his eyes every hint of the things that would give him pleasure. If he ever looked at her kindly, that day was bright." Madame De Caylus tells us that the Queen had such a dread of her royal husband and such an inborn timidity that she hardly dared speak to him. Madame de Maintenon relates that the King, having once sent for the Queen, asked Madame to accompany Her Majesty so that she might not have to appear alone in the presence of her royal husband, and that when Madame de Maintenon conducted the Queen to the door of the King's room, and there took the liberty of pushing her ahead so as to force her to enter, she observed that Marie Therese fell into such a great tremble that her very hands shook with fright. And why should not the Queen tremble with unhappy apprehension when even the greatest favorite of all, Madame de Maintenon, found nothing in the life of the Court but bitter striving and heart misery? In the very midst of her splendor she exclaimed to a friend, "If I could only make clear to you the hideous ennui that devours all of us, the troubles that fill our days! Do you not see that I am dying of sadness in the midst of a fortune that passes all imagination? I have had youth and beauty, I have sated myself with pleasure, I have had my hours of intellectual satisfaction, I have enjoyed royal favor, and yet I protest to you, my good friend, that all these conditions leave only a dreadful void."

Marie Therese took up her abode at Versailles only when the palace was pronounced complete. She entered her apartments there in 1682, and breathed her last in July of the following year. The Queen's bedroom is filled with historic memories. The walls could whisper many tragic secrets and the halls might assemble by invocation innumerable ghostly figures of fair women that once stood close to the throne, wore royal robes, and nursed breaking hearts. In the Queen's bed chamber died Marie Therese and, later, Marie Leczinska, the Queen of Louis XV. There also the Dauphiness of Bavaria and the Duchess of Burgundy passed away; and, in that chamber, nineteen princes and princesses of the royal blood were born, among whom were King Philip V of Spain and Louis XV of France. The chamber was occupied first by the pious and devoted Marie Therese; after that by the Bavarian Dauphiness, who died in 1690 at the early age of twenty-nine; then by the Duchess of Burgundy, the mother of Louis XV. She died in 1712 at the age of twenty-six. Then Mary Anne Victoire, the Infanta of Spain, occupied the apartment for a brief time; after that, in 1725, came Marie Leczinska, the wife of Louis XV, who lived there for forty-three years, during which she gave birth to ten children. And, finally, the most appealing figure of all entered that fateful apartment - she who has been characterized as "the most poetic of women, who combined in herself all majesties and all sorrows, all triumphs and all humiliations, all feminine joys and tears, she whose very name inspires the emotion, tenderness and respect of the world" - Marie Antoinette.

During the hundred years that followed the entrance of Marie Therese on the scene at Versailles, many extraordinary women came, shone and passed away. The Hall of Mirrors, had it the power to reflect the past, would afford a gallery of brilliant portraits. There would be, first, the devout Queen herself, virtuous, kind, considerate, loved by all her people and gently resigned to her fate. Then would follow a glittering train of proud and brilliant mistresses, some compelling by their beauty and gayety, others by their wit and sense. Sweet Madame de La Valliere had scarcely passed into obscurity when the haughty and imperious Marquise de Montespan assumed supremacy and became "the center of pleasures, of fortune, of hope and of terror to all that were dependent on the Court." No one could rightly claim to be an intimate of Montespan except the King, and at times he did not understand her. While apparently frank and free in her enjoyment of life and in her dealings with associates in the Court, Montespan always withheld enough to keep her best friends guessing. No one knew all her romance. She had experienced both extremes of fortune and when she gained favor with Louis she had acquired a confidence and a command of herself that influenced the King to a degree that even he would not have acknowledged. But the Court knew well the influence of Montespan and also the ministers, generals of the army and foreign ambassadors. Montespan succeeded Madame de La Valliere in favor about 1667 and she held her supremacy for ten years. Then came the turn of her fortunes, for Madame de Maintenon, fascinating in all that makes feminine charm and with an extraordinary mind in addition, supplanted Montespan and became the companion of the King until his dying day. Montespan, who had eight children by the King, left the Court in bitterness and humiliation and, like La Valliere, ended her life in a convent.

