Tag Archive: Louis XV

The Count of Saint-Germain.

The Count of Saint-Germain was Rose-Croix, like Descartes, Willermoz, or Goethe.  He dreamed, like all Rosicrucians of the epoch, of organizing a European government.  Which explains the zeal that he displayed in serving the kings, but not for just any old job.  This is what distinguishes him from someone like Casanova, to whom he is often wrongfully compared.  He is nothing like the seductive rascal, busker, cheat and chaser of skirts.  Saint-Germain is, on the contrary, an Initiate of high rank, with immense culture and uncontestably endowed with paranormal powers.


In 1774, Saint-Germain is placed in the presence of Marie-Antoinette.  He tells her that the Encyclopaedist Party wants power and that soon the Catholic Religion and the Magistrature will be abolished.  The Queen replies:

“So, Royalty will be the only thing left!”

“Not even that!  But a Republic whose sceptre will be the executioner’s axe!  From all parts of the Kingdom will surge men avid for vengeance.  They will destroy everything in their way and civil war will break out with all its horrors.  You will then regret not having listened to me….”


This prediction comes to us from one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, Madame d’Adhemar.  It is in conformity with what we know about Saint-Germain, who is endowed with fulgurant intuitions and knowledge which allow him to deduct, from facts that had scarcely any significance for his contemporaries, future realities.  This is doubtless the essence of all prophetism…


The cover of a strange manuscript on alchemical symbolism attributed to the Count of Saint-Germain. This work, which has not been entirely decoded, is in the Troyes Library.

It is certain that great culture – and that of Saint-Germain was truly encyclopaedic – confers a sort of immortality.  In the measure that it allows us to make events that we have not known live again and draw lessons from them and project them into the future…


Apart from a prodigious memory, the Count was supremely clever in making people curious without satisfying their curiosity.  By letting people believe a little and showing them a lot, he must have ended up suggesting even more.  He succeeded in this for twenty years with Louis XV, who was nothing like a naive man…


As a high, Rosicrucian dignitary, Saint-Germain was very rich, and could have substituted some precious stones for others of a lesser value…  Still with a disinterested aim, because he was sincerely monarchist and, kept informed by his Rosicrucian Brothers of all that was in preparation in France, he wanted, in this way, among others, to save Royalty, despite the King.  By amusing him firstly, to capture his trust and bring him later to make the indispensable reforms.


We are fairly sure that Saint-Germain practised complete sexual abstinence.  This is confirmed for example by a letter of 1745 from Horace Walpole, the English Prime Minister, who knew him well.  The Count surely used chastity to produce paranormal phenomena.

If he wanted to approach women, it was because they were the obligatory intermediaries for arriving at the thrones where his political and moral actions could be put in motion…  As for the famous elixir, he very honestly said that it could only retard inevitable ageing.


Madame de Genlis assures that he had found, thanks to his deep knowledge of chemistry, a liqueur appropriate for his temperament”.   However, this admirer of the Count emitted a theory that was very new for her time:  she said that

“without his passions and his intemperance, Man’s age would be one hundred, and a very long life, one hundred and fifty or one hundred and sixty”.

Saint-Germain and the gerontologists of today do not say anything different.  As for the Baron de Gleichen, the Ambassador of the Margrave of Bayreuth who had known him very well, he describes the Count

“living on a great diet, never drinking while he eats, and purging himself with follicles of sene.  That’s all that he advises to his friends who question him on what they should do to live a long life”.

We can see that, in the domain of disciplined life-style, Saint-Germain was also very much ahead of his time.  This surely allowed him to appear younger than his age for a very long time.  He had, in fact, invented what we call dietetic and biochemistry…  Two hundred years before Niehans or Messegue…


Saint-Germain’s fortune was perhaps exaggerated…  By Gleichen in particular who, according to Madame du Deffand,  had this unfortunate habit.  He also lets people believe, in his Souvenirs, that the Count knew how to make precious stones.  Louis Pauwels, whose work I have translated, thinks that this should be taken in its symbolic Rosicrucian alchemical sense…


As for the fault in the diamond, it is easier to remove a fault than to manufacture a diamond.  Saint-Germain had very extensive chemical knowledge and is the author of a good twenty inventions in the domains of dyes and metal alloys.  He knew the principal stone cutters of Amsterdam.  Not to mention that, in two weeks, he could have made the round trip to Holland to bring the King a stone that he could have exchanged there…  Louis Pauwels thinks that his fortune, which was real, came to him from his Brotherhood and perhaps also from his family…


It was said that he was the son of a Jewish doctor from Strasbourg, or of a textile merchant from Moscow.  Of a Princess who had been Louis XV’s mistress, too.  The favour which he enjoyed with many sovereigns allows us, in fact, to think that he was of noble extraction.  This is Paul Chacornac’s thesis, which seems, to Louis Pauwels, to be the most probant:  Saint-Germain might have come from the princely Hungarian Rakoczi Family, the declared enemies of the House of Austria.  His father could be Franz II Rakoczi, proscrit in 1711, at the moment of the Szatmar Peace, who had found refuge at the Court of Louis XIV.  A weighty witness to confirm this version is the Countess de Genlis, to whom Saint-Germain delivered part of the truth.  He revealed to the Preceptress of the Orleans children:

“When I was seven, I roamed in the middle of forests with my Governor and my head had a price on it.  My mother, whom I was never more to see, attached her portrait to my arm.”

The Count showed this portrait, painted on a bracelet which never left his wrist, to Madame de Genlis, whose Memoires are a precious testimony on the end of the Old Regime…


It has been established that the only princely family to fill the conditions mentioned in the confidence that he made to Princess Amelie was the masculine Wittelsbach line.  A tragic line, marked by folly, one of whose last descendants is Louis II of Bavaria, who drowned [or had a heart-attack] in Starnberg Lake.  But this hypothesis is less satisfactory, for if Saint-Germain had been a Wittelsbach, why would he only have made an allusion to his mother’s origins?…

On the other hand, what is certain is that he was related to the Hesse Family, and it was  near the throne of the Prince de Hesse-Cassel, grandson of George II of England, that he ended his days…  temporarily.


In the comany of the Prince of Hesse, Saint-Germain made dyes which nothing could alter.

The Prince, who was a Mason of high rank, became his disciple, and together, they launched themselves into the manufacture of dyes which they produced in a factory installed on the Baltic.  Dyes that nothing, neither acid, nor air, nor sun, nor rain could alter, it seems.  The Prince of Hesse managed it on his master’s instructions for more than thirty years, and the German industry took certain techniques from it, of which it is still today very proud…


The Count made a mystery of his life because he had sworn it to his Rosicrucian Brothers and this corresponded to the sensitivity of an epoch where, to accede to those in power, you must not only have convictions and competences, but also a sense of the marvellous, wit, and be gifted in the performing arts to interest them while amusing them.  He consented to it to make his Masonic and alchemical ideal come true.  Not to make gold, but to study the processes of the transmutation of matter, which for the Rose-Croix, would permit, if they were known, to give to the whole of Humanity “health, riches, omniscience and ubiquity”.

