Ah Asahina, I was wondering if you could help me with something. I was reading about the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV and one interesting event was the reception of an embassy from Siam in 1686. It was very rare that such a formal visit to France originated from such a distant location and contemporary French accounts show that people were greatly intrigued by the culture and mannerisms of these foreigners. For the fabric patterns of the Siamese diplomats ended up being quite influential and Siamoise style fabric became quite the fashion trend. Could you talk a little bit about the Siamese side of this diplomatic mission and cultural exchange?
Sure thing! The mission was undertaken by ambassador Kosa Pan during the reign of King Narai the Great, the last king of the Prasat Thong dynasty of Ayuthaya. The policies of King Narai and his chief minister Constantine Phaulkon focused on establishing international diplomatic relations with many distant states including France.
Lets talk a little bit more about the political context for the period. The reign of King Narai and Prime Minister Constantine Paulkhon is known for being one of the most prosperous times in Ayutthayan history and it certainly marks its height as as renown state on the international level. The Prasat Thong period was marked by general openness in terms of foreign policy and trade and King Narai increased that even more.
Unlike other kings who wanted to increase the power of Ayutthaya through military expansion in Southeast Asia, King Narai instead emphasized making Ayutthaya a powerful hub for global trade.
Louise de La Vallière (Françoise Louise de La Baume Le Blanc; 6 August 1644 – 7 June 1710) was a mistress of Louis XIV of France from 1661 to 1667. She later became the Duchess of La Vallière and Duchess of Vaujours in her own right. Unlike her rival, Madame de Montespan, she has no surviving descendants. Louise was also very religious and she led a religious penance for herself near the end of her life.
Louise de La Vallière was born in Tours, the daughter of an officer, Laurent de La Baume Le Blanc (who took the name of La Vallière from a small estate near Amboise) and Françoise Le Provost. Laurent de La Vallière died in 1651; his widow remarried in 1655, to Jacques de Courtarvel, marquis de Saint-Rémy, and joined the court of Gaston, Duke of Orléans, at Blois.
Louise was brought up with the younger princesses (the future Grand Duchess of Tuscany, Duchess of Alençon, and Duchess of Savoy), the half-sisters of La Grande Mademoiselle. After the death of Gaston, Duke of Orléans, his widow moved with her daughters to the Luxembourg Palace in Paris and took the sixteen-year-old Louise with them.
Through the influence of a distant kinswoman, Mme de Choisy, Louise was named Maid of honour to Princess Henrietta Anne of England, sister of King Charles II of England, who was about her own age and had just married Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, the King’s brother. Henrietta (known as Madame) was extremely attractive and joined the court at Fontainebleau in 1661. Her friendly relationship with King Louis XIV, her brother-in-law, caused some scandal and fed rumors of a romantic affair.
To counter these rumors, the King and Madame decided that Louis should pay court elsewhere as a front, andMadame selected three young ladies to “set in his path”, Louise among them. The Abbé de Choise reported that the seventeen-year-old girl “had an exquisite complexion, blond hair, blue eyes, a sweet smile … [and] an expression [at] once tender and modest." One of her legs was shorter than the other, so Louise wore specially made heels.
Louise had been at Fontainebleau only two months before becoming the king’s mistress. Although she was intended to divert attention from the dangerous flirtation between Louis and his sister-in-law, Louise and Louis soon fell in love. It was Louise’s first serious attachment and she was reportedly an innocent, religious-minded girl who initially brought neither coquetry nor self-interest to their secret relationship. She was not extravagant and was not interested in money or titles that could come from her situation; she wanted only the King’s love. Antonia Fraser writes that she was a "secret lover not a Maîtresse-en-titre like Barbara Villiers.”
Nicolas Fouquet’s curiosity in the matter was one of the causes of his disgrace, for, when he bribed Louise, the King mistakenly thought that Fouquet was attempting to take her as a lover.
In February 1662, the couple fell into conflict. Despite being directly questioned by the King, Louise refused to tell her lover about the affair between Henrietta and the comte de Guiche. Coinciding with this, Jacques-Benigne Bossuet delivered a series of Lenten sermons in which he condemned the immoral activities of the King through the example of King David’s adultery—and the pious girl’s conscience was troubled. She fled to the convent at Chaillot. Louis followed her there and convinced her to return to court. Her enemies—chief among them, Olympe Mancini, comtesse de Soissons, niece of Cardinal Mazarin—sought to orchestrate her downfall by bringing her liaison to the ears of Louis’s queen, Maria Theresa of Spain.
During her first pregnancy, Louise was removed from the Princess’ service and established in a lodging in the Palais Royal, where, on 19 December 1663, she gave birth to a son, Charles, who was taken immediately to Saint-Leu and given to two faithful servants of Jean-Baptiste Colbert. Despite the secrecy of the transfer, organised by a doctor Boucher who was present at the birth, the story quickly spread to Paris. The public scorn at a midnight mass on 24 December resulted in a distraught Louise escaping home from the church.
