History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

24 August 2011

Twirling it About at The Tuileries: Oh, no he didnt!

This will have to be one of my briefest posts ever because I'm scrambling to meet a deadline for my next nonfiction book -- to be titled ROYAL ROMANCES: TITILLATING TALES OF PASSION AND POWER IN THE PALACES OF EUROPE. This volume will have about 17 chapters, and at present (though anything can change), the table of contents takes us from Edward III and Alice Perrers all the way to William and Kate, with a bonus chapter about my experiences in London for their royal wedding earlier this year.

Portrait of Louis XIV from 1670

At the moment I am researching the fascinating liaison between the Sun King, Louis XIV and Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, better known as the glittering, and wickedly witty marquise de Montespan. Nicknamed "The real queen of France," she bore the king seven illegitimate children, 3 of whom died before the age of 11; the rest he legitimized and they went on to found some of the great aristocratic houses of France.

Athénaïs utterly fascinates me. Although nothing was ever concretely proven, she was implicated in a plot to poison the king, which effectively put the kibosh on her tenure as his maîtresse en titre or official mistress (leave it to the French to create that position at court!)

But that's not even the subject of this post. It's this: this stop-you-in-your-tracks sentence that I came across during my research. Historian Lisa Hilton wrote the definitive biography of this alluring royal mistress, [The Life of Louis XIV's Mistress Athénaïs, The Real Queen of France] which was published in 2002. Her writing sparkles as much as her subject does. This is narrative nonfiction at its best.

And referring to Louis Quatorze's court, here's the sentence that I could build an entire book (alas, not the one I'm currently writing) around:

Even among the upper classes, male behavior was often shockingly uncivilized. In an etiquette manual of 1671, Antoine de Courtins found it necessary to advise aspiring courtiers not only against belching, farting, spitting and scratching, but against exposing of the penis in company."

Have you ever come across a tidbit of information that was so juicy, or suprising, that it changed, informed, or re-informed your perception of the world you were researching, writing, or reading about? What was it? Please share!


Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I stumbled across a bio a girl years ago that really make me rethink what was and wasn’t ok in the Regency era. I wish I could remember her name. Something cutesy and French with an “M”. Anyway, she was the illegitimate daughter of a fallen woman, had three rich men all claiming paternity and leaving her $$$, ended up with a dowry of 100K pounds (!!!) and married a duke or an earl. Gah, my memory is failing me today. If you asked most people, they’d tell you such a thing wasn’t possible. That illegitimacy, and a public squabble over who was her father, would doom her socially. But it wasn’t so. Money and support from the right quarters could trump almost anything.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

The French views on sex and adultery in almost any age are so different from the English, as my research for ROYAL ROMANCES keeps bearing out. However, I learned something the other day about the court of Louis XIV: While it was pretty much de rigueur for one married partner to cat about with a lover, if both illicit lovers were married to other people (i.e. a double adultery), that was very much frowned upon, and it's one of the reasons Louis XIV and Mme. de Montespan had to keep their affair under wraps.

1:41 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Just the kind of research I love, Leslie! I would spend days and days looking this kind of info up---I get so into it I forget to write. I don't know how you do it! How do you resist the urge to just "research read" a little longer when you have page count and a dealine looming???

9:15 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Kathrynn -- my problem is that I DON'T (resist)! It's too wonderful. And I'm still imagining what the court of Louis XIV must have been like with all these courtiers in their fine silks and velvets and lace, reeking of perfume and dripping with jewels, yet behaving like the frat boys from Animal House -- and that this was common enough conduct that someone felt it was high time for an etiquette manual.

11:06 AM  

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