This ideal, Saint-Germain was one of the only ones to push it so far, while living his own terrestrial and spiritual adventure to the hilt.

This is also his immortality.  It is in any case what Frederic II, King of Prussia, meant when, speaking as a connaisseur of men, he said of Saint-Germain:

“This man should never die!…”



The Count of Saint-Germain.

During a dinner, from which Saint-Germain is absent, the Duke de Choiseul, France’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, suddenly turns to his wife and asks her why she is not drinking.  Madame de Choiseul replies:

“Because Monsieur de Saint-Germain’s diet without wine suits me admirably!”

The Duke erupts in violent anger and orders his wife to stop following “the follies of such an equivocal man”.  The Bailie of Solar then asks:

“Is it true that the Government doesn’t know whence comes a man who lives in France in such distinguished fashion?”

Choiseul replies with a ferocious air:

“Without a doubt we do know!”

It is at this dinner that is formed the animosity which would now divide partisans and adversaries of the Count.  As an intelligent, sly man, Choiseul is very careful not to use a process which could discredit Saint-Germain in the King’s eyes, by showing him for example that he is mistaken in trusting him.  Since this is France, a much more redoubtable weapon must be used.  And to wield this weapon, he hires Gauwe, an actor exceptionally gifted as an imitator, who is entrusted with making fun of Saint-Germain.  Made-up and his hair powdered, wearing false diamonds and taking the same accent as the Count, he wanders through the Marais telling the most extravagant stories.  He says for example:

“Jesus Christ.  I knew him very intimately…  He was the best man in the world, but he was romanesque and thoughtless.  I often predicted to him that he would finish badly!”

Hearing such ridiculous things, his auditors could only believe that they were in the presence of a liar…

The Duke also made up a story about the Count’s elixir and his longevity and had it spread everywhere.  In town and at Court, it was said that a Baroness, who was very old, bought a phial of this miraculous water, that she locked it inside a cupboard, telling her chambermaid not to touch it.  To be sure that she wouldn’t, she told her that it was an extremely drastic remedy…  against colic.  The lady goes out and, in the middle of the night, the soubrette experiences violent intestinal pain.  She rushes to the phial, and drinks more than half of it.  As the liquid is very light-coloured, she replaces what she has drunk with water and goes to lie down on the lady’s sofa, in prey to an irresistable need to sleep.  When, early in the morning, the mistress of the house returns home and calls her women to undress her, she comes across a little girl of three or four lying on the sofa sucking her thumb and kicking her legs…

As a man of superior intelligence, Saint-Germain laughs at these roasts and even enters into his enemies’ games.

One day when he is visiting Madame de Marchais, he throws his hat and sword on a piece of furniture upon entering, sits down at the piano and executes a piece of music which is very much applauded.  He is asked the name of the composer.  He says gravely:

“I don’t know.  All that I know is that I heard this march during the entry of Alexander the Great into Babylon!”


Louis XV also seemed to be indifferent to the charlatanesque stories circulating about the Count.  However, he forbids anyone to mock him in his presence and defies his protege’s detractors by locking himself up for long hours with him, while ministers and those seeking favours wait outside the door.

In 1774, the Count of Saint-Germain had predicted to Marie-Antoinette the fall of Royalty and the creation of a Rebublic whose sceptre would be the executioner’s axe…

The declared hatred of the Kingdom’s most powerful man is therefore incapable of doing anything against Saint-Germain.  For years, the King entrusts him, not only with his worries, but also with important secret missions.  In England, he meets Walpole and, in Holland, he treats with Louis of Brunswick who is his close friend.  In all the countries that he traverses, he accedes to the foot of the thrones, warns or advises the sovereigns, and the greatest personalities show him their esteem.  But if he only returns to France to prophesy the future death of Marie-Antoinette on the scaffold, it is because the attacks of Choiseul, who secretly dreams of supplanting the King, finish by becoming too heavy for him to bear.  If they do not succeed in tarnishing his image with Louis XV, they at least discredit him in the eyes of posterity, which believed for a long time in the legend of the imposter, a Saint-Germain who was a master of frauds and falsifications…

In the last years of a reign which ends in debacle, his adventurous path through Europe is studded with disappearances which sometimes last for years.  In 1760, he is in England and the London Chronicle consecrates an article to him in which it praises his riches and talks lengthily about his talents…  As for the secret of his birth, the austere British paper affirms that it will be revealed only after his death and this secret “will astonish the world even more than the prodigies of his life”


For the moment, the mystery remains.  And that is a good thing.  For at the moment of prophesying in Paris Marie-Antoinette’s death on the scaffold and then disappearing, the Count de Saint-Germain says that he will only come back to France in a few generations.  To warn it, before dying for good, of the terrible dangers which threaten it.  So…


Louis XV was certainly not a king as abominable as the pampleteers tried to paint him, and perhaps Saint-Germain was slightly less angelic than some – including the King – believed…


Not only was Louis XV very intelligent, but he also sincerely wanted to better the lives of the poor whom his great-grandfather, the Sun King, Louis XIV, had seriously harmed…  It is true that he became discouraged too quickly, but it is also true that he pulled himself together in the second half of his reign.  Although it justifies nothing, Parliament’s permanent opposition, along with that of the Party of the Privileged, to all of his reforms, contributed a lot to explaining his failure.  He also had a big heart, we must recall…  He wanted the regicide Damiens to be pardoned.  It was argued, as always, raison d’Etat.  And it is also because he was a man with a big heart that he became so sincerely attached to Saint-Germain…


To be continued.

The Count of Saint-Germain.

When the Count of Saint-Germain is not singing or giving concerts and advice, about hygiene in particular, he is receiving confidences from the ladies and telling stories made more piquant in that the scene is always set in the Court of Francois I, Philippe le Bel, the Kings of the Middle Empire, the Grand Vizirs or the Sublime Porte.  With such veracity that Saint-Germain appears truly to have been there.  The question of his age and the reasons for his longevity again rise to the surface.

A conversation that he has one day with a young, incredulous Marquise finishes unsettling everybody…  He says to the pretty lady as she enters the salon in which he is:

“How happy I am to meet at last someone of your noble family!  I was very close to your grandfather’s great-grandfather…  He fought beside me at the Battle of Marignan!  Mortally wounded, he entrusted me with making sure that his gold cross was returned to his wife.  In those troubled times, I was only able to succeed in this mission by using an intermediary…  Did that cross really get there?”

Looking fearfully at this ghost who claims to have fought at Marignan, the lady stammers:

“But, Monsieur…  We effectively keep amongst our relics a cross which was given to us, a long time ago, by an unknown man, but no-one outside the family knows this detail!”

