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Definition: Maintenon from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

Marquise de Maintenon 1635–1719 Françoise d'Aubigné; consort of Louis XIV


Summary Article: Maintenon, Françoise d'Aubigné marquise de from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(fräNswäz' dōbēnyā' märkēz' də măNtənôN'), 1635–1719, second wife of the French king Louis XIV. Her grandfather was Théodore Agrippa d'Aubigné, the Huguenot hero. He disinherited his disreputable son, Constant d'Aubigné, a criminal and Mme de Maintenon's father. Her mother was Jeanne de Cardilhac, the daughter of d'Aubigné's jailer. After a royal pardon (1643), the family spent some years in Martinique, but upon her father's death she and her poverty-stricken mother returned to France. Although baptized a Roman Catholic, the child was educated by a Protestant aunt. Later cared for by Catholic relatives, she became a very devout Catholic. At 16 she married the poet Paul Scarron and, released from a life of poverty and social disgrace, became a figure in the literary and intellectual world of Paris.

After Scarron's death in 1660 the queen mother continued the poet's pension to his widow. Later Mme de Maintenon became a close friend of the king's favorite mistress, Mme de Montespan, who obtained a pension for her. Noted for her discretion, she became (1669) the governess for the children of Mme de Montespan and the king, and gradually she supplanted Mme de Montespan in the esteem and affections of Louis XIV, who made her a marquise. Mme de Maintenon became the king's confidante, exercising considerable influence over Louis and greatly lifting the moral tone of the notoriously dissolute court, although the ascription to her of Louis's mistakes (particularly the revocation of the Edict of Nantes) is an exaggeration. The queen, Marie Thérèse, was devoted to her and died in her arms. In 1684 she was morganatically married to the king. In her later years Mme de Maintenon gave much of her attention to the famous school of Saint-Cyr, which she had founded for the daughters of poor but noble families. She also wrote remarkable essays and letters dealing with education.

  • C. C. Dyson (1910), C. Haldane (1970), and V. Buckley (2009).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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