The next day, Francois-Michel presents himself at the Palace of Versailles and asks to speak to the King in private. They laugh in his face. On the following days, he comes back again and makes such a fuss that Louis XIV is finally informed.
“Go and tell this man that I don’t receive just anybody!”
Francois-Michel, who believes in his mission and wants to obey good Queen Marie-Therese’s ghost, replies to the King’s message that he will tell him “such secret things and so well-known to him alone” that he will well see that his message comes from God.
Louis XIV again refuses. The Salon visionary then declares:
“Then send me one of the State Ministers”.
The Sovereign has him taken to Barbezieux; but Francois-Michel bursts into laughter and answers that they are making fun of him:
“Barbezieux is not a minister, and it is to a minister that I must speak in the King’s absence.”
This declaration astounds everybody. How can this blacksmith, who has never been interested in anything except his profession and who has come for the first time to Versailles, know that Barbezieux is only a Secretary of State?
The King is soon intrigued by this provincial who seems to know the Court so well. He orders the Marquis de Pomponne – who really is a State Minister – to receive him. On three different occasions, Pomponne has a long interview with Francois-Michel. After each conversation, he runs to the King with whom he remains locked up for hours.
Rumours then begin to circulate. It is murmured that the blacksmith is a visionary who claims to have received a visit from the late Queen. And of course they all snigger. But one morning, the laughter freezes when it is learnt that Louis XIV has just let Francois-Michel into his private study.
This time, the Court is stunned. Why would the most powerful sovereign in the world, who pitilessly keeps away from disagreeable and annoying people, accord a private audience to this blacksmith?
After an hour alone with the King, Francois-Michel leaves the royal study and goes back to his inn. Immediately, everyone rushes to the King. Doubtless His Majesty will recount some savoury anecdote about this visionary? Report a few blunders? Mock him?… Already the courtiers are chuckling in anticipated pleasure. But Louis XIV, looking preoccupied, crosses the salon without saying a word.
The following day, at the hour of the royal promenade, Monsieur de Duras, who thinks himself free to say whatever he likes to the King, exclaims:
“This Salon visionary is a madman, or the King is not noble!…”
Louis XIV has heard. He stops, turns to Monsieur de Duras and answers gravely:
“Well then, Monsieur le Marechal, I am not noble! For I had a long conversation with this man and I can assure you that he is far from being mad!…”
The Court is not at the end of its surprises. A few days later, the King again receives Francois-Michel, remains with him for more than an hour, carefully seeing to it that no-one is near enough for them to be overheard, and ceremoniously accompanying him as far as the staircase.
This time, Louis XIV reveals to his entourage that the blacksmith has spoken to him about an event known to him alone. He adds:
“A ghost that I glimpsed, more than twenty years ago, in the Fontainebleau Forest, and of which I have never spoken to anyone…”
Francois-Michel’s mission is finished.
Before leaving Versailles, where his expenses are reimbursed by the King himself, he is received by Madame de Maintenon, by the Princesse de Savoie and by several courtiers who give him sumptuous gifts. Finally, he will take leave of the Sovereign, publicly, like an ambassador, leave Versailles on 18 April and return home.
What on Earth did he say to Louis XIV?
It was never known, for neither he nor any of the ministers ever made the slightest revelation on the subject. But doubtless the message from the Queen’s ghost was important, since the Court, more and more astounded, learned that the King had not only exempted Francois-Michel from taxes and the obligation for lodging the military, but that he had had him given a large sum of money, and that he had given orders to the Intendant de Provence to protect him for the rest of his life…
It was thus proven that one could be received by the King of France by presenting oneself on behalf of a ghost…
Neither the blacksmith nor Louis XIV ever spoke of what was said while they were alone together. However, there is an hypothesis held by a few historians which is founded on something reported by Saint-Simon: After Francois-Michel’s visit to Versailles – which was much talked about, as songs were written about him and his portrait was engraved – the whole Court was asking questions. And finally, one explanation came to the minds of a few people: the adventure of the Salon visionary had been organized by someone who wanted to impress the King’s mind… This person would be Madame de Maintenon.
The reason is very simple: we are in 1697. At this epoch the Court is agitated by the Quietist quarrel. Quietism, that mystical doctrine according to which perfection consisted in the annihilation of the will, in short in the quietude of the soul, was preached by a slightly exalted woman called Madame Guyon who was protected by Fenelon; this Fenelon was himself protected by Mme de Maintenon. When Bossuet declared that Fenelon was an heretic, Mme de Maintenon found herself compromised at the same time and feared to see herself repudiated by the King… This is when, knowing Louis XIV’s religiosity was tinted with superstition, she would have thought to make a being from the other world intervene in her favour. And, as the clever woman that she was, she would have fixed her choice on the ghost of gentle Queen Marie-Therese…
Saint-Simon tells us that Mme de Maintenon would have addressed herself to one of her old friends, a certain Madame Arnoud who was the wife of the Intendant de Marseille, and would have asked her to create the whole scene of the apparition of the ghost…
We cannot always believe Saint-Simon. However, Guy Breton thinks that this time he might be telling the truth. For in 1750, an old man from Salon recounted to the author of the Dictionnaire de la Provence that a priest and Mme Arnoud, assisted by a young woman who had played the role of the ghost, had been the authors of this mystification. This had apparently been told to him by the priest.
Francois-Michel would have absolutely believed in the ghost.
Still according to Saint-Simon, who situates this story in 1699 by mistake, Louis XIV would have been asked on behalf of Marie-Therese’s ghost, to declare Mme de Maintenon Queen of France, which would have strongly consolidated the situation of the lady formerly known as Widow Scarron.
This plot, according to Saint-Simon, did not work however, because Mme de Maintenon was never Queen of France. But there is another hypothesis, advanced a few decades ago by some respected historians, like Monsieur Louis Hastier for example: in 1697, the secret wedding of Louis XIV and Mme de Maintenon – the exact date of which is unknown – would not yet have been celebrated… And it would have been to force the King to marry her that Mme de Maintenon would have created this ghost story. In this case, she would have succeeded…