I thought this was a great story. For a historical biography it read like a epic romantic adventure complete with everything from evil, self serving and over bearing relatives (just like in Cinderella) to pirates, ship wrecks and colonial adventures (and that was just her childhood). Then marrying herself off to a crippled old man twice her age in order to escape poverty and to be introduced to society before finally getting to the Court of Louis XIV and from there going from the governess to the royal bastards to becoming first the mistress and then the wife and adviser of one of the most famous of European monarchs ever to have reigned. If you love historical biography you'll love this and if you have never read one before then this is the one to start with. I read it in a week. Hats off to Veronica Buckley who writes with passion and pace, but also with sensitivity, attention to detail and an infectious and genuine affection for her subject.
is what Tsar Peter the Great of Russia is suppose to have said when visiting the bed-ridden widow of the Sun King Louis XIV at St. Cyr. Taking into account the changing loves of the King she was dismissed as Madame de Maintenant (Madame now), but she stayed.
So Madame de Maintenon was worth a visit by the all powerful Russian Tsar and her life is worthwhile reading about. She was one of the luminous female stars of the 17th century. A woman who made it to the very top of the society by becoming the secret wife of the most famous of all French Kings, Louis XIV. How did she do that? She was a woman much loved and much hated. The King's sister-in-law, The Princess Palatine and Duchess of Orléans, used very strong language to describe her which would have properly get a TV-warning nowadays. How did she become a person of such controversy? She is mostly remembered as a very Catholic woman and her institute for the education of the daughters of noble houses of broken fortunes, the famous St. Cyr.
Author Veronica Buckley was born in New Zealand, studied in London and Oxford and now lives in Paris. So it is logic taht she takes up a French topic. After her first and well received book on Queen Christina of Sweden this is her second book. And it started of badly after it emerged that one of the main sources for the book was a non-existent secret diaries of the Sun King found in 1997 in a house in the Loire Valley.Yet she was apparently unaware that this 'diary' was in fact the work of a French academic called Francois Bluche, who reconstructed the book from various other historical sources. Buckley issued an apology on April 19, reported The Guardian, saying: "Le Journal secret de Louis XIV was not in fact written by Louis himself, but was instead reconstructed from historical sources by historian François Bluche, a specialist in the reign of Louis XIV. In my bibliography the journal is listed as a primary source, with Bluche the author." Does that undermine the author's new biography?
Veronica Buckley describes the extraordinary life of Madame de Maintenon in a quite balanced way, follows the ups and downs and twists and turns her lives takes. Here a woman of strength and determination, but as well of charm, poise and cultivation, clever and sophisticated emerges and not merely a nun-like woman whose whole life is spent in prayer. It becomes clear that character is what matters with her, but she is by far not an ugly or un-elegant woman. The attraction the King finds with her are less surprising. The power she had was immense, even if she had to pay a price for it and was shy to admit it. She encouraged an atmosphere of dignity and piety at court contrasting deeply with the frivolous court before and after. But this could have been quite oppressive. Of course her background was held against her: a mere commoner raised to be a marquise was not suppose to hold such power and the love of the King.
Veronica Buckley writes with her usual and very readable style. She writes with sympathy about Madame la Marquise, maybe sometimes too sympathetic. Her life is a bit too strongly written from the end. It seems as if becoming the King's wife was inevitable. That is by far not the case. Her knowledge about the time is wide, but a bit feeling is missing. Still it is a lively account and enjoyable to read. The hiccup about the source is properly bad from an academic point of view, but for non-academics is matters hardly as Veronica Buckley leaves the reader with a clear picture how she judges Madame de Mainetenon and that is what matters to me.
Thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I was keen to read a differing aspect on Madame de Maintenon's character, having read several books on the period including her character. The author gives an unbiased assessment, which still left me wondering at the end if this character was genuinely pious or scheming. Madame de Maintenaon had certainly had a difficult start to her life and did well for herself through her own efforts, but I think she probably did have some ulterior motives - but that opinion is left to the reader I think.
Madame de Maintenon was born (in prison) and raised a Protestent but was converted to Catholicism in her teens. Throughout her life she remained devoutly Christian, but took a far more pragmatic view than was normal at the time of religious affiliation, advising Protestent relatives to convert for the sake of their careers and, apparently, being unable to understand their objections. Her connection with Athenais de Montespan and interest in and skill with children saw her made governess to Louis' bastard children, who she seems to have treated as if they were her own (she was never to have children of her own). She subsequently became mistress and later secret wife of Louis XIV and was held responsible for creating a a more devout, less decadent court.
Veronica Buckley has done this fascinatingly complex character justice in a very readable biography.