Concealment was practically abandoned after her return to court, and within a week of Anne of Austria’s death on 20 January 1666, La Vallière appeared at Mass beside Maria Theresa. Ashamed of her conduct, she treated the queen with humility and respect. In return, the queen was reportedly venomous towards her during the five-year affair, continuing even after the affair really ended—unaware that the king had taken another mistress.
After five years, Louise’s favour was waning. On 7 January 1665 she had given birth to a second son, Philippe, and on 27 December of that year she gave birth a third son, Louis;but the three children soon died, Charles on 15 July 1665, Philippe before the autumn of 1666 and Louis shortly after. A daughter was born at Vincennes on 2 October 1666. In May 1667, by letters patent confirmed by the Parlement de Paris, Louis XIV legitimised his daughter, who was named Marie Anne de Bourbon and was given the title of Mademoiselle de Blois. Louis XIV also made Louise a duchess and gave her the estate of Vaujours. As a duchess, Louise had the right to sit on a tabouret in the presence of the queen, which was a highly prized privilege. However, Louise was not impressed. She said her title seemed a kind of retirement present given to a servant who was retiring. Indeed she was correct, for Louis commented that legitimising their daughter and giving Louise an establishment “matched the affection he had had for her for six years”: in other words, an extravagant farewell present.
On 2 October of that year, she gave birth to their fifth child, a son named Louis, but by this time her place in the King’s affections had been usurped by Françoise-Athénaïs, marquise de Montespan, whom both she and the queen (both pregnant when the affair began) had thought of as a trusted friend. Under the pretense of her pregnancy, Louise was sent away to Versailles while the King and the court were at the scene of the war; however, she disobeyed the King’s orders and returned, throwing herself at his feet sobbing uncontrollably. In a strange twist of fate, she ended her relationship with the King in the same way in which she started: used initially as a decoy for Louis and “Madame”, Louise now became a decoy for her own successor, as Louis made her share the Marquise de Montespan’s apartments at the Tuileries to prevent the legal manœuvres of the Marquis de Montespan (who wanted to get his wife back) and to keep the court from gossiping.
Mme de Montespan demanded that Louise assist her with her toilette, and Louise did so without complaint. Whenever the king wished to travel with his real mistress, Athénaïs, he made both Louise and Athénaïs sit in the same carriage with the queen. Since Athénaïs was married, it meant that both the king and she were committing adultery, a mortal sin. Louise had refused a smokescreen marriage for this very reason. (In cases where one partner is unmarried, canon law of the Roman Catholic Church considered a carnal affair to be simply fornication.)
Mlle de La Vallière was the godmother of Athénaïs’ and Louis XIV’s first daughter, who was given the first name Louise. Louise hated being the decoy for Athénaïs and begged and wept often to be allowed to join a convent. She took to wearing a hair shirt, and the strain of being forced to live with her former lover and his current mistress caused her to lose weight and become increasingly haggard.
She attempted to leave in 1671, fleeing to the convent of Ste Marie de Chaillot, only to be compelled (once more by order of the King) to return. In 1674, she was finally permitted to enter the Carmelite convent in the Faubourg Saint-Jacques in Paris under the name of Sister Louise of Mercy.
When Louise left the Court, the new Duchess of Orléans (born Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate) took care of the education of her only surviving son, Louis. He later was involved in a scandal with his uncle Philippe de France and Philippe’s favourite, the Chevalier de Lorraine, and died in 1683 while in exile in Flandres.His loving sister and aunt were greatly affected by his death, while his father did not shed a tear. His mother, still obsessed with the sin of her relationship with the king, said upon hearing of her son’s death:
I ought to weep for his birth far more than [for] his death.
Madame de Maintenon asked Louise if she had fully considered the discomforts that awaited her at the Carmelite convent which ended up including being forbidden to wear the shoes that allowed her to walk without a limp. “When I shall be suffering at the convent”, Louise replied, “I shall only have to remember what they made me suffer here, and all the pain shall seem light to me.” The day she left, she threw herself at the feet of the Queen, begging forgiveness: “My crimes were public, my repentance must be public, too.”
She took the final vows a year later, accepting the black veil from the queen herself, who kissed and blessed her. The queen already had a habit of spending brief sojourns at the convent for spiritual consolation and repose. Interestingly, later in life, Mme de Montespan went to Louise for advice on living a pious life. Louise forgave her, and counselled her on the mysteries of divine grace. She died in 1710. The Duchy of La Vallière went to her daughter Marie Anne as did the fortune she had acquired during her life as Louis’s mistress.
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.