“No-one, except myself, Madame.  And I am happy to know that this precious piece of jewellery arrived at its destination!”

The young Marquise, stunned, her blood curdled, of course goes to swell the ranks of those who believe in the supernatural longevity of the Count.  Although in this last case, a coincidence could have been possible.  This is, however, unthinkable in the case of the Countess de Cergy, who is the first to recognize him in public, and to loudly proclaim it in front of witnesses…

Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour, seen here with Voltaire, both greatly estimed Saint-Germain.

Having one day met him at the home of Madame de Pompadour, she starts by staring at him for a long time.  The witnesses say, with the insistence of the major witness in a trial whose testimony could decide the life or death of the accused…  Controlling a sort of sacred fear, she finally asks him:

“I beg you, Monsieur, would you please tell me whether Monsieur your father resided in Venice around the year 1700… “

The Count replies with detachment:

“No, Madame.  I lost my father well before that.  But I, myself, was living in Venice at the end of the last century and at the beginning of this one.  I had the honour of courting you, and you had the goodness to find pretty a few barcarolles of my composition which we sang together.”

“Excuse my frankness, but that is not possible;  the Count de Saint-Germain of the epoch was forty-five and you are certainly that age now, right at this moment!”

The Count replies with a smile:

“Madame, do not be mistaken…  I am very old!”

“But you would have to be nearly a hundred!”

“That is not impossible!”

The Count then starts to recount to Madame de Cergy, who is very oppressed, a multitude of details connected to the stay that they made together in the Venitian State.  As he proposes to mention others, the lady, who has already had recourse to her smelling salts, exclaims:

“No, no…  I am quite convinced, but you are quite an extraordinary man…  an extraordinary devil!”

Saint-Germain exclaims in a voice which appears to some to be strange:

“No more qualifications!

But he takes control of himself and the old Countess de Cergy, whom death seems to have forgotten on Earth, continues:

“When I was the wife of the Ambassador to Venice, fifty years ago, I am sure that I saw you with the same face.  But you were calling yourself Marquis Baletti then… ”

“And Madame the Countess de Cergy still has a memory that is as fresh as fifty years ago!”

“I owe this advantage to an elixir that you gave me at our first interview… ”

“And did the Marquis de Baletti have a bad reputation?”

“On the contrary, he was a man who was very good company… ”

“Well then, since there are no complaints about him, I adopt him as my grandfather!”

Saint-Germain is joking.  However, he leaves almost immediately, as if painful memories were coming back to him…

That an elixir of long life could exist, and that the Count could possess the secret of it, causes considerable gossip in Paris.  For some, the eminent position that the Count occupies in the King’s immediate entourage, then seems justified.  What sort of elixir is it and how is it made?  At the Court, the best informed assure that it is the drinkable gold of the Rose-Croix thaumaturgists, the absolute panacea against ageing and illness.  Opposing those whom this news exalts, the envious and the jealous would very much like to know, finally, what this Count thinks to achieve in France, since he seeks neither position nor honours.  To most of them, Saint-Germain opposes a disdainful silence.  When others, taking a detour, ask him if he isn’t mostly a man of Science and mention a formula which appears to them to resume all of that time’s knowledge, he loses his temper and says haughtily:

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!  I’m the only one who can talk about this matter.  I have deeply studied it!… “

But the next moment, a sort of shiver of fear passes over him.  He then seems worried and, unwillingly replies, as he does to Louis XV who asks him to explain the disappearance of Prosecutor Dumas:

“It is impossible for me to answer…   By doing so I would expose myself, and you too, to the greatest danger… “

[See https://marilynkaydennis.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/the-count-of-saint-germain-and-maitre-dumas/

and https://marilynkaydennis.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/the-count-of-saint-germain-and-maitre-dumas-part-2/ ]

Such answers confirm his enemies in their suspicions, by making them believe that he has a grave secret in his life and that the trust that Louis gives to a man who appears to have fallen from another planet could reveal itself to be very dangerous.  Leading them is the Duke de Choiseul, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the man who directed, in fact, France’s politics with the authority of a Prime Minister, for many long years.

To be continued.

The Count of Saint-Germain.

At the time, the rumours about the Count of Saint-Germain’s age did not necessarily give him a good reputation.  But as he accomplished all his visible religious duties, was very charitable and had the purest of life-styles, Marshal de Belle-Isle does not hesitate to present him to the King.  There then occur the sad events which lead to the death of Madame de Chateauroux at the age of twenty-seven.  The Count arrives at her bedside as fast as he can.  However, upon arriving in the lady’s apartments, he tells the King that he can do nothing.  The Bien-Aime wants to know why.  The Count replies that it is too late.

Questioned later on the reasons for his attitude, in an affair where the empirics with pointed hats would have blown all the smoke of their false science, Saint-Germain replies:

“If I had cured the Duchess, I would have become responsible for all of the violent deaths which could have arrived after that…  Each family would have ordered me to perform a miracle and woe betide me if I had failed in the enterprise!  That is how men are, quite egoistic… “

A very pertinent answer at an epoch where the horrors of La Brinvilliers and the Affair of the Poisons were still in everyone’s memory.  But the astonishing thing is that the monarch, far from blaming him for this admission of helplessness, does not want to do without him from then on.  How do we explain this?  Of course, the Count knows the smallest secrets of the European Gotha, and at first, it is above all the tales of the secret failings of some of the greats which amuse the King, and their genealogical mishaps, which the Count’s prodigious memory instantaneously restitutes.  Madame de Pompadour, who has quickly replaced the unfortunate Duchess in Louis’ heart, is his surest ally, for, none better that he can dissipate the monarch’s neurasthenia, which he contracted young, and which will make Abbot Galiani say:

“He has the worst job, the job of king, as much against his will as possible… “

Between the Duke de Chaulnes whom she calls “mon cochon” [my pig] and Madame d’Amblimont who is “mon torchon” [my rag], she finds in Saint-Germain the man of wit, mysterious and unsettling, the living remedy against this spleen which, from 1750, she is officially entrusted with dissipating…

Soon, the Count is in all of the secret discussions and the King demands that he be among those privileged people whom he takes with him to the country residences where Madame de Pompadour succeeds in creating the illusion of a home for her royal lover.  There, he finally ceases to be timid and dares to confess, with intelligence and vivacity, everything that obsesses him, above all this ungovernable France, whose refusals and seditions have dulled all his good dispositions from the beginning of his reign.  His fear of death too, that Saint-Germain tries to dissipate by initiating him into the hidden mysteries of Nature…

Soon, the King consents to renounce his sad debaucheries and to no longer occupy himself with tapistery works or stews that he cooks himself, but to apply himself to the Great Art…  Louis XV, alchemist!  This is the prodigy that Saint-Germain succeeds in performing inside two laboratories at the Trianon, where he firstly teaches the King to melt and distill.  To a delighted Duke des Deux-Ponts, Louis XV one day shows a diamond of the finest water, weighing twelve carats.  He says:

“I melted 24 carats of little diamonds, which gave me this which has been reduced to 12 by having it polished!”…

But what the King appreciates above all in Saint-Germain is his frank speech which cleanses him of the lies and hypocrisy of the Court.  In front of Monsieur de Brancas and Abbot Bernis, the Count tells him straight out that, to have any estime for men, you must be neither a Confessor, a Minister, nor Lieutenant de Police.  Louis enquires about King.  Saint-Germain answers:

“You saw, Sire, the fog a few days ago?  One couldn’t see four paces ahead.  Kings are surrounded by even thicker fogs, which give birth all around them to plotters, unfaithful ministers and all those who agree everywhere to make them see things in a different aspect to reality!”

