Queen Marie by Charles van Loo, 1748
|Queen consort of France and Navarre|
|Tenure||4 September 1725 – 24 June 1768|
23 June 1703|
|Died||24 June 1768
|Burial||Basilica of Saint-Denis, Paris, France|
|Spouse||Louis XV of France|
|Issue||Louise Élisabeth, Duchess of Parma
Louis, Dauphin of France
Philippe, Duke of Anjou
Marie-Adélaïde, Duchess of Louvois
Sophie, Duchess of Louvois
Louise, Abbess of Saint Denis
|Father||Stanisław I of Poland|
|Signature||Marie Leszczyńska's signature|
Queen Marie of France as consort
|Reference style||Her Most Christian Majesty|
|Spoken style||Your Majesty|
Maria Karolina Zofia Felicja Leszczyńska (23 June 1703 – 24 June 1768), better known as Marie Leszczyńska, was a queen consort of France, called Queen Marie of France. She was a daughter of King Stanisław I of Poland (later Duke of Lorraine) and Catherine Opalińska. She married King Louis XV of France and was the grandmother of Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X. She was the longest-serving queen consort of France and was popular due to her generosity and piety.
Maria Karolina Zofia Felicja Leszczyńska h. Wieniawa was the second daughter of Stanisław I Leszczyński and his wife Catherine Opalińska. Her older sister Anna Leszczyńska (1699–1717) died at the age of 18 of pneumonia.
Maria's early life was troubled by her father's political misfortune. Ironically, King Stanisław's hopeless political career 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 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 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 the Swedish language - with a Scanian accent - As Queen of France, she was known to welcome Swedish ambassadors to France with the Swedish phrase: "Welcome, Dearest Heart!". In 1714, Charles XII gave them permission to live in the Swedish province of Zweibrücken located in Germany, where they were supported by the income of Zweibrücken: they lived there until the death of Charles XII in 1718. At the death of Charles XII of Sweden, Zweibrücken passed to a cousin of Charles I. These lands were parallel to the confiscated Polish properties of Stanisław. Stanisław 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. With the support of the Duke of Lorraine, the family was allowed to settle in Wissembourg in the French province of Alsace, 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.
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, 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. The Margrave Louis-Georg-Simpert of Baden as well as the third Prince of Baden were suggested, but these negotiations fell through because of her insufficient dowry. Stanisław 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 became 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, was fully sexually developed. 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 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-Rheinfelds, 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 and 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 give birth immediately after the wedding. 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 Stanisław 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. There were rumors before the wedding that the bride was ugly, epileptic and sterile. The 6th of 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. 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. Marie was popular among 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. In August 1727, Marie gave birth to her first children, twin daughters named Louise Élisabeth and Henriette Anne, at the Palace of Versailles. The elder twin, Louise Élisabeth, later married the Infante Felipe of Spain and eventually became the Duchess Consort of Parma. Through Louise Élisabeth, Marie became an ancestor of Juan Carlos I of Spain. 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. She is known to have had a close relationship with all of her children.
After the difficult birth of Princess Louise in 1737, which nearly took her life, Marie had no more children. In 1738, she refused Louis entrance to her bedroom, and after this, their private relationship ended, though they continued to perform their roles together in public and Louis regularly paid her ceremonial visits.
Louis XV was a notorious womaniser. In 1733, he entered into his first infidelity, with Louise Julie de Mailly, though she did not become an official mistress until 1737. She was followed by Pauline Félicité de Mailly, Marie Anne de Mailly, Diane Adélaïde de Mailly until, 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 personally disliked Marie Anne de Mailly as she 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 she did oppose her appointment as a lady-in-waiting in 1756.
During the serious illness of Louis XV in Metz in August 1744, when he was believed to be dying and was persuaded to send away Marie Anne de Mailly, Marie was given his permission to join him, but when she arrived he had recovered and no longer wished to see her. She was, however, cheered by the supporting public along her journey.
Her first daughter-in-law, the Dauphine, died in 1746 at the age of 20 after giving birth to a daughter Marie Thérèse. The queen, very fond and loving of her only son, opposed the selection of his next spouse, the Duchess Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, 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 the young German princess was an admirer of the Queen's father. In honour of him, several of the queen's grandsons received the name Stanisław (or Stanislas in French) at their christening.
As queen, Marie Leszczyńska was a follower of etiquette and strict protocols in Versailles.The Queen valued the ritualized pomp and court presentations in order to increase her dignity. The future queen,Marie Antoinette, later on found these rules difficult. She 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 or Mistress of the Robes, 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 December 17, 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 have Fleury exiled to an abbey. They gave Marie the task of informing Louis XV that the then 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 chief minister, which he had held since June 1726. Louis XV reacted negatively to Marie's attempt to participate in state affairs. The crisis led Marie to ask for advice on how to behave from the Princess of Carignan, whom unbeknownst to her was a spy in service of Savoy. The princess' advice was that as Queen of France, it 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 apparently accepted the advice and followed it for the rest of her life, as she was never again involved in any political activity after 1726.
