The travelling and the hectic nature of court life did not agree with fourteen-year-old Marie, and she began to feel unwell and looked “a pitiful state” after a few weeks at the French court. It was decided that Marie and young Hortense should return to a convent for a while for their education and to help Marie to recover. Marie wrote that the Cardinal said, “it would fatten me up a bit.” Marie and Hortense spent the following eighteen months living at the Convent of the Visitation.
Marie returned to court aged seventeen with colour in her cheeks and an education in the arts and literature behind her which enabled her to keep up in conversation with all of the fashionable people at court. Since living back with her mother, Marie complained that she had to stay home doing nothing while her sisters Olympia and Hortense enjoyed the splendours of court and that her mother watched over her too closely. Marie remembered this period of her life in her memoirs, writing that she often argued with her mother over her mistreatment. One day Girolama told her brother the Cardinal that she could no longer live with Marie and he should return her to a convent. Marie remembered that her uncle “reprimanded me in such acid tones and cutting terms”, but she stated that whereas any other girl would be sick with remorse, she was not!
It turned out that the reason Girolama was more irritable than before and took things out on Marie was because she was ill and getting worse by the day. The young King began visiting Girolama out of courtesy each day, and there he noticed Marie and over the weeks the pair began chatting and joking during these visits. Sadly Girolama’s condition worsened, and she died. While Marie was saddened by her mother’s passing, she wrote in her memoir “too much severity often serves only to strip (children) of affection, since love and fear are almost always incompatible.” The loss of her mother was soon followed by the loss of her beloved sister Laure-Victoire, who died in childbirth.
After suffering such grief, Marie and her sisters began to slowly move on and enjoy life at court. Marie loved having nobody telling her what to do, and she felt like a completely new person after gaining more freedom. At this stage, Marie and the King continued to grow closer, and she spent a lot of time with King Louis and his brother Philippe. Marie felt at ease with the king, and he allowed her to speak freely to him and set aside formality.
In 1658, Louis became gravely ill after coming down with a fever. Courtiers rushed around panicking in case the king should die, but Marie saw Louis as a person and saw beyond his office, and she wept and prayed ceaselessly over the news. When Louis recovered, he was told of Marie’s outpouring of affection and was touched by it.
When the King and his retinue travelled from place to place, Marie started to join them. On one such trip to Fontainebleau when out riding, Marie began to feel that the King had taken a liking to her, but it was only when the court gossip began circulating that she allowed herself to believe it. The King soon started sending lovely gifts to Marie, was caring and protective over her and treated differently to how he treated others. The romance was threatened when marriage negotiations began for the King and Marguerite of Savoy, but once the match was called off, King Louis and Marie spent more and more time together, taking long walks and hosting parties where they danced all night long only with each other.
Marie inspired an interest in poetry and literature in Louis which had not been seen before, and the young King who was known to be shy, began to come out of his shell and be more sociable. His cousin La Grande Mademoiselle commented that the King was in “much better humour after he fell in love with Mademoiselle Mancini…he chatted with everyone.” Cardinal Mazarin and Louis’ mother Anne of Austria were pleased about this change in the King’s demeanour, but when talk began of Louis wishing to marry Marie, their attitudes quickly changed! A brief romance with Marie was one thing, but she was sadly not of the correct rank to marry a King. The cardinal and the King’s mother set themselves to the task of finalising marriage plans for the King and a new match, the Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain; they were truly concerned that Louis and Marie would marry in secret. Louis wished he could marry Marie, and when the Queen of Sweden visited and told him to marry for love, it seemed for a moment that Marie could become Queen of France.
In June 1659, the young lovers’ dream was shattered as Marie was sent away from court by her uncle to La Rochelle for a period of exile disguised as a holiday. The heartbroken Louis was only allowed minutes to say goodbye to his true love, which he had to do in front of everybody as Marie and her sisters boarded their carriage. The King presented Marie with a gift of pearls and was visibly sobbing as she left. Marie turned to the King and uttered a line which was used time and time again in poetry and operas of the future “Sire, I am leaving, and you weep, and yet you are King.”
As soon as Marie was out of sight, the Cardinal devoted himself to finalising marriage plans for Louis. Marie was kept busy in La Rochelle with walks on the seafront, parties and fireworks, and it seemed she may have forgotten her love for the King. Marie and the King had been forbidden to write to each other, but when Marie started spending a lot of time with quartermaster Colbert de Terron it was discovered that he had been providing her with a stream of love letters from the King! After this, Marie sank into full melancholy and moved herself into a grim fortress overlooking the sea and did little other than write letters to Louis. Cardinal Mazarin tried everything to stop this; he had the girls’ governess spy on her and intercepted her letters and those of her sisters before they got back to court. However, Louis was spending time in Chantilly and was sending letters by courier to Marie who were out of reach of the Cardinal and his allies. Marie clearly still had hope for their relationship as she began to see an astrologer in the hope of finding out her fate.1
*Sarah Nelson: Hortense Mancini and Marie Mancini- Memoirs
* Elizabeth Goldsmith: The Kings’ Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin,
* C. Begg: Writing from the road- Space and the spectacle of Hortense Mancini, Duchess of Mazarin
* Susan Shifrin: “The Wandering life I led” essays on Hortense Mancini and early modern women’s border crossings