Madame de Maintenon was the most distinguished woman in the history of Versailles. As a girl, in abject poverty, she married in 1652 the good old poet Scarron. There was no love lost there. She merely took the gentle-hearted man because he offered either to pay for her entrance into a convent or to make her his wife, and she found the latter alternative more acceptable. During the nine years she lived with Scarron, she maintained a brilliant salon, in which gathered the great intelluctual figures of the time. In 1669 Madame de Montespan gave Madame de Maintenon the charge of one of her sons. In that manner Montespan brought her governess in touch with her King, and, in so doing, sealed her own fate.

Madame de Maintenon was a very wise woman. She did not entertain any sincere affection for the King, and, during all the years of his devotion to her, she never really loved him. She found a monarch much sated with the luxurious pleasures of the Court, and beginning to tire of his latest mistress, and she saw in the situation an opportunity that appealed to her ambition. With shrewd judgment she measured the character of Madame de Montespan, and she forecast in her mind the inevitable downfall of the proud and arrogant favorite. She was the very opposite in nature of Madame de Montespan. Her self-possession, poise, skill and tact, virtue and piety made an irresistible appeal to the tired King. That her piety was scarcely more than a cloak is betrayed by many of her own utterances. "Nothing is more clever than irreproachable behavior," she said at one time to close friends. Her behavior was both irreproachable and clever, and it obtained for her the satisfaction of her highest ambitions. She fascinated and lured the King, playing the coquette to him, but evading him with a baffling assumption of virtue, yielding just enough to draw the Monarch on; then playing the part of a prude, until, finally, she became in the eyes of the fascinated Louis the most desired of women. It was not long before Madame de Maintenon was so advanced in the King's favor that the affair was the gossip of the Court, and Madame de Montespan was compelled to stand by, a silent and bitter witness of her own defeat. It was a humiliating blow to Madame de Montespan to see the King with eyes only for Madame de Maintenon, saying witty and agreeable things to her, and ignoring his former favorite completely. It was not long before Madame de Montespan received her dismissal and, trembling with rage, descended the great staircase of Versailles never again to mount it. Madame de Maintenon was installed in special apartments at the head of the Marble Staircase, opposite the Hall of the King's Guards, and a new spirit dominated the halls of the palace. Under Madame de Montespan a "haughtiness in everything that reached to the clouds" had held the Court and attendants in fear, made the lives of all uneasy, and kept the atmosphere of the palace astir. With the entrance of Madame de Maintenon into favor a quieter tone pervaded Versailles. Madame was a woman of great intelligence and wit, and made all feel the gracious influence of her fine companionship. There was nothing ascetic in her piety, but, on the other hand, frivolity, immorality, and unworthy intrigue had no place in her circle. And all those that attended her held her in esteem and profound respect. With all her incomparable grace, she was in mind and spirit more truly the queen than mistress. She was older than the King and her influence was stronger on that account. She had comprehended the situation at Versailles with characteristic shrewdness. The King needed her. The Court of France needed her - and she needed both the King and the Court for the fulfillment of her supreme ambitions. As one writer has ironically put it, "With her gracious bearing and her calm, even temper, she must have seemed to a king of forty-six, who had buried his queen and cast off his mistress, the ideal wife for his old age. Then, too, she was pious and devout, she wished to withdraw the King from the world and give him to God; she had no ambitions (!), she desired to meddle in nothing, she was grateful when her husband took her into his confidence, but she longed only to save his soul. It seemed almost too wonderful to be true. It was not true."

Madame de Maintenon was determined to be Queen of France, and she became so in soul as well as in fact. During her latter years she ruled, and the King was content to follow her advice and do her will. When the King was dying and she could gain no more at his hands, Madame de Maintenon effected a most satisfactory settlement for herself at St. Cyr, where she ended her days in piety and serene repose.

