Portrait by Charles van Loo, 1747
|Queen consort of France|
|Tenure||4 September 1725 – 24 June 1768|
|Born||23 June 1703|
Trzebnica, Silesia, Habsburg Monarchy (now Poland)
|Died||24 June 1768 65) (aged|
Versailles, Yvelines, France
Louis XV of France (m. 1725)
|Father||Stanislaus I of Poland|
Maria Karolina Zofia Felicja Leszczyńska (Polish: [ˈmarja lɛʂˈtʂɨj̃ska] ; 23 June 1703 – 24 June 1768), also known as Marie Leczinska (French: [maʁi lɛɡzɛ̃ska] ), was a Polish princess and Queen consort of France from 1725 until 1768 by marriage to Louis XV. The daughter of King Stanislaus I of Poland and Catherine Opalińska, her 42-year service was the longest of any queen in French history. A devout Roman Catholic throughout her life, Marie was popular among the French people for her generosity and introduced many Polish customs to the royal court at Versailles. She was the grandmother of Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X of France.
Maria Karolina Zofia Felicja Leszczyńska (h. Wieniawa)was the second daughter of Stanislaus I Leszczyński and his wife, Catherine Opalińska. She had an elder sister, Anna Leszczyńska, who died of pneumonia in 1717.
Maria's early life was troubled by her father's political misfortune. Ironically, the hopeless political career of king Stanislaus was eventually the reason why his daughter Maria was chosen as the bride of King Louis XV of France. Devoid of political connections, his daughter was viewed by the French as being free from the burden of international alliances.
She was born in Trzebnica (German : Trebnitz) in Lower Silesia, the year before her father was made king of Poland by Charles XII of Sweden, who had invaded the country in 1704. In 1709, her father was deposed when the Swedish army lost the military upper hand in Poland, and the family was granted refuge by Charles XII in the Swedish city of Kristianstad in Scania. During the escape, Marie was separated from the rest of her family; she was later found with her nurse hiding in a crib in a stable, although another version claims it was actually a cave in an old mineshaft. In Sweden, the family was welcomed by the queen dowager Hedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp and became popular members of society life on the estates of the nobility around Kristianstad. In 1712, they made an official visit to Medevi, the spa of the Queen Dowager. During this period in her life, Marie began speaking Swedish, with a Scanian accent. As Queen of France, she was known to welcome Swedish ambassadors to France with the phrase "Welcome, Dearest Heart!" in Swedish.
In 1714, Charles XII gave them permission to live in his fiefdom of Zweibrücken in the Holy Roman Empire, where they were supported by the income of Zweibrücken: they lived there until the death of Charles XII in 1718.Zweibrücken then passed to a cousin of his. These lands were parallel to the confiscated Polish properties of Stanislaus. Stanislaus appealed to the Regent of France, the Duke of Orléans, and the Duke of Lorraine for help, with the Queen of Sweden acting as his mediator.
In 1718, with the support of the Duke of Lorraine, the family was allowed to settle in Wissembourg in the province of Alsace, which had been annexed by France, a place suggested by Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, a nephew of Louis XIV and Regent of the Kingdom of France during Louis XV's minority. The family lived a modest life in a large town house at the expense of the French Regent.
Their lifestyle in Wissembourg was regarded as very below standard for a royal at that time; they lived in a small house, and could not pay the salary of their small retinue from which a few "served as an apology for a guard of honour", and the jewels of the former queen Catherine were reportedly held as security by a moneylender.
While her mother and grandmother Anna Leszczyńska (1660–1727) reportedly suffered from a certain degree of bitterness over their exile and loss of position which worsened their relationship with Stanislaus, whom they occasionally blamed for their exile, Marie, on contrast, was close to her father and spent a lot of time conversing with him, though she was evidently of a more rational nature: evidently, Marie "possessed the gift of suffering in silence and of never wearying others with her troubles", and was said to have developed "a profound and intense piety" which gave "to her youthful mind the maturity of a woman who no longer demands happiness".
