Monday, July 25, 2011

Consort Profile: Queen Marie Leszczyńska of Poland

His Most Christian Majesty King Louis XV of France probably does not have the reputation of being the greatest husband in history but he did have a few years as a devoted spouse and he had an admirable queen consort in the person of his Polish wife Marie Leszczynska of Poland. She was born in Trzebnica, Poland on June 23, 1703 the second daughter of King Stanislaw I of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and his wife Queen Catherine Opalinska. Her early years were spent being swept along by the political turmoil swirling around her father. Polish politics was never for the faint of heart and it was a constant struggle for King Stanislaw to keep, retain or re-take his throne depending on the situation. Her father had been placed on the throne by the warrior-King Charles XII of Sweden and there were rivalries within and the threat of another partition from without on the part of Prussia, Russia and Austria. Because of this situation Marie spent much of her childhood outside of Poland, in Sweden or in France. While in France she was even proposed to by the Prince of Conde, but nothing came of it.

However, the idea of a marriage with the Bourbons of France did not go away. The King of Poland was in need of any sort of political support and individuals in France began to consider Princess Marie a possibility too. The young King Louis XV was in need of a wife and yet every possibility seemed to bring too much political baggage to the table. Poland, however, had very few friends and thus a marriage with a Polish princess would not bring with it any unwanted entanglements. The Prince of Conde had no hard feelings and supported the match as did Cardinal Fleury who had replaced the prince as prime minister to Louis XV. She was young, pretty, good natured and politically neutral, in short, she came to be seen as the ideal choice. She was older than the King (22 years to his 15) but not excessively so and could be expected on to fulfill her duty to secure the succession right away. So, on August 15, 1725 the two were married by proxy at the cathedral of Strasbourg with the Duke of Orleans standing in for the King. The couple did not actually meet in person until the day before their face-to-face ceremony on September 5, 1725.

As is often the case, the new Queen Marie faced her share of difficulties after coming to France and marrying the King. Some of the more elitist elements at court thought a marriage to a Polish princess whose father only briefly and intermittently held a throne beneath the dignity of a Bourbon monarch of France. Ugly rumors were spread about the new Queen but, as hurtful as these must have been, Marie never showed any sign in public that such was the case. The common people of France were impressed with her from the start as she gave out alms to the poor on the way to her wedding. Nor were their any complaints from King Louis who fell instantly in love with the young Polish princess and she with him. Their initial life together seemed idyllic and so it was. They were infatuated with each other and in no time at all the new Queen consort was pregnant with twins. In 1727 she gave birth to two girls; Princess Louise Elisabeth and Princess Henriette Anne at Versailles. A son, of course, was what was hoped for, but the twins were healthy, the couple still young and in love and there was no great worry that more children would follow and France would have a son and heir.

The snobs at court still smirk at their Polish queen but she proved them all wrong by keeping the affection of her husband and did indeed give birth to eight more children; six girls and two boys including the sought-after Dauphin Louis Ferdinand. Despite all the negativity directed at the Queen, she was not lacking in intelligence nor in diligence. The elaborate protocol of Versailles frustrated many a royal consort but the Queen worked hard to master it and if the gossiping bothered her she certainly never let it show but carried herself always with grace and dignity. However, her many pregnancies caused the age difference between her and her husband to become more evident and the lustful King Louis began to wander. Her feelings had not changed and she was hurt by the string of mistresses Louis XV began to take but, to her credit, she never made a scene over his affairs, always remaining polite and friendly.

The Queen was a good natured woman, not at all extravagant and concerned about the plight of the least of the French people. She was very artistically inclined and loved to paint and take singing lessons. Her passion for music caused her to bring Polish choral music to the chapel of Versailles and she was quite impressed with meeting an up-and-coming young composer named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. She was sufficiently liberal in her thinking to secure a pension for the “Enlightenment” writer Voltaire, but she certainly did not share all of his views. Queen Marie was, for instance, sincerely religious and turned her back on the more licentious members of the court and, for the most part, stuck to her own little circle of friends who shared her commitment to the faith. Madame Pompadour, most famous of the mistresses of Louis XV, may have eclipsed her at court but Queen Marie never cared about the favor of such people of whose behavior she disapproved. She also had the comfort of knowing, which she did, that outside the confines of Versailles she was the most popular member of the French Royal Family. It therefore came as a great blow to the people of France when Queen Marie died on June 24, 1768 at the age of 65. She had been the longest-serving Queen consort in French history and still managed to outlive Madame Pompadour. Her children were heartbroken as they had all been very close to their mother and even King Louis, for all his philandering, was not unmoved. Under quite difficult circumstances she had been a model queen consort, a credit to France and Poland.


  1. I remember someone once bringing up the Princess Diana marriage fiasco at a family dinner (per usual, the speaker was taking her side), and my mother commented that she wondered if the traditional way women dealt with infidelity was not better for their families, society, and even themselves. JFK's mother, in her view, seemed the greater lady than the Princess of Wales.

    I cannot say how I would react myself to faithlessness in a man, but I do know that all experienced women I have met, including ex-hippies and other former liberals, have only come to see that the women of past times, whom they once so despised for spinelessness, had always been right in the end.

    Thank you, beloved daughter of Polska, for your example of strength, dignity, and piety, and thank you, o mad one for the article! :)

  2. I would agree and of course Diana was not pure as the wind-driven snow either. "He did it first" never seemed like a justifiable defense to me. I think it may be different for ruling families where the scandal would cause more pain for more people than if those involved just kept a 'stiff upper lip' and carried on. Certainly it would take more strength to endure than to do otherwise.

    That being said, another reason I remain a confirmed bachelor is that I know I would come unhinged under such circumstances and I don't think there should be a double-standard for men vs. women. Wrong is wrong no matter who does it. However, the fact that I could not endure such a thing only makes me marvel all the more at those who have worked through the pain because of loyalty to a greater sense of duty.

  3. Versailles was built by the Sun King to keep his nobility in check. Richelieu was the one that started this tread of slowing seeping the power away from the nobility and giving it to the king.

    Marie was the one to push her husband out of their wedding bed, then he started to take mistresses. Until the time of the Pompadour, many of his former mistresses embarrassed the crown, and some even insulted the queen.

    The queen's personality didn't jive with the way of the french court. I believe she was a good person, but not suited to being a queen of Versailles when it was at it's cultural peak of influence.

    The Pompadour it is said to helped calm the king down, and even helped to repair the riffed between the king and queen caused by the former official mistress. She respected the queen, and even thinking so much to send the queen flowers when no one else bothered.

    The queen was mainly forgotten at court, with her secluding herself with the most boring circle of people she could find. This was the time of the Enlightenment, and when in my opinion France's culture zenith. I am talking about style, Rococo, and when the entire continent spoke French because it was the thing to do.

    It is said that the sexual relationship between the king and the Pompadour only lasted five years, and the next fifteen they were great friends. I like to believe that in same way the king's friendship with the Pompadour also was a friendship to the queen. It was she who remind Louis to be kind to his wife, and that at court was not embarrassed by his official mistress until the time of the Madam Du Berry arrived and mistreating the queen.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...