And, it is true that Saint-Germain always gives disinterested advice.  Never is he seen to promote someone and never does he solicite a favour.  Around 1756, Louis XV has installed for him at Chambord, in the shade of the 365 chimneys of the biggest castle in the kingdom, a much bigger laboratory, where the Count also has working some alchemists whom he brought with him after a trip to Germany.  Pure self-interest from a sovereign who is hoping to fill his very empty coffers in this way?  Perhaps.  But when his works on the making of gold from a vile metal reveal themselves to be not profitable enough, the King still gives him his friendship.  In exchange, it is true, for a few services…

In 1756, Louis XV had an alchemical laboratory installed in Chambord Castle so that Saint-Germain could work in peace.

During one of these “little suppers”, where everyone lets himself go in the greatest gaiety, and where it is not even forbidden to mock the King, on condition that it is witty, France’s master asks him suddenly:

“It appears, Monsieur, that you have also succeeded in finding the secret for making the faults in diamonds disappear… ”

“I have been able to do it sometimes, Sire… ”

“In that case, you are the man to make me earn four thousand pounds on this one, for my jeweller, while estimating this diamond at six thousand pounds, told me that without the fault it would be worth ten!… “

Saint-Germain examines the stone.

“It’s a big fault.  But it is not impossible to remove it.  I shall bring this stone back to Your Majesty in two weeks… “

Two weeks later, Saint Germain presents the King with a diamond of the most perfect purety.  The Court jeweller carefully examines it, weighs it and notices that the difference in weight is almost nothing.  He says:

“Truly, Monsieur, you must be a wizard!”

Monsieur de Gontaut is immediately sent to the Paris jeweller and receives 9,600 pounds for it.

To be continued.

This is the only portrait that exists of the Count of Saint-Germain.

Sent to Frankfurt to represent Louis XV, Marshal de Belle-Isle was so active there and displayed such magnificence, that the Germans were slightly stunned…  In all ways, Monsieur the Duke had shown himself to be worthy of Superintendant Fouquet, his temerarious and unfortunate father-in-law.  So much so that the King of Prussia had been unable to stop himself from saying:

“It must be agreed that Marshal de Belle-Isle is Germany’s legislator!”

Alas!  A sudden reversal of fortune favourises his old enemy Maria-Theresa of Austria, against whom, like Cato the Ancient stubbornly working on Carthage’s destruction, he had succeeded in launching Europe’s armies.  So, here is this great captain abandoned by the Prussians, locked up in Prague and ordered to sound the retreat…  The Golden Fleece bestowed upon him in Frankfurt by Karl VII, who owed him his throne, is this evening a very poor protection against the stormy weather!   Freezing cold in his retreat, the Marshal is also suffering from atrocious rhumatisms which are attacking his lumbar region and all of his members.  Bitten by icy cold rain, and by the Central European gales even in his bed, he lives drugged, surrounded by a perpetual ballet of mediocre doctors, despairing of ever seeing the gentle climate of France again…  Then, one evening, he hears of a man who says that he is related to the House of Hesse and who, having learnt of his problems, claims to be able to cure him in five days.  In the necessity in which he finds himself, Belle-Isle has to try and, his back pressed against the damask of an armchair – his last luxury! – he receives this magician.

The unknown man orders him to lie down.  He imposes his hands on the Duke’s body and makes circles over it with a white jade wand.

The man of war wants to know what these mummeries are and whether he is trying to tie his laces.

The man wittily replies:

“Even the devil couldn’t tie such a temperament…  from what I’ve heard!  You are going to stop eating and take only three spoonfuls per day of this orgeat.  It’s an extract of emerald mixed with a few follicles of sene.”

“You want to kill me, Monsieur de Saint-Germain!”

“Drink up!  The greatest princes have confidence in me, and have had for a long time!  Anyway, I leave you this as security…”

The unknown man, who has good manners and is dressed with as much care as simplicity, places a round lacquered box on a table, bows gracefully and disappears.  When the Duke opens the box, he discovers, astounded, the glittering flames of rubies, topazes, emeralds and diamonds, three or four of which are at least ten carats each…

A few months later, after having saved the essential of his reputation and his armies, Marshal de Belle-Isle is back at Versailles.  He is very happy to have his feet close to some burning logs, far from draughts, finally behind his coromandel screens;  while, on his sofas, marquises are teary-eyed at the story of his exploits…

But in this December 1744, terrible news spreads through Versailles.  Madame de Chateauroux, Louis XV’s  gracious favourite, is dying, poisoned by a dish of mushrooms.

The Duke sends a lackey to fetch the Count de Saint-Germain.

Belle-Isle had been so pleased with the treatment given to him one year previously by his mysterious visitor, that he had brought him back with him to Paris and installed him in the Marais, of which he has rapidly become the toast.  Each day that passes increases his popularity and good society continues to discover his talents, the depth of which blows their minds…

Despite his accent, Monsieur de Saint-Germain speaks the most careful French, and those who have tested him more deeply in the language domain have been able to see that he speaks as well Italian, Spanish, English and Portuguese with confounding purety.  It is also known that he excellently touches the clavecin, but when he plays the violin, he becomes absolutely prodigious…

People sometimes wonder whether it is only one violin that he is holding in his hands and not two or three!  He is able to produce such sonorities that he makes crystal objects explode if care has not been taken to remove them.  Philidor assures that this is great Art, and the great Rameau himself maintains that his Preludes are incomparable.