Marie was not described as a beauty; instead her characteristics in the marriage market were stated as those of being pleasant, well-educated, and graceful in manner and movement.In 1720, she was suggested as a bride to Louis Henri de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, (who preferred being and was known as the Duke of Bourbon, rather than Prince of Condé) but her intended mother-in-law refused to give her consent. The cavalry regiment provided by the Regent for the protection of the family included the officer Marquis de Courtanvaux, who fell in love with Marie and asked the Regent to be created a duke in order to ask for her hand; but when the Regent refused, the marriage became impossible because of his lack of rank. Louis George, Margrave of Baden-Baden as well as the third Prince of Baden were suggested, but these negotiations fell through because of her insufficient dowry. Stanislaus unsuccessfully tried to arrange a marriage for her with the Count of Charolais, brother of the Duke of Bourbon. In 1724, she was suggested by Count d'Argensson as a bride for the new Duke of Orléans, but her intended mother-in-law wished for a dynastic match with political advantage.
In 1723, the Duke of Bourbon had become the Regent of France during the minority of Louis XV. The Regent was highly dominated by his lover, Madame de Prie. There were long-ongoing negotiations of a marriage between Marie and the now widowed Duke of Bourbon: Madame de Prie favored the match, as she did not perceive the reputedly unattractive Marie as a threat to her.The marriage negotiations, however, were soon overshadowed when a marriage for King Louis XV was given priority. That same year, the young king fell ill and, fearing the consequences of the unmarried king dying without an heir, the Duc suggested getting the young King married as soon as possible. Louis XV was already engaged, to Infanta Mariana Victoria of Spain, who had been brought to France as his future queen some years earlier and was referred to as the Infanta-Queen. However the Infanta was still a child, and could not be expected to conceive for several years; while Louis XV, being fifteen, had already hit puberty. After Louis fell seriously ill, there was a great fear that he would die before he had time to have an heir to the throne. Should that happen, the throne would pass to the Orléans line. This was an undesirable prospect for the Duke of Bourbon, who himself would in fact have preferred that the throne should pass to the Spanish line rather than to the Orléans line. The engagement between Louis XV and the Spanish Infanta was broken, and the latter was sent back to Spain, much to the chagrin of the Spanish. The Duke of Bourbon and Madame de Prie began negotiations for the immediate marriage of the King to Marie.
Marie was on a list of 99 eligible European princesses to marry the young king. She was not the first choice on the list. She had been placed there initially because she was a Catholic princess and therefore fulfilled the minimum criteria, but was removed early on when the list was reduced from 99 to 17, for being too poor.However, when the list of 17 (including Barbara of Portugal, Princess Charlotte Amalie of Denmark, Elisabeth Therese of Lorraine and Enrichetta d'Este) was further reduced to four, the preferred choices presented numerous problems. Anne and Amelia of Great Britain, who were considered with the understanding that they would convert to the Catholic faith upon marriage, were favored by the Duke of Bourbon and Madame de Prie because it was supported by their political financiers, the firm of Paris Brothers Joseph Paris Duverney. Cardinal Fleury easily prevented the British match because of religious reasons. The last two were the sisters of the Duke of Bourbon, Henriette-Louise and Therese-Alexandrine, whom the King himself refused to marry because of the disapproval of Cardinal Fleury. Cardinal Fleury himself favored a match with Princess Charlotte of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg, which was supported by the grandfather of Louis XV, the King of Savoy, through his spy the Princess of Carignan, Maria Vittoria of Savoy.
In these complicated disputes over the choice of a royal marriage partner, Marie Leszczyńska eventually emerged as a choice acceptable to both the party of the Duke of Bourbon and Madame de Prie, as well as the party of Cardinal Fleury, mainly because she was politically uncontroversial and lacked any of the alliances which could harm either party.At this point, there were already negotiations of marriage between Marie and the Duke of Bourbon. The Duke of d'Argensson had already left a favorable report of her, and the groundwork had been done. Cardinal Fleury accepted the choice as Marie posed no threat to him because of her lack of connections, while the Duke of Bourbon and Madame de Prie, precisely because she lacked any personal power base, expected her to be indebted to them for her position. Marie was, finally, chosen because she was a healthy adult Catholic princess ready to procreate immediately after the wedding. Reportedly, Madame de Prie had a flattering portrait painted of Marie, in which she was deliberately made to look like the King's favorite portrait of his mother, and when he was shown it, he was impressed and exclaimed: "she is the loveliest of them all!", and became enthusiastic of the match, an episode which attracted some attention.
