Madame Palatine’s Burn Book, Part 1On September 1, 2021 by Elyse
She is a wicked devil; treacherous in every way, and of a very dangerous temper. Upon the whole, she is not good for much.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
If you enjoyed the movie “Mean Girls” as much as teenage me did, allow me to introduce you to Princess Elizabeth Charlotte, aka Liselotte, aka Madame Palatine, aka the Duchesse d’Orléans, aka the original Regina George.
Unlike another princess I could mention, there was no doubt about Liselotte’s origins. Born into Bavarian royalty in 1652, she married a French duke and spent her adult life in the French royal court, which, by her account, was even more of a viper’s nest than an average high school.
She was a prolific correspondent and is estimated to have written tens of thousands of letters in her 70 years. Only a fraction of those letters survived, but enough of them were floating around for excepts to be published throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
When writing about her life in France, Liselotte comes across as a force of nature, and I have no doubt she could’ve made “fetch” happen. Some pages of her “Burn Book”—or Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, as the 1899 publishers lamely titled it—are as vicious as any taunt from a high school bully.
Just like in the movie, Liselotte’s writing is filled with confessions, secrets and the juiciest gossip. Even though it’s a few centuries out of date, I hope you’ll agree that the scandals are just as intriguing and the barbs just as stinging all these years later—and fortunately, they won’t get you stuffed into a locker.
Her dad is the worst.
If my father had loved me as well as I loved him he would never have sent me into a country so dangerous as this [France], to which I came through pure obedience and against my own inclination. Here duplicity passes for wit, and frankness is looked upon as folly.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
Admittedly, Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine was not Father of the Year. He was supposedly a violent man, and after casting aside his wife, Charlotte of Hesse-Kassel, to marry another woman, he sent little Liselotte away to live with her aunt.
She has self-esteem issues.
I am neither cunning nor mysterious. . . I am unquestionably very ugly; I have no features; my eyes are small, my nose is short and thick, my lips long and flat. These do not constitute much of a physiognomy.
I have great hanging cheeks and a large face; my stature is short and stout; my body and my thighs, too, are short, and, upon the whole, I am truly a very ugly little object. If I had not a good heart, no one could endure me.
To know whether my eyes give tokens of my possessing wit, they must be examined with a microscope, or it will be difficult to judge. Hands more ugly than mine are not perhaps to be found on the whole globe.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
You can judge for yourself by her portrait, but as for me, I just want to give Liselotte a hug and a gift certificate for a dozen years of therapy.
Her husband is the worst.
When she was 19, Liselotte married Philippe I, Duc d’Orléans, the brother of France’s King Louis XIV. It was not exactly a love match:
I was very glad when, after the birth of my daughter, my husband proposed separate beds; for, to tell the truth, I was never very fond of having children. When he proposed it to me, I answered, “Yes, Monsieur, I shall be very well contented with the arrangement, provided you do not hate me, and that you will continue to behave with some kindness to me.” He promised, and we were very well satisfied with each other.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
There was a reason for that: Philippe was reportedly gay and as open about his sexuality as it was possible to be in the 17th-century French court.
Also, he was even worse than a cover hog:
It was, besides, very disagreeable to sleep with Monsieur; he could not bear any one to touch him when he was asleep, so that I was obliged to lie on the very edge of the bed; whence it sometimes happened that I fell out like a sack. I was therefore enchanted when Monsieur proposed to me in friendly terms, and without any anger, to lie in separate rooms.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
Liselotte wasn’t Philippe’s type, but it’s fair to say he wasn’t hers either:
I do not believe my husband was ever in love during his life. He danced well, but in a feminine manner; he could not dance like a man because his shoes were too high-heeled. Excepting when he was with the army, he would never get on horseback. The soldiers used to say that he was more afraid of being sun-burnt and of the blackness of the powder than of the musket-balls; and it was very true.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
She’s not a feminist.
[T]his kingdom has long had the misfortune to be too much governed by women, young and old. It is high time that men should now assume the sway, and this is the reason which has determined me not to intermeddle. In England, perhaps, women may reign without inconvenience; in France, men alone should do so, in order that things may go on well.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
Along with therapy, my care package for Liselotte will include a copy of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
Her son is the worst.
From the age of fourteen to that of fifteen years, my son was not ugly; but after that time he became very much sun-burnt in Italy and Spain. Now, however, he is too ruddy; he is fat, but not tall, and yet he does not seem disagreeable to me. The weakness of his eyes causes him sometimes to squint. When he dances or is on horseback he looks very well, but he walks horridly ill.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
I’m beginning to wonder if anyone ever met Liselotte’s standards for physical attractiveness.
I love my son with all my heart; but I cannot see how any one else can, for his manners are little calculated to inspire love. In the first place, he is incapable of the passion, or of being attached to any one for a long time; in the second, he is not sufficiently polished and gallant to make love, but sets about it rudely and coarsely; in the third, he is very indiscreet, and tells plainly all that he has done.
I have said to him a hundred times, “I wonder how any woman can run after you, whom they ought rather to fly from.”– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
If this is how Liselotte writes about her son, Philippe II, what does she say about her enemies?
Her daughter-in-law is the worst.
This answers that question:
Madame d’Orléans looks older than she is. . . She is often ill, and always has a fictitious malady in reserve. She has a true and a false spleen. . . It is impossible to be more idle than she is. . . She does not think that there is her equal in the world for beauty, wit, and perfection of all kinds.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
Admittedly, Liselotte and Françoise Marie de Bourbon, who married Philippe II and later became the duchesse d’Orléans, started off on the wrong foot. King Louis XIV, Françoise Marie’s father, insisted Philippe marry her over Liselotte’s objections.
It is my son’s unlucky destiny to have for a wife a woman who is desirous of ruling everything with her brothers. . . If he had not inflicted upon me the deepest vexation by uniting himself with this low race, he might now speak to them boldly. I never quarreled with my son; but he was angry with me about this marriage, which he had contracted against my inclination.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
It’s hard to tell if Liselotte is more upset about a woman wanting to rule or her son going against her wishes.
There are plenty more burns where these came from. Come back next time when Liselotte will expound on chocolate, revenge herself on monks and become a Ghostbuster!
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Welcome to Second Glance History! This blog seeks to uncover the people and the stories forgotten by history and give them another read through a modern lens. Join me every week as we examine the differences that divide and the common threads that connect the then to the now.
I’ve long been a big fan of Madame Palatine! She was the only member of Louis’ court whom I would have liked to meet in person.
Even though I’d be in a state of terror about what she’d write about me afterwards.
And now, I understand why! I hadn’t heard of her, but she’s definitely invited to my hypothetical “historical figure” dinner party. At least after reading all her insults, we’d know what NOT to do and say!