Marie Louise of Orléans (1695-1719) has often been described as “The French Messalina”. She was an ill-mannered teenager who indulged in all sorts of pleasures offered at the glittering court of the French “Sun King”. Behind that façade, however, one can find an unhappy young girl. Completely ignored by her mother from birth, Marie Louise was forced to grow up fast. Married at the age of 14, she became 5 times pregnant, but none of her children survived more than a few weeks.

The story of Marie Louise starts in 1692, when her illustrious grandfather, Louis XIV “The Sun King” of France (1638-1715), shocked society by giving his illegitimate daughter, Françoise Marie, in marriage to his legitimate nephew, Prince Philip II of Orléans.
Marie Louise’s mother, Françoise Marie (1677-1749)1, was proud, lazy and egoistic. She spoke slowly with an abominable pronunciation. Her head shook continually and one of her shoulders was higher than the other, giving her a slight limp. Between 1693 and 1716, she gave birth to 7 daughters and 1 son, but she made no effort at all to discipline them properly. She didn't care about her children and found it too fatiguing to have them around. Once, when the Sun King reproached Françoise Marie for the behaviour of her eldest daughter, she answered him: “I do not know her any better than your Majesty does, for I have never taken any part in my children's education”.
Marie Louise’s father, Philip II of Orléans (1674-1723), was witty, intelligent and talented, but the jealous Sun King had made sure that he had few opportunities to use his talents. Frustrated and self-indulgent, Philip filled his days with debauchery. His mother, Liselotte of The Palts (1652-1722), wrote: “He is quite crazy about women. Provided they are good-tempered, indelicate, great eaters and drinkers, he troubles little about their looks”. He liked to shock; he refused to hide his womanising and was a confessed atheist. In addition, he was so foul-mouthed that his wife was ashamed to invite people to diner. Still, he was a loving father to his elder children.

The couple's eldest daughter died as a baby in October 1694. On August 20, 1695, Marie Louise Elisabeth2 was born. At the age of 6, Marie Louise became so ill that the physicians gave up on her. Eventually they even thought that she was dead. In despair, her father threw out the quacks and personally nursed his little girl back to health. From then on he spoiled her tremendously. She was too indisciplined ever to learn to dance, but she could sing and had a talent for mimicry. Marie Louise came out hunting with the King for the first time in November 1704.
At the age of 14, she had her own little court of ladies at the Palais-Royal. At the same time, her ambitious mother was already scheming to arrange a marriage for her with the 23-year-old Prince Charles (1686-1714), Duke of Berry. The Sun King, their grandfather3, first objected to the marriage, fearing that chubby Marie Louise would not be able to conceive. For a whole year, Marie Louise laced herself very tightly, scarcely ate and did exercises. As a result, her waist diminished and the marriage was decided upon. It took place in July 1710 in the brand new Chapel at Versailles. On Marie Louise's wedding day, her heartless mother quarrelled with her, because her father had given her diamond earrings for her wedding that her mother had wanted to wear.

The bridegroom was a gay young man, but he was not very bright. His main interests were riding, shooting, playing cards and eating well. Liselotte of The Palts wrote: “He would not be so silly if he had not been brought up in such ignorance; but he knows nothing whatever”. Proud Marie Louise detested him and was sure to let him know it. At court she was always squabbling about etiquette and rank. She was several times reprimand for it by the Sun King. In 1711, at the age of 15, Marie Louise experienced her first troublesome pregnancy. Custom demanded she remained lying down the whole day and as a result Marie Louise became very irritable. Her husband did his best to appease her, but he was not very successful and had to endure terrible scenes. Philip of Orléans would call on her every day and then spend several hours with her. It was around that time that the - never proven - rumours about an incestuous love affair between father and daughter started. In July, the Court left Marly for Fontainebleau and, despite the advice of the Court physician, the Sun King demanded that pregnant Marie Louise travelled with the court to Fontainebleau. During the journey, she became very ill, but was forced to continue her journey. Then her boat ran into the foundations of a bridge and broke in two. Marie Louise was badly shaken. The baby girl she bore died within a few hours.

