Madame Palatine’s Burn Book, Part 3On September 29, 2021 by Elyse
Don’t be fooled: Madame Palatine, aka Liselotte, may look like a sweet, doting grandmother, but her dirt is as vicious as Regina George’s, as scandalous as Gossip Girl’s and as dangerous as Lady Whistledown’s.
Forget the Enlightenment, absolutism and everything else you learned in your high school European history class. Her 18th-century Burn Book has all the scandals, er, insights you need to write Netflix’s next hit period drama. Be forewarned that it sometimes takes her a while to get to the punchline—but if you’re a loyal Second Glance History reader, you’re used to that.
Everyone knows what happens in everyone else’s bedroom.
The Queen [of Spain] had one certain means of making the King do whatever she wished. The good gentleman was exceedingly fond of her, and this fondness she turned to good account. She had a small truckle-bed in her room, and when the King would not comply with any of her requests she used to make him sleep in this bed; but when she was pleased with him he was admitted to her own bed; which was the very summit of happiness to the poor King.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
“For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till truckle bed do us part.”
. . . And anything goes in those bedrooms.
Henri IV had been one day told of the infidelity of one of his mistresses. Believing that the King had no intention of visiting her, she made an assignation with the Duc de Bellegarde in her own apartment.
The King, having caused the time of his rival’s coming to be watched, when he was informed of his being there, went to his mistress’s room. He found her in bed, and she complained of a violent headache.
The King said he was very hungry, and wanted some supper; she replied that she had not thought about supper, and believed she had only a couple of partridges. Henri IV desired they should be served up, and said he would eat them with her.
The supper which she had prepared for Bellegarde, and which consisted of much more than two partridges, was then served up; the King, taking up a small loaf, split it open, and, sticking a whole partridge into it, threw it under the bed. “Sire,” cried the lady, terrified to death, “what are you doing?”
“Madame,” replied the merry monarch, “everybody must live.” He then took his departure, content with having frightened the lovers.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
Considering he was married himself, Henri IV was in no position to cast stones—only partridges.
Not everyone was as open minded as Henri IV:
The last Duc d’Ossuna had, it is said, a very beautiful, but at the same time a passionate and jealous wife. Having learnt that her husband had chosen a very fine stuff for the dress of his mistress, an actress, she went to the merchant and procured it of him. He, thinking it was intended for her, made no scruple of delivering it to her.
After it was made up she put it on, and, showing it to her husband, said, “Do not you think it is very beautiful?”
The husband, angry at the trick, replied, “Yes, the stuff is very beautiful, but it is put to an unworthy use.”
“That is what everybody says of me,” retorted the Duchess.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
Instead of a fashionable dress, the Duc d’Ossuna should’ve sent his mistress a partridge (♪ in a pear tree ♪).
Everyone poisons everyone else.
Given the Affair of the Poisons and the era’s heinous hygiene practices, it’s no wonder Liselotte and her contemporaries saw poison around every corner. Indeed, the word “poison” appears no fewer than 42 times in her letters and was reportedly found in substances including but not limited to green peas, a cup for endive water, milk, raw oysters and even sacramental wine.
Moral of the story: BYOB and everything else when visiting the court of King Louis XIV.
It’s okay to shout “fire” in a crowded theater.
I may spill red wine on couches, walk into furniture and set quinoa on fire, but I’m still not history’s biggest klutz:
We went to the theatre, which was commonly so bad that we were ready to die with laughing. . . we saw a company playing [the tragedy] Mithridates. In speaking to Monimia, Mithridates said something which I forget, but which was very absurd. He turned round immediately to the Dauphine and said, “I very humbly beg pardon, Madame, I assure you it was a slip of the tongue.”
The laugh which followed this apology may be imagined, but it became still greater when the Prince of Conti, the husband of La Grande Princesse, who was sitting above the orchestra, in a fit of laughing, fell into it. He tried to save himself by the cord, and, in doing so, pulled down the curtain over the lamps, set it on fire, and burnt a great hole in it.
The flames were soon extinguished, and the actors, as if they were perfectly indifferent, or unconscious of the accident, continued to play on, although we could only see them through the hole.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
Accident or arson, the show must go on.
The dress code is flexible.
Our old friend the Underwear Thief would fit right in:
The Duc de Sully was subject to frequent fits of abstraction. One day, having dressed himself to go to church, he forgot nothing but his breeches. This was in the winter; when he entered the church, he said, “Mon Dieu, it is very cold to-day.”
The persons present said, “Not colder than usual!”
“Then I am in a fever,” he said. Some one suggested that he had perhaps not dressed himself so warmly as usual, and, opening his coat, the cause of his being cold was very apparent.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
Now, I’m a little less embarrassed about the time I showed up to a black-tie affair wearing dirty jeans. At least they were weather appropriate.
Job interviews are tough.
Cardinal Mazarin could not bear to have unfortunate persons about him. When he was requested to take any one into his service, his first question was, “Is he lucky?”– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
Yikes. I have enough trouble answering, “If you were a box of cereal, which one would you be?”
Medicine is experimental.
A surefire strategy to ensure you never lose at billiards:
The Cardinal de Richelieu, notwithstanding his wit, had often fits of distraction. Sometimes he would fancy himself a horse, and run jumping about a billiard-table, neighing and snorting; this would last an hour, at the end of which his people would put him to bed and cover him up closely to induce perspiration; when he awoke the fit had passed and did not appear again.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
If you’re getting bad news about your health and finances, you might as well hear it all at once:
Dr. Chirac was once called to see a lady, and, while he was in her bedchamber, he heard that the price of stock had considerably decreased. As he happened to be a large holder of the Mississippi Bonds, he was alarmed at the news; and being seated near the patient, whose pulse he was feeling, he said with a deep sigh, “Ah, good God! they keep sinking, sinking, sinking!”
The poor sick lady hearing this, uttered a loud shriek; the people ran to her immediately. “Ah,” said she, “I shall die; M. de Chirac has just said three times, as he felt my pulse, ‘They keep sinking!’”
The Doctor recovered himself soon, and said, “You dream; your pulse is very healthy, and you are very well. I was thinking of the Mississippi stocks, upon which I lose my money, because their price sinks.” This explanation satisfied the sick lady.– Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV and of the Regency, 1899
After combing through her correspondence, I can assure you there was only one piece of gossip Liselotte didn’t sniff out: yours. Count your lucky stars she never found out about you-know-what!
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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.