But the Count has other talents.  Firstly, he paints almost as well as Latour or Van Loo.  But his vast compositions, whose subjects are marvellously like the originals, bathe in colours, the secret of which he knows, and whose brilliance and permanence are those of precious stones.  He explains the success of this new technique by his knowledge of chemistry and physics, and highly educated people, like the father of Madame de Genlis, have to admit that, in these matters, his knowledge is much greater than theirs…

Stung, they have sent scholars to him, but they have only been able to incline before his knowledge of the exact Sciences.  Discovering along the way that Monsieur de Saint-Germain is also extremely well-versed in the language of Homer and Virgil, and that he writes and speaks Sanskrit, Chinese and Arabic with a perfection that makes his claim of having spent a lot of time in Asia and the Orient easily believable.  But his Science can also render him amiable.  To the pretty women of the Court, he offers magic boxes.  By exposing them to the fire’s heat, the agatha which decorates them fades and leaves in its place a shepherdess carrying a basket of flowers.  If the lid is again heated, the stone reappears…  He also knows how to make delicious sweets, which have the form of fruits, and book-bindings, which he constellates with little precious stones.  For precious stones seem to flow from the hands of this scintillating man…  He carries them on him, dissimulating them with exquisite taste under ribbons and laces.  Nonetheless, if he is asked, he doesn’t hesitate to show them.  The other day, during a gala at Versailles, his garters, his shoe-buckles, his snuff-box in gold encrusted with diamonds of the finest water, passed among all of the pretty hands and Monsieur de Gontaut could not help saying:

“But there’s more than two hundred thousand francs worth here!”

To be continued.

Louis XV.

It took the mortal illness of Louis XV for the French Court to see things differently.  The dead King had declared himself to be against innoculation and the young Dauphin refused to submit to it.  Only the Orleans family and a few enlightened nobles had up until then shown the way, if we except the massive character of the Franche-Comte operation.  As early as 13 May 1774, or three days after the death of the Bien-Aime, an innoculating doctor offers his services to the Count de Provence and the royal family in general.  Some are worried when, on 13 July, the Gazette de France announces the imminence of the operation.  It is thought that this decision has been taken under the influence of the Queen [Marie-Antoinette] who was able to see the efficacy of the procedure at the Vienna Court.  Worried, the Duke de Croy nevertheless concludes that

Marie-Antoinette and her children.

“if this goes well, it would be great worries the less and perhaps a revolution in the King [Louis XVI] which could make him make children, a consideration which could have entered into the just views of the Queen”.

The uncertainty is a burden nonetheless, and is translated by the brutal fall of the course of shares in the Compagnie des Indes orientales.  [Doctor] Tronchin having apparently managed to extricate himself from the solicitations of which he is the object, the innoculators retained are Richard, inspecteur general des hopitaux militaires, Lassone, the Queen’s doctor, and Jauberthon, a reputed Parisian innoculator.

Louis XVI.

The three men will firstly select a good “variolifere” (smallpox carrier):  the daughter of a laundry couple whose morality is guaranteed by the lieutenant general de police.  The King and the Princes go to Marly on 17 July.  They are joined by the sick girl on the following day.  Richard removes, via a lancet, the necessary pus from the child and then pricks Louis XVI, his two brothers and the Countess d’Artois.  After the first pains felt on the 22nd, the fever appears in the King on the 24th, soon followed by nauseas and shivers, but things get better from the 26th, and the eruption of the 27th has only a benign character.  After the suppuration engaged on the 30th, the absence of secondary fever over the course of the following days signifies that the sovereign is now out of danger.  The same goes for his two brothers and his sister-in-law.

Encouraged by this success and impressed by the size of the campaign in Franche-Comte, Louis XVI is favourable to a generalization of the procedure.  In 1782, the efforts deployed in Normandy by Doctor Lapeyre end in the creation, near Caen, of a specialised establishment.  On 24 September 1786, Calonne informs the Intendants that

“the King’s intention being to extend the progress of innoculation into the province, His Majesty has approved the project of having innoculated all of the foundling children who are in the villages and the countryside, as well as orphan children and others received into the hospitals, and who are in their charge”.

Doctor Jauberthon is given the task of supervising the operations.  The intention is laudable, but the Intendants’ responses highlight the material difficulties which the carrying out of such an enterprise will face.

The Revolution changes nothing about the case, and we have to wait until 1799, when Doctors Pinel and Leroux, from the Ecole de medecine, suggest the creation of an innoculation clinic for the purpose of using the “vaccine” procedure elaborated in England by Edward Jenner.  In 1798, in London, An Enquiry on the Causes of the Pox Vaccine [Une enquete sur les causes de la variole vaccinee] had appeared.  In it, Jenner demonstrates the anti-smallpox properties of cow-pox.  This possesses numerous advantages that the former innoculation did not have.  With vaccine, it is no longer necessary to treat the patient after innoculation, which permits envisaging it on a large scale.

Within a few years, it will allow the massive regression of deaths from smallpox.  From 50,000 to 80,000 victims before 1800, the number falls to under 10,000 from 1805.  From 1804, under the impulsion of the prefets, who receive instructions in this sense from the central power, sous-prefets, mayors and curates are mobilised for the creation of local vaccination committees.  The efficacy of the procedure is rapidly verified and overthrows the last reticences, particularly as the new innoculation no longer involves the very real risks which always accompanied the old one.  However, the road will still be long to the 1902 law which will make anti-smallpox vaccination obligatory in France.  It is only in 1910, that the illness will have almost totally disappeared, before being finally eradicated from the planet at the end of the XXth Century.

Louis XV.

On Monday 2 May, there is an improvement in the King’s health.  His temperature is lower, his urine is abundant and clear, and the suppuration seems to indicate that the process of expulsion of the illness has started.  The optimism is not, however, general, and Doctor Lorry discretely declares to one of his friends:

“The King is better, everyone is clamouring victory.  He will go on like this until the 11th, then the smallpox will turn to its worst, and on the 13th, he will no longer be alive.  Believe my experience, he has a smallpox from which one does not return.”

The improvement is however confirmed on 3 May.  The Duke de Belle-Isle reports in his Journal de la maladie du Roy, that Cardinal de La Roche-Aymon, the Grand Chaplain, has come to congratulate the patient

“for the notable improvement in which he was, and that he attributed it principally to the fervent prayers of forty hours that Monsignor the Archbishop had ordered”.

The Countess du Barry in 1789.

But it is on this same day that the sovereign understands, on his own, that he is suffering from smallpox.  For the partisans of Madame du Barry and the Duke d’Aiguillon, this is a catastrophe.  Their fears are quickly confirmed, for, in the evening, the patient sends his chambervalet, Laborde, to find the favourite.  Poor Jeanne, who has watched by the King’s bedside each night, the daytime being reserved for his daughters, hesitates.  She is, according to the Duke de Croy, “held back and encouraged by her Party” and herself wishes “to go away”, in these circumstances where she might risk being reproached for the death of her royal lover in a state of mortal sin.  She obeys the King’s order, however, when he says to her around midnight:

“My duty is to God and to my people.  So, you must retire from the Court tomorrow… “

Louis XV.