If she wished, Marie Louise could be agreeable and amiable, but she had a violent temperament and her pride was immense. After the death of her brother-in-law in 1712, Marie Louise and her husband became first in rank after the King4. Subsequently, her moods improved. Again pregnant, her waters broke after 7 months. In an exhausting 3-day confinement, Marie Louise gave birth to a son and heir, who died 2 weeks later. The King now treated her affectionately and even lent her the Crown Jewels for the festivities of the betrothals of the Princes of Condé and Conti. Marie Louise's clothes were of the richest fabrics, covered with emeralds, rubies and diamonds. She was an excellent musician and sang with talent. The chase was her principal diversion, but she was also very fond of feasting, gambling and eating. Around that time Marie Louise is described by her grandmother, Liselotte of The Palts, as: “Berry is madder and more impertinent than ever”.

At first, the weak Prince Charles was not much troubled by Marie Louise's violent temper, extravagant caprices and free ways. He tried to love his wife, but he could hardly ever see her. She hunted in the mornings and afterwards busied with her toilette. Whenever she had a few spare moments, she gave them to her father. Often, she spent hours with him alone. Philip II of Orléans was a talented painter and once painted his daughter in the nude. Over the years the rumours of incest increased and could not be silenced5. A pamphleteer6 even accused Marie Louise of being pregnant of her father’s child. Liselotte of The Palts wrote: “My son and his daughter are so much attached to each other, that unfortunately it makes people say vile things about them”. Obstinate and passionate, Marie Louise often behaved brutally and haughty towards her father and sometimes treated him worse than a servant, but he continued to tolerate every whim of his eldest daughter. Charles became furiously jealous of the father-daughter relationship.
The Duke of Saint-Simon7 wrote about Marie Louise: “Her arrogance bordered on folly, and she was capable of the lewdest indecencies. [..] She did all she could to make M. the Duke of Berry, who was genuinely pious and completely honest, give up religion. [..] She lost no time in having affairs, which were conducted so indiscreetly, that he soon found out about them. Her daily and interminable sessions with M. the Duke of Orléans, where it was clear that he [Berry] was not wanted, put him in a rage. [..] At each of the many informal meals she took, she became dead drunk, and threw up whatever she had eaten”.

In November, 1713, Charles of Berry had become fed-up with his wife's tantrums, and began an affair with her chambermaid8. In reaction, Marie Louise took as her lover one of her husband's equerries, La Haye, known at Court as “Monsieur Tout-Prêt”. He was well built and a good horseman, but, according to contemporaries, he was more body than brain. His wife's indiscretions made Berry so angry that he once kicked her, and threatened to have her confined in a convent. Continually, the couple had public battles and shamefaced interviews with the Sun King. Then, on April 26, 1714, Charles fell from his horse, while he was out hunting. He was purged by the doctors, and vomited a good deal of blood and "black matter", before he expired on May 4. Marie Louise had become a widow at the age of 18. She didn't regret the loss of her husband, but raged at falling from the position of first lady in France to that of an unwanted widow. Marie Louise remained in bed, ordering her whole apartment to be decorated in black, and all the windows to remain closed. Again pregnant, she was ill in April and May. A girl was born prematurely in July. She lived for only 12 hours.

Upon the death of the Sun King in 1715, the Duke of Orléans became regent of France. From then onwards, Marie Louise lost her last inhibitions and devoted her life to excess. She asked her father to give her the Luxembourg Palace as a residence. He granted the request and at once Marie Louise ordered her mother and grandmother to leave the palace. She appointed her current lover, the Marquis of Roye9, as captain of her newly formed guards.

Childless and undisciplined, Marie Louise became her father’s companion in vice. She gambled recklessly and once lost 180.000 livres in one game. She adored drunkenness and became an alcohol addict with a preference for geneva. Her father came to dine with her lovers at the Luxembourg Palace, while she went to the Palais-Royal to sup with his mistresses. She also took part in his infamous suppers. They were attended only be his intimate friends, who cooked and served themselves. During the evening the conversation sparkled like the wine in their glasses. An evening could also feature nude dancers from the Opera, who staged orgies of the classical past. All intimates had nicknames for each other and Marie Louise was called “Princess Chubby”. She ate enormously and was extremely fat10 at the age of 20. As soon as she awoke in the morning all sorts of things were brought to her to eat. She would rise at 12 o'clock and eat until three, then return to her apartment, where she rested, lying on a couch. At 4 o'clock fruit, cream and salads were served to her. She never went to bed before 2 o'clock. She disliked exercise except hunting, and, like her mother, she was extremely lazy.

