Atheism on the sly

March 31, 2010

It’s 1715, and Louis XIV, The Sun King is near to setting.  The Duke de Saint-Simon is concerned about the state of the realm after the great king, whom he detests, has passed from the scene.  The Dauphin (the direct heir to the throne) is dead, and the most appropriate successor is only three years old:  There must be a regency while he grows up to his majority.

The Regent will, of course, be the Duke D’Orleans, the son of Louis’ brother, Philipe d’Orleans, who was simply known as Monsieur.  (He was, I believe, a homosexual, something that was tolerated in the Court for a variety of nefarious reasons. )   The Regent, an intelligent man with many good qualities, is also a bit of wag, and takes pleasure at thumbing his nose at convention.  During a long church service with much music, he was seen to be assiduously following along in a prayer book.  When congratulated afterwards by an old family retainer, he responded with a laugh, “You are a great ninny!  I was reading Rabelais – and he showed the book’s cover.”  Saint-Simon comments that this was all for show since he was quite happy to attend the mass, Rabelais or no,  being a great lover of good music.

D’Orleans was a freethinker, however, and this could cause difficulties.  Here Saint-Simon counsels the future Regent on how to discreetly maintain his atheism, if atheist he must be:

Most damaging of all, I continued, would be to proclaim his godlessness or anything approaching atheism:  for it would make enemies of all religious bodies and at the same time antagonize every decent person who cared for morality, sobriety, and religion.  He would then find turning against himself that licentious maxim which he was so fond of quoting – namely that religion is a bogy which clever men have invented in order to govern and which is therefore necessary for Kings and republics.  If for that reason only, he might think it in his best interests to respect the Church and not bring it into disrepute.  I dwelt long on this important subject, adding that he need not be a hypocrite, only avoid plain speaking, observe the conventions (which was not hard if one confined oneself to appearances), refuse to countenance improper jests or remarks, and generally live like an honest gentleman who respects his country’s faith and conceals the fact that he, personally, sets no store by it.


Newlyweds

January 6, 2010

 

Life in the 17th century royal courts was a highly regimented affair.  The ruling class had a lot of rules to play by!  No, not a free and easy existence.

Here’s a snippet from the memoirs of Saint-Simon about the marriage night of Phillip V of Spain, Louis XIV’s grandson.  He left France to take the Spanish throne, precipitating the lengthy Wars of the Spanish Succession – Blenheim being a glorious victory for Louis’ opponents, led by Winston Churchill’s ancestor – and searched about for a bride.  He was about 18 – he found a suitable Savoyard duchess.  She was 13.  I have added some italics.

After a long and disagreeable supper, the King and Queen withdrew. Then feelings which had been kept in during supper overflowed. The Queen wept for her Piedmontese women. Like a child, as she was, she thought herself lost in the hands of ladies so insolent; and when it was time to go to bed, she said flatly that she would not go, and that she wished to return home. Everything was done to console her; but the astonishment and embarrassment were great indeed when it was found that all was of no avail. The King had undressed, and was awaiting her. Madame des Ursins was at length obliged to go and tell him the resolution the Queen had taken. He was piqued and annoyed. He had until that time lived with the completest regularity; which had contributed to make him find the Princess more to his taste than he might otherwise have done. He was therefore affected by her ‘fantaisie’, and by the same reason easily persuaded that she would not keep to it beyond the first night. They did not see each other therefore until the morrow, and after they were dressed. It was lucky that by the Spanish custom no one was permitted to be present when the newly-married pair went to bed; or this affair, which went no further than the young couple, Madame des Ursins, and one or two domestics, might have made a very unpleasant noise.  [Unlike the French custom, which was to have witnesses present in the room as the newlyweds ‘enjoyed’ their first sexual intimacy, and the consummation of their marriage.  After all, the father of the heir must not be in doubt!]

Madame des Ursins consulted with two of the courtiers, as to the best measures to be adopted with a child who showed so much force and resolution. The night was passed in exhortations and in promises upon what had occurred at the supper; and the Queen consented at last to remain Queen. The Duke of Medina-Sidonia and Count San Estevan were consulted on the morrow. They were of opinion that in his turn the King, in order to mortify her and reduce her to terms, should not visit the Queen on the following night. This opinion was acted upon. The King and Queen did not see each other in private that day. In the evening the Queen was very sorry. Her pride and her little vanity were wounded; perhaps also she had found the King to her taste.

The ladies and the grand seigneurs who had attended at the supper were lectured for what had occurred there. Excuses, promises, demands for pardon, followed; all was put right; the third day was tranquil, and the third night still more agreeable to the young people. On the fourth day they went to Barcelona, where only fetes and pleasures awaited them. Soon after they set out for Madrid.