On 4 May the patient’s state worsens, with the ceasing of the suppuration.  He is made to drink Spanish wine to start it up again but, inexorably, “the poison turns inward”.  Around ten o’clock in the morning, the Duke d’Aiguillon receives instructions about Mme du Barry’s departure.  She leaves Versailles in the middle of the afternoon.

At midday, the Archbishop de Paris comes again to celebrate Mass in the King’s bedchamber, and Louis lets him know, on two occasions, that he is aware of the nature of his illness.  However, the Archbishop does not seem in any hurry to evoke the necessary sacraments – the Duke d’Aiguillon’s Party is still insisting to the Grand Chaplain, Cardinal de La Roche-Aymon, that they would kill the patient.  The Duke de Croy reports that the King’s daughters are still

“in the appalling dilemma of wanting him to confess himself, and of fearing that the revolution of fright and sacrifice would kill him”.

Louis XV.

The situation remains stationary on the 5 and 6 May.  The dying man’s mind is weakening, while no-one yet decides to administer the Last Rites to him.  Even worse, Abbot Maudoux, the Curate of Saint-Louis de Versailles, who demands to hear the penitent, is kept away.  Convoked on the evening of 5 May, the Grand Chaplain does not go to the patient’s bedside, and he has to wait until the night of 6 to 7 May, around two o’clock in the morning, when, in a moment of lucidity, Louis XV orders the Duke de Duras to call Abbot Maudoux.  He even has to repeat his demand, for the Duke pretends not to have heard him.  And even then, to justify himself in the eyes of the gathered courtiers, he thinks himself obliged to declare:

“Messieurs, you hear it, the King orders me to have his Confessor brought to him”.

A bit of time is gained, because of the inability of being able to find the required Confessor, to the point that, around four o’clock in the morning, the King worries about it.  The Confession can at last take place half-an-hour later.  In the morning, Cardinal de La Roche-Aymon administers the Last Rites.

This day of 7 May is marked by a real improvement, and La Martiniere is able to declare to the monarch, who has asked him to take his pulse,

“that it is better than before your Confession and if Your Majesty permits me to speak to him frankly, it will be even better when he has received Holy Communion, that will calm you”.

It is just the improvement that precedes the end.  The fever redoubles, the suppuration ceases and calls to the innoculator, Robert Sutton, remain unanswered.  During the day of the 9th, the Duke de Croy reports that

“the scabs are stopping the King from being able to see […].  He has a mask like bronze, made bigger by the scabs […] his mouth open, without the face being deformed elsewhere, nor showing agitation, sort of like the head of a Moor, a Negro, wax-like and swollen”.

Around nine o’clock in the evening, the dying man asks for Extreme Unction and the Prayers for the Dying.  Abbot Maudoux remains the whole night near his penitent.  In contradiction to the black legend which presents a dying Louis XV tormented by anguish and terrorised by the vision of infernal flames, all of the direct witnesses report that the King faced death courageously and calmly.  The next day, a violent storm strikes Versailles while the royal family is praying in the chapel, and it is a little after three o’clock in the afternoon, after an agony which had begun two hours beforehand, that the King fades away in the arms of Laborde, his chambervalet.


The risks of contagion explain why the inhumation is organized according to a simplified rite.  This ceremonial is the same as that which had accompanied the funeral of the Grand Dauphin, Louis XV’s grandfather, and of the Duke de Bourgogne, Louis XV’s father, both dead from smallpox in 1711 and 1712.  That puts paid to the myth which says that the King’s funeral takes place in secret because of the King’s unpopularity.  The remains are placed, surrounded by perfumed linen, inside a lead coffin placed inside another coffin of oak.  Two days later, the King’s body is taken to Saint-Denis.

Louis XVI.

Louis XVI is now King of France.  Immediately, the conditions in which his grandfather has disappeared (and, before him, two other generations of dead Dauphins, they too of smallpox) raises the question of innoculation.  Of all of Europe’s princes, the new sovereign and his two brothers, the Counts of Provence and of Artois, are the only ones not to have been innoculated.  The operation, having become relatively common over the previous thirty years, has, at the time of Louis XV’s death, already opened the way for the future eradication of the disease.


To be continued.

Louis XV.

Louis XV.

While the Faculty’s representatives busy themselves around the dying monarch, the affrontment of the clans and factions is in full swing at the door of the royal bedchamber.  Jacob Nicolas Moreau indignantly says:

“Everybody is thinking of himself.  Nobody is thinking of the King or of the State.”

It is a sacred union against Madame du Barry and the Duke d’Aiguillon.  Among them, the partisans of Choiseul, the King’s three daughters, and the Clerical Party which hasn’t forgotten the expulsion of the Jesuits…  In his Correspondance politique et litteraire, Metra, although hostile to the King, comes to pity

“the unfortunate Louis XV.  The most appalling intrigues were being woven right up to the foot of his death-bed.  In his last moments, there were three or four cabals which were tearing each other apart, even in his bedchamber.  Some wanted the priests to take hold of his person, the others wanted to get him away from their power.”

In a letter adressed to his sister on 5 May, Prince Francois-Xavier de Saxe also evokes

“all the indecent and unworthy cabals and intrigues which are taking place here, and which horrify.  If it weren’t for my attachment, and if I dare say, my love for the dear and worthy King, which makes me remain here, I would like to be far away so as to see and hear nothing.”

In fact, two principal camps are going to affront each other:  that of Mme du Barry and the Duke d’Aiguillon on the one hand, and that of the partisans of Choiseul on the other.

The Countess du Barry in 1789 at Louveciennes where she retired after the King's death.

A former fashion salesgirl, Jeanne Becu, the mistress of Jean du Barry, was noticed in 1768 by Louis XV;  her vivacity lit up the elderly sovereign’s final years.  However, Choiseul’s disgrace, in 1770, is attributed to her, as well as the creation of the triumvirat which unites Chancellor Maupeou, Abbot Terray and the Duke d’Aiguillon.  Obviously, the King’s death would endanger the political changes which have occurred over the course of the last few years.  Even the administration of the Last Rites is dangerous:  by imposing the banishment of the favourite, it would shake up a good number of acquired positions (the memory of the departure of Madame de Chateauroux, thirty years earlier, is still raw).  Mme du Barry’s partisans intend, therefore, to hide the gravity of his illness from the King for as long as possible, so as to avoid the ultimate Confession, which would be the signal for the banishment of the favourite, an act which could very possibly be definitive.  Even if the King recovers, he will have then taken the engagement to escape the state of mortal sin into which his guilty liaison had plunged him.  At his age, and fearing an approaching death, it is probable that he would not reverse Jeanne’s banishment, which would have the same disastrous consequences for the Party whose spokeswoman she had become.  The Duke d’Aiguillon and his followers are therefore going to insist that the gravity of the patient’s state not be revealed to him, and that the administration of the Last Rites be deferred for as long as possible.

