1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/La Vallière, Louise Françoise de

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LA VALLIÈRE, LOUISE FRANÇOISE DE (1644–1710), mistress of Louis XIV., was born at Tours on the 6th of August 1644, the daughter of an officer, Laurent de la Baume le Blanc, who took the name of La Vallière from a small property near Amboise. Laurent de la Vallière died in 1651; his widow, who soon married again, joined the court of Gaston d’Orléans at Blois. Louise was brought up with the younger princesses, the step-sisters of La Grande Mademoiselle. After Gaston’s death his widow moved with her daughters to the palace of the Luxembourg in Paris, and with them went Louise, who was now a girl of sixteen. Through the influence of a distant kinswoman, Mme de Choisy, she was named maid of honour to Henrietta of England, who was about her own age and had just married Philip of Orleans, the king’s brother. Henrietta joined the court at Fontainebleau, and was soon on the friendliest terms with her brother-in-law, so friendly indeed that there was some scandal, to avoid which it was determined that Louis should pay marked attentions elsewhere. The person selected was Madame’s maid of honour, Louise. She had been only two months in Fontainebleau before she became the king’s mistress. The affair, begun on Louis’s part as a blind, immediately developed into real passion on both sides. It was Louis’s first serious attachment, and Louise was an innocent, religious-minded girl, who brought neither coquetry nor self-interest to their relation, which was sedulously concealed. Nicolas Fouquet’s curiosity in the matter was one of the causes of his disgrace. In February 1662 there was a storm when Louise refused to tell her lover the relations between Madame (Henrietta) and the comte de Guiche. She fled to an obscure convent at Chaillot, where Louis rapidly followed her. Her enemies, chief of whom was Olympe Mancini, comtesse de Soissons, Mazarin’s niece, sought her downfall by bringing her liaison to the ears of Queen Maria Theresa. She was presently removed from the service of Madame, and established in a small building in the Palais Royal, where in December 1663 she gave birth to a son Charles, who was given in charge to two faithful servants of Colbert. Concealment was practically abandoned after her return to court, and within a week of Anne of Austria’s death in January 1666, La Vallière appeared at mass side by side with Maria Theresa. But her favour was already waning. She had given birth to a second child in January 1665, but both children were dead before the autumn of 1666. A daughter born at Vincennes in October 1666, who received the name of Marie Anne and was known as Mlle de Blois, was publicly recognized by Louis as his daughter in letters-patent making the mother a duchess in May 1667 and conferring on her the estate of Vaujours. In October of that year she bore a son, but by this time her place in Louis’s affections was definitely usurped by Athénaïs de Montespan (q.v.), who had long been plotting against her. She was compelled to remain at court as the king’s official mistress, and even to share Mme de Montespan’s apartments at the Tuileries. She made an attempt at escape in 1671, when she fled to the convent of Ste Marie de Chaillot, only to be compelled to return. In 1674 she was finally permitted to enter the Carmelite convent in the Rue d’Enfer. She took the final vows a year later, when Bossuet pronounced the allocution.

Her daughter married Armand de Bourbon, prince of Conti, in 1680. The count of Vermandois, her youngest born, died on his first campaign at Courtrai in 1683.

La Vallière’s Réflexions sur la miséricorde de Dieu, written after her retreat, were printed by Lequeux in 1767, and in 1860 Réflexions, lettres et sermons, by M. P. Clement (2 vols.). Some apocryphal Mémoires appeared in 1829, and the Lettres de Mme la duchesse de la Vallière (1767) are a corrupt version of her correspondence with the maréchal de Bellefonds. Of modern works on the subject see Arsène Houssaye, Mlle de la Vallière et Mme de Montespan (1860); Jules Lair, Louise de la Vallière (3rd ed., 1902, Eng. trans., 1908); and C. Bonnet, Documents inédits sur Mme de la Vallière (1904).