Saint-Amand has observed truly that the women of Versailles were interesting not only from the moral point of view and as subjects of study, but on account of what he called the "symbolical importance of their relations to the history of France." Each seemed to be the living expression of the spirit of her day. Madame de Montespan was just such a superb, luxurious and magnificent beauty as Versailles needed to display to all the ambassadors that came to bask in the glitter of the Sun King's Court. She was the dazzling mistress that ruled imperiously over the gay and brilliant life of the palace, the very incarnation of haughty and triumphant France at the culminating point of the reign of Louis XIV.

Then came Madame de Maintenon who, with her discreet and temperate nature, restored order, and was, for years, the living symbol of a changed condition in the Court in which piety and religious observance displaced licentious and voluptuous pleasure. And, along with this "wisdom of a repentant age," as Saint-Amand observes, "this reaction of austerity against pleasure, there was still the contrast of youth." It was the Duchess of Burgundy who was the living embodiment of this protest of joy against sadness, of springtime against cold winter, of licentiousness against the exacting restrictions of etiquette. Affairs in the Court had reached a turning point, and it was the logical mind of Madame de Maintenon that saw it. When Madame de Montespan was in the ascendancy, the Court had reached a condition of voluptuous indulgence that could not continue long. The Princess Palatine, wife of the brother of Louis XIV, wrote: "I hear and see every day so many villainous things that it disgusts me with life. You have good reason to say that the good Queen is now happier than we are, and if any one would do me, as to her and her mother, the service of sending me in twenty-four hours from this world to the other, I would certainly bear him no ill will."

However we may question the soul sincerity of Madame de Maintenon, to her at least we must give credit for checking the corrupt tendencies of the Court and, with correcting finger, pointing the way toward better things. After Louis XIV, as Saint-Amand points out, the conditions of the Court of France were reflected even more vividly in the characters of the women of Versailles. "With compression and reserve," he observes, "there followed scandal. During the regency and the reign of Louis XV the morals of the Court fast deteriorated. A new epoch opened - troublous, lewd, dissolute. And was not the Duchess of Berry eccentric, capricious, passionate, the very image of the time? The favorites of Louis XV indicate to us in their own sad history the conditions of debasing humiliation and moral decadence of monarchical power. At first Louis XV chose his favorites from among ladies of quality - after that, from the middle classes, and, finally, from the common women of the people." He did not stop at the low-born shop girl or the frequenter of evil resorts.

Louis began with the Duchesse de Chateauroux, the exquisite, who lasted, as we might say, but a day. From that he turned to the Marquise de Pompadour, a descent sufficiently significant, but it was only the beginning of decadence. The King's feeling for the Marquise was wholly unworthy, and it soon wore itself out. Her death caused him no regret. On the day of her funeral, during a heavy rainstorm, the King, standing at one of the windows of Versailles, watched the carriage bearing the body of his former favorite to Paris, and observed carelessly: "The Marquise will not have fine weather for her journey." Louis soon turned to Madame Dubarry - and a lower step was taken. The prestige and dignity of the Court suffered. "Vice," as Saint-Amand observes, "threw off all semblance of disguise" and yet, while the King slowly submerged his nature in a slough of corruption, and his associates made of the Court a carnival of immorality, there was still one figure in whom the traditional morals and manners were maintained - the Queen Marie Leczinska. She was the one pure and virtuous figure in the Court life. "Her domestic hearth," writes Saint-Amand, "was near the boudoir of the favorites, but it was she that preserved for the Court the traditions of decency and decorum.

"Last of all of the women of Versailles, came Marie Antoinette, the woman who, in the most striking and tragic of all destinies, represents not solely the majesty and the griefs of royalty, but all the graces and all the agonies, all the joys and all the sufferings, of her sex."