The formal proposal was made on 2 April 1725. The announcement of the wedding was not received well at the royal court. Marie's father Stanislaus had been a monarch for only a short time and she was thought to be a poor choice of inferior status not worthy of being queen of France.The Dowager Duchess of Lorraine, sister of the former Duke of Orléans, was also insulted that her own daughter Elisabeth-Therese had not been chosen. The nobility and the court looked upon the future queen as an upstart intruder, the ministers as a cause to diplomatic trouble with Spain and Russia, whose princesses had been refused in favor of Marie, and the general public was also reportedly initially dissatisfied with the fact that France would gain "from this marriage neither glory nor honor, riches nor alliances." There were rumors before the wedding that the bride was ugly, epileptic and sterile. The 6 May 1725, Marie was forced to undergo a medical examination, which ruled out epilepsy and also gave reassuring reports about her menstruation and ability to procreate. In the marriage contract, the same terms were given to her as was previously to the Spanish Infanta, and she was thus guaranteed fifty thousand crowns for rings and jewelry, two hundred and fifty thousand crowns upon her wedding, and the further guarantee of an annual widow allowance of twenty thousand crowns.
The marriage by proxy took place on 15 August 1725 in the Cathedral of Strasbourg, Louis XV represented by his cousin the Duke of Orléans, Louis le Pieux. Upon her marriage, Maria's Polish name was modified into French as Marie. Furthermore, despite her surname being difficult to spell or to pronounce for the French, it was still commonly used by commoners. She was escorted on her way by Mademoiselle de Clermont, seven ladies-in-waiting, two maids-of-honour and numerous equerries and pages in a long train of coaches; however, she was not welcomed by triumphal entries, diplomatic greetings or the other official celebrations, as was normally the custom upon the arrival of a foreign princess upon a royal marriage.Marie made a good impression upon the public from the beginning, such as when she handed out largesse on her way to her wedding in Fontainebleau.
Louis and Marie first met on the eve of their wedding, which took place on 5 September 1725, at the Château de Fontainebleau. Marie was twenty-two years old and Louis fifteen. The young couple was reported to have fallen in love at first sight. The relationship between Marie and Louis was initially described as a happy one, and for the first eight years of the marriage, Louis XV was faithful to her. Louis XV had been very impatient to marry her, was reportedly flattered to have a twenty two-year old wife at his age, and refused to allow any criticism of her appearance.In August 1727, Marie gave birth to her first children, twins named Louise Élisabeth and Anne Henriette, at the Palace of Versailles. The king was reportedly delighted, stating that after it had been said that he could not be a father, he had suddenly become the father of two. Cardinal Fleury, however, was much more displeased, and decided that until the queen had given birth to a son, she would not be allowed to accompany the king on his trips but stay at Versailles. A year later, another daughter, Marie Louise was born, much to the disappointment of the King. The long-awaited Dauphin, Louis, was born on 4 September 1729 to the immense relief of the country, whose royal family had a history of failing to establish a secure male line of succession. In all, Marie had 10 live children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. Her children all regarded her as a role model of virtue, particularly the daughters, though Marie herself reportedly was not noted to show much affection toward them, being phlegmatic in her nature.
Though not regarded as ugly, Marie was seen as plain with not much more than her fresh and healthy complexion in her favor; this faded due to her many pregnancies, but her piety prevented her from consenting to indulge in vanity in order make herself attractive.In her behavior she was described as incurably shy and timid of her husband; she considered it her duty to show him grateful reverence and was not able to relax enough to entertain him or flirt with him. Once, for example, she could find no other way to entertain him than to suggest him to kill the flies in the window panes. Louis XV, who suffered from restlessness and needed to be entertained, eventually became more inclined to listen when Marie was unfavorably compared to other women, and Cardinal Fleury, who wished to prevent Marie from eventually getting any influence over the king, favored the idea of the king taking a mistress as long as she was apolitical.