Marie Louise was first at all the court festivities. She had her apartments and carriage decorated in white and silver. Later she changed everything to gold. In 1718, she gave a famous ball at the Luxembourg Palace in honour of her aunt Elisabeth Charlotte, the Duchess of Lorraine. Its splendour surpassed anything of the kind previously seen. She served 132 hors-d'oeuvrs, 32 soups, 60 entrées, 130 hot entremets, 60 cold entremets, 72 plats ronds, 82 pigeons, 370 partridges and pheasants and 126 sweetbreads. The dessert consisted of 100 baskets of fresh fruit, 94 baskets of dried fruit, 50 dishes of fruits glacées and 106 compotes. One night Marie Louise and 2 other young women enacted for her guests the "Judgement of Paris", all three stark naked. Her confessor attended her suppers regulary, because, Marie Louise said, “she found it less embarrassing to exhibit her sins than to confess them”.

Marie Louise's may have suffered from the eating disorder bulimia nervosa. It probably started during her adolescence after the period of intense dieting which enabled her to marry Charles of Berry. The supposed association between corpulence and infertility and the deaths of all Marie Louise's children shortly after birth may have increased an obsession with her chubby body. She clearly had periods of gormandising or "binge eating" and became extremely fat. Like many girls with bulimia, Marie Louise preferred food with a soft texture, like fruit, cream and salads. Binges usually begin with feelings of unbearable tension and irritability. Afterwards, bulimics usually suffer from feelings of self-reproach and depression. The Duke of Saint-Simon described how, at informal meals, Marie Louise threw up whatever she had eaten.

From 1716 onwards, Marie Louise's behaviour gradually changed. She had fallen desperately in love with a Gascon lieutenant, Armand d’Aydie (1692-1741), Count of Riom11. He was short and fat, had a yellowish face with pimples12 and was neither clever, nor amusing, but he seems to have been hugely endowed13. In July 1716, Marie Louise bought the post of Colonel of the Soissonais regiment for him. She supposedly married Armand d'Aydie secretly in the autumn14. He bullied her around, but his behaviour merely added fuel to Marie Louise's passion. Gradually, the haughty Princess became the Count's slave. Every morning, she would send messages to him asking what he would like her to wear, and, when she obediently dressed according to his orders, he would make her change everything again. He made her constantly suffer his caprices, and even deprived her of her freedom. She became neurotic, was afraid of dying and often wept. In public, she behaved sweet and humble, regularly visited church and seemed devoted to God. In June 1717, her grandmother wrote: “She gives me all possible marks of friendship, and often shows me such politeness that I am moved by it”. Marie Louise's life had begun alternating between unconstrained excesses and religious mania. When she was troubled by remorse, as in December 1716, she used to retread to a Carmelite convent, where she fasted rigidly, prayed, flogged herself, and rose during the night to recite with the nuns. After a while, however, she would put her rosaries aside and return to the Court and its pleasures.

Her father, the regent, forbade the couple to mention the scandalous marriage to anybody. When Liselotte of The Palts, having heard some rumours, asked Marie Louise about it, she replied: “Can you believe me capable of such a stupid move, I, who am accused of such intense pride?". Soon, Marie Louise became pregnant by her lover. Her father was furious, because Marie Louise hadn't properly concealed her pregnancy. “Princess Chubby” continued to eat and drink unlimited quantities. Early 1719, she became seriously ill. The religious authorities refused to administer the last sacraments, as long as the Count of Riom was in the palace, but to give in would seem like a confession and thus result in a scandal. Marie Louise, in agony, refused to comply. After a few days, her father, the regent, found a way out of the impasse by commanding Armand d'Aydie to join his regiment in Spain. After the birth of a daughter15 on March 28, Marie Louise slowly recovered, but her health had been fatally undermined.

The regent's visits to his daughter were now “rare, short and stormy”. Trying to make amends, Marie Louise organised a supper on the terrace at Meudon in her father's honour, but she caught a chill from the night air. Afterwards, she remained ill with fevers. Throughout May her ilness increased. Liselotte of The Palts wrote: “She had such an atrocious pain in the soles and toes of both feet that she cried”. By July, she was again at the point of death. She lost consciousness, recovering it but slightly, at long intervals, and only for a few moments. She died at midnight on July 20, 1719, shortly after her 24th birthday. Post-mortem indicated a fifth pregnancy, a diseased liver, and a supposedly “deranged brain”. Her father’s grief was unendurable16. The Duke of Saint-Simon wrote: “He [..] wept so much that I feared he would suffocate. When his great explosion of grief had subsided a little, he began to talk about the misfortunes of this world, and of the short duration of what is most agreeable”. He died 4 years later.

Copyright © 2001, 2007, 2009 by J.N.W. Bos. All rights reserved.

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