25.9.06

Mesdemoiselles soleil.

Para o caso de andarem a perder as magníficas recensões da Literary Review, aqui deixo um pedaço da que é dedicada ao livro de Antonia Fraser Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King.

Splash, dash and panache, however, were not quite so much Louis’s style where women were concerned. Among several arresting aspects of Antonia Fraser’s book is the paradox which reconciles one of history’s most image-conscious rulers with a more reserved individual, capable of loyalty and discretion in affairs of the heart and not a complete stranger to emotion. Louis was a tyrant, with all the selfishness intrinsic to his position, but he was never a monster, and women were plainly drawn to him by something stronger than the banal magnetism of absolute power.

The biggest what-if aspect to Louis’s personal life lay in the choice of a consort, made for him by his mother, Anne of Austria, and her chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin. Had the Spanish infanta Maria Teresa been more alluring and sophisticated, Louis, though hardly the uxorious type, might have felt less inclined to wander. In fact she seems to have made no effort, as France’s Queen Marie-Thérèse, either to assume the less rigid manners of her adopted country or, more significantly, to support her young husband in his determination to restore dignity and magnificence to the French crown. Surrounded by her Spanish entourage of dwarfs and dogs, she was interested in little beyond gambling and visiting convents. No wonder that, although the King spent almost every night of their 23-year marriage in his wife’s bed, he advised his first-born son to ‘ask of God a princess who was agreeable to him’.

Louise de La Vallière, his sister-in-law’s lady-in-waiting, was a rather tastier prospect. Possessed of what one contemporary called ‘the grace more beautiful than beauty’ and referred to by another as ‘a violet hidden in the grass’, this first in line of the royal mistresses emerges, in Fraser’s account, as the most attractive, not least because her intense passion for the King was continually at war with a sincere Catholic piety. Louise had needed to convince herself that losing her virginity to her sovereign was a sacred duty. When at length, after bearing him two children, she renounced the office of maîtresse en titre to become a Carmelite nun, it was through her own long-meditated resolve. Wearing a hair-shirt, she sought the Queen’s pardon for her wrongdoing, but though Marie-Thérèse granted it with surprising magnanimity she was no doubt delighted to be present when, some days later, the fair sinner donned the habit of a postulant. Louis himself had shed bitter tears at their final interview.