After the 1726 crisis and until the birth of a dauphin in 1729, Cardinal Fleury and the Princess de Carignan made long running preparations to replace Marie, preferably with Charlotte of Hesse-Rheinfelds, if she should died in childbirth. Marie engaged in a correspondence with Cardinal Fleury after 1726, whom she humbly trusted to advise her as how to please the King, and whom she used as mediator when she had a favor to ask the king, such as the replacement for the vacancies in her court. Over the years Marie restored a cordial relationship with him, even occasionally obtaining his support, as in 1742, when Marie was given permission by the king through Fleury to have her personal friend, the Duchess de Villars, appointed her Dame d'Atours.
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. 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. In spite of this, the Duchy of Lorraine became part of France after the death of her Father who became Duke of Lorraine, thus making herself indirectly useful in the political arena.She did give her passive support to the so-called dévout party at court. She supported the bishops in their conflicts with Parliament and expressed sympathy for the Jesuit order. During the War of the Polish Succession in 1733-1736, she supported her father's candidacy to the Polish throne: being expected by him to act as his agent at court. 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 as the French wished to enhance her dynastic status. During this time France was a very powerful nation, and they were 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. Her political activity after 1726 was limited to asking Louis XV to grant a pension or a promotion to a friend, usually through someone who, unlike herself, had influence over the king.
Queen Marie performed her ceremonial role as queen in accordance with formal court etiquette and regularly and punctually fulfilled all representational duties that court life at Versailles demanded of her such as participating in public dinners. She accepted that her courtiers were appointed because of rank rather than personal preference, and conversed politely with those who were in attendance. However, 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 her private apartments with a small intimate circle of friends. Among her own private friends were her grand almoner Cardinal de Luynes, Duke Charles Philippe d'Albert de Luynes and his spouse Marie Brûlart who served as her Dame d'honneur since 1735, a position which functioned as the chief lady-in-waiting since the position of Surintendante was left vacant after 1741. Her other favorite lady in waiting was her Dame d'Atours, Francoise de Mailly, Duchess 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 Count d'Argensson, 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 protege. 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.
Marie was a devout Roman Catholic. Her major contribution to life at Versailles was the weekly Polish choral concerts. She was a great lover of music and painting and the promotor 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. 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.
Marie was the benefactress 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. Marie was given an allowance of 100.000 livres for pleasure, charity and gambling, a sum which was often irregularly paid and insufficient as she was often in debt. Though she had simple habits - her apartments at Versailles were not redecorated after 1737 - she had debts. She enjoyed a game called cavagnole, which often placed her in debt; the King was normally unwilling to pay these off.
Queen Marie maintained the role and reputation of a simple and dignified Catholic Queen Consort to His Most Christian King Louis XV. 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.
Marie Leszczyńska was truly a people's queen. Her death on 24 June 1768 at the age of 65 was a huge blow to the French monarchy. 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).
- Marie is a major character in the novel The Royal Merry-Go-Round, the story of Louis XV's adventurous love life. In the anime Le Chevalier D'Eon, she is one of the characters manipulating many of the events in the story.
- Though presumed to be not too bright, Marie Leszczyńska was an author of at least a few quips. It is said that following the death of the Protestant marshal Maurice de Saxe she remarked: "How sad, that we cannot sing "De Profundis", for a man thanks to whom we sang so often "Te Deum""
Duchess of Parma
|14 August 1727-
6 December 1759
|Twin sister of Henriette; married Philip, Duke of Parma and had issue|
|14 August 1727-
10 February 1752
|Twin sister of Louise Élisabeth; died unmarried|
|28 July 1728-
19 February 1733
|Died at the age of four of a cold|
Dauphin of France
|4 September 1729-
20 December 1765
|Married firstly Infanta Maria Teresa Rafaela of Spain and had issue; married secondly Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony and had issue, including Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X|
Duke of Anjou
|30 August 1730-
7 April 1733
|Died at the age of two after being fed earth by his wet-nurses|
Duchess of Louvois
|23 March 1732-
27 February 1800
|Marie Louise Thérèse Victoire
|11 May 1733-
7 June 1799
|Sophie Philippine Élisabeth Justine
Duchess of Louvois
|27 July 1734-
3 March 1782
|Marie Thérèse Félicité
|16 May 1736-
28 September 1744
|Died at the age of eight of smallpox|
later Thérèse of Saint Augustine
Abbess of Saint Denis
|15 July 1737-
23 December 1787
|Was a nun and died unmarried|
|Ancestors of Marie Leszczyńska|
- According to Polski Słownik Biograficzny which agrees with the entry for Louis XV in Burke's Royal Families of the World, where she appears as Marie-Caroline-Sophie-Félicité.
- Lundh-Eriksson, Nanna: Hedvig Eleonora. Wahlström & Widstrand (1947)
- Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort. Cambridge University Press (2004)
- Norrhem, Svante (2007). Kvinnor vid maktens sida : 1632-1772. (Women alongside power: 1632-1772) Lund: Nordic Academic Press. Libris 10428618. ISBN 978-91-89116-91-7 (Swedish)
- David Bodanis: Passionate Minds: Emilie du Chatelet, Voltaire, and the Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment (2007)
- Alexander J. Nemeth: Voltaire's Tormented Soul. A Psychobiographic Inquiry (2010)
- Zieliński, Ryszard (1978). Polka na francuskim tronie. Czytelnik.
Marie LeszczyńskaBorn: 23 June 1703 Died: 24 June 1768
Title last held byMaria Theresa of Spain
|Queen consort of France and Navarre
4 September 1725 – 24 June 1768
Title next held byMarie Antoinette
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