The partisans of Choiseul, who had been disgraced four years before, remain hopeful on this point.  They fear that they will be reproached with the sovereign’s eventual death if they insist on the administration of the Last Rites, which could strongly shock the patient’s mind.


Louis XV.

The hostilities had begun in a muffled way as early as 29 April, even before the eruption of the redness which will reveal the nature of the illness.  It then concerned the imposing of a third blood-letting on the patient.  Now everyone knows that the King considers, according to the witness report of the Duke de Croy,

“that one must not go to the third blood-letting unless one has christianly prepared oneself for death”.

So, prodded by the Duke d’Aiguillon’s Party, the doctors, Bordeu, Lorry and Lemonnier, renounce performing the third blood-letting.  When the illness declares itself, the debate gets nasty – the Duke de Croy, the most reliable witness to the events, gives this account of it:

“Some were saying that it would be appalling, through prejudice, to kill him on purpose by frightening him;  others that it would be appalling to risk leaving him to die without sacraments, which would be without precedent since Clovis.”

The doctors fearing that the slightest fright could “make the poison turn inward” and finish off the patient, it is decided not to inform him of his state, with the agreement of his three daughters.

Disappointed, Choiseul’s partisans think for an instant that they are going to reverse the situation for their own benefit when the arrival at Versailles of the Archbishop of Paris is announced.  No-one doubts that he is coming to the Palace to hear the royal patient’s Confession.  With his habitual gruffness, Christophe de Beaumont is readying himself to bluntly reveal to the sovereign the gravity of his illness and demand the immediate departure of Mme du Barry.  Her partisans play their last card by mobilising  Madame Adelaide, the King’s eldest daughter, thanks to Madame de Narbonne, her governess.  Mme Adelaide begs the Prelate to say nothing about the smallpox and the Last Rites, for the motive that such words would be fatal to the patient.  On Sunday 1 May, the Archbishop comes to celebrate Mass in the royal bedchamber but retires without having had a private conversation with the patient.  Followed by his chamber-pot – for he is afflicted with very painful nephritic colics – he goes to Mme Adelaide who exhorts him to discretion so as to avoid making “the poison turn inward” in her father’s body.  Convinced, the Prelate is then buttonholed by the Duke de Richelieu who also dissuades him from evoking the Last Rites during his next interview with Louis XV.  This interview will last only a few minutes and it is mainly the King who enquires about his visitor’s health.  An attitude that is surprising at the very least, and which makes several witnesses indignant.  The Duke de Croy reports that

“the Archbishop de Paris, dying of gravel, came this day, saw the King, that it was great question of the Archbishop’s malady, and then that’s all;  and, extraordinary thing, that the Archbishop returned to Paris”.

Jacob Nicolas Moreau is no less indignant:

“Instead of sending away all these base courtiers and doing his job, the Archbishop contented himself with answering the questions that the King asked him about the Archbishop’s own health;  His Majesty talked to him about his nephritis, had his pulse taken by his doctors, and the poor Prelate left…”

The Archbishop of Paris’ strange attitude has a reason.  The Prelate, it is true, detests Louis XV, even though it is the King who had him named Archbishop of Paris in 1745;  but it is also the King who decided the expulsion of the Jesuits.  As well as that, he knows that Louis XV risks dying in a state of mortal sin.  However, he is not in a hurry to send him a priest.  Why?  Because he fears that the banishment of the favourite might result in the return of Choiseul, his sworn enemy.

To be continued.

Louis XV.

Sometimes called a carpenter’s daughter, sometimes a young cowherdess, sometimes the daughter of the Du Barry’s Intendant or of the gardener of her Louveciennes property, the mythical child infected by smallpox, who is supposed to have given the disease to the King while in his bed, was written about by multiple authors, who did not hesitate to heap blame onto the guilty King.  He is supposed to have received the smallpox, transformed into a punishment from Heaven, from his innocent victim, at the same time, giving her the big pox [syphilis].  Louis XV is even suspected of purposely trying to give his own pox to young, healthy organisms with the aim, as ignoble as it is illusionary, of debarrassing himself of it.  This is how Touchard-Lafosse, the author of the Chroniques de l’Oeil-de-Boeuf, explains very seriously that

“the gift of the King’s illness to young, robust persons, lively and in good health, appeared the only appropriate means for enticing His Majesty’s morbifical [“morbifique” (sic)] humours out of him, and rejuvenating his person”.

For all those who are seeking to make him look dirty, it is therefore the King’s immoderate taste for debauchery that is supposed to be his downfall.


Louis XV.

For two weeks, the King’s illness mobilises the Court’s complete attention, without anyone being careful about contagion.  Around fifty cases will be declared at this time, and ten patients will die from it, some of whom had scarcely approached the King’s bed.  No preventive measures were taken and the monarch’s sheets were left on the sill of the window which opens onto the Dauphin’s and the Dauphine’s garden, as well as onto the apartments of the Count de Provence, the future Louis XVIII.  The risk is considerable, except for Marie-Antoinette who was innoculated in 1768, while she was still an Austrian Archduchess.  On 29 April, when “the King’s smallpox has not yet declared itself”, the Dauphin and his young spouse go to their grandfather’s bedside, which will have dramatic consequences.  The three daughters that still remain to the sovereign, Adelaide, Victoire and Sophie, even relay each other at his bedside and contract the illness, but without any serious consequences.  Madame Adelaide does not even hesitate, on 2 May, to take her father’s hand, covered in terrible blisters, while he, himself, is ignorant of the exact nature of his illness.

Several high Court people, including the Prince de Conde and the Dukes d’Aiguillon, de Belle-Isle and de Croy, remain at the patient’s bedside, in spite of the risks.  Political risks as much as sanitary risks:  if Louis XV dies, they will not be able to approach the person of the new King for forty days.  On the other hand, a cure would put them in a most favourable position with the sovereign.  The Duke de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt does not even bother to hide his thoughts on the subject:

“I decided to watch beside him…  I saw it as being in my interest to do so, for I would acquire the right to take up my ordinary way of life after his recovery, if I had an assiduous comportment during his malady, and after ten nights spent at his bedside.”

A lot of people gamble on the monarch’s survival and, in spite of the risks, they squabble over the places in the royal bedchamber.  The Dukes d’Aumont and de Bouillon multiply their courtier words and actions, which is also reported to us by La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt:

“They both gave themselves up to tenderly loving the King.  Their conversation was interrupted by tender and deep sighs, by sobs, by moans, and sometimes also by moments of sleep for, fortunately, their anxiety did not remove all faculty for sleep from them… “

In the same register, the Duke de Bouillon explains to the surgeon, La Martiniere, while sobbing, that he would be ready to sacrifice his two arms to save the monarch’s life…

Louis XV the Bien-Aime.