Louis XV eventually became a notorious womaniser. In 1733, he entered into his first infidelity, with Louise Julie de Mailly; until 1737, this relationship was not official, and she was known at court as the Fair Unknown.These years, Marie unsuccessfully tried to find out who the mistress was and did display her displeasure over the state of affairs, but the adultery had the support of Cardinal Fleury, because de Mailly was not interested in politics, and after the first years of the king's adultery, Marie became resigned to it. After the difficult birth of Princess Louise in 1737, which nearly took her life, Marie was advised by the doctors that another pregnancy may end her life, and from 1738, she refused Louis entrance to her bedroom.
In parallel with this, Louise Julie de Mailly was officially recognized as the king's royal mistress and favorite at court, and the relationship between the king and queen discontinued in all but name; though they continued to perform their ceremonial roles side by side, the king paid only purely ceremonial visits to her rooms and no longer participated in her card games, and the court, wary of her loss of the king's affections, only attended to her when court representation required.Louise Julie de Mailly was followed by Pauline Félicité de Mailly (1739), Marie Anne de Mailly (1742) and Diane Adélaïde de Mailly (1742). During the serious illness of Louis XV in Metz in August 1744, when he was believed to be dying, Marie was given his permission to join him, and was cheered by the supporting public along her journey, but when she arrived, he no longer wished to see her. She and the clergy supported the idea of the king exiling his mistress Marie Anne de Mailly and her sister and the idea that the king should make a public regret for his adultery, but this did not improve their marriage.
Finally, Madame de Pompadour was presented at court in 1745, and was given such an important and influential position at court until her death in 1764, that she somewhat eclipsed the queen. The lovers of Louis were often given positions in the court of Marie, in order for them to have a permanent access and official excuse to remain at court, which placed Marie in a difficult position. She regarded the first official mistress, Louise Julie de Mailly, as the most hurtful because she was the first one, but she disliked Marie Anne de Mailly on a more personal level because Marie Anne was haughty and insolent.In contrast to the other official mistresses, Marie had a moderately friendly and cordial relationship to Madame de Pompadour, who always treated the Queen with deference and respect, though Marie did (unsuccessfully) oppose Pompadour's appointment as a lady-in-waiting in 1756. In contrast, Marie herself seems never to have had extramarital relations. During this time France was a powerful nation and often in conflict with Austria; the Austrian ambassador to France, Florimond Claude, Comte de Mercy-Argenteau, was said to have been romantically involved with the Queen, but this seems highly unlikely and was disregarded as court gossip.
Queen Marie never managed to develop political influence. After her marriage, her appointed court consisted of a great number of followers of the Duke of Bourbon, among them Madame de Prie herself, the Duchess de Béthune, and the Marquise de Matignon, who were among her twelve ladies-in-waiting or dame du palais ; the Duke's own sister, Marie Anne de Bourbon (1697–1741), became her Surintendante de la Maison the la Reine and Paris de Verney was appointed as her secretary.Cardinal de Fleury, who had been Louis's tutor, was appointed her grand almoner.
Marie had been given advice by her father to always loyally stand by the Duke of Bourbon, to whom she owed her marriage and position, and it was a favor to the Duke that Marie made her first attempt to interfere in politics.On 17 December 1725, the Duke of Bourbon, Madame de Prie, and Paris de Verney attempted to banish Cardinal de Fleury through a plot. On their instruction, the queen called on the king to come to her chambers, where the Duke de Bourbon was present. The doors were locked to ensure secrecy and the duke presented the king with a report from their ambassador in Rome which blamed Fleury for the French failure in a dispute with the Pope. Bourbon asked the king if they should write a reply, which the King refused without the presence of Fleury. Meanwhile, Cardinal Fleury learned of the plot to discredit him and left the palace. The Duke and de Prie planned to use the absence of Fleury to have him confined to an abbey, and gave Marie the task of informing Louis XV that the absent Fleury wished to enter an Abbey and leave his position at court. This led to a crisis, when the king gave Bourbon the choice to either expel Madame de Prie and Paris de Verney or be removed from his post of prime minister. This incident led to Cardinal Fleury categorizing queen Marie as his opponent, and his decision to oust the ministry of the Duke of Bourbon. Cardinal Fleury warned the king that no woman should be allowed to participate in state affairs, and that listening to women's advises would lead to disaster.
