Marie Angélique de Scorailles was born in July 1661 to parents Jean Rigal de Scorraille, who was the King’s lieutenant, and his wife, Aimée Eléonore de Plas. Angélique was born into an old aristocratic family and was raised in a Château in Auvergne, but as was the case with many ancient families, the family had prestige but little money.
Angélique was noted as a beauty even as a young child, and in order to try to regain the family’s fortune, a plan was formulated to send Angélique to court and dangle her in front of the King of France. Angélique’s family pooled their resources and had the finest wardrobe made up for her before packing the seventeen-year-old off. Angélique became Maid of Honour to Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchess of Orléans and her time was spent between a number of palaces; Fontainebleau, Saint-Germain and Versailles, which was undergoing extensive building work.
At this time, King Louis XIV had a wife and was involved with two mistresses. The first was his long-term official mistress Athénaïs, Madame de Montespan who had been with the king for over a decade and had seven children with him, but in this period their physical relationship had begun to wane. The second was Françoise, Madame de Maintenon. Françoise and the King had grown close as she was the governess of his and Madame de Montespan’s children and she loved the children dearly. The pair cared for each other but were not intimate at this stage. During this time, the two women were at logger-heads for the King’s affections, and they were both surprised to find the King suddenly infatuated with somebody else.
The new girl at court – Angélique who was just 17 – was said to be the most beautiful woman at Versailles, and everyone raved about her looks. Even her rival Athénaïs declared her to look exactly like a statue. An ambassador said she “had an air to astonish and charm” and the Duchess of Orléans called her “as lovely as an angel, from head to foot.” When the king saw Angélique, he fell for her immediately and pursued her. The 40-year-old monarch was always having flings, but with Angélique, he fell in love.
Before long everyone at court knew that Angélique and the King were an item. The King, who had become less exciting and extravagant in the years before, suddenly began to host balls and ballets again and the court buzzed with activity. Whatever dazzling outfit Angélique wore, Louis was seen in matching ribbons and decked in feathers and diamonds as in his youth. The beauty and zest for life shown by the young Angélique seemed to re-invigorate King Louis XIV, who had started to mellow with age. For a time Angélique was all everyone talked about; her fashions were copied, everyone wanted to talk to her, and the King was head over heels. One day when out hunting, a branch became stuck in Angélique’s hair, loosening her ribbon and curls, within days the new style was being mimicked by every lady at court…apart from Athénaïs who by now had realised that the new mistress was a real threat to her position.
Angélique had re-awoken Louis’ libido which, though he had frequent affairs, had suffered in the years before, by then even the experienced Athénaïs could do little to please the King in this way. The King could not get enough of Angélique and showered her with gifts and compliments. Soon Angélique was seen being driven by a coach and eight horses which was a gift from the King, Athénaïs had only ever had six horses! The rivalry between the two became more public when one-day Athénaïs unleashed two pet bears on the new mistress’ Versailles apartment in order to destroy it. Eventually, though Athénaïs quietened down in order to keep at least the title of Maîtresse-en-titre, it was reported that she said to Madame de Maintenon, “the King has three mistresses, that young hussy performs the actual functions of a mistress, I hold the title, and you hold the heart.”
For a while, Angélique rose swiftly through the ranks at Versailles and was adored by the King despite her flaws which were becoming obvious to everyone else. After getting past the stunning looks of the young woman, it seemed there was little else to her; she had little in the way of wit or charm and was not said to be clever or a conversationalist, in fact, quite the opposite. One courtier called her “as stupid as a basket” and apparently as soon as she opened her mouth to talk, people stopped swooning over her. Madame de Caylus penned that “the King was embarrassed by her foolish chatter” and went on to say that one does not grow accustomed to stupidity.
As was common for a young mistress, it was not long before Angélique became pregnant. As a consequence of the pregnancy and dwindling sexual relations, Louis finally grew tired of Angélique. She gave birth to a sadly stillborn boy in January 1680. Following this, Angélique was granted the title of Duchess of Fontanges and was awarded a substantial yearly pension. This, of course, could be seen as a sign of Louis’ favour, but it was also a way he liked to end a relationship, with a grandiose departing gift. The new Duchess’ families wish had been granted, and her family were given a much-needed boost financially, but Angélique was heartbroken at the relationship coming to an end and was still very unwell after her son’s birth.
In order to recover, Angélique left court with her sisters and her staff and headed to the Abbey of Chelles. Courtiers gossiped about her terrible appearance; she was still losing blood after the loss of her child and looked paler by the day. It was also believed that the Duchess was suffering from lung disease, and there was little of her spark and beauty left to be seen. Madame de Sévigné wrote that “it was pitiful to see, that great beauty losing all her blood, pale, changed, overwhelmed with sorrow and despising the 40,000 ecus annual pension…wishing for her health and the heart of the king which she has lost.” Other courtiers were less caring and mocked Angélique for being “wounded in the king’s service.”
There are stories that King Louis XIV visited Angélique at the Abbey as she suffered from a terrible fever one night. Louis supposedly wept by her bedside, though this is unlikely to be true, even if King Louis was becoming a more religious and caring man under the guidance of Madame de Maintenon. Angélique never returned from the Abbey and endured a painful death aged just nineteen.
It is unclear what exactly killed Angélique, many sources say problems relating to childbirth, others say lung disease, and then there are also rumours that Angélique was poisoned by Madame de Montespan. Whatever the cause, Versailles had lost an innocent soul and after this King Louis XIV began to mellow in his later years and settled with the pious Madame de Maintenon, whom he later married. A posthumous portrait of the Duchess of Fontanges was commissioned, and each year, a service was held in memory of the young Duchess, paid for by the King who must have felt in some way responsible for her death.1