A biography of Athâenaèis de Montespan, the powerful mistress of France's King Louis XIV, discusses her influence on the political and cultural events of the era and the accusations that led to her fall from grace.
Athenais de Montespan reigned as official mistress to Louis XIV during the most glorious period of "the splendid century." As lovely and charming as she was witty and cunning, Athenais quickly rose to far greater prominence than the King's own spouse. It was Madame de Montespan who was known as "the real Queen of France," the symbol of the apotheosis of French culture in the seventeenth century. As a lover, she risked the disgrace of adultery to conduct an affair that scandalized Europe; as a patron, she supported many of the leaders of the cultural renaissance; as a mother, she is the ancestor of most of the royal houses of Europe.In her superb new biography, Lisa Hilton chronicles the life of this extraordinary woman. She vividly describes Athenais's unhappy marriage to a gamester nobleman, her entry into the decadent and intricate world of court politics, and her brilliant seduction of France's most desired suitor, the King himself. Athenais transformed Louis from a shy, awkward young monarch into the polished Sun King of legend.Throughout the "age Montespan," Athenais used her wit and beauty to stave off the intrigues of courtiers, the machinations of Versaille's clerics, and the wiles of lovely young pretenders to the King's heart - all doggedly seeking to unseat her. It was not until the Affair of the Poisons, a bizarre witch-hunt that uncovered conspiracy in the highest echelons of the nobility, that Athenais's hold on the King and court faltered. Though the mystery remains unsolved, Athenais's implication in the sinister dealings of sorcerers and poisoners caused a fall from grace almost as precipitous as her rise.