In June 1726, Fleury convinced the king to deprive the Duke of Bourbon of his ministry. Madame de Prie immediately enlisted the queen to speak to the king in favor of Bourbon.She protested but agreed and reportedly spoke passionately about the affair to the king, but she was unable to succeed, as the king reacted very negatively to her attempt to interfere in politics after the preparation from Fleury that women should not be allowed to participate in state affairs. They day following the fall of the Duke de Bourbon's ministry, Louis XV stated to queen Marie that he demanded of her to let herself be directed by Cardinal Fleury in the future with the words:
Marie's attempt to participate in state affairs during the events of 1726 resulted in a crisis in her relationship with Louis XV, and she sought advice on how to behave from the Princess of Carignano, whom unbeknownst to her was a spy in service of Savoy.The princess' advice was that as Queen of France, it was Marie's duty was not to involve herself in political intrigues and plots, but to act as an example of virtue and piety and a role model of a "Catholic consort of the Most Christian King". Queen Marie accepted the advice and followed it for the rest of her life, as she was never again involved in any political activity. After the 1726 crisis and until the birth of a dauphin in 1729, Cardinal Fleury and the Princess of Carignano made long running preparations to replace Marie, preferably with Charlotte of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg, if she should die in childbirth.
Marie reconciled with Cardinal Fleury, whom she kept contact with through letters and humbly entrusted to advise her how to behave in order to please the king.Fleury and Marie developed a cordial relationship, and he often granted her his support when he estimated that her request to the king was harmless; such as in 1742, when the Cardinal, on her request, persuaded the king to allow her to appoint her personal friend Amable-Gabrielle de Villars as Dame d'atours . Her political activity after 1726 was limited to asking Louis XV to grant a pension or a promotion to a friend, and she often used Cardinal Fleury as a mediator to achieve this.
Despite her lack of influence, she did have political views, and also some indirect political importance. During the War of the Polish Succession in 1733–1736, she supported her father's candidacy to the Polish throne, and upon her father's demand,she did her best to encourage Cardinal Fleury to support her father's candidacy, though she herself expressed to the Cardinal that she had never wished for the war and that she was an innocent cause of it because the French wished to enhance her dynastic status. After the war, her father was given the Duchy of Lorraine because he was the father-in-law of the king of France, and the Duchy became part of France after the death of her father who became Duke of Lorraine, thus making herself indirectly useful in the political arena. As a devout Catholic, queen Marie gave her passive support to the so-called Dévots party at court, supported the bishops in their conflicts with the Parliament of Paris, and expressed sympathy for the Jesuit order in their conflict with the crown. It was also a fact, that if the king should die before his son was an adult, then she would in accordance with custom have become regent of France until his 13th birthday, which made Marie a potential regent from the birth of the dauphin until his 13th-birthday, a fact which would have been well known at court.
Queen Marie was initially not respected by the royal court, where she was regarded as low-born. Her lack of dynastic status and lack of connections left her without a political power base, and she did not manage to acquire any personal or political influence. She was not credited with any personal significance and not given much personal attention outside of her ceremonial role as queen.
As queen, Marie Leszczyńska performed her ceremonial role in strict accordance with formal court etiquette and regularly and punctually fulfilled all representational duties that the court life at Versailles demanded of her. She valued the ritualized pomp and court presentations in order to increase her dignity and win the respect of the court nobility, which was necessary because she had no prestigious dynastic connections of birth and was thus initially seen as low born by them:her successor as queen, Marie Antoinette, was to ignore many of these rules, and once pointed out, that in contrast to her predecessor queen Marie Leszczyńska, it was not necessary for her to enhance her status and dignity, since her dynastic status was evident by birth, and that she could therefore afford to relax etiquette without losing respect.