Besides the courtiers, doctors and apothicaries occupied in force the royal bedchamber.  For the Diafoirus [a doctor in one of Moliere’s plays] of the times, the aim was “to expulse the morbid humours”.  In this sense, suppuration and sudation constitute favourable signs.  The patient suffering from a strong fever must be “refreshed”.  His sheets must be changed frequently while waiting for a fall in temperature, the sign that the organism has vanquished the terrible illness.  If the suppuration and the perspiration slow down, while the temperature remains high, the prognosis is going to become fatal, for the illness “is turning inward” and the patient is engaging in the mortal phase of “redoubling”.  The Court therefore lives in wait for about ten days, until 8 May which will see the beginning of “the secondary fever”, announcing the end.


 On 3 May, the patient understands that he is suffering from smallpox.  A third blood-letting is renounced and they content themselves with applying cataplasms which are supposed to facilitate suppuration.  There is also recourse to vomitives and enemas whose therapeutic effects are, of course, very limited.  In the night of 8 to 9 May, an English innoculator, Robert Sutton, is called.  He is the inventor of a secret remedy susceptible of saving the dying man.  Jealous of his authority, Lemonnier refuses that a medication, whose composition is unknown to him, be administered.  Therefore, Sutton leaves, but he is called back again in the afternoon of 9 May.  He is, however, unable to convince the doctors, which soon gives birth to a rumour, according to which, the official doctors have taken the risk of sacrificing the King’s life, rather than ceding to a rival.


To be continued.

Louis XV.

The King made a lot of enemies over the course of the last ten years of his reign.  The expulsion of the Jesuits in 1763, gave him the inimity of the Archbishop of Paris, Monsignor Christophe de Beaumont.  Chancellor Maupeou’s reform had abolished the venality of parliamentary charges, and put in place a magistrature now deprived of political powers:  this had mobilised public opinion against the sovereign.  The Counsellors in Parliament had been tricking the People for a long time.  They had been passing themselves off as defenders of public liberties while, in fact, they were only interested in preserving their own privileges.

However, although the King counted numerous enemies in 1774, it is quite inexact to claim that he was the object of general unpopularity.  At the end of a long reign, he was no longer the “Beloved” [Bien-Aime] of old, but the noisy agitation of the Court and the capital did not show the true state of public opinion at this moment.

Louis XV giving peace to Europe in 1729.

Up until then, the sovereign had shown himself to be of solid good health and, right at the beginning of his illness, nothing could lead anyone to suppose that he was about to die.  In 1721, fifty years earlier, a simple blood-letting had put an end to a worrying fever and, in October 1728, at Fontainebleau, the young King had been affected with a rash without consequences, precisely the one that made him think that he had already confronted smallpox.  In fact, it was just a simple chicken pox.  The “Metz illness” of August 1744 had been much more spectacular.  The King was then thirty-four.  Suffering from a high temperature, submitted to five blood-lettings, he had then appeared to be dangerously ill, at the moment when he was hurrying to the kingdom’s borders, which were being threatened by an Austrian invasion.  This episode is important for, although the illness was probably only a bad insolation, the King still received the Last Rites and, for this, had been obliged to send away his favourite of the moment, the Duchess de Chateauroux.  This precedent is going to weigh heavily on the ten days of the royal agony, thirty years later.

At this time, Louis XV had known no other particularly serious health problems but he had seen a lot of people around him die.  Of the ten children given to him by Marie Leszczynska, only four daughters had survived, the Mesdames Tantes” [My Lady Aunts] of the Court of Louis XVI, Marie-Adelaide, Marie-Victoire, Sophie and Louise-Marie.  Three children died between the ages of three and eight, which was relatively banal at this epoch, but three others disappeared as adults, Anne-Henriette at twenty-five, in 1752, her twin sister Louise-Elisabeth, the wife of the Infant Philippe of Parme, seven years later, then the Dauphin Louis (the father of the future Louis XVI) in 1765, two years before his mother, Marie Leszczynska.  In 1770, Monsignor Christophe de Beaumont took malicious pleasure in coming in person to announce to the King the entry into Carmel of Louise-Marie, the youngest of his daughters, which plunged Louis XV into immense sadness. “Dead to the world”, she would never again see her father, even in his last moments.  These multiple dramas engendered deep melancholy in the sovereign.  In this context, the presence of Madame du Barry is more comforting than libertine for this aged sovereign.  The sudden death, in front of him, of the Marquis de Chauvelin, struck down by an attack of apoplexia during a game of whist, in November 1773, had increased the ageing monarch’s anxiety about the perspective of a possible death in the near future, like any other man of his age.  Chauvelin had not had time to make his confession;  the fear of a similar death tormented the sovereign throughout the months which preceded “the declaration of smallpox”.


As soon as the sovereign’s illness is made public, the courtisan manoeuvres begin, each clan advancing its pawns in function of its interests, while calculating the patient’s chances for survival.  At the same time, lampoons and pamphlets circulate, heaping blame on the King, that adversary of Parliaments and Jesuits.  In Versailles, the doctors busy themselves at their patient’s bedside but their helplessness is total;  they are reduced to letting the illness evolve, knowing that it can end just as well in a cure as in death.

It is well known how the illness reached the King.  A few days before the King, the Countess de Provence had contracted the illness, as well as the Chancellor of Spain who did not survive.  In his Journal, the Duke de Croy gives precisions:

“Rumours were spread about how he had caught this illness, but the fact is that a few children had had it in the Trianon neighbourhood, and that a little girl of two died from it in an attic, at the end of the park, and was taken away at night, in a sheet;  […]  which spread the venom in the gardens, where he often went.  Louis XV therefore seems to have caught his disease in the beautiful greenhouses and the botanical garden.”

Voltaire reports that the King had contracted the disease by approaching the coffin of a young girl who had died of smallpox, whose funeral procession he had passed, while leaving for a hunt.  Two days later, the monarch’s dentist is supposed to have noticed suspicious symptoms on his gums.  The hypothesis of the author of the Dictionnaire philosophique cannot however be retained, for the episode that he evokes took place only a few days before the disease’s appearance, while the incubation period lasts two weeks.

Malevolent minds ironise about this “small pox” which comes to complete the action of the “big pox” [syphilis] abusively bestowed upon the King through a life judged to be dissolute.  It is even suspected that the sovereign had, at the instigation of the shameful favourite, put into his bed a little girl suffering, without anyone knowing it, from the sinister smallpox.  So many interpretations, all as malevolent as they are unfounded – but nevertheless regularly brought up again – which go to add to the King’s black legend.  Seven years after the King’s death, Moufle d’Angerville takes up this theme again in his Vie privee de Louis XV, which is a simple collection of rumours and calumnies:

“Following this blind fatality which plays with men’s vain projects and often confounds the greatest wisdom, even the efforts of these corruptors [Mme du Barry’s partisans] to perpetuate their empire, turned against them, and France was saved…”

To be continued.

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