Digestible history of the improbable life of a woman who achieved greatness as the wife of the legendary Sun King.
Through the figure of Françoise d’Aubigné, Buckley (Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric, 2004) paints a colorful portrait of 17th-century France. Françoise’s grandfather was the Protestant poet Agrippa d’Aubigné, but her father was a convicted murderer and Françoise was born in a prison. Though well-connected, the family’s name and their Protestant roots would dog her throughout her life as the country grew increasingly hostile to the Huguenots. Françoise, a charity case, spent a few happy years at the country estate of her aunt before being plucked from her Protestant idyll. Through a series of manipulations by relations, she was married off at age 16 to “horribly crippled” salon host and former abbé Paul Scarron. Effectively, she became his nurse, though he taught her a great deal during their marriage until his death. Subsequently, the intelligent, dignified young widow grew gradually closer to the court of Louis XIV, first as governess to his various illegitimate children, a regular visitor and occasional mistress, then, shortly after Queen Marie-Thérèse’s death in 1683, his secret wife. In this sumptuous story, the survival—and flourishing—of Françoise, now Madame de Maintenon, within this atmosphere of deadly intrigue seems no less than miraculous, and Buckley skillfully portrays her subject’s salient characteristics, especially “self-control, a keen sympathy for the suffering [of the poor], and a distaste for frivolity and extravagance.” The author also reveals King Louis in all his manly vainglory.
A sprightly biography of “Her Steadiness.”