Marie was given an allowance of 100.000 livres for pleasure, charity and gambling, a sum which was in reality often irregularly paid and also insufficient, as she was often in debt.Though she had simple habits - her apartments at Versailles were not redecorated after 1737 - her favorite game, cavagnole , often placed her in debt, and the King was normally unwilling to pay these off for her.
She accepted that her courtiers were appointed because of rank rather than personal preference, and conversed politely with those who were in attendance.However, though she was careful to always fulfill her representational role, she never participated in court life outside of what was necessary to fulfill her ceremonial duties, and when they were done she preferred to retire to her private apartments with an intimate circle of friends. Among her own private friends were her grand almoner Cardinal de Luynes, Duke Charles Philippe d'Albert de Luynes and her Dame d'honneur Marie Brûlart. Her other favorite lady in waiting was her Dame d'atour , Françoise de Mazarin, who supported Marie during the affair between her cousin, Louise Julie de Mailly, and the king. Marie's private circle of friends was completed with the addition of President Hénault (her Surintendant since 1753) and Comte d'Argenson, whom she had asked not to address her with her title and with whom she also consulted when she wished to have a pension or a promotion given to a protegé. Like her mother, Marie maintained a political correspondence with Margareta Gyllenstierna, the spouse of Arvid Horn, after she had made her acquaintance during her stay in Sweden.
Queen Marie eventually did manage to win the respect of the court nobility by her strict adherence to court etiquette, which made her opinion at least formally important. In 1747, Voltaire was banished from the royal court through her influence. The reason were two incidents, both of which insulted the queen: During one long night of gambling, Voltaire's lover, Emilie du Chatelet, lost a fortune at the queen's gambling table, during which Voltaire whispered to her in English that she had been cheated. This was regarded as an insult to the queen, because it denounced her guests as cheats; Voltaire could have been arrested for his ill-timed remark.Shortly afterward, Voltaire wrote a poem in honor of his patron, the royal mistress Madame de Pompadour, in which he alluded to the sexual relationship between Pompadour and the king. This insulted the queen and led to the banishment of Voltaire from court.
When her first daughter-in-law died in 1746, the queen, very fond and loving of her only son, opposed the selection of his next spouse, the Duchess Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, because she was the daughter of her father's rival, Frederick Augustus Wettin of Saxony, King August III of Poland. Her dislike of the match was known but ignored, as she had no dynastic connections.Initially, this issue caused some friction between the queen and her new daughter-in-law. However, the friction was soon overcome, reportedly because Marie-Josèphe was an admirer of the Queen's father. In honour of him, several of the queen's grandsons received the name Stanislaus (or Stanislas in French) at their christening.
Marie played some part as a cultural patron. Marie was the benefactor of the painter Jean-Marc Nattier, whom she commissioned in 1748 to paint the last portrait she ever sat for, an unusual one as it was informal. It was a success, was printed and sold in prints. It was also her favorite portrait, which she had reproduced to give to friends. She was a great lover of music and painting and the promoter of many artists. She met the castrato Farinelli in 1737, and the young Mozart in 1764, whom she found very charming. During his visit to Versailles, she acted as an interpreter for her spouse and family who did not understand German. Her major contribution to life at Versailles was the weekly Polish choral concerts.
Queen Marie maintained the role and reputation of a simple and dignified Catholic queen. She functioned as an example of Catholic piety and was famed for her generosity to the poor and needy through her philanthropy, which made her very popular among the public her entire life as queen.
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Marie Leszczyńska died on 24 June 1768 at the age of 65. She had enjoyed great popularity among the public. She was buried at the Basilica of St Denis, and her heart was entombed at the Church of Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours in Nancy (Lorraine).
|Ancestors of Marie Leszczyńska|
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Marie LeszczyńskaBorn: 23 June 1703 Died: 24 June 1768
Title last held byMaria Theresa of Spain
| Queen consort of France |
4 September 1725 – 24 June 1768
Title next held byMarie Antoinette